“It’s weird having a handler,” were Noah Gardenswartz’s first words as he was escorted into an empty hotel banquet room where Comedy Central’s production team had set me up for a day of interviews. Gardenswartz had just finished a photo shoot and was about 36 hours away from taping his Half Hour. Like many of the other comedians taking the stage at New Orleans’ Civic Theater that weekend, he was doing his best to stay calm and focused amidst the hustle and bustle of a hectic production schedule. “I’ve been trying to not be cooped up in the hotel room thinking about it too much. I’m just enjoying New Orleans and telling myself that tomorrow night I’m just going to go do another 30 minute set.” Flash forward to this weekend and Gardenswartz is welcoming not only the premiere of his Comedy Central Half Hour, but also the digital release of his debut album Blunt on Comedy Central Records. I talked Gardenswartz about his delusional start in standup, the correlation between sports and comedy, and the *wink-wink, nudge-nudge* meaning behind his new album title.
You’re originally from Denver, but you didn’t start doing comedy until you got to Atlanta, right?
Yeah, Denver born and raised, but I went to college in Atlanta and that’s when I started doing standup.
What made you want to start? Were you like, “I think I’m funny. I’m going to give this a shot?”
No, I never really thought about doing standup comedy. I’ve always been a writer. I was really into creative writing. I was a sociology major in college. I had no idea what I wanted to do and no job prospects. One thing I knew that I wanted to get into was writing. I started doing open mics with the delusional intent of a big comedian seeing me and asking me to ghost write for them. It just became the process of…by doing it on my own I started to enjoy standup by myself and started focusing on jokes that I would tell. But my first few years I really hated performing and just wanted to be hired to write for somebody.
Was that about 10 years ago?
I started in 2005. I did it for two-and-a-half or three years and then took a three-year break. When I came back I stayed in Atlanta for two or three years and then moved to New York.
The Atlanta scene has grown a lot, but I imagine that at that time the idea of being seen by somebody and picked up to write for them was probably…
That’s why I said delusional. I didn’t know how it worked. I hadn’t even been to an open mic when I decided I was going to get discovered at an open mic. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew I was capable of writing funnier stuff.
Was the move to New York specifically for comedy?
After I took my three-year break I realized how much I missed standup. I decided to go full steam ahead with standup. I spent two-and-a-half-years based out of Atlanta, working the road 20-30 weeks a year as a feature act, just crashing on couches and getting up wherever I could to build my time. When I felt like I hit the ceiling in Atlanta I moved to New York.
When you got to New York how long did it take you to really get on your feet as a standup?
It took me about six months to feel comfortable in New York. That actually had a lot more to do with feeling comfortable living in New York. You take the initial ego hit of going from being the man in your city to waiting again at open mics in New York. But I was mentally prepared for that. I was fortunate in that I moved up there and had a few respected people in the scene who knew me and vouched for me. Like Andy Sandford was an Atlanta guy who moved up there two years before me and kind of laid some groundwork. Rebecca Trent, who owns The Creek and the Cave, always gave me spots at her shows over the years before I moved there.
What was the first point where you genuinely felt like things were taking off for you?
Just for Laughs. I got JFL the first year I moved to New York and that was a game-changer for so many reasons. It made more comedians pay attention. I got a manager out of that, which gave me some professional opportunities and really got the ball rolling for everything that led to today.
That was just a couple of years ago.
What are some of the highlights from your last two years?
I made it to the semi-finals on Last Comic Standing in 2015. I did Adam Devine’s House Party in December of 2015. Then in January of 2016 I recorded my debut album with Comedy Central. That was a whirlwind of three big things that happened in a row. All of that put me in a place where I felt like I really had a shot. This was the first year I submitted for the Half Hour, not because it’s the first year I thought I had a good half-hour. It was just the first year I thought they would watch my tape with consideration. I didn’t want to send it in too early even if I thought the material was good.
What do you do to prepare yourself for a show of this caliber? You used to be an athlete. Is there any correlation between how you would prepare for a game and how you would prepare for taping a comedy special?
There’s definitely a relationship in the preparation. There’s a lot of hard work in the practice, going over the set. Telling the jokes so many times that I know them. But at the same time, in the way that athletes rely on muscle memory, once it’s game time, if you’re thinking too hard you won’t be at your best. Over the last few weeks I haven’t been robotic with rehearsing because I just have to trust that it’s in there and that when the lights are on I’ll be ready to deliver. This weekend my approach is that I’m treating it like those old road gigs where I was a feature. Where you just had to do 30 minutes and had no real responsibility. I’ve been trying to not be cooped up in the hotel room thinking about it too much. I’m just enjoying New Orleans and telling myself that tomorrow night I’m just going to go do another 30 minute set. I know once I get there it will feel different and I’ll be nervous and anxious, but up until then I’m trying to treat it like a normal gig.
Your album will come out the weekend of the Half Hour premiere. Do you have a title yet?
Perfect. A lot of your material references weed.
Yeah, I went with Blunt because it’s part of the double entendre of the blunt truth and smoking blunts. I wanted a one-word, quick title that’s a fair portrayal of my comedy, who I am, and also, “Haha, wink, I get it.” A lot of my clips are weed related, but if you watch the Half Hour only about five minutes of it will be weed-related material. I’m not trying to be a weed comic in the way the Doug Benson is. I am a big weed smoker. I come from Denver. I’ve been smoking weed pretty much every day since I was 14. It’s just an honest part of my life. It would be disingenuous if I didn’t have drug material, but I do pride myself on the fact that my act consists of a lot more than just weed jokes. The weed stuff bridges the gap between a lot of my other material. I have a lot of black material and Jewish material and weed is kind of the one thing the bridges the gap for all the different audiences that I might pull in. It’s cool because after shows there are always different groups of people that want to come smoke with me.
Do you like to smoke before you go up?
I can and I will, but I don’t need to. It’s not like if I’m not high I can’t perform. I certainly don’t think I perform better when I’m high, but it’s also not debilitating. I won’t be high for the taping though because I don’t want to take any chance on not being fully there.