Since leaving New Orleans for New York City nearly ten years ago, Mark Normand has been honing his joke writing and delivery to a fine point. That fine point has earned him appearances on nearly every late night show, a steady opening spot for Amy Schumer, and honors like being one of our “10 Best Comedians on Each Coast” and The Village Voice’s “Best Comedian of 2013.” This Friday night at midnight Mark’s first hour-long special premieres on Comedy Central. Amy Schumer Presents Mark Normand: Don’t Be Yourself is a solid representation of who Mark Normand is, from the brass band intro that nods to his former home of New Orleans, to his comprehensive exposé of all of his awkward quirks. I talked to Mark about the new special, why he ignores the advice to not read the comments, and the merits of a good stroll.
Your new special is called Amy Schumer Presents Mark Normand: Don’t Be Yourself. Despite the long and slightly confusing title, it actually has real significance since you’ve been opening for Amy for a long time. How did you two start working together?
It was probably about 2009. I was getting a little bit of work in New York, but still day jobbing it, still nothing going for me. I was doing a comedy club and she happened to walk in on the one bit that worked. She came in the green room and said, “Hey, I like your vibe. I think we would work well together.” She was nobody at the time. I was like, “I’ll take any work I can get.” We took the train to Hofstra and had dinner with her mom. I was kissing her ass the whole time because she was a bigger comedian who was helping me out. We hit it off and she gave me a bunch of dates and that was it. We went all over the country. I watched her blow up, do TV shows, get on the Charlie Sheen roast, Conan, Letterman, and then she did Trainwreck. She kept getting bigger. We went from clubs, to theaters, to arenas.
And now more recently you’ve become one of those “comics to watch.” You get a lot of praise from other comics. I know in the special you talk about dealing with awkwardness. How do you handle the flattery?
I don’t. I’m incapable of accepting it. I even kind of blacked out just then when you were talking about it. I don’t know if it’s low self-esteem or whatever, but the compliments go in and right out. But the insults stick to me. The compliments are like water: I drink them down and pee them out. The insults are like fat: they stick to my ribs forever. I need to run around the block just to get rid of them.
Which insults hit you the hardest?
The worst ones are when you read the YouTube comments. Out of ten, seven are kind of nice, like, “Funny guy,” “Decent stuff,” “I liked it.” But then the last three are like, “What’s up with this guy’s face?” “I hate his pauses,” “He’s got a horrible delivery.” Those stick more because they might be right. Maybe I’ve had those thoughts. I’m not one of those guys that’s like, “Screw you. You’re saying mean things.” I’m like, “Maybe I can learn from this.” We are so accepting of the compliments. Why not be accepting of the insults too? If you’re going to be mean like, “Hey, look at this fag,” I’m like, “Alright. Whatever.” But if it’s, “I hate his delivery,” I’m like, “Oh shit. Maybe I should work on my delivery.”
Because that kind of criticism means they actually watched the thing. It’s not like somebody just typed “FUCK YOU.” They used the word “delivery,” which shows some attention to detail.
Exactly. A lot of people dismiss the insults, but I’m like, “Well, then why aren’t you dismissing the compliments too? Maybe the compliments are wrong.” I read everything. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.
Where did you shoot the special?
At a synagogue in the Lower East Side of New York. It was an old synagogue, like 1840s, rickety, kind of gothy. Right when I walked in I was like, “This is it. This is the place.” A lot of people were against it, but I stuck with it and it turned out beautiful.
You’ve been getting into acting a little bit. You were on Amy’s show and Horace and Pete. Are you trying to work more TV and film into your career?
Definitely. I’m out in LA right now pitching a TV show. I’m a horrible actor so I’m trying to pitch something kind of Seinfeld-y/Ray Romano-y where I’m just myself. I’d love to be on TV just to boost the standup tickets.
It’s hard to get by just doing standup. It used to be that you could become a famous comedian and then the TV and movies would follow. Nowadays you have to juggle so many things at once.
It’s crazy. Seinfeld calls it the “kit.” You’ve got to have a podcast, a web series, a TV show, you’ve got to be on social media constantly with Snapchat, Instagram, and tweeting all the time. You can’t just have standup anymore. That’s not enough. It’s a lot.
And because of that you have a lot of people that are being told that’s what they need to do, but their content is so bad. I understand there are people who feel the need to do it, but when they’re so bad at it I wonder if they’d be better off not doing it at all.
I think you’re right. Like Louis C.K., which is a weird example because he’s already famous, but he’s off Twitter, he doesn’t do Instagram, he doesn’t do any of that shit. I think it gives you a little mystique. Mystique was a thing back in the day. Now it’s all gone.
I remember in junior high and high school when somebody would hand you a tape. You had never heard of the band and the tape was a copy so you had no cover art and no idea what they look like or where they came from. The discovery was fun. Now it’s nearly impossible to avoid spoilers or getting an idea about a thing before you see or hear it.
Yeah, it’s tough now. It’s like when you miss the big game and everybody’s talking about it and you have to plug your ears. That’s how it is with movies, TV, everything. Remember when you would buy an album and listen to the whole album? Now you just get a single off of iTunes and move on.
What do you like to do with your down time when you have it?
Well, I’m a big booze bag. I can sink into a Netflix like you wouldn’t believe. I love a good documentary. I like making sweet love to a woman. I like going out to eat and checking out a movie. I’m a big walk guy. I love to just take a walk. No one walks anymore. It’s nice to just get out there and stroll.