Often when a person is described as “Hollywood” it is used in a pejorative manner. But after a long conversation with Nick Swardson about his 17 years spent building a career in Los Angeles, I would describe him as very “Hollywood” and mean it with nothing but respect. For Swardson, LA is a place where hard work and earnestness pays off, but not always in the way you would expect. Such is the case with his new Comedy Central web series Typical Rick, starring Swardson, Simon Rex, Chris D’Elia, and Charlie Sheen, available now on cc.com. The idea for the show was written on a napkin and presented to Comedy Central execs as a second choice after a first pitch was passed on. I called Swardson to get the full scoop on Typical Rick, which led to an in-depth chat about the realities of living and working in LA, his obsession with healthy eating, and the importance of always being prepared.
Are you able to talk about the new movie yet?
Yeah, it’s called The Buddy Games. It’s myself Josh Duhamel, Olivia Moss, Dax Shepard, Kevin Dillon, and we are locking in another lead role. I gained weight for Typical Rick and I need to shed some pounds. I’ve got to be shirtless. Typical Rick warranted my character to be a little schlubby. This one, when you’re standing next to Josh Duhamel and you’ve got to be shirtless, you kind of don’t want to look like a fucking farm animal.
You have a shirtless scene in Typical Rick too.
It’s horrifying. I’ve been shirtless a bunch, like when I’ve done Bucky Larson and stuff like that. The thing about Typical Rick is that if I was in really good shape it wouldn’t be as funny. In a lot of the stuff I’ve done my character is kind of supposed to look like shit. When I did Bucky Larson my character was supposed to be pale and out of shape. I couldn’t get any sun or workout. But this makes sense to the character.
What is your normal regimen? Do you have a regular workout routine or any interesting dietary requirements?
My diet is actually pretty good. I just eat a shitload of crystal meth. But, no, I’ve been on a diet for quite a while. I quit eating dairy eight years ago. I basically cut out sugar too. I’ll eat dark chocolate, but I don’t drink soda or have any desserts that aren’t dairy or gluten free. I eat pretty healthy. Workout-wise it’s just the same as anybody.
Other than the crystal meth, do you have any vices?
I still crave sugar, but I just find it in other ways.
Yeah, I just ask strangers for hugs. I find it in vegan desserts and shit. It sounds so dumb, but it’s so much better. Quitting dairy changed my life.
Plus, we’re at an age where you really feel the effects of what you put in your body. I feel like it takes me 24 hours to process a McDonald’s meal or the few extra beers I shouldn’t have had the night before.
That’s the thing. I’ve been pretty fascinated by diet for a while. People don’t realize how much shit they consume. It’s really toxic for you. Me and a lot of my friends and comics are obsessed with eating better. I mean, I’ll still drink. I’ll go out and get shitfaced. Not as much as I used to, but I just balance it with my diet. When you waver from it you really feel it. If I cave and have fast food, a cheeseburger, chips, I feel it immediately. It gets gnarly.
Let’s talk about Typical Rick. I watched all six episodes and I feel like there’s a theme of the fakeness of LA and the feeling of having to pretend to get ahead there, whether it’s in relationships, friendships, work, entertainment.
It’s not supposed to be about how fake LA is. It’s more about how kind of random it is. It’s a city where anything can happen to anybody at any time. Even if you’re out here and you’re passionate and you’re working your tits off every fucking day, the guy next to you can get discovered and thrown into the lead of a movie without doing anything. It’s more about these two guys that move from the Midwest who are totally out of their element. For one of them it’s his passion and the other guy is indifferent and he’s totally succeeding. It’s less about how fake it is and more about how arbitrary it is.
Maybe I’m projecting a bit. When I’ve been in LA I’ve felt a pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way, network a certain way. In watching the series I kept getting glimpses of some of my worst fears about moving to LA to pursue a career.
I’ve been here 17 years and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve gone through ups and downs and infuriating shit, but the thing that’s great about LA is that anything can happen at any time. LA doesn’t promise anything. I’ve had a million friends move here and then move away. They come here with an expectation of, “This is how it should be. This is how it’s going to be.” There are shallow aspects of it, but there are also great aspects of it. At the end of the day, you can keep your morals intact. I’m the same guy I was in Minnesota. But you have to work up a different skill set. You can’t be a fucking idiot. You have to know how to network and how to talk to people. The more real and honest you are, the further you’ll go.
The biggest people I’ve met in this business are the most genuine fucking people. I’ve worked with Adam Sandler. I’ve met Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell. They’re all the most genuine, cool guys on the planet. They’re all generally just who they are, but very driven. They know what they want. They’re all products of working hard and serendipity. And yeah, there’s people who feel pressure to look a certain way. But in the comedy world funny is funny, and funny always wins. If you are really funny, you’re undeniable. If you’re funny, people will gravitate towards you and they’ll help you. But LA is not a place to come grow and develop. It’s not a great city for that. Grow and develop somewhere else and then come here with your shit together.
How did Typical Rick end up coming together?
It’s a show I didn’t even plan on making. I pitched a different show to Comedy Central that I had worked really hard on and they passed on it. I was in the room and I was like, “What about this idea?” It was an idea I had when I was drunk in a movie theater. I pitched them two lines and they said, “Yeah, we’ll take six episodes.” I had pitched them a show that I had worked my ass off on. I had written a bible of three seasons and they bought a show that was two sentences.
What lesson can you take from that? Is it to not be too precious about your ideas?
No, I think be precious, but always have something else. Never stop creating. I thought of it and thought, “This could be funny somewhere.” So I wrote it down on a napkin. “Typical Rick. Me and blah, blah, blah…” you know what I mean? I could have easily walked out of that room with nothing. The fact that I was still creating even though I had a whole other show…I knew better. Always be ready.
Quite a few times your name has come up in my conversations and interviews with comics as an early influence. When I ask people, “What got you into standup?” it’s really common to hear, “I listened to my parents Pryor and Carlin albums.” But when people talk about their formative years as comedians, who they were imitating, who they looked up to, your name comes up a lot. Were you aware of your influence on a particular generation of comics?
Yes and no. I didn’t know it was that big. But I’ve had comics say to me, “I watched you in college and you’re the reason I started doing it,” which is awesome. It’s extremely flattering.
Who were you looking up to when you first started?
I became obsessed with standup comedy out of high school. I didn’t go to college. I used to do improv and kind of looked down on standup, but then my improv company folded, so I started becoming obsessed with standup. I watched every fucking thing, every show, every late night, VHS tapes, just stacks of them. I knew every comic when I was in St Paul, Minnesota. I gravitated toward Brian Regan, Dave Attell, Anthony Clark, Dana Gould. Those we’re definitely four guys that I really liked watching a lot.
Was your end goal always to be an actor?
Yeah I wanted to be an actor in film. That was my primary goal.
What would you say was your first big acting break?
I would say the thing that really – and it wasn’t my first break because I had done Almost Famous and Malibu’s Most Wanted – but the one I really sunk my teeth into was Grandma’s Boy in terms of being a writer and a producer and having a really meaty role that I had written myself. It hit hard with me on every level.
And you’re still working with Nicholaus.
Yeah, we’ve worked together forever. We’ve got a bunch of stuff in development. We’re developing a new hour special for Netflix. We’ve got another movie we’re developing. We’ll always have something in the works.