For the past 15 years, Comedy Central’s half hour specials have showcased the future stars of standup. Looking back, the early years of Comedy Central Presents included memorable sets from the likes of Mitch Hedberg, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Dane Cook and dozens more. Re-branded The Half Hour in 2012, the series continues to feature the best up-and-coming comics in the country.
For many comedians, it’s that history that makes doing a half hour special so significant. While a half hour may once have been a comic’s first major exposure, comedians now have many ways to build an audience. Almost everyone who taped a special this year does non-standup comedy as well, branching out into the worlds of podcasting, sketch and improv, web series, acting, and more. In this new series, I sat down with each of this year’s 16 Half Hour comedians to talk about their specials, their careers, and their generation of comedians. Each interview will also feature an exclusive clip from the special. All the interviews can be found here.
Nikki Glaser is no stranger to this blog: the podcast that she co-hosts with comedian Sara Schaefer, You Had To Be There, lives right here on the Splitsider Network. And their late night show, Nikki and Sara Live, was just picked up its for second season by MTV. I met up with her recently in the Viacom building overlooking Times Square to discuss honesty in standup and turning a new generation on to comedy.
So first, how did your taping go?
It was really fun. It went great. That’s like a moment you always wait for as a comedian. You think, “Oh, when I do my half hour, what’s that gonna be like?” And honestly, it was just another show. It was just another really great show, that I dressed up for more than I normally dress up. But it was really fun. My parents were there. Which, I said some filthy things in front of them, but you know what, they were gonna see it eventually, so let’s get it over with.
Comedy Central’s half hour specials have featured so many great people, it’s a really impressive history. What did doing The Half Hour mean for you?
It’s definitely a symbol of arriving as a viable name in standup. It was a moment that, like I said, I’ve waited for for a long time, and it means a lot to get to do it. You look back at those old specials and you think, I can’t believe I’ve done something that Mitch Hedberg has done. And even Dane Cook, it put him on the map. That special was the first thing where people were like, who’s this guy? So it is a big deal, and it’s nice in a way to finally put a big chunk of my material out there. I haven’t released an album, I have only done late night sets, so people have only seen me in segments. It’s gonna be cool to have someone see my entire act.
Of those doing The Half Hour this year, you’re one of the most recognizable—you have your own television show. Was there a reason you decided to do a half hour instead of skipping straight to the hour?
I think that, in the past, I have wanted to a half hour. It was always this thing that I wanted, regardless of if I could have done an hour, I wanted to get that half hour in the bag. Especially because, the material in this half hour was formulated for a half hour. I always had it in my head that I’m gonna do one. My hour’s is going to look a lot different. This is very representative of my first 10 years in standup, and I think that’s what your half hour is, your debut to the world. At least that’s how I’m seeing it. I think that there will be time for hours. As long as I work, I’m gonna be putting out material, and hopefully more and more specials. But the half hour is a nice intro. It’s a perfect amount of time.
So now that you have the MTV show, what’s your typical gig like these days? Do you still get to go on the road?
This is the first year that I haven’t been on the road. [The show] has kept me in New York, I can’t really travel as much. I get out for gigs here and there nearby but I used to be on the road all the time, you know, 3 or 4 weeks a month. It was great, but I’m very grateful to now be able to have a life, an apartment that I can see and go back to. I can go home at night. I’m finding that for the first time in my life, off the road, I feel like a normal human being and not just like a machine. So it’s been nice, but I do have a craving to get back out there. Because that’s really where you hone material. You’re doing so many sets, and so much time is spent on stage that you get bored, so it forces you to write. That’s how I kind of write, is through getting bored of my own set, new material comes out. I’m not good about sitting down and writing, so I think I need that. I think I need to get back out there to be the standup that I want to be. But it’s been nice to have a break.
Do you have time to go up in the city these days?
Yeah. I tape my show on Tuesday nights, and I’m in the office every day working on my show, 9 to 5. But I go home after work, I take a nap, and then I go out and do late sets pretty much every night. I try to take some nights off just so I can keep my sanity and stay on some kind of sleep schedule, but it’s kind of a obsessive compulsive behavior for me. I kind of need to go do standup. My show does itch that need to perform a little bit, but I do find myself not being able to take a break. It’s kind of my hobby right now, as weird as that sounds. Because my show is my bread and butter. It’s very fun but it feels like work sometimes. Now I’m using standup as like, okay this fun. Right now, it’s a hobby. Standups will hate to hear that because you are not allowed to say, as a standup, that it’s just a hobby. I treat it very seriously when I need to, but I just don’t have the time right now to give it as much focus as I want to, so right now it’s just for fun.
I think that’s okay. It’s not like you had a TV show and the decided to start doing standup as a hobby.
Yes. Or I didn’t get into standup to [get a show]. A lot of people do, which I understand. Especially in LA, there are a lot of people that start standup because they want to be actresses or they want to host a show someday. And it makes sense, because you get to go on stage and perform and as an actor, you probably don’t get to do that every night unless you’re cast in a play. So it seems like a nice way to go about it, but that is not what my intention was in finding standup. I’m a standup at heart, but it is nice to take a break from it here and there.
And obviously, you have your podcast, You Had To Be There. Have you found doing the podcast has influenced your standup?
I think doing the podcast, and I think podcasting in general, has raised the bar for being honest on stage. People want to hear comedians being themselves, not being too jokey. It’s made our fans crave more substance from us and less fluff. Which, I like a lot of fluff. I like a well-written joke, whether it’s based in truth or not. But now I have to find ways to weave those jokes into the real shit. And I think that’s what people want to hear. And it’s made me find ways for making real stories that have happened in my life funny. So podcasting has been great, and it’s just one another way to perform and put your voice on a mic. It’s nothing but practice that makes you better at what you do.
Have you found that doing Nikki and Sara Live ends up informing your standup in any way?
I think more so my standup has informed who I am as a television host. I’m comfortable being myself on stage, and as a host, you’re just yourself. That’s what people want to see. My show is a live show, so I am definitely comfortable in that element. When you’re doing standup, you certainly can’t say cut. So I don’t know that the show has really changed the way I do standup, but standup has informed everything that I’ve done, and will do, professionally. I’m really grateful to have found it. I’ve been doing standup since I was 18, in a way I kind of feel like a child actor. I know that sounds weird but I’m reaching a point…it’s all I’ve ever known. Standup is all I’ve ever known, and there are times where I’m like, “Is this what I want to do forever? Do I have to do this forever?” Because you know, it’s painful. You get up there and wear your heart on your sleeve and sometimes people don’t like it. It can be excruciating, and there are highs. There are certainly highs, like after I finished my special, I was like, that went great. And then you start second guessing it, and then you drive yourself crazy. And I’m thinking, why do I put myself through this? And this is the job that I’ve chosen. It’s very rewarding but I don’t know how we all do it. And forever, too. I mean, standups just never quit. So there’s some kind of compulsion there that is, I’m guessing, probably unhealthy. But we all benefit from it. So, I’m not quitting anytime soon.
Your MTV show obviously has a very different demographic than your standup or your podcast. Is it weird, to have some jokes that are for the MTV crowd and another for your other fans?
Yes. That is something that I’ve struggled with since taping my special. The material on the special is very raunchy, very sexual. I worry that my sweet little MTV fans are gonna be like, who is this woman? What is she talking about? But I think that I’ts good for them to hear, and I don’t think that I’m being anything other than authentic. And I think that that’s important for them to hear, more important than it would be to protect them from truth. They know all about this stuff anyway, they have the internet. I don’t know why I’m thinking that they are so pristine and I have to cover their ears, but I’m a different person on my MTV show. I think I do sneak in, like, I can be gross sometimes, and I can be the one who says inappropriate, darker things but it’ll be interesting to hear my MTV fans’ feedback on my special. I’m excited about it but I’m also kind of a little nervous.
Looking back, I feel like around the time I stopped watching MTV was around the age I started paying attention to comedy, watching things like Presents and Tough Crowd. You guys could be that thing for a generation, that sort of turns them on to comedy.
I think that is a really exciting thing about my show. These kids who are watching MTV because they love Teen Mom or Buckwild or Jersey Shore are suddenly stumbling upon our show and being like, what is this? We’re really bringing some smart, sometimes edgier material. We’re challenging these kids to laugh at things that maybe they haven’t been exposed to yet, comedy-wise. And I think that that’s really exciting, especially for little girls. Women are encouraged to not be funny as kids. It starts early, and I think that’s why women get that rap. We are encouraged not to be gross, not to be silly, to be proper. One of my friends, Dan Soder said to me that my show was gonna make a generation of really awesome dateable chicks. I’m like, you slow down there, mister. But he was like, girls watching your show are going to be so cool. We’re making young girls turn out to be upstanding young women that are funny and can take a joke and that’s really exciting to me. Because if I would have watched my show when I was that age, I would have loved it. I would have been obsessed. The way that it was when I like discovered Conan. Suddenly, a world opened up to me when I discovered Conan and I hope that that is what I’m doing for some girls with my show.
Why did you guys decide to do it live?
That was something that came about probably a month before we were supposed to go to air. We got a call from our development executives one day. I think MTV wanted it to be a destination place, to get people watching at that time. I think that they knew that they could trust us, because we’re standups. We know how to work in that format. I think that it just adds an excitement to it that MTV wanted. And it is exciting. I mean, it is thrilling to do that show and to do it live. And it’s kind of nice, because it’s like standup: when it’s over, it’s over. I don’t need to worry about it anymore. When you tape something and you can go back and edit, that’s when you get a little crazy.
And then what’s next for you?
I’m just gonna be on the road a lot, I’m guessing. I’m going to Bonnaroo which will be exciting, More Nikki and Sara Live and us doing more things on MTV. But I’m always in New York, always at the Comedy Cellar, trying out new stuff. I can’t quit. I deserve a vacation, but I can’t take one. I don’t know what that is.
Nikki Glaser’s Half Hour airs Friday, May 3 at 12:30 am (technically Saturday morning). She’s on Twitter at @NikkiGlaser.
Elise Czajkowski is a contributing editor at Splitsider and comedy journalist in New York City. She occasionally tweets at @EliseCz.