12 years into his comedy career, Nate Bargatze has found himself at a crossroads. He’s been on The Tonight Show, Conan and WTF with Marc Maron. He’s performed at Bonnaroo, SXSW and the Montreal Comedy Festival. This Saturday night, his new one-hour special, Full Time Magic, premieres on Comedy Central. But where will he go from here? As Bargatze puts it, “You get into comedy because you don’t want anyone telling you what to do and then after you’re in it for a while, you’re like, ‘God, I wish someone would tell me what to do.’”
Bargatze took a break from his busy schedule in L.A. to talk about the new special, balancing work and family life, and how ‘learn how to bomb’ is some of the best advice he’s ever received.
Are you living in Los Angeles full-time right now?
Actually, we just bought a house back in Nashville.
Thanks, man. I mean, I might as well be here full time, because I have to be here a ton. We have a two year old daughter and I’m on the road so much, so it’s nice to have her somewhere with a bunch of family around and extra help for my wife.
How long have you been married?
It will be nine years this year.
You’re at the point of your career where you have to be away from home a lot. How does it feel to be away from your family so much?
It’s hard. FaceTime is a huge help. I go out almost every weekend, but I try not to make it a long stretch. It makes it a little bit easier to know that my daughter is in Nashville doing stuff, not just sitting in a room by herself wondering where I’m at. She has cousins, friends, birthday parties. She’s pretty busy. It’s a relief. Even though I would rather be home, I don’t feel as bad as leaving them in California by themselves.
Are you still going to have to keep a place in L.A.?
I have a couple of buddies that have an extra room in their place. I stay with Rory Scovel. Right now it’s easier – since I’m on the road so much – to have the home in Nashville. But it’s getting busier and I keep getting pulled back out here more. We’ll see. Right now I’m doing okay just having a room here.
What is the end game for you? What would be the ideal position where you could comfortably balance family life and work life?
Having a consistent job. You get into comedy because you don’t want anyone telling you what to do and then after you’re in it for a while you’re like, “God, I wish someone would tell me what to do.” You miss the structure of a regular job. The schedule is so wacky. You can’t nail down plans. I would love to get a sitcom or show where I could still go on the road, but not as much, and mostly just work from one place.
Are you 35 or 36?
So you’re also at a point in your life where the road can really start to take a toll on your body. It makes you respect those old school road dogs who live almost exclusively on the road. Then, with your family back home, you have split priorities. I imagine that your focus is split when you’re traveling, thinking about getting back home to them.
Definitely. I think that’s why I’m working so hard. I feel like when you get to the point that you can do theaters, you can probably pick what you want to do more. I’m sure it’s still hard though.
You have fans in more established guys like Jim Gaffigan and Marc Maron. Have you talked to them about where you are in your career and what advice they can give?
Yeah, I talked to them. I talked to Bill Burr as well. The question I have now is, “What do I do after this special? How do you basically start over?” That’s the weirdest part. I’ve never felt this way in the 12 years I’ve been doing comedy. Normally, you’re building up material and there’s no exact point … but now that I have a special out, I know that I have to have a new hour. It won’t happen immediately, but it has to start forming. If you want people to keep coming back, you have to do new stuff. The best advice I got was from Maron when he said, “You’ve just got to learn your voice even more.” Maron just talks now. He is so much himself onstage. He also told me to learn how to bomb. I love that. You don’t want to bomb. If I try a new joke and it doesn’t work, I immediately go back to an old joke. You have to get rid of that safety net. Get comfortable with bombing. Trust yourself that you are funny and that you can get something out of what you’re saying.
Have you ever considered quitting?
I have a joke about it, but I’ve never really seriously considered it. It’s almost like this is the only thing I know how to do. I do worry about it falling apart. I worry about that every day. Like, what if I can’t get another hour together and this is all I have? For all of the excitement that people can have about you, the next thing you know, you can fall to the side, out of sight, out of mind. I worry about the industry quitting me more than me quitting it.
I think it’s important to have something that grounds you outside of your career. For you, that seems to be your family. Any job, or any career, can be gone in an instant. What do you have left after that?
I’ve tried to get better at living in the moment. It’s exciting right now. Everything is at least looking forward. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s exciting to enjoy this right now. I’m trying to do that on stage more too. Sometimes you can be telling your jokes and your brain is just on auto-pilot. Now I’m trying to really think about what I’m saying and working on being more in the moment.
You were on Jimmy Fallon’s Clean Cut Comedy Tour. Is there a specific reason that you decided to keep your material clean?
I grew up watching clean comedy. Starting out, I wanted my parents to come watch me. I still think that way, even though I’m a parent now. I’m a clean comic, but I don’t really want people to notice it. Like, some comics are dirty and really funny. People will say, “That guy’s dirty.” That’s not the point. The point is that they’re super funny and just happen to be dirty. A good compliment for me would be, “I didn’t even notice that you were clean.” That’s my goal.
Sometimes people think that clean standup can’t be funny. As if clean comedy is only for kids and religious conservatives.
Look at Brian Regan. He’s clean, but anybody that sees him knows he’s so funny. Labeling stuff turns people off. I understand why people do it, but I don’t want to do it. I just want to be a comedian.
You grew up outside of Nashville. How did growing up in The South influence your comedic style?
I think that because we talk slower, it benefits my pacing. A lot of newer comics have trouble with talking too fast. I’ve never had that problem. Even when I think I’m talking fast, it’s still not fast. It’s funny, I never really did anything in Nashville. The first time I went up was in Chicago in 2003. Then I moved to New York, then L.A. I never came up through the Southern circuit. It’s interesting being back here now.
Full Time Magic premieres Saturday night on Comedy Central. Do you have any plans for the premiere?
I’m going to get the Mayweather v. Pacquiao fight and then watch the special. We’re having family and friends over and I’ll awkwardly pace as they watch it.
What’s next for you after the special?
I’m going to be touring a lot, trying to develop the new hour. Then, hopefully, try to develop a show again and get a sitcom somewhere.
Image by Brad Barket.