Cy Amundson Just Wants to Do the Work

Some comics wear their heart on their sleeve; Cy Amundson wears his city on his chest. In preparation for the filming of his Comedy Central Half Hour, which premieres this Saturday night at 12:30am, proud Minneapolis native-turned-LA transplant Amundson took to Facebook to see if he could hook up some fresh Minneapolis swag to wear onstage. “I was looking for a couple of options, so I posted that and all of a sudden I got bombarded by Minneapolis-based t-shirt companies. There’s a couple of pretty cool ones. Whichever one I land on I’ll be glad to wear. It’s a little hokey, but I love it there.” Amundson, who honed his chops at Minneapolis’ famous Acme Comedy Company, made good on his promise and opted for a pro-Twin Cities shirt for his first TV special. Amundson and I sat down before the taping to discuss his love for his hometown scene, the downfalls of the cool kid scene in comedy, and our mutual, unabashed love of Adam Sandler.

A lot of up-and-coming comics are probably curious, how did you get on Comedy Central’s radar?

That’s a hard question to answer without sounding like a douche. I think I was lucky to have some good sets in front of some of the right people. It might sound ridiculous, but it was hard work and luck combined. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of people that – for some reason – believe in me.

Where did you get your start in comedy?

I started in Minneapolis at – and I know everybody says this, but – the best club in the country: Acme Comedy Company. That was a little over 10 years ago. I started at their open mic and failed miserably at their “Funniest Person” contest. But a couple years later I got into the rotation being an emcee and featuring. That place is like a comedy school.

How much time did you spend in Minneapolis before you moved on to a bigger market?

Six or seven years, maybe. I was in a place where I thought I was getting the best stage time in the world. The open mic there has a legendary vibe. Every Monday there are like 285 young, smart people watching you try all new material. My thinking was, “I’m not going to leave until I have to.” After Montreal [Just for Laughs] I got to a point where people were saying, “Just go.” So I did.

What do you think makes Minneapolis such a good comedy city?

I certainly don’t think it’s the preeminent mecca of comedy, but I think it’s up there. It’s a combination of a couple of things. One, that club and it’s owner, Louis Lee, created this world where comedy was important. He treats it like art. He treats the comics incredibly. Over 25 years he’s done nothing but book great acts. The crowds, in turn, trust him. So it’s partly because of that and partly because Minneapolis is an underrated, smart, artistic community. Great music, great art, great theater, and great comedy.

It’s clear that you have a lot of love for Minneapolis. I saw on Facebook that you were asking people for cool Minneapolis shirts to wear on the special.

Yeah, I was looking for a couple of options so I posted that and all of a sudden I got bombarded by Minneapolis-based t-shirt companies. There’s a couple of pretty cool ones. Whichever one I land on I’ll be glad to wear. It’s a little hokey, but I love it there.

I don’t think it’s hokey. I think it speaks to some kind of purity. It’s a shame that so many people label sincerity as lame.

We’ve gotten to that point in society where people will post a picture of some mountains online and say, “Hey, look at this stupid fucking shit.” Just say it’s nice, man. Say the lake is pretty because it’s pretty. I’m not a hugely social comic. After you climb the ladder in the city and move to LA you’re expected to climb the ladder again, which totally makes sense. But I just want to do my work and go home. I don’t want to go to IHOP at one in the morning to show that I’m buddies with you so I can do your show in two weeks. The cool-kid aspect of standup is probably my least favorite thing. I don’t mean that in a dickish and kind of way. There are a lot of people that I really love and most comics that I spend time with are great people. I just don’t want to be part of the social world of it.

Do you think the social aspect of comedy hurts creativity?

You’re going to get me in trouble with that question. I think criticism is an important part of any artistic endeavor. I was fortunate to come up in Minneapolis with some people who are very good and very competitive and constructively critical. If you got off stage and you had a new bit that was really going somewhere, you would get nothing but the reinforcement. But if you tried something that wasn’t quite there, it helps to have people around you who don’t laud you for being mediocre. Right now that seems to be kind of prevalent in standup. Everybody is such good friends and so supportive of each other, which I guess could be a good thing, but it’s also kind of a bad thing. I’m going to look like an asshole for answering this way.

Well, I’ll jump in because I completely agree with what you’re saying. I’ve also been guilty of it. I’ve had to make a distinction between being friends with comics socially, but trying not to be an enabler of bad comedy. I hate when I know that I had a bad set and then some comic comes up and says, “Great job! Really good.” Tell me something I can work on. I don’t want the validation. I just want to get better at comedy.

I couldn’t agree more. And I think that there’s more power to your positivity when you hold back a little. If I run around telling everyone they’re great, it’s not going to mean as much. It’s a powerful thing to reserve your praise for stuff that you love and that meant something to you.

The same applies to the other side. If you’re an overly critical, negative person who just shits on everything, people won’t take you seriously if you have a good piece of critical advice.

That’s worse. I would rather have somebody that’s super positive and almost fakely friendly than someone who is a dick all the time.

You’ve done some voice work for a couple of animated series. Was acting always part of the plan?

As a little kid I was always kind of obsessed with sitcoms. My dad wouldn’t let us watch MTV, so kind of the only thing to watch at night was Nick at Nite. I was obsessed with Mr. Ed, Green Acres, Get Smart, I Love Lucy. When I was little I started making videos because I wanted to have my own Dick Van Dyke kind of show.

That’s a weird choice for a kid.

Yeah, it’s pretty strange. Then as a teenager I got into Adam Sandler. It’s funny, people my age, when they talk about influences, don’t usually mention Sandler. I feel like they were either the most pretentious 12 year olds in the world or the biggest fucking liars of all time. When I saw Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer… I lost my mind. When I saw that stuff I thought, “I have to do something with this.” I grew up in a small town where film school wasn’t a thing. When I was getting into my twenties my brother-in-law suggested I try the standup competition at Acme. I kept doing it because in my brain I thought, “Maybe this is a way into that.” But then I completely fell in love with standup.

I remember going over to my friends’ houses and laying on the floor of their bedrooms listening to Adam Sandler albums.

Oh my God, The Beating of a High School Janitor! It was the funniest stuff in the world.

I think in a setting like this, when people are asked about their influences, they want to say something that sounds deep.

Like, “I used to sneak into my parents basement and listen to their old Carlin records.” I’s like, “You’re 27. Did you actually do that?” I mean, I love Carlin and Richard Pryor, but I don’t think I understood what they were doing until I was much older.

You had an album that came out a couple of years ago called Love Sick in Toledo. Do you have another album coming out soon?

That’s the thing that makes me the happiest about this whole experience. I was holding out hope that I might get a Half Hour. Because I’ve been holding out hope, I’ve been holding out an album. I’ve got one that is ready to get produced and another that I’m ready to get going. I’ve been kind of stockpiling a bit.

Cy Amundson Just Wants to Do the Work