I was sitting in a small trailer parked outside of New Orleans’ Civic Theater. Next to me was comedian Joe Machi, who had just finished taping his Comedy Central Half Hour. For anyone who thinks that Machi’s stage persona is an act, I can assure you that it is not. In fact, on this particular night, Machi seemed more comfortable onstage than he did during our post-show interview. That may have had something to do with the fact that Machi belongs on a stage. In person, he is humble, nervous, and introverted. But onstage, he molds those characteristics into a fascinating blend of twisted jokes, odd pacing, and perfectly timed mannerisms. Machi - 2013 New York Comedy Festival’s “Funniest Comedian” - has appeared on Last Comic Standing, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and has become a regular on Red Eye with Tom Shillue on Fox News. Tonight he’ll appear on Comedy Central at midnight in his own Half Hour. I talked to Machi about his unintended path to dark humor, the joy of feeling desired, and how he wants to start fighting with crowds.
You said your goal for tonight was just to not bomb.
I always think of things in the worst way possible. Expect the worst, hope for the best. I’m happy with how it went.
A lot of your jokes we’re much darker than what I’ve seen you do in the past.
I don’t plan to write things that are dark. It’s just kind of the way my sense of humor works. When I wrote the joke about the way the world is now…it always bothered me that so many comics had jokes about kids being terrible. That wasn’t the experience that so many of my friends who have kids talk about. I started writing that joke from a positive place, but where my mind ended up going to is that it used to be really easy to die. I didn’t plan it. I just set out to write a joke and that’s what my twisted brain ended up with.
Would you say that Last Comic Standing is the biggest thing that’s happened to you up to this point in your career?
Definitely. A lot of comics would say that you wouldn’t want that. I disagree. I want any audience I can get. It’s not like music where 1% of the people can really like what you do and you can make a career out of that. With comedy you need a big audience to keep working. I feel like Last Comic Standing gave me that opportunity. I don’t know if I would have gotten that type of opportunity any other way.
How did you feel when you got the news that you were going to be taping a Half Hour?
I was really excited. I sent the tape to my agent for an hour, but Last Comic Standing had been almost two years ago. I felt like I could do a good half hour and then do a full hour some other time. It’s been a goal of mine since Comedy Central Presents. It’s like being asked to the prom.
I get that. It’s good to feel desired.
I’ve been doing comedy long enough to know the difference between accomplishment and selection. An accomplishment is being able to do a half hour and have it be good. But sometimes you just want those selections too. You want someone in the industry to say, “Yeah, we’re going to put him on.”
You were asked to do some talking head type stuff on TV. You were on Red Eye, for instance. With your style, you seem like an odd choice for a political talk show.
So much of it is who you know. A friend of mine who I went to college with works in PR. She knew a producer at Red Eye. They’re always having comics on, so she said, “Hey you should put my friend on.” I thought I wrote some good material for the topics they were discussing, but I was clearly and noticeably nervous. I thought, “Let’s just go with that and make it a person who’s just scared of everything.”
That reminds me of Keenen Ivory Wayans’ comment to you on Last Comic Standing. As the season progressed, you started to get more confidence on stage. He said something to the effect of, “I liked you better when you were nervous.” How do you process that kind of criticism?
In one ear and out the other. No disrespect to anyone, but when people give you advice on how to be a comedian they’re giving you advice on how they think a comedian should be. The more different and unusual you are, the better. After I bombed one time Big Jay Oakerson said, “You should be bombing. If you’re not bombing, your comedy is too broad and probably hacky.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that. For some comedians there’s an exception. I doubt Brian Regan bombs that often.
I noticed something that you do that is very interesting to me. You use somewhat old timey expressions to get the crowd’s attention.
Oh, that reminds me, I forgot to say, “Now we’re cooking with gas,” tonight. But I say, “Hey gang” and, “Hey team” a lot. How I started doing that is I used to…I was very influenced by Mitch Hedberg. I started out as a one-liner comic. I found that the drunker or more tired an audience gets, they can’t keep up. So I would use it as a segue to get their attention before the next joke.
It’s a fun juxtaposition to see somebody who looks so young using old fashioned colloquialisms.
As comics we tend to over-think things. Sometimes simple funny language can make people laugh, but we’re trying to make it this big, difficult thing.
I’ve read some other interviews that you’ve done and you’ve been pretty outspoken on the subject of originality in comedy.
I hope I don’t sound arrogant.
Not at all. It’s clear that you have an appreciation for comedy as an art form and want to push for more original voices within it. What is something that you would like to see yourself improve upon within the next year?
I’m jealous of people who can tell good stories. I’m more of an introverted person. I’ve never done anything crazy. So I would like to develop more of that. I’d also like to be a bit more contrarian with some of my bits. Comedy is very left-leaning. I’m very Centrist. I can be super liberal or super conservative, depending on what the particular issue is. I would like to have a little more of a fight with the crowd and still make them laugh.