I was sitting in a conference room in New Orleans’ Ace Hotel, waiting for comedian Mike Recine to wrap up a photo shoot for the intro to his Comedy Central Half Hour. The door opened and in walked Mike, wearing a shiny leather jacket over his perfectly pressed clothes. But what stood out to me the most – and this is going to sound weird – was his skin. I’ve seen Mike’s comedy and know his backstory, which includes a blue collar New Jersey upbringing and handing out jars of his homemade pasta sauce at comedy shows, but he had the complexion of a much more pampered man. I decided to never bring it up again…until today, when I saw a recent tweet of Mike’s that said, “My Comedy Central special airs on Oct 7th at midnight. The makeup lady said I was the only guy who moisturized.” This is the interesting juxtaposition that is Mike Recine. He’s a comic known for his gritty, dark wit, and boundary pushing, who simultaneously is concerned with his appearance and fear that there will be empty seats at the taping of his special. This blend of aplomb and imperfection is what makes Mike an interesting comedian to watch. I talked to Mike about the special, starting standup as a teenager, and the everyday people who shape his comedic style.
What have you been doing in your downtime in New Orleans?
I walked around a lot, saw the French Quarter. I’m really excited they decided to do the specials here. It seems like a really fun town and not PC. I’m really happy it’s not in Portland or somewhere like that, you know, like where they don’t experience any joy.
Since you brought up the subject of political correctness, some of your material gets pretty dark and, based on your comments, clearly has the ability to make certain audiences uncomfortable. Was that your intentional style since you started comedy?
Yeah, I guess, but I never…the last thing I want to do is be The Guy Who Says Shocking Stuff Just for the Hell of It. I really try to find the humor in that stuff. It’s funny to me. I like stuff that has a little bit of an edge, a little bit of, “I can’t believe he got away with that.” That’s the stuff I enjoy and hopefully other people do too.
I watched one of your Conan sets where you get into the subjects of mental disability and mixed race adoptive families. You’re a young, straight, white guy in a culture where people are very particular about what you should and shouldn’t talk about. Your joke about adoption actually makes a relevant point, but sometimes overly sensitive people don’t even allow you to get to that point.
Yeah, that happens sometimes in New York when I do these rooms in Brooklyn. But I feel like anybody who is offended by the stuff I say just isn’t listening. I think a lot about the jokes that I have and what I say. I don’t think I’m saying anything that’s oppressive. But maybe I’m just a piece of shit.
You started doing open mics as a teenager.
Yeah, I did an open mic in a Panera Bread when I was 15. It was a mixed open mic. Me and my friend Stan did standup comedy and then the rest was poets. This family was sitting there eating dinner and this girl goes up and does a poem about blowing a guy.
I didn’t know you could do shows at Panera Bread.
Yeah, it was just in the front of the dining room.
Maybe they were trying to position themselves as a neighborhood coffee shop. Like, “Let’s have live, local entertainment.” And then the blowjob poet killed it.
Pretty sure they don’t do it anymore.
There’s a lot going on here leading up to you actually recording your special. They have you doing interviews, photo shoots, just a lot of behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle. What do you make of all this?
I guess it’s fine. This is the first day that I’ve done it. The only pressure I feel is to not be overweight. I’ve been doing standup for 10 years. These last 10 years have been leading up to this, so I don’t want to mess it up. But I just have to go out be myself. I don’t feel like I’m answering your question.
Let me put it this way: is this type of experience a first for you?
I’ve done Conan and Just for Laughs, so I just think of it as not that big of a deal. You’re there to do comedy. Comedy is what I do. That’s my end of the deal. All this other stuff I don’t have to worry about. Although, I do think that I might get into the theater and there will be holes in the crowd, pockets with no people. I know this isn’t like a bar show in Brooklyn, but you still imagine everything that could go wrong. I’m never really excited for stuff leading up to it because something could always happen. But once I get up there I’m fine.
Are you a dyed-in-the-wool standup comic or are you trying to branch out to other avenues of entertainment, like acting and writing?
I try to, but I think it’s going to be standup for a long time. That’s what I like doing and I think that’s what I’m good at. There’s nothing like being in front of an audience and getting that reaction. Sometimes when I watch movies or TV shows I can tell if the writer has never been in front of an audience.
Your parents flew in to see you record your Half Hour. Are you really close with your family?
I think so. My grandfather is funny. My mom’s pretty funny. They hit me, so that probably helps. They’re very working-class Jersey, especially my grandparents. They have that working-class, blue-collar mentality that I really like. My girlfriend’s family is from Staten Island and all her uncles are like cops and firefighters. They’re the funniest people to me. I hope I can bring a little bit of that to what I do as a standup. I used to work for 1-800-GOT-JUNK for a little bit. I was never around funnier people than at that job.
Your debut album Union Delegate came out at the end of 2015. What are some of your goals for after the special comes out?
Road work is a big deal. I’m hoping to get on the road as a headliner and be able to do hours. 20 minutes is nothing compared to having to be funny for an hour. I’d like to make some shorts and maybe do a podcast or something. Anything that helps me connect to people. You said earlier that my stuff is a little bit darker. Even if the whole room isn’t into it, there’s always a few people who are really into it. My challenge right now is finding those people and developing that fan base.