Nate Bargatze talks about touring with Jimmy Fallon, writing clean comedy and performing on late-night TV

Published Oct. 7, 2013

Nate Bargatze is calling from Fargo, N.D., where he's about to open for Michael Ian Black at the University of North Dakota. He's talking about his upcoming tour stop in Tampa, where he'll open for Jimmy Fallon, and reminiscing about the last time he came to Tampa, opening for Anjelah Johnson.

"It sounds like I just open," he chuckles. "I do headline."

And he should. Thanks in part to appearances on Conan and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Bargatze is a rising star in the world of stand-up, a favorite not just of Black, Fallon and Johnson, but of top comics like Marc Maron. It's not quite what you'd expect from the New York comic, given Bargatze's Southern drawl (he grew up near Nashville, Tenn.), laid-back everyman persona and clean style of comedy, best captured on his 2012 album Laughed At By a Clown.

On Wednesday, Bargatze will perform with Fallon, Nick Thune and Julian McCullogh in a sold-out show at the Tampa Theatre. We called him for his thoughts on Late Night, Southern comedy and more. Here are excerpts.

It's funny — you grew up in Tennessee, but you never really did the whole Southern stand-up circuit. The bulk of your career has been in New York and Chicago.

Yeah, most of it in New York. Chicago, I was there in the beginning, and I did a year and a half in Chicago. So I was around, but I was so new. I took classes and would go up maybe once or twice a week, nothing crazy. New York was where I went up every night.

Even now, are people preoccupied with your Southernness?

I don't know. They think it's cool. It's funny, so many people in New York and Chicago, everybody's from somewhere else. But my accent used to be a lot thicker, and it would come up quite often. I think you can use it to your benefit, just to have a different point of view and stuff.

Were you ever recruited by the Blue Collar Comedy people? Did they ever come to you and open a briefcase?

(laughs) I wish. Take me to some secret room, and all four of them are in there, and I'm like, "Uh, hey?" No, weirdly, the South — not that they don't get me, but I was never much down there. I was just in New York, and I don't think anybody ever reached out to go do any southern stuff. Actually, CMT was my first TV spot. I do want to be part of everything southern, but I never got reached out to by those guys. I don't think I was around them enough. I was so new.

How did you get to know Jimmy Fallon?

First time I ever met him was at a comedy club called the Stand in New York City. He randomly came down there and I ended up talking to him before the show, and he stayed and watched some of the show and saw my set, and that led to getting to do his show. That's the whole point of doing comedy in New York, is you just hope someone big can come down and catch you on a night, and it happened that way.

Would you say you know him well enough to call him a friend?

I think I got his email. So I'm moving up. It was just first through Twitter, but now I can email him. I don't have his phone nubmer, so I'm not all the way there yet. He's so busy. But I think if I had a question, I could definitely reach out to him. The friendship is building. Unless I tank these shows. Then the friendship could end immediately.

I saw you tweeted from his post-Emmys party. What was that like?

That was wild. I got to take my wife, and I felt like that was the first thing (where) my wife ever thought I was really in show business. It was amazing just to go, because it's at this hollywood party, so all these celebrities are there. And (Fallon) met my wife that night, so it really made you feel like excited.

What's the experience like of doing Fallon's Late Night?

It's not this chaotic scene. I kind of just stay in the green room, and you poke out to see if you see a couple of the other celebrities. I was there with Val Kilmer, and I was in the bathroom with him, and to me, that was crazy. I'm like, "That's Val Kilmer in the bathroom. All right, it's happening." It's stupid, but for me, I enjoyed it.

Among your friends in the New York comedy circuit, how is the impending late night switchover viewed, with the Tonight Show being based in New York? How is the late-night TV scene viewed among New York comics?

It's huge. I feel like as far as New York comics (go), Letterman was the one. You want to do it. But the fact that Fallon's moving the Tonight Show to New York is going to change everything. I think it's going to put a lot more focus on New York. There are a lot of jobs in New York, but not as many as L.A. You have Letterman and Fallon, and then you have SNL and the Daily Show and Colbert Report. There's not a crazy amount of writing jobs in New York. Maybe it'll get a lot more New York guys on (TV), and eventually for everybody, that'll be that thing — you gotta have that credit.

This tour is called the "Clean Cut Comedy Tour." Any significance to that? Your comedy's pretty clean.

It's not like a church, but I think the idea is for all of us to be clean. I'm clean, Fallon's clean, and Nick and Julian are basically clean. I think the idea of it is to be a clean show, to go along with his comedy and his brand. I think that's a big reason that he took a liking to me, was the fact that I was clean, because he was always clean his whole career as well.

It seems like there's a higher degree of difficulty to that. Is that just how you've always worked? Is it a greater challenge for you to do stuff without resorting to F-bombs and touchy subject matter?

It's how I started out. I was always clean from the beginning, and I think it's not tough for me now. I just think clean. I have jokes about drinking and stuff, but I have no sex jokes. Not to say I don't know if I'd never write one; maybe I will one day, but I just don't think like that right now. So it'd be tougher for me to write real dirty joke than it would be a clean joke.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*