Nate Fridson: My Nemesis?
Nate Fridson is a guy who I’ve always been both amazed by and a bit jealous of on stage. It seems like right from the beginning, her had a clear and distinct voice and point of view. If the notion of cliques in the comedy world of outcasts is possible, it seemed like Nate was the head of the clique of the cool kids being Nate, Matt McClowery and Adam Sokol.
Recently it came to light that Nate is gearing up to head to New York to continue his growth in comedy. It was important for me to have my Marc Maron-esque interview with Nate before he left. For a long time, and more so in the past couple of years, I’ve felt like there was some sort of bad blood between the two of us. I don’t know where that stemmed from. I felt like he didn’t respect what I did on stage and maybe didn’t respect me as a person at all. I mentioned a few times to him that I really wanted to catch up before he moved. Well, we finally got the chance while standing in the alley behind Club Bart, the club where we first met.
I’m willing to take a certain amount of ownership for this because I know my brain works in a weird way, but I feel a certain amount of animosity between the two of us and that you’re sort of my nemesis.
Why would you say that?
There have been little moments here and there and I’ve tried to trace it back to figure out where it started from. The only thing I can point to the start of having a weird shift in our friendship, if I can say friendship.
Is when I stuck up for you at Chaplin’s when Ted Riot was getting in your face and being pretty vocally anti-Semitic.
Did that come off as shitty of me like you thought I didn’t think you could fight your own battle?
No, actually if I had any feeling about that later, a Chaldean guy followed me into the bathroom at Chaplin’s and tried to fight me for being Jewish. He put his hands on me and we had to be separated. So…
So you miss Chaplin’s?
So I miss Chaplin’s! But no I didn’t feel anything like that at all. Nemesis kind of means a two way thing. Are you pissed off at me?
No, but I still have to wonder because while this is going to sound lame once verbalized there are a series of moments where you just needle me seemingly for the sake of needling me. For example, one time at Ann Arbor you just walked up to me, looked at the skater shoes I was wearing and mockingly said, “Nice shoes.” And there’s a roast thing, where it seems like your go to line for me is that I’m a hack. And I’d like to think you don’t think I’m really a hack.
Here’s where the insecurity comes into play. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what you do on stage and think you’re phenomenally funny.
And because of that, I’d like to think that you have some sort of respect for what I do and you don’t just dismiss me as the married guy talking about marriage.
Gosh, I’m so sorry. It might just be that I’m not good enough to come up for a good joke for everyone at a roast. At the Jeff Ford roast, I don’t think Bill (Bushart) is a hack either. I said, Detroit has a bad reputation on the road and half of that is Bill. I was just telling a roast joke. I’m sorry if I made you think I have anything against you. I probably just liked your shoes with that other thing!
I’m pretty sure looking back at the shoes, you didn’t really like them!
No, I used to wear Airwalks and Vans and shit like that. My dad still wears DCs. That’s his thing. I’ve been walking around thinking we were friends. I hope you can put this behind you.
You know what, they were DC shoes.
Did I mention my dad?
No. And you said it in a tone that clearly said you thought they were the most ridiculous shoes you’ve ever seen. Well, let’s segue out of this part that I’ve been holding onto for a year and a half and talk about your dad. I think it’s great that because your dad is a professional artist by trade that he seems to be amazingly supportive of your art. I used to see him at a ton of shows.
Yeah. My dad and my mom are both extremely supportive of it. I think my dad knew very early on that I wanted to pursue comedy. He told me before I even did it, “If you want to do comedy, do comedy.” He totally gave me his blessing.
Yes. Both my parents amassed a library of Woody Allen movies on VHS. They thought it was important for their children to see the things they thought were important comedies. They were really into the early SNL casts and Ghostbusters and Blues Brothers. They showed me Ghostbusters at a really early age. That’s my favorite movie still. And the Marx Brothers. They were both just really into it.
Wow. So they were introducing you to really good comedy at an early age.
Do you have siblings?
I have two younger brothers.
Do they have any aspirations towards comedy?
I don’t think so, but they’re both very funny. The middle brother Blake has a sillier sense of humor. The youngest, Russell is smart and understated. He has a dry sense of humor.
Did you start comedy while you were in college?
I started my senior year. The first time I did it, was in a contest of the food court of the International Center. It was Last Spartan Standing. I went to Michigan State.
You’ve been in this six or so years. I feel like you’ve always had a really defined voice, but within the past few months you’ve gotten even sharper. How has what you do changed over the years?
Oh gosh. When I was first getting a lot of stage time I was writing these really long pieces. Then for awhile my jokes started getting shorter. I’m kind of in a different, weird place. I hope I’ve got further to go. I think I’ve gotten a little darker. I don’t think I’m super dark though.
Your girlfriend Meredith comes to a lot of shows with you. Does it help to have a girlfriend who seems to be pretty into comedy as well?
Yeah. I think it’s been great for me. We were seeing each other before the first time I did comedy. We’ve been seeing each other since college. She’s been super supportive. There was a while when we both graduated college, we were both living at home and college was a way that we could keep seeing each other. We were both working jobs and it was tough seeing each other.
You travel in a pretty tight group with McClowry and Sokol. Do you guys write together?
I’ve never had much luck figuring out how to do that. I think you get a lot of ideas from talking to each other and bouncing ideas of each other. Matt and I will do this thing where after a show we’ll call each other and have a post game kind of thing. That reviews the show in your mind.
One of the fun things for me in watching you and Matt, since you’re the two who are still here, is seeing how your jokes develop with adding tags and things like that. Is that something that comes from your post game phone calls?
I think so. I think it can come from any number of places.
When you started at the International Center, how are things different than what you thought they’d be?
Gosh. To be honest, I did comedy that night. I did a set that night. For so long it seemed like I could do comedy at open mics, but this seemed like a pipe dream. I always thought comedy was so fascinating and incredible. The comics I looked up to, it just seemed like they were doing a completely different thing than what I was doing.
My memory is that you had it right out of the gate, but you didn’t feel that?
No. And I still think I have a long way to go.
This is no secret. The Detroit scene has had a very bad reputation for a very long time, but recently has gotten very good. What do you think lead to that?
I think the Detroit scene right now is as strong as it’s been since I’ve been here. When I first moved to this area Mike Stanley just left. Vince Averill and Jesse Popp were still around kicking ass. They left and for awhile there was this dearth for awhile. When they left there was no one to take their place. But now there are just so many guys coming up who are progressing so quickly and writing a lot. There are so many interesting voices coming up like Trevor Smith, Brad Austin, Mike O’Keefe, and Ricarlo Flannigan. There are a ton more.
I felt like when I started live comedy was dying, but now there seems to be a rebirth.
I never shared that. I thought there was great comedy happening. I was into Stanhope, Chris Rock. Feeling Kinda Patton had just come out. I know what you mean though. There is kind of a surge.
Well, what I mean is, the money I was making when I started as an MC is now feature pay. And the money a headliner makes is feature pay from eight or ten years ago. But for lack of a better word, the alternative scene is putting a spark into live comedy.
It’s putting a spark and it’s affecting other types of comedy. There are more interesting things happening in genres that aren’t necessarily alternative.
You mentioned Vince and Jesse earlier. They’ve both moved to New York, which is where you’re going soon. Why did you pick New York over Austin or Chicago or any of the other places that have really nice comedy scenes?
I’ve never been to Austin, but I hear it’s great. I hear it’s the kind of place you go to and never want to leave. My goal with the move is to be as good at comedy as I can get. I heard a comic one time refer to New York once as Comedy Grad School. You go to your undergrad somewhere and try to figure out who you are. Especially what I’ve seen from Adam Sokol when he’s come back, he just has so much new stuff. I did a show with him out there at the Port Authority. He just has interesting takes on getting acclimating. In a month his entire life changed. He quit his job that he had for a decade, he got married, he moved out of his apartment and moved to New York. That shakes up your view point. Every time I see him, I think, “Wow, he’s really doing great!”
Let’s wrap on this. You’re six years in. What are your goals for the next six years?
Well, I hope to have done new festivals and areas where I’ve never performed before. TV would be nice. I have no idea what to do about that other than keep writing and get up in front of the right people. I guess that’s part of why you go to New York. I really just want to keep getting better at this.
That’s a nice goal since you can’t really control anything else. I like that.
What that really all in my head?
I don’t wish this in your head, but I never had any ill will towards you?
You’ve never dismissed what I do as, oh there’s the married guy talking about marriage stuff.
Look, the greatest comic alive made two of the funniest special I’ve seen in years talking about marriage. I don’t dismiss any subject.
Would this be awkward if I asked you for a critique and made this all about me? What do you like about me and what don’t you like?
I’ve seen a more honed way in the thing you did at the Hamtramck show with the titty bar thing where you talk to the kid and you have a frantic energy.
Oh, my tribute to a surreal Jeff Scheen routine where it’s just a weird thing.
Oh, maybe that’s why I like it. Jeff’s really funny!
Let’s squeeze this in. Sometimes I worry because my parents are and have always been super supportive of me that I’m not damaged enough to do comedy. You seem like you had a really good childhood too. What drives you to do comedy? If I wanted to be overly analytical, I could trace my need for it to the fact that my mom has always loved me unconditionally and now I just want an audience to love me unconditionally too for thirty or so minutes at a time.
I had a fantastic childhood. I wanted for nothing. I had loving support from my parents. They were always behind all their children’s pursuits and cheering us on. From an early age, making someone laugh was the greatest feeling I could ever experience. It was my purpose in life. School work was secondary. Paying attention in class didn’t matter even a fraction to how important it was to me to make friends and people in class laugh and pay attention to me. It felt like a high.
So now you’re like a drug addict chasing for that. Okay, this has ended a little bit like a WTF interview, so are we good?
Are we good? We’re good! That was fun!