Nick Swardson's Keeping It Real
Season 2 of Pretend Time premieres October 5th on Comedy Central
Starting his career in comedy at the young age of 18, Nick Swardson had plenty of time to prepare for a lifetime in the limelight, and soon found himself on television within a year of performing on his first open mic. After years of cutting his teeth on the road, Swardson became one of the youngest comics to perform on Comedy Central Presents. He went on to be featured in such comedies as Grandma’s Boy, Blades of Glory, and most recently Just Go With It alongside Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. His latest project comes in the form of the second season of Pretend Time, a sketch comedy show for Comedy Central. The first season featured outlandish scenarios such as cats in wheelchairs doing cocaine, and the flamboyant antics of one of Swardson’s marquee characters, Gay Robot.
SanDiego.com was lucky to speak with Swardson while on vacation in Hawaii, and asked him about his early years in stand-up and what fans can expect to see in season two of Pretend Time.
Why did you choose Hawaii?
Nick Swardson: I like the vibe; I like the energy and the water. I’m working on a new screenplay right now, so I’m kind of just writing at my leisure. The energy out here is super mellow and I needed it. I had kind of an intense year and a really intense summer, and I just needed to decompress a little bit.
Why do you describe this past year as intense?
NS: I had three movies come out. I had Just Go With It, 30 Minutes or Less and Bucky Larson, and in the middle of all that I was shooting my show. The show is really intense, I’m the executive producer, writer; I’m in every sketch and doing all these characters and doing all this stuff. And in the middle of all that I had to promote all these films and travel all over the world and all over the country. Trying to get these movies off the ground and promoting Bucky Larson, even though it’s getting a zero on Rotten Tomatoes and all these people hating on it and hating me and calling me the devil, it just was exhausting.
Would you describe stand-up comedy as your primary passion?
NS: I love stand-up and I’ve done it for 17 years, so it definitely wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan type of thing. I’ve done three specials and put out two albums. Ultimately yeah, I wanted to break out of it, not fully, but yeah, make a transition to film and television for sure. But I’m not pioneering that idea; you can go back to Woody Allen and Bill Cosby and Steve Martin. A million people have done that.
Were you able to do any stand-up this year with such a hectic schedule?
NS: Not at all. I hardly did stand-up at all this year.
Was that frustrating for you?
NS: I was exhausted. And I’m one of those comedians where I just don’t like to perform if I don’t have anything to say. If I don’t have new material; if I don’t have new jokes I don’t like to perform. Just repeating old jokes does nothing for me.
Do you remember the first time you ever did stand-up comedy?
NS: Yeah, of course. I remember it pretty vividly. I signed up at an open mic in Minneapolis, Minnesota and anybody whose first time it was automatically gets to go on. You get three minutes, and I just remember my energy was through the roof. I just had so much nervous-crazy energy, and it was pretty intense. I just remember going up and being really physical and running around and storytelling and doing all these jokes. And it worked; my first time went really, really well. Not to say that I was brilliant, but it was Minnesota and the audiences were very nice. But my whole philosophy when I first started stand-up was like, I was terrified of any kind of silence on stage, so my kind of mentality was just like, ‘Keep moving, keep talking, keep going, don’t give anybody a window to go like, ‘Fuck you!’’. So I was just really active when I first started.
Were you hammered your first time up, or did you prefer staying sober to perform?
NS: No, not at all. The funny thing was, when I first started stand-up I was really matter-of-fact about it. I really went at it like, ‘I’m not gonna party, I’m not gonna do drugs.’ I partied so much in high school, when I graduated high school I was a lot more mellow. When I started stand-up I was very business minded about it. I was like, ‘Ok, for me to make it on TV and do a special and to get noticed and get discovered and get the fuck out of Minnesota, I’ve got to be clean. I want every joke I write to be able to work in every single state, I’m not going to do any provincial comedy; and local bullshit.’ So I just went at it very matter-of-fact. I just wrote my ass off, and wrote a really accessible act and committed to that. I wasn’t really partying then.
After your first night doing stand-up, how long did to take you to put together a 20 or 30 minute set?
NS: I hit the ground running, I was fucking nuts. The best advice I ever got was, ‘Keep writing.’ A lot of the club owners were like, ‘Just keep writing.’ I probably had a solid half hour after the first year. I had a manager within seven months. I had Chris Rock’s manager. He discovered me in Minnesota, I had won a contest to go to the Aspen Comedy Festival through HBO, and I won this contest after I had been doing stand-up for six months. I won this contest, got picked to go to the festival as one of the top 25 new comics in the country. Then all these managers started calling my mom’s house in Minnesota, and this guy flew out and saw me. I was on TV a year after I open-mic’ed for the first time. I did my fist TV set on NBC’s Comedy Showcase.
When you first started going out on the road, were featuring or headlining at this point?
NS: I definitely was not ready to headline and I really wanted to do the road. One problem that me and my manager had was, the manager wanted me to do sitcoms and to get a television deal, and I was so green and so young and I knew that was not the route for me to go. I wanted to build up my act, so I got out on the road and he basically fired me. So I worked the road and picked up any gigs that I could and drove across country and made this conscious choice that instead of going to L.A. I was going to go to New York.
What year did you move to New York?
How long did you stay in New York before moving to L.A.?
NS: A couple of years.
Would say that the time you spent in New York City really helped you develop as a comic?
NS: Yeah, it did for sure, because that’s where I really started bombing. I started bombing and then I also tapped into the alternative comedy scene; Luna Lounge and stuff like that. So that kind of sparked the more creative and taking-risks side and I stopped focusing on being really broad and accessible and was able to get more absurd and stuff like that.
When did Adam Sandler become aware of what you were doing?
NS: He came on later when I was around 26. He stumbled across a special I had on Comedy Central and wrote my name down and came into his office and was like, ‘Does anybody know this kid?’ And the younger guys in the office were like, ‘Yeah, we know who he is.’ So I just came in and met with him and we talked about the movie Grandma’s Boy. They had the script and they wanted me to rewrite it, they knew I was a writer. The rest is kind of history. We wrote it, they loved it and that was that.