Comedian Mark Normand Owes His Career to a Joke About Wheat Thins

Mark Normand on Last Comic Standing
Mark Normand on Last Comic Standing

Comedian Mark Normand is an ever-present showman. He is always looking to dazzle his audience, real or imagined, whether performing a set at the Comedy Cellar or slurping pancakes drenched in cheap syrup across from me during his interview. When he speaks, he sounds like a 1940s horse-racing announcer. A fellow comic describes him as a "cartoon character," which seems to work for the New Orleans native who has become a staple in New York's stand-up scene over the past seven years, averaging a half-dozen spots a night -- when he isn't on the road, touring.

Normand has managed to improvise a life that many a stand-up comedian would envy. In 2010, Amy Schumer plucked him from a crowded, now-defunct comedy club in the West Village: Comix. His charm was such that she asked him to open for her tour the following week. "She just saw my act and said, 'Hey, I'm doing Hofstra.' I didn't know what Hofstra was. She was like, 'You wanna do Hofstra?' I thought it was a drug. I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do Hofstra.' "

The two did the college date, Normand met Schumer's mom, and the three hit it off. On the ride back into the city on the Long Island Rail Road, the two talked comedy. "She was like, 'Look, I'm gonna give you a bunch of dates.' She just emailed me with a bunch of dates for clubs in Chicago, Denver Comedy Works, Cap City -- it was crazy. I was a working comedian."

Since then, Normand's half-hour Still Got It, on Comedy Central, has debuted. He's appeared on Conan and Inside Amy Schumer and has a weekly podcast with comedian Joe List, called Tuesdays With Stories. On it, the two recount the highs and lows of their respective weeks: the women, the gigs, the women -- and the mercurial life on and off the road for the young comics.

Normand's a busy comic right now, but he still feels free to bitch. Hungover, barely catching flights for his tour to D.C., Austin, and Philly, he is also pitching a sitcom to several networks, but "no one seems to be biting." Don't pity Normand. He's opening for Amy Schumer at Carnegie Hall on November 7.

Schumer saved his career, he says. The first time she saw him, he was bombing, but a lucky joke about Wheat Thins won her over.

 

Normand then confesses his deepest fear, one he's never told anybody. "Stand-up is such a stressful thing and it scares me so much that I feel like, if I stop doing it, I'll lose it. It scares the hell out of me, so I want to keep doing it so I can kind of suppress the fear."

When asked about his rapid success, he replies confidently, "It's been about eight years of comedy. I just have a boyish face and a, uh, clean penis, so, uh, ya' know, might seem like it was all overnight, but I don't know -- I bust my ass. It was a lot of years of bitterness, sadness, depression, poverty, and then I finally got a little cash together.

"The more I do it, the more I feel like I'm winning, but the more I stop, the more stand-up wins. It's like if I was a race-car driver, every race scares me, but if I race every day I'm less scared. I get social anxiety, but if you hang out with people every day your anxiety goes down every day lower and lower, but the less you hang out with people, then you have to hang out with them again, you're like, 'Oh, God, I gotta hang out with people.' "

Comics spend a lot of time figuring out what is funny, but just as much time deciding what is not. "Trying too hard to be funny is never funny. Cool I don't find funny. People who are cool onstage? I don't like cool. And tough, tough is not funny. I hate when comics do a thing where they go, 'You know what I'm talking about.' Just tell me how it was. Don't try to tell me what I'm feeling."

When it comes to aspiring comedians, Normand offers this advice: "Go to New York; engulf yourself in comedy, if you really want to make it. Gotta go all the way, get in there, hard. You're gonna lose some friends, you're gonna lose a lot of money, and you're gonna lose some dignity. Kind of go with your gut a lot. Unless your gut is hack-y."

Mark Normand opens for Amy Schumer at Carnegie Hall Friday, November 7.

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