It can be a tricky thing for a stand-up comedian to promote a new stand-up show fresh off the heels of releasing a successful special. On one hand, you want to discuss the material that brought you wide acclaim. But on the other hand, you need to walk the line of promoting the hour you are currently working on without spoiling the element of surprise involved with the material. This is a problem that is specific to the craft. Even M. Night Shyamalan could maybe give you some plot points without spoiling a twist. Comedians have to leave you in the dark. Nate Bargatze is experiencing this strange phenomenon right now.
“Building a new act, it’s hard once your special comes out you want to have an hour of new material. At the very beginning of it, it’s not going to be as good as it is towards the end when you’re ready for the special. You’ve got to keep it a secret. Jokes are all on a surprise, not knowing where this is going to go. You don’t talk about it much,” says Bargatze when I speak with him over the phone ahead of his headlining performance at The Town Hall this Saturday as part of the NY Comedy Festival.
After years of constant touring and grinding it out, the Tennessee native experienced a huge jump in popularity after being included in Netflix’s stand-up series, the aptly named “The Standups,” along with this year’s hour-long special “The Tennessee Kid.” With the release of both of these specials on such an omnipresent platform, Bargatze felt a seismic shift in terms of the venues he was able to play on the road. But in his eyes, it just seems like a hard won victory after years of sticking in there to see if it will all work out.
“Those changed my life,” says Bargatze of the specials. “I would say [more so] ‘The Tennessee Kid’ hour, but they were both big for me. There are things that add into it. I would say, you’ve got to be around and doing stuff. I’ve done 13 late night sets. All of the late night sets, TV shows, Sirius Radio, Pandora, having your album on Spotify. All of these things. Sirius Radio is really big, because people listen to you while they’re driving. You just have to be around. Also touring on the road … I’ve been touring on the road for five straight years and just going to city to city.”
After beginning his stand-up career at venues like Carolines here in the city, coming back to headline such a big and distinguished venue in New York is something that Bargatze never thought he would achieve in his early days. As a young comic, he even remembers attending the festival 10 years ago with his friend, fellow comic Dan Soder, to see one of their heroes, Bill Burr, perform at the exact venue he will be playing this Saturday. Looking back on his younger self, it seems surreal to Bargatze. At that time, he and Soder were looking to perform at any place that would have them. Now, he will be performing at one of the most revered theaters in the country.
“In the moment, you are definitely sitting there thinking ‘I want to play here.’ But that was 10 years ago, I don’t even know if my goals were that far ahead. They were more reasonable. Like ‘I wanna headline Carolines and sell that out,’” remembers Bargatze.
“When you are coming up, I don’t think you really know how. You just want to keep going forward and hopefully stuff will happen. Comedy is weird, it’s not very direct in that you do this, this, and this and then you’re huge. It could take someone 15 years or 30 years. You never know what the path is going to be,” he adds. “When I was watching Burr, I remember wanting to have fans like that. When we were watching him at Town Hall, everybody knew him. I remember that being a goal. You want everyone to know who you are. You want to have done good enough that people are coming to watch you and are excited to see you. … It’s fun to perform when nobody knows you. But it’s very, very fun to perform when everyone knows you.”