"I don't want to just make the same thing again with different words. I just wanna try and take a risk and do something different."
– Nick Thune
(The first minute or so of this conversation wasn't recorded.)
Nick Thune: With El Niño, it's just treacherous down here. I mean, we're dealing with overcast skies and 70 degree weather.
Guy MacPherson: Oh, my God.
NT: It's tough. And everyone's kind of bearing down and staying together and we'll get through it.
GM: You know you're calling Vancouver. I'm sure the weather's the same in your hometown of Seattle, but it's been raining nonstop for a couple days.
NT: Well, I'll tell you what, I'm going to be in Germany and London in the next few weeks, and Belgium, so I think coming to Vancouver will be a nice little upgrade, weather-wise.
GM: From Germany and Belgium?
GM: Why would you think that?
NT: The weather? Because right now in Berlin, where I'm going to be, it's 23 degrees Fahrenheit.
GM: Oh, yeah, that's cold.
NT: I can deal with a little rain.
GM: I saw that you're going to Europe. When does Vancouver figure into this? Before or after?
NT: After. I think I'm going to be home for three days and then I'm going to fly up to Vancouver.
GM: Have you performed here before?
NT: Yeah. I've actually performed at the same venue that I'm performing at, the Biltmore Cabaret. I did a little west coast tour about a year and a half ago, in August. But I also opened for Bob & David before at the Vancouver comedy festival. And I've done that festival a few times.
GM: Growing up in Seattle, did you ever come up here?
NT: Oh yeah, a lot. I spent a lot of time skiing in Whistler and Blackcomb growing up, as well. I spent a lot of time up in Canada, actually. Also my dad and I do a lot of fishing and spent a lot of time up in, like, Tofino and just off the coast up there.
GM: You're practically one of us.
NT: The biggest fish I ever caught was in Tofino, Canada.
GM: How big was that?
NT: Well, I was 13 years old so I gotta look back and think that my dad probably played a major role in me catching the fish. It was a 32-pound king salmon.
GM: Wow. Are you still eating it?
NT: Yep, still have it in the freezer. Just every year, one bite.
GM: You want to savour that.
NT: Uh-huh. Savour the memory.
GM: I've lost my train of thought with your big fish story.
NT: (laughs) Well, it could be a lie as far as you know. I feel like I've built up a good round of trust so far.
GM: Were you a musician first?
NT: Yeah. I mean, I really wanted to be a musician. And then when I realized I didn't have much original thought towards music, I started a cover band.
GM: Playing what kind of music?
NT: Our name was No Hablos and we basically just did covers of latin artists that were big in America, like Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglasias. It was a joke. We were comedically kind of a cover band. During the intermission I started doing my first, without knowing it, standup sets at kind of dive bars around Seattle. And that's when I realized that's the direction I needed to go in.
GM: I hear this from other comics who started out as musicians, that the talking eventually overtook the music.
NT: It's a very common thing. I have friends that are great musicians that also are hilarious. It comes through in their songs but also in their banter it's not there at all.
GM: And the songs aren't necessarily comedy songs, just witty and smart and funny.
NT: Exactly. I think my best example of that is Father John Misty. His songs have such a twist to them and they're so interesting and different than just a guy going up and singing about heartbreak.
GM: Musicians have a great sense of humour generally speaking. And kind of a dark sense of humour, too.
NT: Yeah, for sure. And they all kinda want to be comics. I think there's this kind of funny trade-off between comedians and musicians where we both kinda want to be doing what the other one's doing.
GM: I know Billy Connolly started out as a musician. Andy Kindler started out as a musician.
NT: Even Todd Barry plays drums, you know?
GM: Right. And Fred Armison.
GM: If you were to start an all-comedian band, who would your guys be?
NT: You know, I've actually talked about this to a few people. Do you know Kate Berlant?
NT: She's a really brilliant comedian that's coming out right now. But her and this guy Ben Kronberg and I were talking about doing it for a while. The thing is to be in a comedic band is one thing, but wished that I could just be in a real band of musicians and be taken seriously, but I just don't know if that's possible.
GM: Show business doesn't allow for things like that.
NT: No! I gotta take what I can get.
GM: You have one thing that you're good at and you're not allowed to be good at anything else.
NT: No. There's no more Bo Jacksons out there.
GM: Every actor that tries to sing, everyone goes, no, he's an actor.
NT: Yeah, I know. And it's kinda silly. I guess somebody like Jared Leto, I was surprised that after he started the band, that he could still come back around with an Oscar because you just think when somebody makes a decision like that, everyone kinda writes them off.
GM: I didn't know about Jared Leto.
NT: Oh, he's in a huge rock band.
GM: What is it?
NT: Uh, something to Mars. 30 Seconds to Mars or something like that. I mean, it's radio rock. I don't even know if I could place one of the songs ever, but I think they're pretty big.
GM: I read in an interview you did six years ago that it was a goal of yours to be able to speak about real things on stage at some point. Are you doing that now?
NT: Yeah. My new hour that I'm doing now is different than anything I've ever done. It's all new from my Netflix special and it's all true stories from my life. I think having a son is what kicked me into gear and also finishing my last album. I don't want to just make the same thing again with different words. I just wanna try and take a risk and do something different. And that's what I've been doing.
GM: Wait, how do you compare it to your Netflix special?
NT: In zero ways.
GM: Okay. So we've seen your special and what you're bringing up to Vancouver is a complete 180.
NT: Yeah, I mean I guess in the sense that it's still funny, but it's not me holding a guitar and telling one-liners. It's me standing there talking about my life.
GM: With no guitar.
NT: No, there's no guitar in it.
GM: People are going to be so disappointed.
NT: Ha! Believe me, I actually got through that. There was a time in the beginning where I was trying. I was still bringing the guitar but you could almost tell when I wasn't holding the guitar that people were like, 'What's happening here?' Eventually I just said I can't bring the guitar anymore. If I really want to make this jump and do this I have to go for it. And it was the best thing I ever did because it took me three months but it started to work. People don't come up and ask me about the guitar really anymore after shows. It was a good feeling to get through.
GM: Do you foresee a time when you will play the guitar again on stage?
NT: Oh yeah. Every now and again a venue will have a guitar there and I'll just grab it and do something. Not that I hated playing guitar anymore and felt like I had anything to prove; I just really thought it was getting too easy and I just needed to challenge myself because I figured growth isn't going to happen if I just kind of stay in this lukewarm water. I gotta jump ship.
GM: Marc Maron had nothing to do with this, did he?
NT: (laughs) No! In fact, I made my second album after my Marc Maron interview. Did you listen to that interview?
GM: Yeah. That was a while ago but I know he looks down on people with what he perceives as a gimmick.
NT: Yeah, and I kind of look down on people that look down on people.
GM: When was that interview, by the way?
NT: Gosh, I think it was one of the first 100 episodes of his podcast. I can't even really remember. I remember the feeling I had before and after and for the month after the interview when he put it online, which was just the sickest feeling ever.
GM: So it wasn't a good experience?
NT: No. I mean, it was a scary experience. I actually went in there thinking that I was going to just tear him down and make him feel like the horrible person that I thought he was. This sounds so silly but at the time I was still struggling with what I believed in God. I didn't know and I still don't. I actually just took a quiet ten minutes in my car and I think I prayed. I can't remember. But I went in with a whole different attitude of what I was thinking I was going to do. I just went in as myself and the way he came across in the beginning, and you can still read the comments, and then towards the end we ended up having just a real great conversation. And now we're friends. At the time I was so scared of him. And at the time, he hadn't yet fully come out as big as he is yet. His podcast so popular among industry and comedians and he had his own audience but now he's interviewing Barak Obama. I mean, it's just beyond the biggest podcast that's available. Last year I ended up opening for him and I was still wondering, like, 'I wonder what it's going to be like.' And the second he got into the town that we were performing in, he texted me, 'Let's go eat. What are we doing? Where's the coffee at?' And I was like, 'Oh, good. We're through it.'
GM: He seems to, on the show, have softened a bit.
NT: Yeah. I think it's just he's finally comfortable with who he is. He's gotten success. Not that he wasn't successful before. I mean, I knew who he was before I started standup and respected him and looked up to him. I ended up getting the same manager as him and I remember I just couldn't wait to meet him. And I met him at the Improv one time. My manager introduced us and the look he gave me was like, 'You're nothing. Don't talk to me.' I was like, 'Oh my God. Oh my God, what is this!' (laughs) But I know the feeling of wanting. I want my own TV show. I want to have everything. I'm also the type of person that is very comfortable with just waiting and enjoying myself. And I'm pretty happy with my life right now.
GM: You're still young. How old are you?
GM: You've got time. Especially if you put it in Maron terms.
NT: Yeah, I do have time. Even someone like Alan Rickman. You read like, oh my God, his first movie was Die Hard? That's crazy.
GM: You were a teen director at the Boys and Girls Club for five years. That's a noble job. But you wanted to go and make people laugh, which is also great. I think of people like Ken Jeong, a medical doctor. I think Gallagher and Joe Wong worked in science. We need these professions more than comedy. And there was a pharmacist on Last Comic Standing and Norm Macdonald told him to quit it and go into comedy. Why should you quit being a medical professional or researcher to do comedy?
NT: Yeah, I felt that way when I did that. I just imagined for my life I was going to be working at a non-profit organization with teenagers. I really liked it and was good at it, I think. And I never really left Seattle that much more than, like, Canada or Oregon. And I took a European trip and just realized how big the world was and I just felt so sheltered and I just said I gotta change, I gotta try something new whether I fail or whether I don't. I think at the time, too, I thought I don't mean anything to these kids if I haven't gone out and tried something. So if I go out and come back, I'll learn something. And that's what they can grow from. I'm still waiting to fail so I can go back. (laughs)
GM: Or you can just think of other good things to do while you're succeeding.
NT: Yeah. I do about two or three different Boys and Girls Club fundraisers every year. I started doing a golf tournament raising money. And then I do this holiday thing for getting kids... Because one of my favourite times working at the Club was Christmastime because we would do this toy drive to get kids toys that weren't really going to get very many Christmas toys or Hanukkah or whatever. I just remember that was the most fun thing in the world just to give presents to kids. The look on their faces...
GM: And now you have your own kid. Just one?
NT: Yeah, one kid. As far as I know.
GM: How old?
NT: He is two years and two months right now.
GM: Sweet. So it'll be good to get away to Europe for a while.
NT: Yeah, well, he's coming with me.
GM: Bringing the whole family?
NT: Yeah, my wife's sister lives in London so we're going to go to London. That's where my first week of shows are. And then I'm going to go out to Germany and that stuff on my own while she stays with her sister. Yeah, it's going to be a good time.
GM: Have you played Europe before?
NT: I have, yeah. I've played Norway, Sweden, I've played Denmark and Paris.
GM: You get people there who know you, obviously.
NT: Yeah, I think when you do something like that the only people that are coming are people that probably know you. It's interesting. They're either ex-pats or they're aware of the comedy community. Podcasts... Like doing Marc Maron's podcast, for instance, will bring people in other countries to my shows. When I performed in Australia, I think ten people came up to me afterwards and that's the only way they knew about me was doing Marc's podcast.
GM: It's an amazing time to do a comedian.
NT: Yeah, people all over the world are listening in to these mostly podcasts. And they also have access to YouTube and Netflix is going everywhere now, too. It's crazy when you go somewhere and you think Wow, I'm not selling out an arena right now but the fact I can bring out 150 people in Germany to a show feels like a cool feeling.
GM: You don't do a podcast, do you?
NT: No, but that's actually one of my New Year's resolutions. (laughs)
GM: To not do a podcast?!
NT: To not do a podcast.
GM: No, are you going to do one this year?
NT: You know, I hope so, yeah. I was just meeting with somebody, a friend of mine, and we have a really good back and forth, and I said maybe we should just do a podcast together. Maybe the podcast is really just us trying to figure out what our podcast is going to be. But there are just so many out there that I just don't want it to be some cookie cutter that's doing the same thing. My favourite two podcasts are the Todd Barry podcast and I like to tune into Marc if it's somebody that I like, as far as comedy goes. I like Todd's podcast because he's doing the same thing as Marc where he's interviewing comedians but it's kind of a whole different angle and his laid-back sense... I could just listen to him talk all day. I just think he's one of the funniest comedians right now.
GM: Okay, you got a call coming in. I'll let you go.
NT: I do. I hope that was enough. I hope I see you at the show.