An Interview with Comedian Nate Smith

Nate Smith has been performing improv, stand-up, and sketch comedy since 1999. In 2008 he helped open the Curious Comedy Theater, a non-profit comedy theater in Portland, OR. 

In 2009 his first son was born and in his hiatus from live comedy  turned to the Internet, specifically Tumblr, to find an audience. Now in 2013 his personal Tumblr, Best Nate Smith Ever, has over 230,000 followers and is featured on Tumblr’s Spotlight for Funny blogs.

In 2012 he started Awkward Elevator with his writing partner Sam Holmquist. Together they create new humor posts every day which get featured on Tumblr’s LOL Tag page, College Humor, Laughing Squid, Gizmodo, and the front page of Reddit. I happened upon his Awkward Elevator site a few weeks ago and became an instant fan. The site is pure, unadulterated comic genius. Nate was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his comedy.  

JOSHUA: What is your writing process like? Do your ideas just pop into your head or do you work at them?

NATE: Ideas just pop into my head and then I work at them. I try to have a dedicated writing time every day. The best time for that is early in the morning before the family is awake. So I wake up around 5-6am every day and write. But my best ideas don't usually come to me during that time. They pop into my head throughout the day, usually during the most inconvenient times. I use Evernote to capture and organize all of my ideas. Most ideas aren't fully formulated so I will develop them the next morning during my writing session. 

I should also mention that all of the content created for Awkward Elevator, like the pizza crust post, are created during collaborative sessions with my comedy partner Sam Holmquist. We get together via Google Hangout (we live in different states and have never met in person) and hash out ideas as a team. Most of them come from my daily notes and Sam and I work on them, argue over them, and push each other until we are both laughing at the final product. 

JOSHUA: What do you think of anti-humor comedians guys like Neil Hamburger for instance?  

NATE: I'll admit that I had to Google Neil Hamburger, but I can see he's similar to what Andy Kaufman used to do. It's never been my favorite style, but I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I'm a fan of anything that gets laughs. It's a style I don't think I could ever pull off, but to those that can, more power to them. 

JOSHUA: Who are your top three favorite comedians? Your least favorite? 

NATE: Top 3: Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, and I think I'm required to say Louis CK. I dunno...there are some others that I want to squeeze in there, like Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan.  

Three Least Favorite: I don't spend a ton of time paying attention to who I don't like. One that comes to mind is Carlos Mencia. Not because of the allegations that he steals material, but because of one particular Comedy Central Special commercial I saw for him. Most commercials for a comedian will feature punchlines that show you that the comedian is funny. This particular commercial for Carlos Mencia showed a total of zero punchlines and all they really showed was him yelling that annoying "DO TO DOOO" catchphrase he uses. It was infuriating. 

JOSHUA: Besides being funny what else do you enjoy doing?

NATE: Well, these days I mainly enjoy raising my two boys (a 3-yr-old and a 10-mo-old). I'm required by law to say that. But I really do enjoy it because I get to play a lot of Ninja Turtles. I grew up playing sports...A LOT of sports. I don't really have time to participate in sports these days, but soon I'll be able to live vicariously through my sons, right? Also, I recently got into martial arts (Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu). I'm no good at it, but I really enjoy the physical and mental benefits of martial arts training. And...it makes me better at playing Ninja Turtles. 

JOSHUA: Tigers, bratwurst, or the beach?

NATE: Marry, kill (by way of eating), fuck. 

JOSHUA: Yourself in 15 syllables? 

NATE: All I want to do is make people laugh, is that so wrong....huh?

JOSHUA: What is your pet peeve? 

NATE: Not being listened to. Maybe that's the part of my psyche that has driven me to want to be a comedian and need attention all the time. But when I'm trying to talk to someone and they aren't listening, it just drives me crazy. And yet...I use Twitter.

JOSHUA: How close do you think we are to having an affordable flying car?

NATE: Uh...have you seen Dukes of Hazzard? We're there man. But to be serious, that probably will actually depend on the fuel source and how it affects big oil companies. We are just now seeing electric cars become common. So I'm going to say not anytime soon. 

JOSHUA: If you had to eat one food every meal for a year what would it be?

NATE: That food would easily be pizza (Cheese if I have to choose only one topping) and to drink I would have Mt Dew. I am practically doing that already. I have a new joke I'm working on that goes, "My eating habits are starting to catch up to me. For the record, my eating habits are, I eat pizza, and I drink soda. And after 32 years of that, my body is finally saying, 'Okay, party's over!'"

JOSHUA: What advice can you give to aspiring comedians?  

NATE: Never stop aspiring. I performed my first paid professional comedy show in 1999. I thought, "I've made it! This is it!" Then life took me down another path and now I have a lovely wife, 2 sons, and a full time job. I remember feeling like I missed my window and like I'd never achieve my goal of being a full time comedian. Then I realized that Rodney Dangerfield is just one example of a comedian who didn't get his big break until he was in his forties. I've been performing stand up and improv comedy for 13 years. While I'm still a long ways off from being a full time comedian, I now have an online following of 230,000 people. I'm far from accomplishing what I really want to in the world of comedy, but I love making people laugh. As long as I'm doing that, I'll be happy, and I'll never stop aspiring.

Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.

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