Monday, June 24, 2024

How Mark Normand Went From YouTube Comic to Bagging a Netflix Special

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For a working stand-up comic, an hour on Netflix is the current equivalent of being asked back to the couch by Johnny Carson.

Now, New Orleans native and current West Village resident Mark Normand is the proud owner of that distinction with Soup to Nuts, premiering on the streamer on July 25. Local viewers can also catch the comic at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on August 11.

“It seems like a lot of people are getting these specials now, but I’m honored and happy and I’ll take it,” he says of the Netflix show. “I’m pretty much under the radar. I’m not very mainstream.”

Indeed, Normand is probably one of the most successful comics you’ve never heard of, though he’s been at his craft for more than a decade. He’s got two Comedy Central specials under his belt, one of them executive-produced by Amy Schumer after he appeared on her series for the network. Normand’s circulated the talk shows and is finally generating enough momentum to see his stand-up begin to stand out.

Blending the wry observations of Jerry Seinfeld (who has also taken Normand under his wing) with George Carlin’s language analysis — all while delivering one-liners with the rat-a-tat alacrity of a Rodney Dangerfield or Henny Youngman — Norman is an unabashed student of the form.

At the same time, he’s determined to tackle the vernacular of current day, no holds barred. Gender factors into a bit about female school shooters; politics come to roost in a weather report delivered by both the left and right-wing; and history has no safehouse on Normand’s stage, where a comparison of slavery and the Holocaust induces hearty groans. On the other hand, he asks if there are any gay people in the audience. “Thank you for coming out!” Brump-bum-bum.

Unlike most stand-up comics, Normand has no desire to star in a sitcom, though he’s pitched plenty in his career, or the motion pictures.

“I’m not much of an actor,” he confesses. “I’ve spent too much time honing this character.”

Normand’s perfectly happy playing in 1,500-seat theaters around the world, while touring the large part of the year. His late-period career surge coincides with the pandemic in 2020, when he produced and self-released his own one-hour special, Out to Lunch. The YouTube hit was turned down by every other streamer and network, and that’s when his following took off.

“Nobody would touch me, so I had to put it up for free, and it just blew up,” he says. “The Internet’s great for comics. Who needs these gatekeepers telling us what’s what? Let the audiences decide.”

Normand’s act is precise, with no wasted motions or jokes, though the laughter sometimes comes in waves of recognizing the punch line.

“I’ve got a big stack of notes in my back packet,” he said. “I just assume the audience is bored.  Just a guy up there with no props, no singing, no music, no set, no nothing. I feel like I have to punch it up just to keep their attention.”

Much of the subtext in “Soup to Nuts” does obliquely tackle comedy’s current nemesis, the left’s politically correct dogma that has turned making fun of other people’s differences into a hate crime.

Like the great Don Rickles, Normand, an Italian-American himself, is an equal-opportunity offender. A refreshing reminder that, despite all our differences, we’re also all human under the skin.

“I do think that may be a fad, so I’m just barreling right through,” he cracks. “I feel like I’m wearing the bad clothing styles just because I know they will eventually change and come back, like bell bottoms. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. The real inclusivity is to make fun of everybody.”

As for the future, again, unlike his colleagues, Normand, now in his late 30s and married with no children, is quite content about where he is. He hosts a pair of podcasts with fellow comics Sam Morril (“We Might Be Drunk”) and Joe List (“Tuesdays with Stories”) in between tour dates.

“I like the level I’m at now,” he insists. “I know I’m a weirdo. [For] most comics, it’s never enough. They want to climb to the top of the mountain. I’m happy.  I just wanted to not have a day job or work in a cubicle. I wanted to be a comedian and write all day. I’ve succeeded that further than I ever thought I would.  I’d love to stay where I am forever. It’s all about the freedom to do whatever I want without answering to someone in a suit.”

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