American comedian Mark Normand’s brand of self-deprecating humor has led him to open for the likes of Louis C.K. and Amy Schumer. Before his China debut, we chat with the comic about how he got his start, and what it is like for an introvert to be a comedian.
How did your upbringing in New Orleans shape you as a comedian?
I don’t know if NOLA shaped me at all, I think it was more my parents. My mom taught me that nothing is really that serious, and not to follow the pack.
My dad was just a funny guy, and funny is likable. My folks were both very busy, so unless what you said was interesting or funny, no one noticed you. And that stuck with me. If NOLA did anything, it taught me about fun. From Jay Fest, Mardi Gras to Bourbon Street, I learned that fun is important.
How do you think of material for your jokes?
George Carlin said that comedy comes from looking around and saying, “There’s something wrong here.” It’s that and the twinkle feeling when an idea hits you. Something hits you then you write it out and tweak it on stage. Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn’t. And you repeat that over and over again.
You’ve joked about being an introvert. How does this affect your performance on stage in front of a live audience, or when you are filming for television?
Being an introvert sucks. I get off stage and I’m a wreck again. People always wonder, “Hey, if you’re an introvert, then how can you perform in front of crowds?” But stand-up is perfect for an introvert. I get to prepare what I say to you, it’s all worked out, you listen intently and if you talk, you get thrown out. Then I get paid! What a perfect gig.
What was it like opening for big-name comedians like Louis C.K. and Amy Schumer?
Opening is an amazing experience. I got to watch Amy go from comedy club comic to selling out Madison Square Garden.
C.K. is amazing too because I grew up enjoying his stuff. I think he’s one of the best comics in the world, so just hanging out with him was wild. One great thing about comedy is it’s not that big. It’s unlikely for young musicians to get a chance to hang with Paul McCartney, but I got to sit at a table with Dave Chappelle and Bill Burr.
Who are your comedic role models?
My comedic role models are guys like Groucho Marx, George Carlin, Chris Rock, Bill Murray and Colin Quinn. But as I get more into comedy I’m starting to dig more intellectual types.
I love watching Neil deGrasse Tyson, because he’s just telling you the truth and that’s the essence and backbone of good comedy. If you make a joke about how all Asian men are blonde, it won’t get a laugh because it’s not true. So these scientists are actually kind of like comics, but without the dick jokes.
SHANGHAI: Fri-Sat Sep 15-16, 8pm & 10pm; RMB170 presale, RMB200 door. Kung Fu Komedy Club, see event listing.
BEIJING: Sun Sep 17, 8pm; RMB150 (advance), RMB180 (door); The Bookworm, see event listing.