Mark Normand is the most Jewish non-Jewish comedian you’ll ever meet. The 30-year-old New Orleans-native has been making waves on the comedy circuit for six years, and now he’s opening for Amy Schumer, performing stand-up on Conan, and running two weekly podcasts. A comedy CD is due out in late June, and he’s set to appear on Comedy Central’s Half Hour on July 18.
The talented performer plays up to five shows a night, and gets shaky like an addict if he can’t get on stage at least twice an evening. We spoke about his love for Jewish girls, the trials and tribulations of writing comedy material, and why he feels like he’s more Jewish than gentile.
Tell me a bit of your bio. Where did you grow up? How did you decide to pursue comedy?
I grew up in New Orleans, also known as “boozy town.” I was in a weird group of guys, lost my virginity when I was 16 to a 45-year-old in the French Quarter. It’s too much there for a kid; you grow up fast. It’s like growing up in Vegas, but less douchey. I went to college there and lived in a house with five guys. We had a hot tub, a beer pong table; it was just that kind of lifestyle; sad, gross, and fun. I did a lot of theater as a kid and made movies, but when I hit adolescence I stopped caring. I knew I wanted to do something creative and in showbiz, but I didn’t know what it was yet. I grew up loving the Marx Brothers; Groucho is my number one. I think he’s the funniest guy on the planet.
I started to watch a lot of the movies again, and decided I loved comedy and wanted to be a comedian. But then I was like, I love Woody Allen, I should be a filmmaker! So I dropped out of college and enrolled in the New York Film Academy on a whim, and I went and I hated it. I hated dealing with the light guy, the grips, and the actors were horrible. So, I started doing open mics at night while in school, and I then I knew I found what I wanted to do. School ended, I moved back to New Orleans, I was depressed, and I knew I should be back in New York City. So I started doing standup in New Orleans and running shows and driving three hours to do this show and that show, then I saved up $800 and moved up here. I moved to Crown Heights, got mugged three times in a year, my landlord died of AIDS, and there was a pigeon in my apartment the first night. Now I’m a full-time comedian, living the dream.
As a comedian do you find that it’s annoying to keep reusing your best material, in the same way a musician has to sing their hit song a million times? Or are you sated by the positive response you know you’re going to get from the audience?
You can get to hate doing the material over and over, but that’s the beauty of stand up. The only way a joke works is if someone hasn’t heard it. So you can do five shows and it’s all different audiences, and always fun to see how they react. So, it’s kind of annoying, but if it’s a different crowd, then you think, ‘oh they really liked that one, they really hated that one.’ So that makes it a bit more tolerable. But, I’m a big fan of doing new stuff. I have to keep writing. I hate these guys who’ve been doing it 10 years and say the same shit over and over. Once you get to a certain level as a comedian, you can’t really bomb. When you bomb, everyone thinks “wow, this guy’s slipping.” So I think some people just like to play it safe and do the same things over and over. You gotta polish that act! But it is so hard to write a good new joke.
What’s your writing process like?
Some days I’m just gushing out material, like “This is great!” And then of course, there are days when it’s not flowing. I write everyday for an hour and a half. I just think of something wacky, jot it down, play with it in my room, and talk it out. Look at this; I have thousands of notes.
You should get a notebook!
I have one, it’s just all full! This whole list is probably a thousand jokes, and only about 60 work. It’s so much trial and error, and it’s such a long process. You write it, you think you have something good, then you take it to the stage and it bombs. Then you go back home and tweak it, then you get a chuckle. Then you go back and work on it more and gauge the jokes on the audiences’ response. And then it’s just that, for years.
You love Jewish girls. What’s the attraction?
The look is perfect for me. I like the darker complexion; I like a schnoz, the dark wavy hair. Jewish girls seem to be a little more straightforward and clever. If I go on a date with a non-Jewish girl, my jokes tend to go right over their head. Jewish girls get the jokes! And I’m not saying I need a hilarious girl, but I need somebody who gets stuff. So it’s the whole package. I like a woman who has been oppressed a little bit. Keeps you on your toes, keeps you realistic.
What do you identify with about Judaism?
I think it’s the minutiae. I think about all the little things, and I know Jews are big into that. Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Larry David, all these guys focus on the little stuff. I don’t care about politics or religion; I care about the fact that this table we’re sitting at is wobbling. And also Jews worry about everything, and I worry all day long. So, I think there’s a bond there. And all my heroes are Jews. It was just a coincidence. It’s not like, oh he’s a Jew, bring ‘em in! It just happens that all the comedians I like are Jewish.
Who are your comedy heroes?
Larry David is my all time favorite. He’s the only guy I watch and laugh out loud consistently. Also, Groucho, Woody Allen, and Seinfeld.
Do you think being paid to be politically incorrect and completely honest is one the best jobs ever?
Yes I do. I love that. I think that’s why people go to comedy shows, and why people love comedy. It’s the only place where you can be completely honest. I’ve been fired and yelled at during jobs for saying “real things,” not PC things. And its like, you all agree with me, you know what I’m talking about, I’m not just a crazy person ranting. So that’s what always bugged me. I hate that big lie we all live everyday. You hear about a celebrity saying something, and people think, “oh boy, he’s a terrible person.” And it’s like, no, you’ve definitely said that at a barbeque. I think comedy is important; it’s the only thing that’s real. You need to hear the truth, just so you know you’re not crazy. I think that’s why I got into comedy in the first place.
Have you had an “I made it” moment?
I’ve had a couple. I used to work as a janitor during the day, and the day I quit felt better than getting my TV credit from John Oliver show. Then I opened for Amy Schumer at Hofstra, and it went really well. We hit it off, and she emailed me a bunch of dates around the country, and I was like ‘oh my God, this is crazy, I’m making money to do comedy on the road.’ And then being on Conan was really big.
Tell me about your podcasts.
I have two. I’ve been doing We’re All Friends Here, for six years with my friend Matt Ruby, a big Jew! We interview comedians about the dirtiest things in their life, like rape, drug abuse, alcoholism, sex, etc. Since it’s in front of a live audience, it gets quite real and gritty. Comics are dying to do it. We’ve had some really fun guys like Pete Holmes and Donald Glover. And the other one is called Tuesdays with Stories with my friend Joe List, not a Jew. Every Tuesday we talk about our week on the road and tell stories. Stuff like, who’d you have sex with, how were the audiences, did you get in a fight?
Would you ever leave NY, or is it the best place for comedy?
No, it’s the best, hands down! I go to LA to visit; I’m doing Conan again next month. There’s like a handful of good comedians in LA, New York’s got hundreds. In LA most of the comedians want to be actors, it’s terrible.