Mark Normand Gets to Ignore the Advice in the Title of His Own Special: Don’t Be Yourself

“Most women don’t really like that joke,” Mark notes as we talk about one of his favorite parts of his first special, Presents : Don’t Be Yourself. The way he shares this note about the joke makes me think he’s been chastised before- not just for this one, but for others that hold the potential to similarly offend. The bit in question, about having dog walker-like workers to do the tough stuff in relationships, encapsulates Mark’s style of humor well: thoughts and questions he has that might offend in social circles, but gel and earn laughs when he hits the stage.

As we chatted ahead of the special’s premiere, he shared that despite its title, it’s this setting where he feels the most at ease. “At a corporate office, I’m not me- I’m just trying to bite my tongue the whole day and get through [it] without being myself. It’s weird: the only time I can be myself is onstage.” Or, as he puts it another way, “I’m missing something tactwise.”

Filmed at the Angel Orensanz Center on New York’s Lower East Side, its location is an elegant nod to his hometown of New Orleans (“it reminds me of where they find Edward Scissorhands at the beginning of the movie”), while still allowing him to perform in the city where he’s grown as a comedian. Don’t Be Yourself is the culmination of several years of writing and touring he’s done since recording 2014’s Still Got It, while still managing to feel fresh and current. It touches on common topics like social anxiety, relationships, and religion, but in Normand’s unique voice. And that voice has placed the forthcoming special on Vulture’s list of “Can’t Miss Specials of 2017,” alongside the likes of Louis C.K. (with whom Normand worked on Horace and Pete) and Dave Chappelle.

In addition to Vulture’s list, Normand was featured on Paste’s “10 Comics That Deserve Their Own Show,” and after his appearances on Horace and Pete and Inside Amy Schumer, he’s proven capable of the transition from a stand up into an actor. While the chance hasn’t yet presented itself, he’s definitely interested in allowing his perspective to play out in a series. “I’m lacking some kind of nuance in my brain, but it’s not good in life,” he shared when speaking about the premise of a prospective show. As in his stand up, any possible show would likely center around “[m]e kinda walking around life and pissing people off by accident, because I’m saying the wrong thing [by accident].” In the interim, he shares those moments on the podcast he shares with fellow comic Joe List, Tuesdays with Stories!, and in a number of the bits that fill out his hour.

Alongside bits on the curious evolution of Rock and Roll into Christian rock and the most confusing components of PC culture, the most talked-about element of the act – if the emails and online messages are any indication – are his jokes about being an admitted introvert. “It’s hard to interact and be social,” he notes of his brand of introversion, “but I’m not actually being social- it’s me sharing material I’ve practiced to an audience, and if you talk back, you get kicked out. It’s the perfect job for an introvert!” While he admits it’s not the easiest material to get laughs from – “you follow the laughs, and [it doesn’t always go over well] if people don’t get it” – his willingness to joke about introversion and its many misunderstood quirks has earned him a number of new fans.

As the name of the special indicates, he has a very powerful fan in Amy Schumer; as he tells it, Don’t Be Yourself literally wouldn’t have happened without her. After he pitched the concept for an hour special to Showtime, HBO and Comedy Central, he mentioned his aims to Schumer, who responded, “What if I produced it?” She and Normand have toured together for seven or eight years and in Mark’s words, “[she] has always been a fan”; her brief intro to Don’t Be Yourself conveys her clear excitement, not just as a producer, but as someone happy to see a friend in the spotlight. The pair wrote together, scouted locations together, and worked together to refine the material he was doing on the road. While he “got a lot of shit for that on Reddit,” he’s incredibly appreciative of the opportunity that Schumer’s backing provides- and at the end of the day, his material and trademark delivery stand on their own merit.

Before we ended our chat, I engaged Mark in a thought exercise inspired by the upcoming special: if you had a chance to put your name on a special in the way that Amy did for you, who would you pick? The answer was every bit his style: in addition to naming (who has famously never released a special) and Rory Scovel, he also named Jared Fogle and “threw in” OJ Simpson…just to hear what they’d joke about. And in my estimation, that answer tells you everything you need to know about Don’t Be Yourself– earnest, thought-provoking, and in the words of Normand himself, “a little off.”

For more humor in that vein, check out Amy Schumer Presents Mark Normand: Don’t Be Yourself when it premieres on Comedy Central, Friday, May 12th at midnight.


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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.

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