Our next showcase with Comedy Records happens tomorrow (July 2) at New York Comedy Club! As always, the lineup will feature a combination of Toronto and New York’s finest comedians.
This month’s show will be headlined by Erik Bergstrom. Erik performed on Late Night with Stephen Colbert earlier this year and his other credits include a Comedy Central Half Hour and cartoon work that’s been featured in The New Yorker.
His set tomorrow will preview some of the material he’s preparing for his first album taping that’s happening with shows July 10 & 11 at the Cutting Room.
While Erik’s gifted writing and poignant delivery have led to industry success, he’s faced more than his share of personal challenges along the way. Interrobang spoke with Erik about his comedy beginnings, his challenging life path and what’s motivated to keep him going.
The Interrobang: When did you start performing stand up comedy?
Erik Bergstrom: I started doing stand up in the early summer of 2007 in New York. I had moved here from Minneapolis a year earlier and always wanted to do it. My very first time on stage was at a place called The Creek and the Cave (which still exists and is great) in Queens on a show called ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’.
I had always written jokes, so I had material but no real stage or public speaking experience. Luckily the first time on stage my adrenaline kicked in and I killed. The second time, not so much and I built from there. My comedy role models growing up were Groucho Marx, Steve Martin, and Phil Hartman.
The Interrobang: What inspired your move to New York as opposed to Los Angeles?
Erik Bergstrom: I moved to New York for a few reasons. I studied illustration in college in Minneapolis and wanted to be a freelance cartoonist for The New Yorker.
Minneapolis is great but a bit small and my girlfriend at the time got a job offer to work at Kate Spade, so twelve years back we moved here. The relationship didn’t last, but she’s still my best pal. I love New York. It’s home. It can be very expensive, but it’s home.
The Interrobang: You’re also a successful cartoonist. Are there any similarities in the creative process for the two outlets?
Erik Bergstrom: LOL, thank you for calling me successful. There were years where I set up a table in Union Square and sold my paintings to tourists, some parts were rough, other parts were awesome. But yeah, working with The New Yorker is cool and I have a book of cartoons out with Penguin books.
That said, I much more prefer stand-up. I developed my cartooning because I was a very, very shy kid. In the end, both cartooning and telling jokes are communication; things to make you think and make you laugh.
The Interrobang: You’ve faced a lot of personal challenges off stage. Can you talk about those and how they’ve impacted your approach to comedy?
Erik Bergstrom: There have been distractions. I was sick for a year and didn’t know why, then it turned out I had Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma and did six months of chemo.
My mom has been homeless for the past fifteen years and that’s always been something I’ve tried to help with. My sister died of an accidental heroin overdose (it was laced with elephant tranquilizers) just over a year ago. She had four kids. And after the cancer I met and got engaged to someone who turned out to be a con-artist and I still have nightmares about that. There’s other stuff, but the long and the short of it is that I always wrote short jokes because in New York you can get on stage a lot, but the sets are shorter.
I’ve never gotten personal because it was too dark or would hurt someone. I can get personal with cancer because it’s just me. The other stuff I have to talk a bit about now just to not go completely insane.
The Interrobang: Earlier this year you made your Late Night debut on Colbert. How did that experience compare to your Comedy Central Half Hour?
Erik Bergstrom: I did! Colbert was very enjoyable and it went by so quick. Doing the Comedy Central Half-Hour was a blast too. My biggest surprise from that experience was what jokes they chose to use of mine for the final televised version. The audition tape I submitted was forty-five minutes and they asked me to do all forty-five during the filming, even though I knew it would be cut down to about twenty-five with commercial breaks. They did a good job.
The Interrobang: What can people expect from your album taping shows?
Erik Bergstrom: Well, first I should plug who else will be on the show. I’m lucky enough to have the amazingly talented Phoebe Robinson from ‘2 Dope Queens’ doing a set on each show and the very funny Sean Donnelly (who just did Colbert) hosting. I love watching them both and so will you. I’ve been doing stand-up for eleven years and this is my first audio album. Why now? Because I think it’s time.
The Interrobang: What are your ultimate goals in comedy?
Erik Bergstrom: My ultimate goal in comedy is to get so good at stand-up that people recognize me and give me free sandwiches at delis. I also want to make people think, laugh, and make real human connections with me. I also plan on giving my mom a home and sending my nieces and nephews to college if I can. Guess I better get rich and famous and not die of cancer.
Our showcase with Comedy Records happens the first Monday of every month at New York Comedy Club with Erik headlining! Tickets are $10 with the promo code NAFTA at NewYorkComedyClub.com.