Nick Youssef is a Los Angeles based comedian who has been doing comedy since before he was old enough to get in to a comedy club. His material tends to take an amusingly exasperated look at everything from clothing trends and smartphones to turning thirty and being famous. His first album, “Stop Not Owning This” is available on iTunes August 5th.
The IBang: A lot of the stuff on the album is relatively recent, almost like you were doing the “hour a year” thing and just didn’t put it down until now. How did you decide “Now is the time, this is what I want to put down”?
Nick Youssef: The first part of that is that not all of that material is within a year old, a couple are a couple months old, but then there’s a few that are three, four years old. When I was sitting around, mapping out what I wanted to put on the album, my thought on it was that it’s got to be the best material I have that’s not too outdated or not developed enough.
And the reason I decided now is that I’ve been ready to do an album for a while. But for a long time, you had to sit around and wait for Comedy Central to tell you you could do an album, but within the last four years with social media and the way technology is becoming cheaper, those working together make it pretty easy to put together an album – I’m speaking audio only – for almost no money. So when I realized that, I thought there’s no point in waiting.
It might not sell a lot because I’m not famous and don’t have the backing of a major label, but I’ve been wanting to do one and I figure I might as well just put it out there. Otherwise, this material, I’ll get bored with and then it’ll just live in my voice memos and memories.
The IBang: You grew up in Los Angeles, did that change the pressure you felt vs someone who moved here from some other city, whether it was Iowa or Chicago?
Nick Youssef: I mean, it’s the only thing I’ve ever known. I don’t know what it’s like to move to a new scene and start over or start fresh. I’ve heard that theory said a lot, “start in a smaller market, get good, then move to LA or New York because you only get one first impression” but when I first started, I just shied away from putting myself in environments where I was making a first impression. I wasn’t trying to showcase for festivals or TV shows when I was two, three, four years in. I started very young, so I knew I had time on my side as far as experience and age, so I just kind of hid in smaller shows and mics for a couple of years. And of course, The Comedy Store, for a long time no industry would go there anyway, so it was a great place to figure out what you were doing. Each person has a different, unique journey. As long as you work hard and don’t get ahead of yourself, it doesn’t matter where you live.
The IBang: You were a baby when you started, how did you know that young?
I wasn’t good looking, I wasn’t popular, I was socially very awkward and acting out
“You can do this at the beach, too? Whoa!…This is what I want to do.”
The IBang: So you ended up getting a job at The Comedy Store, who were the big names performing there at the time?
Nick Youssef: I got a job there in August of 2003. It was the weekend Dave Chappelle was doing three shows and it was a big deal, Chappelle’s Show was huge and I was training on the phones. And David Taylor trained me in pretty much like eight minutes. His training was basically just, “Answer the phones and this is the most important button on the phone, the Hold button. You’ll figure everything else out.” and then he left. And I had to field hundreds of calls and you had to take down credit card information by hand on basically a piece of paper with a carbon copy thing. No computers, no wifi.
I started working the phones Monday through Friday, the 9 am to 1 pm shift. Pretty much the first few hours no one was calling, so I’d just get a newspaper and take a nap. Mitzi [Shore, owner of The Comedy Store] would call and you had to answer that right away or you’d be fired immediately. But I talked to her almost every day on the phone, we got to know each other, she was nice to me so that allowed me to miss a call here and there. At the time, Duncan Trussell was the Talent Coordinator and we got along pretty well, so that made working there during the day pretty easy. Duncan’s a super cool dude and very funny.
The people who were there… John Caparulo still worked there. Sam Tripoli, Maz Jobrani, Aron Kader, Sebastian and all those guys were just starting to come up and get the good spots a little bit. And then Steve Byrne and Dov Davidoff started coming in around that time too. Ari Shaffir was an employee, David Taylor, Steve Rannazzisi had just started…. Tommy [Morris], the recently departed Talent Coordinator, was just some dude off the fucking street who answered phones. Around that point was when he was getting real tight with Mitzi and started to take the reigns of things. And when Duncan left in 2005, he started taking more control of who was performing. And then I got passed in March of ‘05 and then I quit because I didn’t want to be seen as an employee, I’m just going to go get a day job waiting tables and be a Paid Regular at The Comedy Store.
The IBang: When did you get to stop having a day job?
Nick Youssef: Not for a while, probably 2009 or something like that.
The IBang: What was it that made you decide you could stop?
Nick Youssef: I got a commercial agent and started booking stuff and I was going on the road a little more and I found a way to live cheaply and efficiently. I just made it a priority to not have to work during the day. I got real lucky with a serving job where the hours were short and flexible but it was still good money and I don’t have any gambling problems or drug addiction. And I was surprisingly good at waiting tables. So I was able to just save up some money and a lot of it was just luck.
The IBang: You stopped drinking a couple of years ago, did anything change comedy-wise when you changed that?
Nick Youssef: I guess I noticed some changes. I stopped drinking for my own mental health. I was already really bummed out about things in general and drinking was no longer a fun activity. If you’re already in the dumps, feeling depressed and negative, that’s just something drinking is going to exacerbate. I felt like I was just going through the motions in most aspects of life and things weren’t really going anywhere for me, career-wise. But I’m not the kind of person who just wallows in their own misery, so one day I just decided, “I’m gonna cut that out and see what happens.” I did and the first few months it was noticeable that I was a little more clear headed. Especially late twenties vs early twenties, in your early twenties there’s no hangovers but by your late twenties, a night of drinking is no longer just a night of drinking, it’s like that night plus half the next day when you’re tired and have a headache. So it had just become time consuming, mentally and physically.
When I stopped, I noticed I was a little more energized, I was just into things again, even just hanging out with people and listening to music. That led into being more proactive about everything in general, like doing that AIDS LifeCycle ride and doing an album. I still have highs and lows like everyone else, it’s not like I quit drinking and now I’m 100% happy all day long. It just took me back to the way I used to be when I was younger. I didn’t do too much material about it on the album, just because I wanted to be away from it for a while and think about how I wanted to approach it.
The IBang: You mentioned not being good looking as a kid, but you’re good looking now. Do you ever run into that dumb thing that “you’re too good looking to do stand-up,” people think you can’t be funny and good looking at the same time?
Being a modern comedian no longer means you’re just a stand-up, everyone does sketch, improv, writes, makes YouTube movies and things like that.
Plus you get comedians from all walks of life now that schtick died. It’s no longer like “You’re a fat guy, you gotta do the fat guy thing.” When comedy became more personal and about stories and based on your own experience… there are funny things that happen to people who are incredibly good looking and incredibly unfortunate looking. It really doesn’t matter the background. People say that the more strife and struggle you have, the funnier you are, but there are people who grew up middle class or really wealthy that have done great things with comedy.
It reminds me too, thinking about the drinking thing. Comedy nowadays is a lot less of dark, tortured, drinking, drug addiction insanity. Those people were considered the “true artists” because they were self-destructive and were gonna be dead by thirty. That had it’s day, but now you’re hard pressed to find a comic who’s considered great who is living that Sam Kinison lifestyle. It’s the same thing across all art forms, you don’t find any Led Zeppelins these days where everyone’s trashing hotel rooms and doing tons of drugs, everyone’s got their shit together. You kind of have to be… everything is so ‘Do It Yourself’ now, you have to spend the time you would have doing heroin learning how to use Photoshop and edit videos and use a green screen. .
Nick Youssef is an LA Based comedian. You can get more information about Nick on his twitter account, @NickYoussef and at nickyoussef.com. Make sure you grab Nick’s new album off iTunes, “Stop Not Owning This” and you can check out Nick’s podcast with Kevin Christy, “Occasionally Awesome” on the All Things Comedy network.