Up Next, Mark Normand: A Look Through the Lens of Comedy in NYC

Photos by Phil Provencio

Mark Normand is on the verge of some major career changes. He’s been touring the world with Amy Schumer, opening for Amy and other greats, but he’s about to make some major moves of his own. This fall, Normand recorded his own special for Comedy Central, and it’s a great one. Phil Provencio and Joshua Fischer spent some time with Mark over a year ago, now to find out his goals, his routines and why Mark loves New York, and what it’s been like being part of the Schumer crew. The photos and interview go back to November 2015, during the New York Comedy Festival. Mark was opening for Bridget Everett that night, at the Gramercy Theatre.

Photos by Phil Provencio

After a visit to Mark’s apartment, Mark was heading over toward the Gramercy Theatre on 23rd Street where he’s opening for Bridget Everett during the NYCF.  Comedy Central had seen Mark opening for Amy when she recorded her special at the Apollo Theater, and they asked him to open for Everett. He popped in to get a dollar slice at 2 Bros Pizza on the way.

“I don’t eat well, I don’t eat healthy, I eat quick, I never cook, and it’s right by the train stop so it’s real easy. I’m a real piece of shit, I just go with convenience and cheap,” Normand said, making no excuses.  No before show rituals to speak of for Mark either, although he told Phil that maybe he should get some.  “I’d probably be better,” he said, “but I just kind of look at my notes. What I’ll do is if I’m 3rd on a show, I’ll get there first and look at my notes while the first and second comic are on stage.”  Most nights, he takes the subway to shows, unless he’s running really late.

Photos by Phil Provencio

That night, because he’s opening for another comic, he used a different set of material. “When you’re playing for someone else’s audience, cause they’re not there to see me, I’m in the way. When you’re playing for someone else’s audience you have to be broad enough and appealing enough to hit. They’re not there to see me, so I have to win them over,” he said.  “For a crowd like this, I’ll go a little more broad, no pun intended, to the ladies. But I’ll go a little more mainstream, wider appeal. Cause I gotta kill. If I don’t kill, I’m fired.”

It’s not hard to figure out what jokes will work for this audience, he said. “As I’ve accumulated all my material over the past few years, you know that’ll be good there, that’ll be good on a dirty show, that’ll be good in the black room, that’ll be good South, North, overseas, whatever. So you always know, so I’m just going to scribble down real quick when I get backstage what should work and I’ll do those.”

But you always want to kill on stage. “I want to do well for her sake. Bridgett’s. Comedy Central hired me, so I want to do well for their sake. I got some people coming out to see me from a TV show, so I want to do well for their sake, and I want to do well for my own sake.”

Photos by Phil Provencio

Opening for a big show, he said, is a pretty good paycheck. “For the amount of time I’m doing, like 15-20 minutes, it’s pretty solid. I can’t complain. It’s in a different bracket for how easy it is. This is in the city, 10 minutes away from my house, theater, no prep, no worries. In that area, great pay. But Schumer gigs pay way more.”

“You always hope to get your name on the marquee, but you never do as the opener. I’ve had it once or twice on the road, but it’s always Amy Schumer, with opener Mark North. Small or tiny print.”

Photos by Phil Provencio

Being a part of the Schumer crew has been career changing. She rolls with a lot of ladies….and Mark Normand. “I’m the male weirdo, I’m the dick. I open,” he explained.  He told the story of how he became a part of Amy’s crew.

“She saw me at a comedy club called Comix where I bombed. I did a quick set, and she said one joke she liked, and based off that one joke she hired me to open for her at Hofstra. We went out there– she was nobody, I was really nobody, I was broke, I was gay, I was poor– the last time I’ll use that gay joke– I went out there, we took the LIRR, never done a college, never been to Long Island, never taken the LIRR.”

And they’ve been friends and have worked together ever since. He’s buddies with both Amy and Bridget. “They’re all awesome, they’re all cool, but I’m still scared of them a little bit. Mostly, Amy, I’m not scared of Bridgett. I’m not scared, but I’m intimidated, she’s so successful. I don’t want to get in her way, I never want to ask her anything, but I’m grateful to know her.”  Since that Hofstra show, he’s opened for Amy in much bigger places.  As of the time of this interview, Carnegie Hall, the Apollo, and the Best Buy Theater (now the PlayStation Theater) and many more venues since.

Normand says he doesn’t get nervous performing anymore. “Because this is the only thing I can do. I’d be nervous if I had to go take a math test. But comedy, I do it every night, multiple things a night, so it’s the only thing I’m confident doing.”

The show that night was at the Gramercy Theatre which Mark describes as a “classic Manhattan theater.”  You always hope for a sold out show but it’s not just for the obvious reason of making more money. “Sold out is always the best thing you can hear as a comedian because small crowds don’t laugh. Lord knows we need that big laugh for the ego.”   Even though a theater means more laughs, Mark told us he’s actually more comfortable working a club.  He jokes about not having a lot of self-esteem, saying the club experience is a good time, but a theater, can almost be too scary.  The Gramercy, he said, is an 8 or a 9. But if you’re doing Carnegie Hall, that’s a 10.

What the Gramercy does have is the best green room in the city. “I only say that because I haven’t been to all the green rooms. It’s one of the best green rooms in the city because most green rooms, it’s a hot box with a bucket to shit in, but this is huge, there’s a bar down here, there’s seats, the walls are great, it’s underground, there’s something fun about that. This is where the after party was last year, so I had some good memories. Hooked up with a Canadian broad.”


Photos by Phil Provencio

Describing himself as a “real whore for stage time”, he said, “I just want to get up, I feel like if you were trying to learn the piano, you wouldn’t do it 15 minutes a night. You do it all day and all night, same with stand up.”  On an average night, he does four to five sets, at various venues including the Cellar, the Stand, Stand Up New York, bar shows, UCB gigs, and every once in awhile, Carolines or Gotham. And after five sets, his night still isn’t over. “Usually I’ll either do one of two things after a long night, I’ll either meet up with a lady I met on the Bumble or the Tinder, and I got a little juice going, I got some confidence going from the sets, or I will hang out with a bunch of dudes at the Cellar table and shoot the shit until 5am.”

The Cellar, he says, is “where everybody goes to workout. Louis, Ray Romano, Chris Rock, all that shit.” He calls the Cellar a “tough nut to crack” because “you put in avails every week and Estee watches your sets when you go on, she has a video camera, it probably plays in her house, in her giant mansion, you never know. She’s sitting there with a cat, and a big chair. But she watches your sets, so however you’re doing is how she regulates how many spots you’re getting. That means doing well on stage with laughter and career wise. So if you’re killing it, but you’re not that funny, but you’re on 3 TV shows, you’ll get a lot of spots. But if you don’t have a lot of TV shows, you better bring the funny, or you’re not going to be working there a lot. But you’ve got to put your avails in every week, and what you get back is how well you’re doing in the business. It’s funny how that works.”

Normand had been working there about 3 and a half years at the time of this interview, and said the first six months was sheer terror. “You’re a freshman, these are all high school senior football players who don’t give a shit about you. It’s Dave Attell, Colin Quinn, Nick Di Paolo, all these crazy legends who I looked up to, now I’m sitting at the same table as them. You just do the same material, you just want to kill it, kill it, kill it, so you do the same 15 every night, and you can’t fuck up. It’s like an audition every day for a year.”

Gary Gulman once told him the Comedy Cellar isn’t a club, it’s a lifestyle, because you’ve got to go in, hang out, drink there, you’ve got to prove yourself on stage, you’ve got to prove yourself at the table, you’re always fighting for respect over there. “Then after about a year or two, you gotta get to know everyone, you get accepted. It’s very primal. Then you start trying shit out, then you realize this is the best stage ever, this is the best gym ever, this is the best working ground ever to get new shit and learn stuff. I feel like you really learn how to kill at the Cellar.”

In the beginning, he said the scariest guy was Keith Robinson. “Because he doesn’t care what you look like, if you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re a pretty girl, he’ll just cut you down. You suck, you’re a hack, why are you talking, why don’t you shut up, who said you could talk. A lot of that. When you’re new, you’re like sorry, I didn’t know I could not talk. Sorry, I won’t say anything. Then you just eventually learn that he just does that to everyone and that’s his personality. But you also don’t want to fuck around with Nick Di Paolo, there’s a lot of guys who– these are tougher tough dudes, no holds barred.”

Photos by Phil Provencio

“This whole business is fucking competitive. If you’re not competitive, you might as well get out, because you got to compete just to stay on top.” “You tell a comedian, hey I got this gig, they’re thinking, fuck, ‘why didn’t I get the gig?’ But they’re saying ‘hey, good job’, but they’re thinking ‘what the fuck?'”

There’s competition everywhere, even on the jet when you’re opening for a big headliner.  But at least then you know who the alpha is.  “When you don’t know who the alpha is then it gets weird. Then it’s just a bunch of people competing all the time.”

But Mark said he’s not interested in being the alpha- or the jet guy. “I don’t think I have it in me, I’m not that guy. I just want to tell jokes and headline shows and go from A to B and make a living and have people laugh. I’m okay, it’s like saying, I’m left handed. I don’t know any other way. I wish I was taller, I wish I never went bald, I wish my dick was bigger, I wish my balls were smaller. All that shit. So yeah.”

Photos by Phil Provencio

Before starting stand up, Normand attended New York Film Academy. He fell in love with the city, but not film school. “New York’s always been my favorite thing. I visited here when I was a kid. You gotta live in New York once, you always hear that, so I knew I wanted to come here, bar none, hands down, and I knew it was going to be hard and I didn’t give a shit. I wanted it to be hard. It’s like a hot girl or a beautiful woman you fall in love with, you’re like, I don’t care if she says no, I’m going back, I’m going, I’m going.”

Normand moved to New York with $500 in his pocket and lived way out in Brooklyn. It was a rough first year. He worked open mics every night, and got mugged three times that first year, his landlord died from AIDS, he got bed bugs, had to beg and his parents for money.

“You just have to keep working, and that’s one thing that a lot of comics don’t realize. You just have to keep going, keep going, don’t look back, keep going forward, put your head down at work don’t go ‘he got this, he got this,’ and it’s so hard not to, but you just have to keep working. It’s all about the work. I never thought I’d get here, I really didn’t. I wanted to. The idea of getting a half hour special to me was bananas. It was like going to the moon. It was like being an astronaut.”

“I got that and then you get that and you go, ‘what’s next?’ You can’t sit there and go, ‘hey, now I got a half hour, now I’m going to coast.’ You’ve got to keep moving, and I never thought I’d be here, I never thought Amy would be where she is, and that obviously helps me out. I never thought, but I just want to keep going and see where else I can go. There’s never going to be a point where you go, ‘I’m good.’ Even when you are living in a mansion, you still have that new hour to write. You still have that new joke that’s not working, that you need to work. You still have that guy who’s funnier than you, and you have to be funnier than him. So it never ends which is horrifying, but also you need it.”

Photos by Phil Provencio

On the New York vs Los Angeles question, Normand says you should do New York first. “It’s a better scene, it’s more competition, there’s more stage time. There’s a higher standard of good comedy here. In LA, people have done it, Chris D’Elia, and there’s a million names I’m blanking. They’ve done it, Jerrod Carmichael, now he’s got a show, D’Elia’s got a show, Ron Funches, whoever the fuck…. But you gotta do New York first, I’d say that’s better.”

Mark classifies a New York comic as “a guy who wants to build an act, a guy who wants to be a great joke writer, who wants to be able to perform anywhere, do the road.”  An LA comic is “a handsome guy or pretty girl who maybe has an interesting background, they can sell a show. It’s more of a platform there, it’s more of a jumping off point in LA. In New York it’s like, let’s get good at this fucking art form.”

And then there’s one more reason he loves New York, that doesn’t even have anything to do with comedy. It’s New York City.

“You know when you get shitfaced at night and you wake up, you’re out at 5 am and you go outside the bar and it’s light out, and you see the garbage man go by, they’re throwing garbage in, you see the bus boys loading shit into the restaurant. The city is breathing, baby. You see it, pumping every second. Then, you fall asleep, you wake up at night, and the city is still going. It never ends. It’s the best. I love going in a room, the room is already full. I love the winter, I love the summer, you get to the beach, the whole thing. Everything is perfect. I just love going, that’s what’s great about comedy. Every show is different. You go to the East Village and it’s such a metaphor for New York, go to the East Village, it’s a hipster crowd. Then you go out to Harlem, it’s a black crowd. Then you go down to Brooklyn, and it’s a different kind of hipster. Then you go into the village, and it’s old people.”

“Every show is different, every crowd is different, every stage is different, and it’s just like New York. Every microphone is different, every neighborhood is different, every subway ride is different. And that’s the beauty of the city, it’s the variety, it’s the spice of life. So there you go.”

Photos by Phil Provencio

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Phil Provencio is a fast rising New York based photographer and graphic designer highlighting the comedy scene in the city and abroad. His galleries can be seen at the Comedy Cellar’s Village Underground in Greenwich Village and Carolines On Broadway in Times Square. When not out shooting headshots or shows, you can find him exploring the city for photos he contributes regularly to Urban Outfitters and their print shops.
Phil Provencio
Phil Provencio
Phil Provencio is a fast rising New York based photographer and graphic designer highlighting the comedy scene in the city and abroad. His galleries can be seen at the Comedy Cellar’s Village Underground in Greenwich Village and Carolines On Broadway in Times Square. When not out shooting headshots or shows, you can find him exploring the city for photos he contributes regularly to Urban Outfitters and their print shops.