Nate Bargatze’s career has exploded. After a tremendous rise while living in New York and a brief move to Los Angeles, Bargatze is riding high with love and support from some of the biggest names in the business. He’s in constant demand, touring the country, getting the best late night gigs including holding the record for performing stand up on Fallon, and he’s just beginning to hit his stride. All this and he couldn’t be a nicer guy to talk with- genuinely humble, appreciative of opportunities and excited for whatever’s coming up down the road.
In an interview recorded in his New York hotel room while back to do a headlining gig at Caroline’s on Broadway, Bargatze talked with Phil Provencio about his career, how much New York has meant to his career, and what’s next.
Born in Tennessee, Bargatze cut his comedy teeth in New York City, with other great young comedians like Mike Vecchione, Joe DeRosa, Kurt Metzger, and Big Jay Oakerson, and says there’s just something about New York that adds to a comic’s growth exponentially. “I think New York is where you get good. There’s a saying, you move to New York to get good, LA to get famous. And it’s kind of true.” In Los Angeles, he explained, industry is everywhere. Managers and agents and others who can help your career, pack the rooms where comedy is being performed. But that can be detrimental to your growth in the early stages. “They go to every show and you never know who’s really in the audience. In NY, you don’t ever know who is in the audience either, but it’s not even kind of the same. You can go run around and get good here without the pressure of feeling like you have to murder cause this guy is watching or this guy is in the crowd,” he said.
Nate compares New York years, to dog years, which may help to explain how he got so good, so fast. “In New York, a year is like dog years. You hang out with people every day– you feel like you lived here for 100 years. I lived here nine; it feels so much longer,” he explained. One of the reasons a New York year is so much longer than anywhere else, is the time you’re putting in. “What you can do in a year, it would take you 6 years to get on stage that much in the middle of the country. You go on stage every night, twice a night….I was doing 14 to 20 spots a week. You’re just on stage constantly.”
To try to make it in comedy, Nate says, you have to be obsessed. “You have to be doing it 24 hours a day… you’ve got to be around these people 24 hours a day… you’re just constantly doing spots and seeing each other, so you see people and you’ll be around them and it can be three years, but you talk to that guy more in three years then I’ve talked to some people over 20. Cause we talked every day. It’s very interesting.”
But it’s not just about stage time. “You can get so much better faster when you’re around other people. And then new people come and they’re unbelievable. You feel like you gotta be moving forward. You gotta learn how to make a joke…almost learn how to be tight, learn how to get the laugh quick, stay on top of the audience and always be giving them laughs.”
Nate is living in Tennessee now, but for a short minute– well two years really– he moved to Los Angeles. After nine years in New York, from about 2004 to 2013, Nate says he realized it was time to make the move. It was a quote from super producer, concert promoter and agent Jerry Weintraub that made him cut the cord and head west. “Jerry Weintraub- he was like Elvis’ manager and a big time producer. He just died, I think last year. He has a great book, and talked about living in NY. He came up through William Morris, and was doing all this stuff with Elvis. All these legendary guys. He had a quote- anytime he started feeling comfortable he knew it was time to make a change. I looked at it like that. I was very comfortable here. I wasn’t trying to get spots anymore. The spots- I could get any spots I want. Not a bragging thing even. First, you’re trying to get in those clubs, then you get in them. So it was hitting a point of going, if I don’t try to make myself uncomfortable again, and then have to strive to go to the next level- in New York, it’s very easy to be here and next thing you know you’re like 60. And you’re just calling in spots. A year can go by so quick.”
After two years, he realized living in Los Angeles was not the best thing for his family. He has a wife and a little girl who’s four now, and they live in Nashville where he’s much happier. “When I go back to Nashville, it’s nice to feel out of it. It’s a nice breath of fresh air. You gotta be willing to hop on a plane in an hour’s notice. If you can do that, you can live anywhere.” Living so far from Los Angeles has not been a problem for him so far, but at first he wasn’t sure what people would think. “When I first moved back, I didn’t tell anybody because I was like, I don’t think anybody will know….cause I was on the road so much.” He decided to keep it quiet because he was afraid people would think he quit comedy, but so far, its working out well. He takes exactly six weekends off a year- all holidays- so that he can be with his family and the rest of his weekends are on the road. “Halloween is with my daughter now. With a four year old, Halloween’s a big deal. She loves it and you want to see her. So I’ll take off just holidays. Living in Tennessee means some extra travel for meetings in Los Angeles, but it’s worth it.
He still misses New York City sometimes. “I was walking around today and you miss it when it’s nice like this and everything’s perfect. I’m just walking to Carolines, you do your show, then you hang out. I miss it cause these are my best friends here. Guys I was doing comedy with and you would see each other every single day. I miss being around them.” But he said, he doesn’t regret the move. “New York is so hectic and 24 hours a day is just craziness. So once you leave, I talk about it now….when you come back, you gotta get back into the rhythm. Cause when you come back you’re like, I don’t know how I lived here.”
His comedy has shifted since living in New York too. “I used to have jokes in my head, it would be like 30 jokes I’d be doing, but now its like..stuff blends together and it’s much longer and I talk slower. It’s a whole different- it’s so different. I used to never understand when someone was like, ‘I don’t even know if I could do 5 minutes.’ Cause what does that mean? But then when you start going on the road, I get it now. Cause you don’t think in 5 minutes, you think in an hour. You try to make it a whole show. You try to be a show. You want it to be an event. It’s so much different than watching a guy do 10 minutes and then get off.”
With ten late night appearances to his credit, multiple appearances on Marc Maron’s show, a gig at Largo where Bill Burr introduced him, and a record number of Fallon appearances, he’s got endorsements and accolades from some serious power hitters.
He talked about how it felt to get love from someone as highly regarded in comedy as Bill Burr. “When I moved to NY in 2004, he was a comic in the clubs. We all knew who he was, but he wasn’t like huge. He’s a guy that I’ve gotten to watch rise. You need to see that; that’s the stuff. That’s the good thing about being in New York. Or if you go to LA. You’re just around people blowing up, so you can see…a, you can see that it can happen. You watch it happen. And you just see a guy become what he is now. We knew what he was forever ago, and then to just sit there and watch the dude just get massive. And it’s interesting to see. Burr was one of the first guys I was just blown away with. When you first start comedy, I knew like Seinfeld. And then once you get in it, and he was a guy you saw and were like, oh man, this was like another level.”
He’s also got the attention of late night ratings powerhouse Jimmy Fallon. He met Fallon on December 30th, 2012, a date he won’t forget anytime soon. Fallon walked into The Stand comedy club in New York and a chance encounter led to six late night appearances- two when Fallon was hosting Late Night and four now on Fallon’s Tonight Show. “I talked to him before the show and he decided to stay during my set. Five months later, I got a call to be on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Since then I’ve done the Tonight Show four times in total and have been in and out of development deals with NBC. I’ve definitely learned a lot and will continue to try to make a show. Craziest thing that’s happened to me.”
Getting so much love from great comics adds a little more pressure. “You don’t want to end up being bad, where they have to be like, oh sorry, everybody. I didn’t mean to say that. You want to live up to whatever hype they’re putting out there. It’s like going on the Tonight show. Every time you go on there, you just try to have the best set, and I want him to be laughing real hard and every time he introduces me, it’s the greatest thing ever that he says that so you want to live up to that. You don’t want to be embarrassing. And he’s like, sorry guys.”
Now with these accomplishments behind him, Bargatze says he’s writing a show and trying to sell it, but says the idea is just starting. In the meantime, he’ll be on the road, which is good news because everyone needs to see Nate live.
All this success, and so much more to come, so make sure you follow him on Twitter @natebargatze and you can find out when he’ll be touring near you on natebargatze.com.