Mar 15, 2016
An Interview With Josh Gondelman, The Nicest Guy In Comedy
It’s nothing new to hear Josh Gondelman called the nicest man in comedy, but even fully prepared with his reputation, actually meeting him in person will completely disarm you. When I was a college student confused about the world of TV writing, Josh met with me, a complete stranger, just to talk about his work and tell me that things are less scary than it might seem to a college student who just spent forty minutes walking in the rain, on her own in New York City for the first time.
Now, on March 18, the writer for Last Week Tonight and Nice Jewish Boy your mom wishes you could settle down with is releasing his stand-up album, Physical Whisper. This is an album you’ll be playing on repeat all week, with topics that span from racist older relatives to someone who I’m pretty sure was the first Chancellor of Germany (he was, wasn’t he?). Physical Whisper leaves you feeling like even the most shitty, frustrating things about New York City–the unsettling subway rides or getting lost trying to find a Starbucks in the rain–aren’t that bad, because we have people like Josh Gondelman.
Writing for Last Week Tonight and seeing so much research on political topics, have you become insufferable in political conversations?
No, I’m not that smart. But I do feel like I can hang more just because I read so much more at work, more than I would outside of it, but I also feel like I get much more knowledgeable about really obscure stuff; sometimes I end up with a really informed opinion on the private companies that create standardized tests. Or I’ll spend a day writing a piece on the Canadian Senate. So it’s like… okay.
Are you responsible for a full segment?
Usually you end up writing something with another writer and then our bosses combine them and mush them around the way they want and then all the writers add jokes. So it’s nice to feel like, “Oh, I wrote a draft of that and some of that stuck around,” but there’s no piece that I’ve written where I’m like, “Yup. Just end-to-end me.”
One thing, I wouldn’t have known this, but my parents sent it to me: A white supremacist website gave me sole credit for writing a piece from Last Week Tonight that I didn’t write, and it was like “Guess who wrote this piece? AND GUESS HIS ETHNICITY. He is Jewish.” There’s a slight scare of it, but then it became a joke in the writer’s room in how ineptly written and inaccurate it was. Because I have a very Jewish name, they were just like “THIS JEW.”
It used to be funnier to laugh at white supremacists, but now it’s kind of scary.
They’re having a moment! White supremacists are having a McConaissance. Imagine if we just started using that. Like, no I never heard the word “renaissance,” just McConaissance. You know–
They were at Fool’s Gold, and now they’re Bernie.
They were having a Failure To Launch. And now they’re at True Detective. Season 1.
The White Supremacist Lincoln ads were also pretty good.
Yeah, white supremacists definitely drive cars that were made in America. That’s one thing I know about them. They’re not endorsing the Prius. And they probably talk to themselves while they drive. “Grrr. Jews.”
So you’re about to be on CONAN, and you’re doing so many other amazing things that will put you in the public eye. Do you want to be famous?
I don’t. I don’t want to be famous. There’s a saturation point where the most number of people who would enjoy your work are aware of it before it starts to spill out and people who won’t enjoy it are aware of you. In a lot of ways, I’m at a level where I have a day job that I really like and I feel like that’s a great place for me to be. So I’m not trying to leave and be like a famous television person.
So what comedian do you think is skating at the perfect level?
I feel like Pete Holmes is there? He has a pilot that’s based on his life, or a series now, on HBO with Judd Apatow. But from hearing him talk it doesn’t seem like he’s a person who gets bothered all the time in public.
Although, now I have to tell you. I was a huge fan of The Pete Holmes Show, and sometimes his writers would be in some of his bits. And right here–off the L train–
Did you see Nate Fernald?
Yes! And I accosted him. I had to go up to him and be like, “WERE YOU ON THE PETE HOLMES SHOW?” and he was like, “…yeah, in 2013.”
He was on Younger recently. I haven’t watched that yet, but I know people who swear by it.
It’s under the radar! I wonder if people aren’t watching it because it looks so targeted at women.
[Younger] is also on a network now that’s stepping up its game. TV Land and Lifetime. Not only are they networks targeted for women, but it’s also a very specific for women. It’s not like Broad City, which is like, “This is a cool thing, for cool women,” not like something your mom was watching and turns off when you come home.
Lifetime evokes a very specific type of TV movie in my mind.
A TV movie where a woman cuts off all her hair and runs away to make a better life for herself.
Every Lifetime movie operates on two basic premises: One, a businesswoman works too hard. Two, Santa is real. Even if Santa isn’t in the movie at all…
Yes, the idea that Santa could be real. Like, someone winks. No matter who winks, you’re like “Santa is real!” Ugh, you’re an ice cream man, stop winking!
So, there’s going to be a release party for your album, right?
Yeah, I’m doing one in New York, one in LA. New York one is at the Jewish Museum on the 24th, and the lineup is amazing. But also the album is coming out digital and on cassette, which will also have digital download codes in them. But for the New York Party I bought 25 off-brand Walkman’s and I’m just going to give them to the first 25 people who buy the cassette so they have something to listen to the analog version on. I’m trying to bring it back.
I’ve never been more grateful that I drive my grandma’s 1998 Toyota Camry.
This weekend someone showed me that Eminem is re-issuing The Slim Shady LP on cassette, and it’s like, he’s biting my style. I’m going to have to throw up some spaghetti on my shirt and battle rap him over it. It’s part of a cassette McConnaissance!
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