The entertainment industry is said to be a cruel den of vipers, where nepotism reigns. True, having a strong work ethic is crucial, and you will generally have to start from the bottom and take your neophyte status in stride, but there’s no required penance behind success. The only true way to achieve professional mobility in this line of work is to act on opportunities as they come.
That’s what comedian Joe Mande did, and this journey up the industry ladder has taken him from aspiring comic in New York to writing for television shows such as Parks and Recreation, Kroll Show and The Good Place. In addition to holding acting credits for all three of these series, he has also appeared on shows such as Modern Family and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as well as movies such as The Disaster Artist and The Interview.
Even with such a CV, Mande is still in the trenches performing stand-up. In anticipation of his Sunday, Sept. 8, show at Sons of Hermann Hall, Mande spoke to us via phone from his home in Los Angeles.
The Amazon rain forest is burning. The world is literally on fire. On a spectrum between unbridled despair and blind optimism, where do you stand?
I’ve been on the record for years that we live in hell, so I feel like if anything, I’m in my zone right now.
I have noticed that you are very forthright about your political views, but you’re also not a political comic. You’ve made it a point not to inundate your audience with that and add that sort of energy, but on the other end of the spectrum, you can’t just pretend like Donald Trump doesn’t exist. What parameters have you set for yourself and for your performance in this regard?
I think you’re right that in 2019, and after everything we’ve been through in the last four to five years, that even to not do anything political is in itself a political statement. I’m sure if you come to see me, certain topics will be discussed, but I try not to truly engage in what is properly considered political comedy. I’m gonna talk about a wide range of things, and some of it may veer into a political space, but I’m not looking to spend an hour of my time getting people who agree with me to clap, or people who disagree with me to get up and yell and get kicked out of the venue. It’s a fine line you’ve got to walk, and I think I can do it, but who knows? It is Texas, and I’m always a little on-guard.
Have you had a bad experience in Texas?
No, other than I’m sort of sarcastically calling this my triumphant return to Dallas because I did a show at Sons of Hermann [Hall] a couple years ago, and it was just a hilariously underattended event.
I remember that. I actually interned for the promoter at that time. That was in 2016, and yeah, I heard there were about 30 people there.
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t want to necessarily focus too much on that, but it was very funny. I was gearing up to shoot my Netflix special, so it was funny in a very humbling way to have a show like that right before. It was a fun show. So the short answer is, no, I’ve never had a bad experience, other than I’ve said some mean things about Ted Cruz in the past, and when I was on Twitter, dudes with yellow ribbon eagle avatars saying they were gonna come to my show and shoot me in the head or whatever. I think that’s more of an internet thing than a Texas thing.
Who do you think is a worse comedian – Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee?
That’s a very good question. I think you have to go with Mike Huckabee because he so clearly wants it more. Like, he literally has multiple iterations of a late-night talk show, and his whole brand post-governorship has been this “hyuck” late-night talk show host, and he just falls on his face every time. Ted Cruz just has a cringy dad joke sense of humor. Mike Huckabee actually thinks he can write solid jokes, and it’s humiliating and appalling.
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On a more personal note, what was it like cutting teeth as a comedian?
It’s been interesting, because I had this weird feeling in high school that this was going to be what I was going to end up doing. That’s always sort of been my motivation. When I was a sophomore in college, I started doing stand-up and have been doing it ever since. It was sort of just a natural thing for me. But I will say that things became real once I moved to New York to pursue it, just because New York is so cutthroat and competitive, and I really didn’t have a plan B in mind. Sort of a clichéd, basic story, but that’s how it worked for me.
How long did it take for you to get traction?
New York is so (at least when I started there) fragmented, and I needed to find a community that I understood and that embraced me, so it took me about a year before I sort of happened to do a show with people like Eugene Mirman, A.D. Miles and Leo Allen. It was a college show that I opened for them, and once I told them I lived in New York and told them the shows I was performing, they said, “You’re doing this all wrong,” and they gave me a road map to the types of shows that would be good for me. Weirdly, this one college show I did with those guys really put me on the right track.
What caused your work to diversify beyond the scope of just stand-up? How did you first break into writing for Parks and Recreation, how did you first break into acting, and in general, how did you break the mold of stand-up comedy?
I mean, it all came from stand-up. When I started performing in New York, I had comics older than me tell me that I was going to end up writing for TV, and at the time, I didn’t know what that meant, and I was somewhat offended by that. I felt it was limiting and saying, “Oh, you can’t perform,” but all they were saying is that the types of jokes I write are the types of jokes that get people hired for writing jobs. So yeah, it sort of happened organically. I wrote for Kroll Show, so I came out to [Los Angeles] for a couple months to work on that. That’s when I got an interview for Parks and Rec and ended up having to move out here. It all came from my stand-up, and so did acting. I was on Parks and Rec just because I was in the writers’ room complaining about internet stuff so much that [co-creator] Mike Schur wrote a character that was based on me and my complaints about internet etiquette. So writing gigs can lead to very small acting gigs.
Before the world burns, and before all organized life is wiped off the face of the planet, is there anything you’d like to say?
Just come see me at Sons of Hermann Hall. I will be selling merch, so if the world blows up, just make sure you grab as much merch as you can. You might as well come see me before the world explodes.