The Stand-Up Comedian And Former Parks And Recreation Writer Is Making His Grand Return To Dallas For His “King Of Content” Tour.
My biggest regret from this interview was not asking why Joe Mande is naming his upcoming comedy tour “The King of Content” tour. I mean, I get it on the surface. Joe is a multi-talented: a stand up comedian, television writer, actor, online personality. The man really does a lot. But in respect to Joe, so do a lot of other multi-talented stand-ups/television writers/actors/online personalities. So what separates Mande? What makes him the one true heir to the throne? Well, let me give you my certainly unqualified opinion as to why.
Digging back through some of Mande’s older work and with even some of his newer stuff still burned into my brain (if you haven’t seen Joe Mande’s Award Winning Comedy Special, do it right now), I realize the self-proclaimed title may be well warranted. The best content is relevant, consistent and timely. I mean, Mande has a coffee table book titled “Look At This F*cking Hipster.” Not only does the book cover the all-encompassing hipster culture, but it is also very ironic to see it sitting out on your weed dealer’s table next to a copy of “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” and Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell”. I mean seriously, you can’t write this shit. Although Joe Mande did…
I don’t know what your definition of content is, but whether it be an Instagram bit or stand-up on a stage, Mande’s content is exactly as described above — timely, relevant, insightful and clear. All of which are elements that are necessary to apply in today’s internet age if you don’t want to get lost in the Reddit-fueled clusterfuck of Area 51 or chicken sandwich memes. Colloquially speaking, the shit Mande puts out is just fun, and refreshing as shit. Especially in today’s times.
A great king leads by example, and this comedy purist hopes others follow Mande’s lead. By that, I mean I just want to see more Instagram videos of Lebron James dancing to Wham! Yeah, you can thank Mande for that.
Long live Joe Mande. First of his name (maybe), King of Content (a qualified fact) and protector of comedy. (Again, it’s not that serious.) You can see his triumphant return to the stage of Sons Of Hermann Hall on Septmeber 8.
Let’s start with the boring but necessary question. How long have you been doing stand up?
Uhhh, I started in college. So I guess you could say 2003 is when I started, but I moved to New York in 2005. That’s when I think I actually started for real.
I know you were born in Albuquerque but you also lived all around before New York, yeah?
Yeah, I was born in Albuquerque. Moved to Minnesota when I was ten. I kind of consider St. Paul my home. Then I went to college in Boston at Emerson, which is kind of like a comedy school, weirdly. And yeah, after graduating I moved to New York.
Emerson in Boston a “comedy school”? What do you mean by that?
It’s just a very vibrant comedy scene. There are only like 3,000 students, but there is somehow 2,000 sketch and improv groups.
Yeah I also started and still live in a college town myself (Denton). Those obviously tend to be younger and just a different kind of audience than that of a a comedy club. Do you think your start at Emerson being around those kind of rooms is one of the main reasons you book your own shows outside of clubs? Like Sons of Hermann Hall, for instance?
For me it’s just like, I normally only have… you know I’ll spend half the year or sometimes over half of the year writing, so I only have a certain amount of time in the year to tour. This way, it’s just preferable for me that I can bounce from one-night-only type shows and that way I can cover more ground. When you do clubs — I have nothing against clubs — it’s just [that] you’re stuck in the same city for sometimes four to five days. This way, I am going to be doing eleven cities in about fifteen days or something.
Secure the bag and get home.
Yeah. It’s all about the bag for me. [Laughs.]
Is there a reason you chose Dallas as your first out-of-town stop on tour? I know your first show is in L.A. before you immediately head over here. Any reason for that specifically?
Yeah. Right before I shot my special, I did a bunch of shows leading up to that and I did this exact venue (Sons of Hermann Hall) about two or three years ago. It was very funny because I don’t know what happened, but it was sparsely attended, and I am calling this next show my triumphant return to Dallas. I hope more than thirty people show up this time.
Damn. Do you know how many people that room fits?
In my memory it could’ve held nine million people. (Laughs.) But I mean… despite the fact that the last show I did in Dallas was kind of a disaster, it was still a very fun show. It was actually quite helpful to knock me off my game a little bit right before my special taping. In retrospect it was like, ‘Oh it’s good that happened.’ But yeah, I am looking forward to coming to Dallas again and we will see what happens.
So after Emerson you went to New York where you started out, but now you live out in L.A.?
Yeah it’s weird — I actually just realized I’ve been in L.A. now for as long as I lived in New York. It was a trip.
How long is that?
I lived in New York for seven years and I moved to LA in 2012 to start writing for Parks and Recreation.
So I guess that begs the classic comedy question. New York or L.A. for stand up? Are you mainly in L.A. for TV work or do you prefer the west coast for stand up?
I mean, I think nothing compares to New York when it comes to stand up. I feel like any time I’m there for a long period of time, I completely overcompensate and will try to do four or five shows in one night, just because you can. But really, they are just very different. I can’t complain. Los Angeles has been very good to me and I have no complaints. So both cities are great for different reasons.
You mentioned writing for Parks and Recreation. If my memory serves me correctly, you were one of the few writers that also acted in the series? From what I can tell there were only a handful of you that got that opportunity, right?
Yeah, I mean there are a few of us. I was one of the main ones toward the end, you could say.
I’ve always wondered how much of Parks and Recreation is improvised. You wrote and acted in both, so how much did you improvise for that show specifically? Or did you tend to stick to the script you and the writing team would come up with? The show just seems to be very loose, if that makes sense.
Yeah Parks was incredibly loose. Most of the cast consisted of improvisors, so the show’s format sort of lent itself to improvisation. So yeah, you were sort of compelled to improvise once you knew you had delivered the line correctly.
What’s that like from the writing end of things? When an actor improvises or riffs on joke you have written and they sort of punch it up or change it entirely. Does the stand up comic inside of you kind of sit there like ‘Damn, why didn’t I think of that?’ Or is it just a betterment for the show kind of mindset?
Television and stand up are so completely different. I think a good show consists of people who are working as a unit and it’s all for the good of the show. So if that were to happen, — an actor punches up a joke or riffs on something you never thought of — and it gets a laugh, that’s still what you want. You want the show to be as funny as of a thing as it could possibly be. So yeah, that happened all the time, especially with people like Chris Pratt and Amy Poehler — some of the funniest people on Earth. It’s interesting though, because my main job since Parks and Rec has been The Good Place, and [it] is very similar in a lot of ways, but the show itself is so much more written and deliberate. We tried [improv] the first season, like how we did with Parks and Rec, but it just didn’t work because the show is so… deliberate. So sometimes a thing would get a laugh and it would go against something we were working towards.
That and it’s a little bit of a deeper storyline than Parks and Recreation, I assume.
The only reason I ask is because I know comedy at times can be unintentionally but inherently selfish. Like for me, when I give someone a tag or a joke and they take it on stage and it works, I always lean over to the comic next to me and whisper about how I gave them that or helped them with it.
Oh sure. I still do that. My wife — I feel terrible anytime [she and I] watch a show I’ve written for. I’ll sometimes pause it. Normally what I do is, I don’t tell her what jokes I wrote, but I will pause and tell her a joke I pitched that I thought was funny [but] didn’t get used. So it sounds like watching TV with me is a complete nightmare.
You brought up The Good Place. Isn’t this upcoming season going to be the last for the show?
Yeah, we just finished season four, which will be the final season. We just wrapped a couple weeks ago.
When you find out a show is being cancelled as a writer, is there suddenly a huge shift in urgency to wrap up all the storylines? Almost more pressure in a shorter amount of time kind of thing? Or is it just a business as usual sort of thing?
Actually, we were sort of in charge of it. Once season two ended, a few of us had a discussion that as writers we could only keep this show at the same level for another two seasons. We thought we couldn’t push those stories any further than four seasons. So it wasn’t completely an outward decision to end the show when we did. I could see people being upset about that, but at the same time, it was done in service of the show. We don’t want there to be a dip in quality.
It’s cool to hear about a writing team being so self-aware of the potential longevity of a show and its story, but it almost seems like you can’t win. On one hand, you hate to see a show wear itself out, constantly being renewed to a point where people no longer have interest. But on the other hand, you have that whole Game of Thrones thing where those same people who would’ve complained about it running too long are now upset at how “rushed” that final season was. I feel like it takes a very certain group of people working together to find that perfect middle ground to agree on when — and how — to properly end a show on a high note.
I know. We had a lot of discussions about this in the room. It’s funny because even though it’s not a comedy, I think the show we talked about the most and sort modeled a lot of what we did after was The Leftovers. Which is strange, but The Leftovers is another show that sort of took control of its own story and ended when the creators and the people involved thought it should end.
I guess that means we are onto the existential portion of today’s interview. The Good Place, long in short, is about Kristen Bell’s character waking up in a Heaven-like afterlife called “The Good Place.” I know you are Jewish, but are you relig-ish? [Laughs.] I’m sorry. Religious.
[Laughs.] I am “relig-ish.” But no, I am not like, a practicing Jew. But umm… being Jewish is different from a lot of religions because you can be agnostic but still be super Jewish. Culturally speaking, I think that’s how I feel. I’m actually working on some material right now that discusses that.
Are you working on or writing for anything right now you are excited about? If you can disclose that sort of information, that is.
At the moment I am not. I have a couple of projects that are so in the earliest stages of things that it’s probably not worth talking about. But for the foreseeable future, I am going to be focusing on my stand up because I really missed it.
Glad to hear it, man. I went back and listened to Bitchface, the first album of yours ,and I gotta say as a hip hop fan, I love the structure — the way it feels like a mixtape. You even did these voicemails between tracks from different celebrities. Some you are obviously friends with or know, like you obviously have worked with Nick Kroll, Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari. But RZA was one of them! Are you telling me Joe Mande is tight with the Wu- Tang like that?!
Uh, I mean yeah, obviously it was a strange mix of people I’m very friendly with and then I kind of just — this was when I was at the peak of my Twitter mental illness — I just started DM’ing any blue check-marked person who followed me on Twitter and asked them to leave me a voicemail. I got people like Meghan McCain. I don’t know how that happened. It was really just an experiment on how I far I could take DMs.
I gotta say man, your reasoning for leaving Twitter is valid as shit. But I think a lot of us do miss the sarcastic Joe Mande retweets.
[Laughs.] Well that’s very nice, but it was completely like, destroying my brain and personality.
I envy that. As a young comic, I feel like I have to have a Twitter but I also feel like all I am doing is shouting into the void.
Oh, yeah man. I get it.
So my favorite way to end any interview: In all your years of comedy, what is the worst gig you have ever been booked for? A hell-gig, if you will.
I did a college tour with John Mulaney in like, 2009 I think. It was all over the midwest and we did a college show at the University of Indiana at Kokomo, which is a commuter school. They told us we had to get there before everybody left to go home, so we just did a show standing on a cafeteria table at 3:45 p.m. in a room of people just trying to eat their lunch. It was mortifying. We were just interrupting people’s lunches. They did not want to hear the two of us doing stand up and it was… very funny. I think we finished the show [while] the sun was still up, so we just went to go see one of the Fast and Furious movies or something. [Laughs.] It was just a complete hell-gig.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Joey Johnson is a comic based out of the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex. In 2016, he won “Best Comedian” at the Denton Arts and Music Awards. In 2017, he did not win “Best Comedian” at the Denton Arts and Music Awards. He has opened for prominent names such as Godfrey, Brian Posehn, Chris Porter and the guy who took Sarah Silverman’s virginity.