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PAGE TO STAGE: Comedian Mark Normand On Bringing His New Comedy Documentary To Life!

You don’t have to have your finger on the pulse to know that standup comedy is one of the hottest commodities in entertainment these days. In fact, in the past ten years, the comedy business has tripled in size. Comedians are selling out arenas like rock stars, creating podcasts outperforming Late Night, and shaking up old distribution models with self-generated content. Audiences seek more genuine experiences, preferring uncensored comedy from comedians rather than studios curating an experience on their behalf. We want it unfiltered and directly from the source!

Enter Mark Normand. — As one of the hardest-working men in show business, not to mention one of the most unique voices in comedy, he is anything but an overnight success. Over the past decade, he’s poured his blood, sweat, and tears into his career as he’s meticulously sharpened his skills as a joke writer. The hard work and late nights have been paying off in spades. Following his self-released special, “Out To Lunch,” which amassed over 10 million views on YouTube, he released his latest hour, “Soup to Nuts,” on Netflix. Mark can also be heard on his multiple appearances on “The Joe Rogan Experience” or on his own podcasts “Tuesdays with Stories” and “We Might Be Drunk.”

Now, he’s pulling back the curtain to show how the sausage gets made! His new documentary, ‘PAGE TO STAGE,’ is a behind-the-scenes docuseries that follows Normand and the birth of a single joke. From inspiration through its rapid growth and transformation until finally realizing its full potential, measured only by an audience’s ultimate guffaw! The people wanna know how the sausage is made, and Mark is telling them: rat butt, hog nose, comedy; From its initial spark in the most likely of comedic locations – a fast food bathroom – to Open Mics, to the dreaded road, and culminating at Carnegie Hall. ‘Page to Stage’ is now available exclusively on PunchUp.Live, offering comedy fans a front-row seat to Mark Normand’s creative process.

Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently caught up with Mark Normand on the mean streets of New York City for a chat about his career, the making of his ‘Page To Stage’ documentary, and much more!

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did comedy first start seeping into your life?

Like most young boys, I enjoyed cuttin’ it up with my pals. When I discovered comedy, I fell in love with it. I loved Bill Murray, SNL, cartoons, and ‘The Simpsons.’ I got into standup young, so being a weirdo kid, you get a laugh, and it feels good. Then you realize, “Hell, maybe I can make a career of it!”

And here we are! [laughs] Tell us about your early years and getting your feet wet for the first time.

It was brutal! I’m from New Orleans, so there wasn’t much going on in the way of comedy. It was a pretty pathetic scene, so I was doing weird open mics and bombing. I was trying to sound like Jerry Seinfeld or Norm MacDonald. Finding your footing isn’t pretty, so I’m glad there was no Internet back then!

At what point did you decide to approach comedy more seriously?

I think I had so little going on in my life that I was like, “What the hell? I don’t care. I’ll give it a shot.” Even if I got to be a standup while working at a cubicle, at least I’d still be a standup. So, I said, “Screw it! I’ll move to New York, and I’ll try to be a comic.” It was brutal, but the open mic scene in New York was just vicious and absolutely cutthroat. It was the only thing I knew how to do. I had no Plan B, so I just kept going. I’m not good at anything else! It took 9 or 10 years, but I finally got there. I always say that it’s kinda like playing a video game on the highest difficulty level. I was trying to balance a day job, New York rent, learning how to do comedy, writing material, and everything else!

How difficult was finding your voice as a young comic?

Finding my voice was extremely difficult. There were a lot of sleepless nights and moments in the shower where I found myself saying, “Why the fuck did I say that? God, I’m an idiot. I suck!” It was a ton of trial and error, listening to tapes, writing, and rewriting. It’s a brutal process, and if people could see behind the curtain, they’d be horrified by how hard I was on myself and all that good stuff.

When do you feel you came into your own as a performer?

Ehhhhhh, I don’t know. Maybe like a month ago?! [laughs] It took a while. Ya know that’s the thing about comedy. Billy Crystal described it as trying to catch fog in a suitcase. It’s always fleeting. Even when you think you’ve got it, you don’t, and that’s what keeps you in it.

What were the biggest lessons you learned early on in your career that continue to resonate?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you bust your ass and work hard, it pays off. Even now, I see a lot of young comics. I see who’s hustling and running around like crazy, and I can tell that “this guy is gonna be fine…” or “This gal is gonna be big.” So, it’s pretty simple. Just work hard and be realistic. If you suck, try to realize that you suck. Everybody’s got the ego and thinks they’re hot shit, even when they’re not! What did Stephen King say? “The biggest fictions are the lies you tell yourself.” At some point, we’ve all gotta face the music and look in the mirror, so be true to yourself.

How has the comedy business changed over the past decade from your point of view?

The most significant changes have been in the internet clips and podcasts. When I started, nobody had a podcast. Now, everyone has a podcast! No one was putting clips up. For example, you’d have a killer set in Seattle, and poof, it was gone! It was just for that moment. You might’ve gotten into a fistfight or a heckle situation, whatever it might be. Now, it’s just content, content, content. The hunger for content is so intense that you have to keep feeding it.

It’s good and bad because audiences are consuming the shit out of standup, but it’s hard because the quality could dip with the amount you’re putting out. It’s a difficult balance. It’s bittersweet. It’s sweet because the podcasts help sell tickets and help an audience to get to know you. In the past, you had to do your act and let the audience get to know you through that act. You only had two minutes to do that. With a podcast, you’ve got months and months. You’re in their home, on their commute, and in their ear. So, that’s a game changer.

However, a comic used to wake up at noon, jerk off, eat breakfast, write for two hours, play video games, watch a movie, buy some clean underwear, and then do a couple of shows that night. Now, wake up early, do two podcasts because a guest can only do it on a particular day and time, and then you’ve gotta go on other people’s podcasts. It’s great because you don’t have to say, “Oh hey! Jimmy Fallon! Kelly Clarkson! Can I do your show?” You can do your own show these days, which is awesome, but it’s also a ton of work. Traditionally, comics prefer less work.

You’ve definitely been working hard lately. You just released an awesome documentary on PunchUp.live called ‘Page To Stage.’  It’s an awesome piece of work and I’m curious to know how that came about.  

Thanks, I appreciate it! We talk about all this content and comics putting up clips of jokes that work, but we never really get to how they work. Every new comedian I meet is like, “How do you come up with material? What’s you’re writing process? What’s it like behind the scenes?” I was getting asked this question so many times I said, “Let’s just shoot something and show the grueling, humiliating process of trying to perfect a joke.” So, we just started shooting it! We shot it over the course of weeks and weeks. It really started coming together during the editing process, and I said, “I think we’ve got something here!”

What were the biggest challenges you faced in bringing it to life?

There were tons of challenges. I would have my guy edit it and send it to me. I would say, “Take this out, put that in.” It was pretty rough because he kept editing it with a polish on it. I was like, “No, keep the bombing in there. It’s all about the bombing. That’s what we want to show people.” He said, “Yeah, but it’s cringey and uncomfortable.” I said, “Good! That’s what we want. That’s the good stuff!” That was the hard part of the edit. I wanted to keep it sad and miserable because that’s the reality of it.

What didn’t make it into that final cut?

You’re mostly missing out on me saying the same thing over and over again. Sadly, that’s a big part of comedy. Not only do you have to write it, but you’ve got to remember what you wrote. Then you’re up there on stage trying to remember it, and the whole thing is really humiliating! I took it all over Europe and all over the United States, so we didn’t put all of that in. We mostly wanted to keep just the progression, so you didn’t miss much!

‘Page To Stage’ focuses on the evolution of a single joke, but you’ve been evolving for years. Is it easy for you to see your creative evolution as a writer looking back on your career?

Yeah. Actually, that part is kind of a bummer! Sometimes I look at my old stuff and think, “Maybe this was better.” Other times, I look at my new stuff and think, “Oh, this is way more advanced.” I think the key is to keep progressing. As Bill Burr would say, “See what you’re bad at and go toward that. Try to perfect it. If you can’t go left, go left!” That’s what I’m working on now. With that said, I have my own fan base now, which is huge for me as a comic. They let me get away with a lot more. In the early years, you have to be a lot more broad because no one knows who you are. So, you have to please strangers. Once they know who you are, you can experiment a lot more.

I have to say, you have one hell of a work ethic. Where did you get that from?

A. My parents are workaholics, so maybe I got it from them. B. I’ve failed at so many things growing up that I was kind of sick of failing. I figured if I worked really hard on this, it’d pay off. Sadly, I think that’s a big part of it!

I love seeing all the hard work pay off. With that said, you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. What do you look for in the material you take on at this point in your career?

Originality. It’s gotta be impressive. Sometimes, you see these specials and think, “Wow, my aunt could’ve written that.” If it’s called a special, it should be impressive and hard to do.

What do you consider the keys to longevity in this business?

It comes down to one word — “Write.” If you keep writing and creating content, you’re gonna be fine! Keep getting on stage and stay relevant. Don’t get out of touch and become the old guy who goes to the club and is still telling jokes about O.J. Simpson or Monica Lewinsky. Stay relevant! It’s also important to keep absorbing standup to know where the lines move and how the culture changes.

Comedian Mark Normand

You’re definitely a guy who is out there on the front lines. What excites you about comedy in 2024?

What excites me is that we are in such a boom right now. It’s crazy. I have friends doing arenas right now! Back in the day, when I first fell in love with it, arenas were for Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay. It’s insane! Part of me is excited about that, but part of me is scared because I like it when comedy is niche and underground. It was a weird art form that you had to find. It’s like a punk rock thing. Imagine punk rock being propped up on the main stage. So, it feels weird, but I’m just trying to enjoy it before it goes away because every boom has a bust, doesn’t it? Let’s enjoy it while it’s here!

In recent years, you’ve put out two specials, “Out To Lunch” on YouTube and “Soup To Nuts” on Netflix, which blew up last summer. Do you have a favorite?

That was huge, for sure! The YouTube one is still my favorite because I was nobody, and it blew up on its own merit, which meant a lot to me. Plus, when it’s on YouTube, you can see the numbers, read the comments and see the views. It’s one of those things you can never take away from me. It’s on YouTube. I put it up there, and the numbers are great, and you can’t argue with them, so that was nice. Getting the Netflix special was a huge win for me because those are hard to get. I had to earn it! I had to prove myself to them like, “Hey, here’s an hour of good stuff!” They came back and said, “Okay, we like it. Now write us another one!” I was like, “Awww, shit.” So, I wrote another one, and we pulled it off. It’s all good!

What does the rest of the year hold for you?

I’m hitting the road. I’m going all over, so come out and see me live! I’ve got a new hour cookin’, and I think it’s some of my best stuff. When it’s ready, I’ll make a special out of it, and we’ll do it all over again. I just gotta keep rollin’ that ball up the hill.

Thank you for your time today, Mark. I really appreciate it and wish you continued success.

Thank you! Great questions. Praise Allah, and be nice to everybody!

Follow the continuing adventures of Mark Normand — Visit his official website at www.marknormand.com for tour dates, merch, and more!

About PunchUp.live
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