Don’t infer from the subject matter of Chris Hardwick’s forthcoming stand-up special—life, death, fatherhood, etc.—that it’s too heavy to be funny. It’s funny.
There are jokes about blow-up dolls, footie pajamas, pooping in public restrooms and the weird things nurses remove from people’s butts. It’s also intercut with stories about Hardwick’s father, who died in 2013—and those moments are not offered in a happy-sad-happy-sad kind of way. The stuff about death is funny too.
Bloodless observational stand-up isn’t just passe; it’s pointless. Comics like Paul F. Tompkins (Crying and Driving, Comedy Central), Cameron Esposito (Marriage Material, Seeso) and Tig Notaro (Boyish Girl Interrupted, HBO) have opened up about their own lives recently in revealing, funny and moving stand-up specials.
Chris Hardwick is in that same lane in his new Funcomfortable special on Comedy Central, but he navigates it with more raunch and a higher joke density—a blend of his story-driven hosting on the Nerdist podcast and his snark-laden hosting on Comedy Central’s @midnight.
Our interview starts with some of the heavy stuff, but we also cover bowling and queefs and how Nerdist is moving deeper into digital media. Enjoy your burrito.
This special has a lot of the kind of humor that people would expect from you, but it also gets into some big ideas. Did you start with the big things, or did they sneak up on you?
It snuck up on me when my dad died. I started writing jokes about relationships and about my dad—which he loved—and then he died, very suddenly. Had he not passed away, I don’t think it would have been about life and death. It may have been about fatherhood and moving into adulthood, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write about life and death if it hadn’t happened.
You say in the special that comedy is “armor against the smoldering shitwich of life.” How does that work with you?
This is such an interesting time. Not every kind of comedy is for every person, and we’re in this strange time when people are weighing in on things they may not even have heard. They heard someone made a joke, they get offended, and they say, “You can’t joke about that!” When you’re talking about death, some people think you can’t talk about that. It’s a human thing, and comedy helps you deal with that. You can find humor in the most horrible things.
One of the occupational quirks of doing stand-up is that you’re telling the same stories over and over for different audiences, so you’ve talked about your dad a lot. Has that been OK?
It’s the way I’ve always dealt with things. The reason I even pursued material as personal as this is that I’m friends with Mike Birbiglia, who’s a great comic and a great writer, and he came on the Nerdist podcast and said, “I go to this place that’s really uncomfortable and write from there.” I hadn’t written anything that deeply personal before, so I did that and dealt with things out loud that I hadn’t talked to another person about besides a therapist. It started resonating with people because everyone can relate to death and doing fucked-up, embarrassing things.
I don’t think you talk about it in this special, but you’ve talked a lot on the Nerdist podcast about how he was a professional bowler, which seems like a fun, weird thing to have growing up. Did that make you the fun kid or the strange kid?
I was very much the strange kid. My family moved a lot because of my dad’s career, so I was usually the new kid. No one thought it was cool unless maybe they came to my dad’s bowling center and got to bowl for free. No one was like, “Cool! Professional bowling!” [laughs] I always thought it was cool. I have this rare gift that so many people don’t have. I can watch him bowl on YouTube. There’s clips of him from 1963. It’s a cool, rare thing to have.
Were you a bowling savant when you were a kid?
Yeah, I was. I shot a 289 when I was 11. At a certain point, I rejected bowling because my parents split up when I was about 13. My mom and I moved away from the bowling center, and I rejected it like you do with things when you’re a teenager. But I love bowling. The smell of a bowling center and the sounds of pins crashing is such a deeply comforting sound to me. It’s why we started a series called All-Star Bowling on the Nerdist YouTube Channel—my dad’s bowling center was called All-Star Lanes.
That was in Memphis?
Yeah, it was in Memphis. It still is, actually.
You have a bit in the special about how it would be funny if there were a band called Death Queef, so I did some checking around. There’s one in Tampa, apparently, though I think the names may not be real. There’s also one called Queef Huffer and another one called Georgia O’Queef Band.
Oh, that’s fantastic!
All three of them are death-metal bands, which seems pretty improbable.
Queefs are such a visceral thing. It’s very common to talk about farts in our culture, but nobody talks about queefs. I think a queef is actually more proper than a butt fart, to be honest. It’s nothing more than compressed air. And if you hear a queef, things are going well. That means you’re having sex with a lady.
A few months ago, you cut the Nerdist podcast back from two or three times a week to just once a week. Were you ready to do other things?
My schedule was melting my brain. It was taking me 10 hours a week, and @midnight takes a lot of my weekday time. I would go in the morning and build the script, then go do a podcast, then come back and shoot the show, then go back and do another podcast. By the end of the day, I was so mentally exhausted that it was starting to affect my life in a bad way.
What’s your routine?
Sunday is Talking Dead. Monday and Tuesday are @midnight. Wednesday, we do two @midnight shows. Friday and Saturday, I’m usually touring stand-up. And I was doing a bunch of podcasts and running Nerdist and doing other random things that came along. It was really wearing on me, so I cut down to one podcast a week and it’s been really great. The download numbers actually up when we dropped back to once a week.
But you’re still flying to Omaha on a Friday to play a 500-seat theater, and traveling is exhausting. That seems like the easiest thing to cut back on.
Well, I would never cut back on the stand-up. But I don’t need to put up three podcast episodes a week. I think that’s been good for the audience, who doesn’t just listen to Nerdist. They listen to Marc Maron and Comedy Bang! Bang! and NPR podcasts. People used to message us that they couldn’t keep up.
What’s the growth market for Nerdist—the thing you want to do more of in the next 18 months? Do podcasts still have room to grow?
Our podcasts started growing the first day we put one up, and it has never stopped growing. As cars start having more digital content integrated into their entertainments systems, there’s nothing but room for growth for podcasts. Nerdist is working on some premium content and pitching more television.
Does premium content mean a streaming service?
We are going to do some stuff in that neighborhood, but we haven’t made any announcements yet. I want to create a unique experience and not just think content-based. I want to think about your experience on the site and how you interact with people. We have a lot of plans.
Hardwick’s stand-up special, Chris Hardwick: Funcomfortable, airs Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT followed by the rollout of an extended, uncensored version to Comedy Central’s website, streaming apps, and PPV outlets like iTunes and Amazon Video next week.