EXCLUSIVE: Joe Mande talks about his ‘Award-Winning Comedy Special’

Joe Mande is a stand-up comedian, and writer for such shows as ‘Parks & Recreation’ and ‘The Good Place.’ In this interview, Mande talks about his new Netflix special, his comedy mixtape, the Cannibal Cop, and being called an “internet troll.”

THE KNOCKTURNAL: What comedians or TV shows inspired you to go into comedy?

JOE MANDE: I can’t really name one person in particular. I grew up, as a little kid in New Mexico, I would just sit in my house and watch Comedy Central all day. Or play basketball in my driveway. I remember getting Eddie Murphy’s DELIRIOUS when I was 10 or 11 – which is completely inappropriate, in retrospect, but I probably watched that a million times.

Do you remember any specific moment in time where you knew you wanted to do comedy for a living?

My high school had an improv comedy team. So since I was probably 14, I’ve been doing comedy. That was sort of a given, since I was 14, that I was gonna do this. I didn’t really have a plan B.

For the special, you had this narrative of getting the “American Humor Award.” How’d you come up with the idea of bookending your special with this story?

I wrote that up when we were beginning the process of finding a venue and everything. I just knew that I wanted to do this extra thing. I think it’s because it’s kind of absurd to give an award out for something as subjective as comedy. I knew I was probably gonna address that, somehow.

With both your special and your mixtape, BITCHFACE, you add these extra skits/narratives to your stand-up. How do you decide to add these elements in, as opposed to just doing more traditional stand-up?

Well, the mixtape came about because I recorded it, and it just sat there on my computer for six or seven months, because I was in the PARKS & REC writers’ room then. I just started playing around with the format, and it sort of turned into this other thing, almost out of impatience and boredom on my part. I just kept adding to it, because I had too much time, you know? With the special, it was a little different, because I tried to make a point of not interrupting the actual stand-up. So it is a one-hour special on its own, and then I just happened to add some stuff to give it a sort of narrative. I just wanted to give it a little more than just “okay, here I am, here are my jokes.”

When you talk with Bo Burnham and George Wallace at the beginning, you playfully mock the tropes of NY-set stand-up specials. I don’t know if you necessarily think about this, but do you feel that some standup specials are almost too formulaic?

Yeah, kind of. I think that if you’re binge-watching stand-up specials, I think there’s a familiar rhythm that I found sort of strange.

So then how do you try to make your comedy feel unique?

I can’t really speak to that. All my material is just stuff that I wrote and went on the road with. I don’t really think that much about, like, where my stand-up places in the canon. I don’t really put that much thought into it, in terms of “oh no, is my stand-up part of this overall trend?” I think you’d go crazy if you thought that way.

I found your website, and it’s a little… confusing. What’s going on there?

I mean, it’s a work in progress. I’m sort of trying to start a cult of personality, but I’m really busy, so it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. Yeah, I’m trying to start a cult. I’m working on it.

Several places have described you as not just a comedian, but as a “troll.” Is that something you self-identify with, or something that’s been thrown on you?

I mean, I get it? Like, I can’t be too angry, because my behavior online qualifies as that, I guess. But I don’t go out proudly proclaiming I’m an internet troll. There’s some person, or some group of people, who specifically on Wikipedia constantly keep adding that to my bio. They try to label me a “cyber-bully” as well, which I think is a bit harsh… I suppose, technically, I do troll people. But at the same time, my worst fear is that it looks like I’m writing my Wikipedia page, and proudly calling myself an internet troll.

Some of your jokes take on some controversial topics, like ISIS and the Cannibal Cop. Is that again, something you worry about, that people will call you out for going too far?

My wife was a little worried about the ISIS stuff. But then, you know, once Trump got elected, I was like “well who fucking cares at this point?” Like, we’re living in an insane time, so I can’t be worried what people think about me and my ISIS jokes. And I keep telling people, I don’t know why ISIS would be mad. I’m just praising ISIS. (laughs)

Joe Mande’s Netflix special premieres on July 25th. His mixtape BITCHFACE can also be streamed on Spotify.

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