Photo Credit: Joe Mande
Interview: Joe Mande, Comedian/ Writer
by Joshua Goldfond
Joe Mande is a popular young comedian, author, and Twitter provocateur based out of New York City. The 28-year-old Emerson graduate has worked prolifically in the past few years, performing stand-up on Conan O’Brien and VH1, as well as clubs and venues around the country. In 2009 was named “Best New Comedian” by Time Out New York. He is a writer for the Adult Swim’s Delocated, and well as the upcoming Nick Kroll Show on Comedy Central.
Mande attracted widespread notice in 2009 with the launch of his photo-blog “Look At This Fucking Hipster”, which Mande originally conceived as a way to define the hipster subculture for his father. It achieved an unexpected popularity, and was eventually published as a book by St. Martin’s in 2010.
He has also become notorious for his use of Twitter, where he mines comic material from the accounts of famous (and semi-famous) individuals in the worlds of entertainment, sports, and politics. This has occasionally caused some friction. Most notable was his brief row in 2011 with NBA star Gilbert Arenas, who Mande mocked for a series of sexist comments and photos that the athlete posted on his account.
In late 2011, Mande agreed to speak with me regarding his career, influences, and unsolicited appreciation of Black culture.
When did you choose to seriously pursue comedy as a profession? Had it always been something that you were interested in?
I’ve always been obsessed with comedy, as far back as I can remember. Comedy and basketball. As a kid I really thought I’d be able to pull of a Bo Jackson type of situation, where I would be an NBA point guard and the anchor of Weekend Update. Though, when it became clear I’d never be taller than 5’9”, I switched over to comedy exclusively.
I spent my freshman year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Madion studying political science. I hated it and transferred the next year to Emerson College in Boston basically because I knew funny people went there. When I got there, I started a sketch group with some friends and began doing stand-up and knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do.
How long did it take you to acquire an agent and start getting noticed? What were some of the steps that you took early on? Did you move to NYC specifically for comedy?
Most kids from Emerson usually move to LA after graduating, but, yeah, I moved to New York right away. I’d always heard New York was the place to go if you want to get good at stand-up, which was my goal at the time. I got a day job in Soho working at an eyeglasses store and went out every night to comedy shows. I would try to get on stage as much as possible, stay out late, then come to work the next day on three hours sleep. That was pretty much my life for a while. It took me a few years before I got any attention from agents or managers, which in retrospect was probably a good thing, because it took me a few years before I was anywhere close to being good at comedy.
Who or what are some of your major comedic influences?
Obviously, growing up, I was very into age-appropriate comedies like Billy Madison and Ace Ventura. But I think I was in eighth grade when I discoveredMr. Show and Tenacious D on HBO, and that was huge. I’ve always loved David Cross’ stand up. Louis CK, Chris Rock, Dave Attell. And to be honest, right now it’s my friends: Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Chelsea Peretti, Hannibal Buress, Rory Scovel, Pete Holmes… they’re all so good.
Much of your work deals with social commentary or pop culture. Are there certain topics that you find yourself drawn to more than others, or has it changed with time?
I definitely have an unhealthy–and probably unwelcome–affinity for Black culture. So that certainly comes up a lot. I tell a lot of stories on stage of things that have happened to me, so inevitably that just ends up becoming me discussing my girlfriend, my family dog, my family, all of which is super interesting, obviously.
Arguably, your most well-known work to date is probably the website-turned-book “Look at this Fucking Hipster”. Can you talk a little bit about how the project came about? Do you plan on doing more with the concept?
I’m glad you said “arguably” because I’d like to argue about it. The project came about because I wanted to see how Tumblr worked, so I made a Tumblr using a few pictures of photographs I had on my iPhone of idiots I had seen walking around my neighborhood in Williamsburg. It was pretty much a joke I made for my Dad, who had a hard time understanding the difference between a hipster and a homeless person. And all of the sudden the website became really popular and I got a book out of it. But yeah, that project has been dead to me for a while. It stopped being fun for me and I moved on to other dumb projects like Twitter or my new tumblr, “Fiddy’s Biddies.”
Tell me a little bit about “Totally J/K”, your comedy duo with Noah Garfinkel. How long has this partnership been going on? How does that material differ from, or compliment, your solo work?
Noah and I were in the same sketch group in college. When he moved to New York in 2007, we started doing a weekly show at this bar called Rififi in the East Village. It’s moved around a bit, but we’re now at the new UCB East Theater every Thursday night. Having a weekly show is great. It forces the two of us to come up with new stand up each week. But it’s really laid back, perhaps to a fault. We just dick around. It’s a very stupid show. But we always book great guests and people come out. It’s fun.
Who are some comedy talents out there now who you feel deserve more exposure? Is there anyone out there that you would like to work with?
All the people I mentioned before. But also this dude Greg Johnson. He’s nuts. I probably quote him more than any other comedian I know. And Michelle Collins. She’s hilarious. It’s a crime she isn’t hosting a television show of her own by now.
What are some of your more long-term goals? Are you looking to get into film or television?
Yes and yes.
Joe Mande’s website is www.JoeMande.com
He can be followed on twitter @Joemande
Joe and his comedy partner Noah Garfunkle can be seen every Thursday night at 9pm hosting their stand-up show “Totally J/K” at UCB NYC East Theatre: http://east.ucbtheatre.com/shows/view/2011