The subject is forthcoming with personal information, a refreshing attribute that makes it easy to talk to him about his various anxieties. Clearly a very thoughtful person, the patient has no problem being serious about newfound fatherhood or the construction of his jokes. He self-admittedly is often less “laid back” than his public persona would first suggest, an attribute that comes across in his carefully chosen words and seriousness with which he holds himself throughout the entire interview. He isn’t above talking about his other therapists, and while I’ll try to hide my jealousy that he’s seeing other people, I will admit that the patient seems remarkably well adjusted (for a comedian). This week, I had the unique pleasure of welcoming Nick Thune to my therapist’s couch.
You’re a new father, correct?
Nick Thune: I am.
Congratulations. How do you deal with the anxiety of knowing that everything you say and do will influence your child’s life?
It’s kind of crippling. There’s a sense of being a little bit more self aware of the way that I act, which probably should have started happening in my early twenties, but I just decided to put that off until my mid-thirties, just to make it a challenge. Whereas the stupid stuff I do has usually benefited me in the past, with either good stories out of it or experience that I can grow from, now it’s more of a, “I’d rather him figure that stuff out on his own than learn from my stupid mistakes.”
Do you think that your comedy has been affected by your fatherhood? Or that your fatherhood has been affected because you’re a comedian?
It’s beneficial to all aspects of my life to be a father. I think I did it at the right time, and I was ready, so it’s more of a motivation, something that makes me more excited. I’m more excited to come home, I’m more excited to work harder knowing that the hard work I put in isn’t just for me anymore, or my wife, it’s for this person that we’re trying to sculpt into not an evil person.
That’s beautiful. Do you feel pressured to be the funny dad or the cool dad because you have a cool job?
No, but I guess it’s even more because he’s so young still, so as far as being an uncle, I was just on vacation with my family, and I’ve got two nieces that are twins and they’re six, and they’re just starting to kind of understand what I do, although I don’t think that they understand.
I have a vinyl, and I brought a vinyl on the vacation to give to my parents, and I just kind of overheard my niece whispering to my mom, “Why is Nick’s face on the cover of this thing?” I just think it’s kind of like a funny thing. I think a lot of comedians are like, “Oh, I want to get on Yo Gabba Gabba now,” or some show that kids watch, so that my kid actually registers what it is that I do, but I think that actually ruins it. If my kid enjoys a show, I’m going to try not to be on it, because I would assume that would slightly ruin it for him, like, “Dad, why are you ruining this thing I like?”
You’ve been known to incorporate music into your comedy. Now, you do a mix of more traditional stand up and music. Do you want to tell me where that schism came from, or if you had always kind of mixed the two? How did you navigate the transition between traditional comedy and musical stand up?
I think I’m still kind of navigating it. I think all of my jokes have been able to stand without the guitar, and the guitar was just kind of this thing that I enjoyed doing that I thought added another element to it. The more and more that I went, I think there was a desire to test my material, because I got worried, because I see some comedians do stuff, and it’s like, “If they weren’t doing that thing with it, or if this guy that’s chubby wasn’t talking about being chubby, what if he wasn’t chubby anymore?”
And I know that none of these things are the same, but you kind of start to look at it that way, and I really want my jokes and my stories to be able to stand without the music. And then I started testing everything without music before I did it on TV or anything, just to make sure that it stands alone, and that the material is worth it. I don’t feel the connection as much anymore with playing the guitar; I’m more interested in telling stories and talking about who I am really, rather than making up fake things. I don’t know, I think there’s a place for that, I just don’t have it anymore.
I’m more interested in telling stories and talking about who I am really, rather than making up fake things.
Do you think you’ve become more introspective with age, or do you think it’s coming from a desire to try new things?
I don’t think I’ve become more introspective because I’ve always been pretty introspective. I’ve been going to therapy since I was fourteen when my parents first forced me into a therapist. Finally, I have a therapist now that I’m being honest with for the first time, whereas before I just wanted somebody else to think I was a good person. I think that I’m finally comfortable with being introspective publicly, and actually dealing with issues that I go through.
I think for a long time I tried to be the laid back guy. It’s funny, a lot of people will say to my wife or something, like, “Wow, Nick’s just so laid back, he’s so easy to work with,” and her response to that is, “When? How?” Really, I’m kind of a mess. I was kind of sick of portraying something that wasn’t necessarily me on stage. The humor was me, and the delivery and all that stuff, but I guess I just wanted to be my true self on stage, and really expose that to the audience. There seems to be a lot more satisfaction in that for me now. Have you ever tested material on your therapist before you’ve done it live?
No, but he watches everything that I do. It’s kind of silly. Sometimes if he hears that I do something, he’ll watch it in front of me. He thinks I’m funny, which is nice. He used to be a writer on a TV show, which is even funnier. But, y’know, the nice thing about it is it’s somebody who kind of gets it a little bit, because when I’m in therapy I break things down into career and real life, and I don’t go in there for career counseling, but sometimes, things that are happening in business or whatever can really be weighing on you, whether it’s a decision or waiting to hear word on if you get a part. It’s really learning how to deal with the stress that that brings in, and then learning how to not bring that into home. How do you think being a comedian has affected your mental health?
It’s probably been horrible for it, I think that it’s a stress in the job. It’s funny, actually my taxi driver just said something that I don’t think about too often. He heard me on the phone with somebody and asked me if I was a stand up comedian, and I said yes, and he said, “It must be hard to put your life on hold to brighten other peoples’ day.”
And I’ve had some tragic things happen, and then have to go on stage immediately, whether it’s a death of a friend or family issue, whatever’s happening in your life. My dog actually died, and I wanted to go on stage and talk about it, but I just didn’t know how to. And that’s one time I talked to my therapist about like, “Why do I have this desire?” I can’t really mourn this in front of my wife, for some reason, because I don’t really know how to grieve or deal with death, and he gave me really great advice. He was like, “Well, the stage is not meant for you to grieve. You go on the stage to help other people get through grieving, or to give them joy, or to make them forget about those things that they would be grieving about. To go up there and put that on them is the opposite of your job.”
It must be hard to put your life on hold to brighten other peoples’ day.
And the more and more I thought about it, I was like, “Holy shit, he’s right.” So that night, a half hour before I went on stage, with zero plan, somehow I wanted to honor my dog on stage, and I ended up going up and doing 10 minutes that I just ended up whittling down to a piece I did on The Tonight Show, and that was just in the moment of my own grieving and trying to find some sort of light in it. That was an interesting thing to have happen and to go through.
That’s really touching. Why do you think most comedians are stereotyped as being depressed people, if their job is to make people happy?
I don’t know. That’s a great answer for an interview, right—I don’t know. I think I have an idea, but I think that it all leads to the same thing of, ever since I was a child I found joy in attention, and that’s kind of the sick nature of stand up. In the end it’s all, “Look over here, do you like me, please like me,” and seeking that out constantly. I’m sure that most people don’t do it for that reason. I’m not speaking for all stand ups, I’m just speaking from where I began from. I think just having that desire is depressing, and I think that causes depression, just needing that approval from people. I’ve been seeking approval from others since I first had the thought, “Is someone going to like me?” And I think that’s pretty dark, and that’s a never-ending battle. You’re never going to get approval from everybody, and not everybody’s ever going to like you, and that’s kind of sad too.
Do you think that you’ve succeeded in getting more people to like you through your stand up?
Yes. Actually, no, I don’t think so. Because I don’t think it’s about liking me. They might enjoy something that I do, which is fine, but I think the life that I was leading before I was a stand up, more people probably would have liked me though, as a person. I worked at the Boys and Girls Club. I was a teen director at The Boys and Girls Club in Seattle for six years. I worked with teenage kids.
It’s funny, because giving that up to do this, I think I thought that I had a bigger calling, and I still think that I do, to have people smile. When I was working at The Boys and Girls Club, it was a much smaller level, but it was the same. But I also did kind of get involved in people’s lives a little more and know them a little deeper than telling a stupid, silly joke.
You were born in Seattle, right?
Your most recent Tonight Show appearance did mention the now legal drug marijuana. Do you think that your upbringing affected your comedy in any other way besides that?
I think so, because I think that Seattle’s a pretty dark place, and people in Seattle can be very difficult to get through to. As far as comedy audiences go, I think Portland and Seattle are great, amazing, smart audiences, but also, they’re harder to crack. I see it that way. Some people think, “Oh, people in Seattle, they like good coffee and they’re so bourgeois,” but there’s also just a lot of blue-collar people that live up there, and they are hard to please, and I think that helped me growing up.
Is that also why you released your newest album on vinyl, to appeal to the hipsters in Seattle?
I definitely think there’s a cool, hipster thing about putting out a vinyl, but the reason that I put out a vinyl is that there’s no point in putting out a CD anymore, because it’s just a CD, people don’t even want CDs, really. Why not put out a limited version of something that could be a piece of art or something to hold on to that’s actually packaged well, and it’s $10 more than the digital download that comes with it, so you’re really just paying an extra ten bucks to have a cool piece, and spending years to build something and make something,and then actually having a physical product to hold that’s not just through WiFi.
Any advice you would give to comedians about dealing with mental health, or dealing with their issues, either through comedy or by separating it from their comedy?
I would say to embrace your feelings. The thing I love about therapy is that it causes me to be in constant self-awareness and improvement, really. Part of what I discussed with my therapist is that I don’t necessarily want to fix all of these things, I just want to be aware of them. And I want to know why, and maybe knowing why helps understand it and not necessarily fix it. Anything that is fully pure and clean is unattractive and nobody really cares about it; there has to be a glitch, there has to be things wrong with it for it to be relatable, for people to actually enjoy it; and to swallow it all the way, it has to be flawed.
Nick Thune’s Folk Hero is streaming on Netflix and iTunes and available on vinyl.