Friend of Rootop, Nathan Timmel is releasing his third album. He was kind enough to answer my questions about his efforts and personal material focusing on family life and the struggle to create it.
RT: How long did it take you to generate the material for this album? How do you feel it compares to your previous efforts?
My last CD came out in 2008, so it took me somewhere in the neighborhood of four years to compile the material. If I remember correctly, the one before that came out in 2004, meaning I’m a either a very slow writer, or I’m meticulous.
As far as comparison with previous releases, I cross my fingers that it’s better. Not because anything I’ve done before is “bad,” but my hope is I’m continually improving as a comedian.
RT: Your album is titled Only Slightly Offensive. Have you had any run-ins with offended audience members? How did you handle it?
It’s very rare that I’ve had customers offended, outright heckle, or complain because of a joke in my set. I think–or maybe I hope–that when people enter a comedy club they understand that everything said is in good fun. I called the CD Only Slightly Offensive to hold on to that sensibility, because whoever is listening to it won’t be doing so in a comedy club environment. The title is a play on words, with “Only” and “Slightly” meant to offset one another, hopefully catching the eye. “Wait, is it offensive, or isn’t it?”
There are a couple spots on the CD you can hear the audience give a good groan. It’s the groan that is mixed with laughter, where they’re thinking “I can’t believe he said that” while they giggle. They get that what I’m saying might not be the most politically correct thing in the world, but that I’m not attacking anyone or being hateful.
That said, I’ve discovered that there is always something that will offend someone no matter how innocuous the joke. I received a negative remark on a comment card because of a joke about the possibility of my daughter having a food allergy; years ago I had an audience member scream “Prisoners are people too!” and storm out of the club because I suggested America should use prisoners for landmine clearing in Afghanistan.
What I’ve discovered regarding handling such moments is that the audience is generally on the performer’s side. It’s a case of mob rules, and in a comedy club the mob is there to laugh and have fun. Yes, there can be a stick in the mud who wants to pout because they didn’t like something, but that’s on them. If they’re not in the mood to giggle, there’s not much I can do about that.
RT: You decided on self-releasing this album. Was that process easier or harder than you imagined? What was the biggest challenge?
With modern technology, self-releasing is easier than it’s ever been. The challenge is that because of modern technology, self-releasing is easier than it’s ever been. (See what I did there?)
The problem is legitimacy. It can be somewhat difficult to get taken seriously without a label backing you. As a whole, many people and institutions like the validity backers offer. In the music industry self-releasing is done every day. In the world of comedy, it seems a little different; “Why should I trust you’re funny? You did this yourself.” I attack that stigma by making a professional album. I hired a professional photographer and used a graphic designer for the cover. It wasn’t recorded using my phone, I tied directly to the sound board so my voice would always be crisp. This isn’t something I burned on my computer at home, it has a quality look and sound to it. If someone is going to spend their hard-earned money on me, I want it to be worth it for them.
RT: How would you describe your brand of humor to someone who has never heard you? How long did it take you to find your voice?
I’m generally a storyteller, and I can be exceedingly personal at times. I find it easier to write about my experiences than I do to sit and try and make something up, and by being honest I can (hopefully) avoid doing material that’s already been done (e.g. how many comics have a joke about wearing a red shirt at Target? How many crack wise about “Safe Lists” with their partners that go: “I had Jessica Alba on my list, she had her personal trainer on hers!”) Occasionally I’ll have a throwaway joke involving something topical, but you’re not going to catch me on stage these days making GW Bush jokes, something that makes me cringe since we’re so far removed from that time period.
My voice… that one’s tricky. I think a comedian’s voice is something that changes as he changes. When I started performing, I had just been cheated on and dumped. My humor was very dark back then. Now I’m married and have a child and I’m upbeat and happy. I think my voice and material is a reflection of wherever I’m at in life, and best case scenario it’s going to keep growing as my life keeps changing.
RT: You talk a lot about your wife in your comedy. What does she think of all this? Specifically, you doing stand-up, your material, mentioning her in your act? Is she supportive?
I got beyond lucky in my marriage. It’s a comedy cliché, I know, but I met her because of comedy. She was in the audience, heard me do a personal set about my family and upbringing, and felt “a connection” (her words). So, she knew what she was getting into; “OK, this idiot talks about his life on stage, and I’m in his life… I guess he’s going to talk about me now.”
Every so often she asks me to shitcan a joke for the evening, because her parents or grandparents or boss or someone is in the audience, and I respect and do that for her. But when I’m on the road, she generally has no qualms about what I’m saying. The people in the audience don’t know her, and will most likely never meet her, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Overall, she is beyond supportive. She has a Master’s Degree and swims in the business world, making me the yin to her yang and all that nonsense. We balance well.
RT: You go into great detail about your struggle to conceive. Have you found this opened you up to a different audience? Has the baby material led to any interesting opportunities?
Discussing infertility on stage has been… you have no idea how many people go through that struggle. I didn’t until I started talking about it on stage. When I would joke about trying to get pregnant, so many supportive people would share their story with me after the show. They would explain how long it took them, and in many cases have a very happy ending.
Now that my daughter is here, I’ve joined the cult of parenthood. It’s like buying a car; suddenly you notice the very model you bought everywhere. I had no idea how many people had kids until mine came along.
RT: Do you feel like comedy has taken on a new meaning as you’ve transitioned from a single man to now?
Unfortunately, yes. Comedy used to be me expressing myself; now there’s a business aspect to everything. When I was single and without responsibilities I could take anything offered; now I have to look at each one and do a cost-benefit analysis. Being a dad means you have to provide, and sometimes that means time over money. If after gas and food I’m not walking away with much, the extra day with my daughter becomes more important.
RT: As a new dad, how has the child impacted comedy for you?
When I was starting out, I watched people I found hilarious walk away from comedy because they got married and had a kid. I couldn’t wrap my head around it; I had no clue how anyone could leave the road behind. I’m nowhere near close to doing so myself, but now I get it. I get the longing, how much you miss your child when you’re away from them. It makes taking certain gigs or runs difficult; “OK, I don’t want to be gone for 3 weeks solid…”
RT: If you were to look back in 10 years, how would you want to remember this album?
Hopefully fondly. I’ve always loved the movie Bachelor Party, and I’d like to think Tom Hanks looks back on that film with a wry smile. It’s a drunken sex comedy involving nudity, drugs, prostitution… nothing you’d picture Oscar winner Tom Hanks in, but hey, there he is. If in 10 years I can look back at this and go, “Well, I sure talked about my wife’s naughty parts a lot, didn’t I?” and be OK with that, I’m good.
Buy Nathan’s new album Only Slightly Offensive
Keep up on all things Timmel at his website: nathantimmel.com