Josh Gondelman Is Comedy’s Nicest Guy: “When I’m Mean, It’s Like A Juice Cleanse”
Of course I asked New York City-based comedian Josh Gondelman about the whole “nice guy” thing. Pretty much every magazine/blog article I’ve read about him has made reference to it, in particular these last few weeks as he’s been promoting his new comedy album, Physical Whisper. See what I mean?
It’s nothing new to hear Josh Gondelman called the nicest man in comedy… – Brooklyn Magazine
If I had any doubts as to whether Josh Gondelman was actually the nice guy everyone says he is… – Splitsider
[H]e’s widely respected in the comedy community as being a sweetheart in an industry that doesn’t exactly celebrate the “nice guy.” – New York Observer
Q: Are you really that nice, or are you secretly really edgy and cruel when you’re not onstage? – Salon
Even if you don’t know Gondelman personally, either IRL or through Twitter, his approach to comedy — be it his standup material, the Modern Seinfeld Twitter account, his writing credits on “Last Week Tonight” or just his tweets — has an inherent decency to it. He doesn’t punch down, but even when he’s punching up, he’s not really a mean dick about it. This is, frankly, kind of rare for male comedians.
“I guess I don’t think a ton of super mean thoughts,” Gondelman told me via email. “Or if I do it’s SO petty it’s not worth talking about onstage, for me at least. I’m not very funny when I’m mean or cranky. It’s like a weird, tone-deaf George Constanza, ‘the jerk store called…’ escalation. What I’m saying is, when I’m mean, it’s like a juice cleanse. It doesn’t feel good, and it’s ineffective. Nobody wants or needs it.”
For as nice as he is, Gondelman is equally as hilarious, and his new comedy album, Physical Whisper, is a laugh-out-loud gem. I listened to it alone, and I usually only legit LOL if I’m surrounded by people who are also LOLing. Only one other thing made me laugh harder this week, and that was the poop purse girl. What can I say? It was a my poop nightmare, in three acts, and I was high when I read her tweets.
Gondelman’s uses his sharp-witted nebbishness to mine territory like the pitfalls of dating, test driving pleasure enhancing products and racist old people made out of avocado. He doesn’t linger in particularly controversial territory, but his observations about masculinity and gender roles, millennials, pop culture and the internet are hilariously, and at times absurdly, astute. Also, he does a really ridiculous Eastern-European accent.
Gondelman took some time out of his very busy schedule — he was on “Conan” this week, NBD — to answer a few questions for me via email.
The Frisky: You were so funny on “Conan” this week – how was it?
Josh Gondelman: It was an actual dream come true. It was so much fun, and everyone there was AMAZINGLY kind and supportive. Two old comedian friends from Boston came and hung out in the green room and I got to meet Tony Hale and Melissa Rauch who are so funny. The funny part was that I didn’t feel like I was on TV if that makes sense. Like, I had to keep remembering to face the camera. And then I realized, like: “No, you dummy. There’s no such feeling as being on TV. It’s just you and this audience with Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter sitting behind you.” It was just the best.
In fact, the bit you did about ghosting (“Weird Dick Loser”) is one of my favorites on the album –you somehow made one of the biggest dating crimes totally hilarious. Have you been ghosted — in the traditional sense, not the haunted ghoul sense — and was this bit your way of laughing through the anger/pain?
First of all, being supernaturally haunted is the traditional way to ghost. This new one is only as recent as texting! It’s never really happened to me, but I have gotten, like, fake numbers and girlfriends growing emotionally distant and being dumped unexpectedly. In my day, though, if you wanted to break someone’s heart you really had to break their heart. I maybe did ghost on a person once myself, which I still don’t feel great about, but it was, like, two dates in, and it was the common but cowardly thing of: “Hey I’m going to be super busy coming up, so maybe down the line we can hang out again.” Not my finest moment.
So, you are universally considered and referred to as an actual NICE guy. Seriously, I’ve never had a conversation about you or read anything about you that didn’t at some point refer to your inherent kindness. However, I’m sure you’ve noticed the array of thinkpieces over the last couple years about how many so-called nice guys are actually creeps and assholes – as a genuine nice guy, how do you feel about/distinguish yourself from/be mindful of fake nice guys?
Okay, so this new construction (even though it describes a real group of people) makes it sound like there’s no one who is kind and good, because the phrase “nice guy” is the same when you’re nice and when you’re an asshole. It’s like “aloha” only you can’t know from context always what someone means. It’s like if we used “delicious hamburger” to refer to what it literally is but also to a pile of dirt wrapped in a tortilla. I think there are lots of kind, genuine men (and obviously women too). But there must be a ton of trash as well because I get a lot of credit for basically not walking around spitting in people’s faces.
Identity and identity politics is a cornerstone of a lot of comedy — as a straight white male, you dabble the most in jokes about masculinity and femininity and gender roles. Can you talk about that?
I try to write material that speaks to my personal experience and interests, and those are fascinating topics to me. There’s like … this weird dismissiveness amongst snobs sometimes about “this guy just talks about relationships” or like “those are just dick jokes.” But every living person is in some kind of interpersonal relationship. So why would you NOT talk about that if you have something to say? Same with dick jokes (or whatever thing you’re inclined to dismiss). If you have a new insight about penises or airplane food or having kids, it’s almost extra delightful. Like finding a little extra meat on a chicken wing! That’s how I feel as an audience member, at least!
When did you first realize that comedy was your thing? Have you always made people laugh and where/how do you think your sense of humor developed?
I always liked making people laugh. Even as a very small kid, I loved memorizing jokes and telling them. And growing up I was funny with my friends, and my dad and I would do like … running bits with accents when we were grocery shopping. I was always encouraged to consume comedy and never discouraged from creating it.
Who were your comedy heroes, both famous and non, and how did they influence your approach to comedy?
I loved Mel Brooks’s movies as a kid! He’s for sure a hero! I didn’t know that many non-famous comedians. Or at least, I didn’t think I did. In high school, I got really into the early Comedy Central Presents specials, and I guess some of those people weren’t household names, but to me I was like: “These are the biggest celebrities!” Mitch Helberg’s special always stuck out to me in that way. I was like: “He is so funny. He must be the most famous!”
What’s your process like in terms of writing material — do you have any guidelines you follow? Rules for determining if a joke works?
“Process” is such a lofty term for standup writing! It’s a lot of … noticing things. That’s maybe the hardest part – keeping an eye open for … things. New experiences or thoughts. And then it’s just finding a way to articulate them so that audiences think the idea is as funny as you do. Determining if a joke works is very simple. If people laugh, it works. If they don’t, it does not.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve been cohabiting for the first time (with your equally as lovely and smart girlfriend Maris [Kreizman, of Slaughterhouse 90210]) for about a year now — has the experience given you new/uncharted material?
Honestly, not too much, which I think is totally okay. I have zero complaints. Living with Maris has only made my life happier and better. The only joke I have about it is that it’s a big change living with my girlfriend because for the first time in my adult life, my medicine cabinet now has actual medicine in it.
You also are a fairly new dog dad to pug Bizzy. I can only assume that, like me, you’ve projected a human-esque personality onto her. So, what’s Bizzy’s sense of humor like?
Bizzy is VERY funny! I’ve heard that pugs are in general. Someone told me it’s called “clowning.” Her best bit is that if you’re petting her, and you stop, she swivels her head very quickly and makes her eyes really big as if to say: “Uhhh, we’re not finished here.” She makes me laugh much easier than I make her laugh.
What five things without fail make you crack up?
- Maris, my girlfriend, is super funny, and she does really silly bits around the apartment a lot. She’s not like … always on. That’s the wrong impression, but she has perfect timing.
- Watching my friends do standup. I booked a couple of album release shows as excuses to hang out with people I love and just watch them destroy crowds, and it’s been so much fun. There are legit too many to name. I’d just end up listing all my friends.
- When rappers rap about sex moves that are not even, like .. .physically possible. Lil Wayne and Biggie are very good at this. Always a joy.
- In Steven Seagal movies, he just straight-up refuses to fight fair, especially as he gets older. But for an action hero, there are SO MANY scenes of him punching some mob goon in the nuts. And we’re supposed to go: “Oh, he works for the EPA I think in this on, so we have to overlook that he’s playing dirty pool.” It’s amazing.
- The scene from “Wet Hot American Summer” where Paul Rudd exasperatedly cleans up the tray he dropped on the ground.
In all seriousness, does Josh Gondelman have any enemies?
Probably! I am not sure who they are though. They’re probably laying low and biding their time, which they don’t have to do. I’m very defeatable. I don’t have a nemesis, though. Like, someone who is my adversary that I’m constantly trying to thwart. I feel like that’s missing in my life. I need someone to ruefully say “Well played, old chap … well played,” to.