Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts

Interview: Talking To Mark Normand About “Soup To Nuts”

Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts
Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts, Netflix.

Interviewed by Andrew Buss

There’s a reason why Mark Normand - or Kevin Hart, as he likes to introduce himself to the audience as - is one of the most talked about names in comedy. He’s earned that distinction, too. As anyone who follows him knows, he’s put in the work to get to this place. It took him 16 years to get to his first Netflix hour, but he’s there.

Last July, his first hour for the streamer came out, titled Soup to Nuts. The special has been met with acclaim from critics and fans alike. So now the streamer’s subscribers are discovering something comedy fans have known for years: Normand is one of the sharpest talents working in comedy today.

“I had a YouTube special because nobody would touch me,” Normand says. “It was a huge failure, I thought, but it actually got a lot of views. So that did well.”

That YouTube special he’s referring to is his 2020 hour, Out To Lunch. A lot of views is putting it mildly, actually. To date, the special has amassed 12 million views in 3 years. That’s a remarkable feat in the competitive market of audiences being inundated with having too many options of things to watch. It makes it all the more special when you realize that Normand accomplished this without any major network or streamer behind him.

The risk paid off, and Netflix finally took notice. While you might believe the incredible success of the YouTube special immediately lead to an offer for his own hour, it wasn’t quite that simple. First came the half-hour.

“My agent was somehow able to finagle me a half-hour on Netflix,” says Normand, “which was already hard to get. I wasn’t in the running, I don’t think. But we got it, off the 12 million views. Which makes me kind of bitter, because other people just get it without having to prove themselves. But whatever!”

“The half hour went okay, I think,” he continues. “And eventually I got the full hour. And this is going well. So hey. I can’t complain! All’s well that ends well. Praise Allah!”

Like introducing himself as Kevin Hart, ‘Praise Allah!’ is another Normand staple. As is his signature proclamation of ‘Comedy!’. It’s all in his delivery. That natural emphasis has become part of his trademark. With every Mark Normand solidly constructed joke - which he shoots out at a rapid-fire pace - comes an effortless delivery. He has a natural cadence to him that only serves to heighten the comedy. That delivery extends itself to the interviews he gives. Sadly it’s hard to pick up on the cadence via text, so you’ll have to trust me that it’s there. Just try to imagine what words you think Normand was emphasizing.

Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts
Mark Normand: Soup to Nuts

Mark Normand In True Form

As for the new special, you’re getting to see Mark Normand in true form. One issue some comedians will run into is how their comedy translates from a club to a theater stage. Sometimes it’s hard to find that same level of intimacy in a bigger space. When you watch his special, however, Normand not only finds that intimacy, but encourages it through his interactions with the crowd.

When it comes to finding the perfect venue for his new special, Normand chose The Vic Theater in Chicago.

“Well, I do love Chicago,” he says. “It’s a great goddamn town. I was just there last week. I love it there. It’s one of the great American cities.”

“I burned a lot of my market just doing the road,” Normand continues, in response to the specifics for taping in Chicago. “I was in Minneapolis recently, I was in Denver recently, I was in Phoenix recently, I was in LA. I had to go somewhere where I could actually sell a ticket to fill this theater up. And I hadn’t been to Chicago in a while, and it’s a great comedy town. So I thought it was the perfect answer. Perfect combo.”

In the special, he talks about streaming platforms categorization, growing up among a lot of homophobia, his ideal way of classifying bathrooms as ‘Pisser’ or ‘Shitter,’ why there should be a realistic Barbie - a joke he’s been working on for years and was entirely coincidental with the recently released movie -, and how smoking cigarettes and smoking pot sort of changed places in terms of what is now socially acceptable.

Normand does have a penchant for embracing dark humor. It’s not always easy to get an audience to go along with you for certain jokes. But when the joke is well-crafted - partnered with his natural charm - they’ll follow Normand into the tunnel of dark humor, and come out on the other side laughing.

Perfecting The Joke

That smoking bit in particular is a highlight. The bit is funny, but what you see is the culmination of two years. Normand proved as much when he gave the audience a glimpse behind the curtain via a YouTube video, showing the joke from conception to completion.

Normand says, “I have a friend - he’s like a businessman - and he said ‘You should do a Patreon, behind a paywall, of just like the nitty and gritty of stand-up. We’ll shoot these videos of you working on bits, bombing. The real hardcore behind-the-scenes.’”

“I had this idea for a bit,” he continues, “and he was like ‘I’ll come into New York, I’ll be in your car, and I’ll just shoot you. We’ll make it real raw, real gorilla.’ And I never thought anything of it. It was like ‘Yeah, I’ve got this dumb idea for a joke. Who knows if it’ll go anywhere.’ And we just kept working on it and tweaking it.”

The average comedy fan doesn’t realize just what goes into perfecting the hour. Audiences want to believe that they’re hearing something for the first time. That makes the shared experience of watching live comedy even more special. But the majority of what you’re witnessing has been painstakingly fine-tuned, being crafted from a kernel of an idea into what you finally get to see on the Netflix special.

“It’s almost like magicians where we want you to know, but we don’t want you to know,” Normand explains. “We want you to think we’re saying it right off the cuff, off the top of our brains. But there’s also a part of you that’s like ‘Screw that. I want you to see how much I slaved over this thing and how much time and effort I put into it.’”

But not everything is finely tuned. Another highlight of Normand’s live shows have become the interaction with the fans. At the end of his hour, he will turn the tables and ask the fans to give him some news topics.

“I only did it because I needed content for the internet,” he says. “I didn’t want to burn material. It’s a perfect way to get a Hunter Biden riff out there or a Trump riff or a submarine sinking riff. I’ll never put that in my act because it’s a submarine. It’s topical. It comes and goes. It’s a perfect way to get material for the internet and hopefully it’s still funny and you don’t have to burn your act.”

He continues, “I’ve been doing it for years and I got pretty good at it. I thought ‘Let’s open the special with that.’ Because I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that yet. Opening a special with talking with the crowd. It worked! It pulls you in.”

How Mark Normand Spent His Summer

With a new hour in the can, Normand has been back on the road. He is currently on a theater tour all across the country. He also spent a few weeks with Bert Kreischer as part of Kreischer’s second Fully Loaded Tour. It’s not your standard comedy tour. Kreischer rounded up some of the biggest comics working today and brought them on the road with him.

“It’s a goddamn blast,” says Normand. “It does take a special kind of comic. You’ve got to be willing to rally. A lot of comics are lazy, pot smoking, pajama wearing people. And this is like ‘You’ve got to drink all night, do the shows, and then you’ve got to wake up and go slip n’ sliding at noon.’ It’s not easy every time. Once you’re in it, you’re alright.”

“I partied my ass off in college,” he continues. “I’m from New Orleans, I’m a drinker tried and true. So I can do it. It’s not for everybody. But yeah, it’s the best.”

As a “drinker tried and true,” that will naturally attract a certain reputation. When fans meet Normand, they’re expecting to basically spend all night partying with him. An instant friendship seems in the cards, as far as they’re concerned. When Mark Normand comes to town, everyone wants to party with him.

“Yeah, I get a lot of that,” he says of the interactions. “It’s awkward. I do like to drink, but chit-chat. It’s like ‘Hey, what’re you up to? How’ve you been these days?’ And I’m like ‘Oh. I’ll take the shot, but I don’t want to smalltalk.’”

He notes, “I’m an introvert at the end of the day. I just feel guilty, so I had to stop doing it because people get so disappointed and I feel like I was letting them down. They’re like ‘What the hell, man? You don’t wanna hang out with us?’ And I’m like ‘Oh, I don’t know you. You know me, I don’t know you. I just don’t want to sit here and hear about your dog.’”

Podcasting also plays a big part into that. After listening to someone talk for so long, you feel as if you know them. He totally gets that, and luckily, most fans are totally respectful of the boundaries. Except for a few bad eggs, he says. There’s always those few.

What's next?

Normand is back on the road now, crafting his latest hour. He’s not missing a beat between one hour and working on the next.

“That’s the worst part about stand-up,” he says. “You put your heart and soul into this one hour. And then once it’s out there, that’s it. You’re back to zero, and nobody gives a shit about how long it takes to write a bit because they want to see new stuff. I think I’ve got 25 new minutes that’s decent. So we’ll see.”

When you get back on the road and are trying out new bits, you run the risk of it not working. No matter how long you’ve been doing stand-up, nobody wants to bomb.

“Bombing still hurts,” he says. “I’ve been at this 16 years. Bombing still sucks. And there’s an added element of ‘Oh, we like this guy. Oh, he’s a pro. Oh, he did a Netflix special.’ But then when you bomb after that, it’s like ‘Well, I guess he lost his fastball.’ Or ‘I guess someone else wrote those jokes.’ That’s the big bummer. It’s a whole new set of nerves and it’s pretty daunting.”

Luckily, Soup to Nuts has gotten a great response so far, he says. Whether you’ve got a new special on a streamer or you’ve put it out yourself, he insists that it’s a great moment for comedy specials.

“I think quality tends to win. Sure, you could be a big celebrity and have a name attached to you. But I do think if it’s not good, that’s it. No one cares. If Bruce Springsteen - who’s gigantic - put out a comedy special and then it wasn’t funny, l don’t think people would watch it.”

RELATED: Looking for more Mark Normand? Stream & download his comedy album Out to Lunch on 800 Pound Gorilla.

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