Nick Callas: Wolf Pup.

Interview: Nick Callas On His New Special, “Wolf Pup,” Fake ID’s, & Rapping

Photo credit: Phil Provencio

If it takes a comedian years to get to a place where they’ve got enough prime material for an hour special, it’s safe to say Nick Callas has put in the work.

Callas first hit the stage at 17, after originally wanting to pursue a career as a graphic book artist. From almost the beginning, Callas has brought his own unique perspective to the art form. He wanted his act onstage to reflect who he is offstage, which is why he set out to bring physicality to his comedy very early on.

What you get is a clear authentic picture of who Callas is from the moment he steps out onstage in his new special, Wolf Pup, which is out today from 800 Pound Gorilla. What follows is an hour of well crafted material that ventures into a wide range of topics and even features Callas doing the splits at one point.

We spoke to Callas about the new special, getting a fake ID to do stand-up, auditioning for Saturday Night Live, playing in Texas, going viral, rapping, and more.

To start things off, I’ve never seen a stand-up special that started either the splits.

(Laughs). I’m glad, man. I did think about What can I do to differentiate myself? And then some part of me thought “No one’s ever done this.” I’m not sure it was necessarily the coolest move, but it was the most me.

When did you start incorporating that type of physicality into stand-up?

It was there really early. Within my first two or three sets, I was quite nervous and petrified. And I remember thinking This isn’t me. In my normal life - going as far back as 5 years old - I was such a physically expressive person, especially when I was telling a story or trying to be funny for my friends. I was always jumping off of stuff, swinging around on stuff, hurting myself. Backbends and trying to do all this crazy stuff. I also always idolized Jim Carrey. I would learn from him. I was also super obsessed with Todd MacFarlane’s Spider-Man. I just really loved physicality. It was such a natural extension of my sense of humor, to use parts of my body as a way to tell a joke - as an instrument - to show people where I was when I’m talking about what I’m doing.

So during my first couple open mics, I was like “I’m missing something. I’m nervous to be myself.” So I started creating these little challenges for my shows where the purpose of my set would not be to work on a new part of a bit, but to remove the boundaries that were making me too self conscious. I would do things like for the first minute of your set, you have to lay on your back. Or you have to speak in a British accent and reveal yourself as not that. These little really rudimentary things. Suddenly, I was really comfortable. Even at 17 when I started, I knew that whatever jokes I’m doing now are not going to be on my hour special in 10 years. But what will be there is my performance and my performance ability.

In doing that, I’d find jokes that I didn’t even know when I went onstage. There’s free comedy in how you express, how you move. So it was there from the start. I trained myself to be who I was offstage onstage.

Tell me about doing stand-up at 17. That is a super young age to start, of course. What is that process like?

When you’re 16/17, you’re full of this delusion of grandeur, and you’re oblivious to yourself. And you’re so high on an idea of an identity and what the future could be, and just the high of performing in front of people. So I think that all acts as a force field to get a child through what most people couldn’t even imagine doing. Most people’s biggest fear is to speak in public. But we don’t see it that way. We see it as sharing, performing, fun. We think of it the opposite way. And I think when you’re 17, there’s something so fun about being that age that inherently lends itself to being presentational, being ridiculous.

So I think I was really high on this dream, and also simultaneously lacked any self awareness. In a practical sense, I bought a fake ID, because I knew that open mics were at bars. I had gotten turned down to perform at some bars. So I got a fake ID so I could get in. It was weird. Especially in New York City. It’s not like everybody you’re going up around is close to a professional. Especially when you start, everybody is terrible. The quality of person is often the same, too. It’s inherently spiky territory. It’s really tough to survive the emotional toll of bombing in front of 13 58 year old drunkards who see nothing in anything you’re saying as comedy. But you stick it out. It makes you better.

Did the fake ID work and get you into those places?

It actually did. I had the fake ID taken away from me a couple times in college, but never at a comedy club. Never at a bar or open mic. So don’t be like me, kids.

Tell me about the new special, and the process of putting it together. At what point do you feel like “I think I’ve got the hour right where I want it.”?

I think a lot of comics are this way. Whenever I write new material, whenever I imagine myself doing a bit, it’s in the context of a sold out theater show or I’m seeing it through the lens of a camera. I’m seeing the special version of it. Even just material that I’d write to film and throw on Instagram, I’m always thinking of it in its final form. So on multiple cameras, I’ve done a ton of long sets over the 13 years that I’ve done stand-up. And I think I was waiting for a proper opportunity, be it both some industry coming to me to say “Hey, we want to do a special with you.” Hopefully that would lineup with when I had the hour together.

That didn’t quite happen. What ended up happening was I had tested for Saturday Night Live two or three times in a row. 2019 to 21. And I didn’t get on the show. Over the course of those years, I really didn’t do a lot of stand-up because I was trying to develop as a character performer and as an improviser. And I missed stand-up a lot. There was a lot of jokes that I wasn’t writing, there was a lot of jokes that I wasn’t posting. I was sort of neglecting me in my sort of first form.

Then coincidentally, 800 Pound Gorilla had reached out to my management. And they said “We’ve got this guy Nick.” And they were like “Would he send over a long set for us to check out?” I sent over a demo of some material. I think maybe two bits that were on that demo wound up in the special because by the time I recorded it, it was almost two years later. I started headlining on the road. And I think over the course of six months, I brought an hour and 40 minutes of material to pretty much film ready. Touring around the Northeast, going to LA, going to a few places. Then I really just whittled this thing down and tried to bring the thematic and narrative elements a little bit more to forefront. So it’d feel like an introduction to me, something that was more thought out than just 60 minutes of jokes.

You talked about how being passed over from SNL brought you back to stand-up. How great would it be if this special brought you back to SNL?

Yeah, I don’t know. I have conflicted feelings about that show now. Largely because I’m sensitive and butthurt. Also, I think when I was born and was a kid and had these fantastic ideas of being an artist and a creative, I didn’t know about one show individually. I wasn’t put on the planet with Saturday Night Live in me. I learned about it. And actually, I didn’t watch it until I auditioned for it. Obviously I was highly aware and watched clips on YouTube of Will Ferrell, but I wasn’t an SNL fan. I became a fan when I was trying to get on the show.

But the thing that I always wanted to do was tell stories and illustrate things with my body and words or a pencil. I always wanted to lend my sense of humor. And stand-up affords me the opportunity to do that on my own terms. So if it’s not SNL, it will be something else. So I don’t begrudge it.

That sounds very healthy. Was there a specific bit in the special that took the longest to come together that you’re super proud of?

That’s a great question. This happens a lot. A bit is working and then it just decides to stop working. You don’t know why but there’s nothing you can do. And then someday down the line, you rediscover how you felt about it and what made you write it, and then it clicks back in. But sometimes they don’t come off the bench.

There was one joke, and it was probably the newest joke that made the special, where I talk about my roommates and how I have two different roommates both named Kevin. And I talk about an interaction I had with this girl who came back to my place. I talk about how this girl is questioning that I have two roommates named Kevin. And it’s almost like a rap stanza. It’s a super fast talking rhyming section. That took forever, because I had to write it, then I had to figure out how to say it, then I had to get better and better at saying it fast but also making it meaningful. Also it has to make sense.

That took forever. That was the thing where it was like “I know out of the 4 shows we tape, one will be perfect. But will the continuity stitching it into the previous bit should it not come all the way through work?” And it did. I think every tape of the shows is usable. But there’s one that is clearly more flawless than the rest. I was very proud of that because it was a huge source of anxiety. Most of my act, I don’t even need to say the same words when I say the joke. It’s very naturalistic. I can find a way into the punchline. This was one thing where it’s like “No. I can’t fumble this.”

What made you want to tape in Austin?

One, I had never been to Austin. And obviously there’s been such an influx of comedy there. Which the style and a lot of those guys are not even my interests and what I like about stand-up. But it was like a hot place to be. I had never been, so it was like “Well, that could be cool.” I had a video of me doing crowd work at Caroline’s before it closed. And there was a lady in the crowd from Los Angeles.

I just watched it this morning. And forgive me for living in Los Angeles.

People don’t know. It’s so funny. I lived there. So my theory in that clip comes from that I very recently at that time had been living there. And I didn’t have a car and I was so fed up with it. People also misinterpret that clip as a political thing. What I say in that video could be applied to any state in America.

I do this little song and dance based on what the lady is saying. And it went viral. It blew up and I got a lot of DMs and comments from people in - you guessed it - Florida and Texas. There was an Instagram page that took the clip and reappropriated it as a right wing talking point for why Gavin Newsom is corrupt. Which was not cool but hilarious to me that that happened. So the video did really well in Texas. So I thought “Well, it’d be cool to go there and perform for these people.”

So I started moving tickets, and I was like “Let me just go to the Creek” because I knew Rebecca Trent from New York. And The Creek and the Cave used to be in Long Island City. I was like “I’ll just turn this into a cool blessing. I’ll go somewhere I’ve never gone.” And the people in Austin - because I met just about everyone - wonderful people. Cool, young, progressive, fun. Awesome crowd. They’re kind of featured in the special, I think.

I’ve never seen that before. Kind of the bomburst at the bottom where you’d feature the crowd. It’s cool how you did that.

I super appreciate that because I haven’t seen it in a special. And talking about comic books and stuff, I think it’s very visual. You see with crowd work clips all the time, you can’t see the person who’s saying that silly thing. So we sort of in our minds have to trust that the way the person looks and the way the person is handling the situation is as aggressive as the comedian’s joke that’s bombing them.

So I was like “It’d be really cool if you get both perspectives on screen.” Just from a film sense, you’re seeing me and who I’m talking to. And I think that just makes for stronger comedy. And I’ve got a background in visual art and comics, so I do a bit of VFX and graphics. So I hadn’t seen it before. And a couple of people have told me they haven’t seen it, either. And that makes me super happy because there’s very little that you can do with stand-up. Every special is kind of the same. Just a person and a mic.

As far as another talents of yours goes - rapping - did you ever think about merging that into the special in some way?

I thought about it, because I’ve had a number of bits in the past where I’d do spoken word or I’d do battle rap or I would even play some comedy music videos. So I thought about it, but I didn’t already have a bit that was thematically relevant enough to the stuff that I was already doing that appropriately put rapping - in its verb form - that was right for it. It’s not something I won’t do at some point. But I want it to make sense.

There’s an Eminem impression in there that was like “Yes, of course.” And it’s something a lot of people know me for so it should be there. But in and of itself, I love making music and I love lyricism. It’s always available to me as a method of expression. Sometimes an idea will occur to me and the way to present that thing is there. Sometimes it’s like “This is a drawing, this is a stand-up joke, this is a song.” I don’t discriminate how it comes. It just does.

Watch Nick Callas' new special, "Wolf Pup"!

Watch Nick Callas' debut special, Wolf Pup, on YouTube for free. It's also available for  purchase here on 800 Pound Gorilla! Be sure to grab his comedy album from the special also available on 800 Pound Gorilla!

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