It would be fair to say that the comedy of Nick Swardson is an acquired taste, as anyone who’s seen his films, including “Grandma’s Boy” and “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” or his TV series, “Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time,” can tell you. With the latter now back in Comedy Central’s Wednesday night line-up for its second season, Swardson took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about what we can expect from Season 2 of “Pretend Time,” what he thinks of his lack of critical love, and more.
Bullz-Eye: To start off by kind of stating the obvious, I’m sure you’re psyched about your show returning for a second season.
Nick Swardson: Yeah, I am. I’m really excited, ‘cause I feel like, no matter what happens, this is the show I wanted to make.
BE: So what are the origins of “Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time,” anyway? Did you pitch them the idea, or did they come to you with the idea?
NS: My friend Tom (Gianas) actually pitched me the idea. He created “Human Giant” and ran that show on MTV, and he did “Tenacious D” on HBO. He’s an old friend of mine. He directed “Gay Robot,” this original pilot that I did years ago. He’s really, really brilliant, and he came to me with this idea. I’ve always wanted to do sketch comedy, and I trust Tom a lot, so I was, like, “All right, let’s do it.” And we just jumped into the show. We pitched it to the network, and they bought it off the pitch. We didn’t even get a pilot. They ordered six episodes. Which was kind of good and bad. I kind of wish we had a pilot, because it was kind of a tricky show to make. (Laughs) We didn’t really have that trial by fire. We were just kind of thrown into the volcano.
BE: You have a pretty vocal fanbase. I presume you’ve gotten some advice, either helpful or otherwise, as far as where to take the show in its second season.
NS: Yeah, it’s been interesting, because people didn’t really know what to expect from the show. My fans were kind of, like, “Well, wait, what is it? Is it stand-up? I don’t understand what it is.” They were kind of confused. Obviously, comedy’s subjective, and people either bought the show or they didn’t. (Laughs) But the people who got it, they loved it.
BE: So is Season 2 along the same lines as Season 1, or do you think you’ve kind of fleshed it out a bit more as far as what you want from the show?
NS: Um… (Long pause) I mean, it’s more aggressive. Like, there’s some really crazy stuff. (Laughs) It’s really aggressive. But we’ve kind of counterbalanced this season with doing more of a live element and more storytelling than stand-up.
BE: How much flexibility do you have with Comedy Central as far as your vision for the show? Has there been any point when they were, like, “Uh, can you dial it back a bit?”
NS: Uh, yeah. (Laughs) At the beginning, they were, like, “This is way too aggressive.” But that’s the whole point of having and doing a show. Why not make it the most aggressive thing you can do? I just didn’t want to play it safe. I wanted to just throw it against the wall, and hopefully it works. Hopefully people will dig it.
BE: Do you have a particular favorite sketch from Season 1?
NS: Yeah, I’ve done a lot of sketches I really love. There’s one that we kind of leaked early that I think is the craziest sketch ever, and it’s basically an ab infomercial, but to get great abs, it’s all about trying to suck your own dick. (Laughs) So it’s a cord that you buy that you wrap around your knees and your neck, and this infomercial guy is hosting it, and he’s just super-sincere. It’s, like, it’s not about being anything gay. It’s, like, “What better way to get a six pack than by trying to suck your own dick?” (Laughs)
BE: Would that be one of the things that Comedy Central was hesitant about?
NS: Uh, yeah, I think they were just kind of, like, “Holy fuck, how are we even going to try to pull this off?” (Laughs) But we did. And the sketch came out amazing. (Laughs) I’m so happy with it.
BE: You had a lot of guest stars, many of whom came from a sketch-comedy background. It looks like you were working from a wish list of your favorite comedians.
NS: Yeah, I got people who were really great sketch performers, and…you know, I didn’t want a lot of celebrity, ‘cause I didn’t want the show to be, like, a celebrity calling card, where you’re going, “Hey, look who I put in this sketch!” I wanted the sketches to come off on their own. I didn’t want people to just be, like, “Oh, this guy’s in this sketch ‘cause he’s friends with Nick.” I got lot of no-name people. I wanted to kind of discover more people. I thought that’d be more fun.
BE: That being the case, do you have any guests lined up for Season 2?
NS: Not a ton, no. But we’ve got Ron Perlman, who’s pretty incredible. And he’s really, really funny in it.
BE: Are there any characters that’ll be recurring from Season 1?
NS: Yeah, Gary Gaga. (Laughs) And Wheelchair Cat. Both of them are coming back. Oh, and this one called Creepy-O.
BE: I’d guess it’s easy to fall back on recurring characters. Was there any hesitancy on your part as far as doing that?
NS: No, because I don’t feel like…I wouldn’t have done them if we hadn’t found a really funny or good new context for them, you know? I mean, it wasn’t like a mandate where it’s, like, “Well, you’ve gotta have four Gary Gaga sketches,” and you have no choice. (Laughs) It wasn’t like that. We found a really funny context for these old characters, and it’s really solid. So we’re pretty psyched.
BE: Your comedy is…I guess you’d call it somewhat critic-proof. The critics may not get it, but, as I said, you’ve got a pretty ravenous fanbase. Was that weird for you, or did you always kind of foresee that was going to be the case?
NS: Oh, I always foresaw that. (Laughs) Critics hate me. I mean, they really hate me. Especially on the film side. But, you know, it’s, like…I don’t know what it is that spawns that kind of disdain. I mean, I’m just making comedies and trying to make people laugh, and I’m doing my best at doing that. It’s all subjective. I think it’s kind of bizarre that these critics will review Academy Award-nominated movies, and then they’ll review these other movies, these comedies, like “Bucky Larson,” and they’ll pile on it to make themselves feel better. If that’s what they want to do, that’s fine, but I don’t make movies for them.
BE: On a related note, I have to ask you if you saw on the Onion AV Club where they took on “Bucky Larson.”
NS: (Uncertainly) No. What do you mean?
BE: Nathan Rabin does a column called “My Year of Flops,” and he dedicated one of them to “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.”
NS: (Excitedly) Did he? It’s weird, ‘cause the Onion can be hit and miss. They’ve actually been more cool to me.
BE: Well, I don’t know if you’ll find it as funny as some might, but Rabin’s really good about taking people to task no matter who they are. At the very least, I think you can go into it with an awareness that you’re not getting it any worse than anyone else.
NS: Yeah, I mean, the Onion makes me laugh, and I don’t take myself fucking seriously, you know what I mean? So I’m definitely not going to be offended, by any means. I’ll laugh just as much as anybody.
BE: I’m sure this story has been told elsewhere, but since I don’t know the answer to the question, I’ll ask it: how did you first fall into Adam Sandler’s camp?
NS: Adam was a fan of my stand-up. He saw my first special on Comedy Central, and he called me up and said, “Hey, I really like your voice, I like your style, would you want to work together?” And they had a script that they wanted me to rewrite, and I rewrote it, they loved it, and the rest is kind of history.
BE: What were your thoughts on “Grandma’s Boy”? Certainly that’s one that wasn’t exactly critical adored, either, but did you think it turned out pretty well for what it was?
NS: Yeah! I loved “Grandma’s Boy”! That’s one of my favorite movies in the world. In fact, that was the first script that they brought me in on. They’re, like, “We have this movie ‘Grandma’s Boy,’ and we want you to rewrite it and make it crazy and make it rated-R.” And I did, and they loved it. And I love it. And, yeah, that was another one where critics came after us, but we don’t really care. I mean, they’re not really on our radar. Adam doesn’t read any reviews, ever. But “Grandma’s Boy” was one where I was really proud of it. It was kind of the first time I really put my stamp on something and put a lot into it. And I did read the reviews, and I was kind of surprised that it met with such hate, but it spawned such an amazing cult following. I mean, really amazing. But, you know, I’ve had a lot of critics who reviewed it off the commercial, and they emailed me a year or two later and were, like, “Hey, man, I’m really sorry. I gave ‘Grandma’s Boy’ a shitty review because I thought the commercial looked stupid, but I finally just saw it, and it was really funny.” So that was kind of interesting.
BE: It’s also interesting that, in the midst of these films that we’ve been discussing, you’ve also turned up in two films that were highly acclaimed. First of all, you were in “Almost Famous” for a moment or two. How did that come about? Was it a “right place, right time,” or did you actually audition?
NS: That was really a pivotal moment, actually, ‘cause I’d moved to Los Angeles, I was in the grind of auditioning, and, you know, there’s just so much rejection that comes with that. I mean, you’re constantly getting close to pilots, getting close to movies, but ultimately it’s just tricky, as one can imagine. So I got this audition for Cameron Crowe, and I was so excited. I’m such a huge fan of his. And the casting director is, like, “Hey, you’re really, really funny. I want you to meet Cameron.” So I’m, like, “Okay!” And I met with Cameron, and he was, like, “Fuck, dude, you are really, really funny, and I love what you do, but you’re not right for the part that you’re going in for. But I want you in this movie. You have to be in this movie somehow.” So we just kind of created this part and improv’ed it on the day. But it was really validating to have somebody like that go, “Hey, man, you’re really, really funny.” I was just a kid, auditioning and getting rejected, so for somebody like that to validate why I was out there in L.A…? It was really big.
BE: You also turned up in “Art School Confidential.”
NS: (Laughs) Yeah, that one was really bizarre. I auditioned for it, and then maybe six, eight months later, they called me and said, “Hey, you got that part.” I’m, like, “What part?” They’re, like, “‘Art School Confidential.’” “That was six, nine months ago I auditioned for that!” “Yeah, yeah, we’ve just been trying to get it off the ground.” Yeah, that one was a trip. I love Terry Zwigoff. He’s a sweetheart.
BE: What are your favorite recollections from working on “Reno 911”?
NS: “Reno” was amazing. That was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. Those guys, all the police on the show, are old friends of mine, and they called me up and they’re, like, “Hey, we have this show, let’s make it crazy, it’s all going to be improvised.” And my favorite thing about it was that they kept telling me that the show was going to get canceled right away, so to just fuck around and do something crazy. So I created the character of Terry…and the show did not get canceled. (Laughs) It was on for six years. And I was a gay roller-skating prostitute. But it was great, man. To improvise like that every day at work…I mean, I love improvising, so it was kind of a dream.
BE: I’m curious: do you think there’s ever been a comedy album that so succinctly summed up its contents the way your record Seriously, Who Farted? did?
NS: (Laughs) No. No, I do not. I mean, when I first thought of that as an album title, it made me so happy, because it’s, like, I know it’s stupid. It’s funny: I would read stuff about it, and people were, like, “Oh, it’s such a stupid album title” Uh, yeah, I know. I’m not taking myself seriously. It’s supposed to be stupid. I was just hoping that the album would even just get nominated for something, just so someone would seriously have to say, “And now, Seriously, Who Farted?” (Laughs)
BE: Of your films, is there a particular one that stands out to you as being your best work?
NS: (Sighs) Oh, fuck.
BE: (Laughs) No pressure.
NS: (Long pause) I don’t know. I mean, I love “Grandma’s Boy,” ‘cause I just put so much into that, but I also love “Bucky Larson,” which just came out. I really love it. I mean, it was tricky and it was a really thick character, but it was fun to do a character that thick and that strong and not have to swear. He was, like, this G-rated, sweet character. So that was pretty fun.
BE: So is your focus going to be on the TV series for right now, or do you have any other films in the works?
NS: I’m developing more films. I don’t really want to do any more character-based stuff. I’m just trying to write some stuff so I can develop my own voice and be more myself. So that’s kind of the direction, hopefully, that I’m going in.