Just for Laughs spotlight: Joe Mande
MP contributing writer and JFL-enthusiast Joey Grihalva is at it again. He had a chat with Joe Mande about his journey to comic stardom, his penchant for Twitter feuds, and how he got published by poking fun at hipsters.
Joe Mande is a rascal. If he isn't mocking Brooklyn hipsters or sending dick pics to Karl Rove he's probably busy bringing down the Twitter account of a douchebag professional athlete. To be fair, Mande is finished with hipster derision and directly attacking celebrities on Twitter. And all those pictures of penises got his TwitPic account terminated. But his Internet presence remains robust and hilarious.
The 29-year-old rapscallion can be seen in the flesh all this week at a variety of Just for Laughs venues, including the panel for Variety's "Top 10 Comics to Watch in 2012." While his Internet persona oozes snark and sarcasm, seeing Mande live is your best chance to get to know the real Joe.
"It has become nearly impossible for me to show sincerity online," said Mande. "I'm not proud of the fact that if they made an all-star team of comedian shit talkers I'd be the starting point guard," he told Pete Holmes on an episode of the You Made it Weird podcast.
Veteran comic and podcast poster boy Marc Maron can be counted among Mande's supporters. I suspect this is not only because they share a spiteful disposition (and Maron respects Mande's work), but also because they are both Jews from Albuquerque, New Mexico. By the time young Mande drew an uncanny resemblance to the lead in Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, his family had moved to Minnesota. At the time Mande was watching a lot of stand-up on Comedy Central and he cites Chris Rock, HBO's Mr. Show, and Adam Sandler's comedy albums as early influences.
St. Paul Central High School can now be considered a breeding ground for comedy, since it claims Nick Swardson, Charlie Sanders and Mande as alumni. In an effort to appease the ruffians who messed with him in the school hallways, Mande taught them how to play dreidel for money after gambling with dice was banned. His comedy career can be traced back to a single moment of spite when he was trying out for the improv team and a kid told him he shouldn't bother because he wasn't funny. Not only did Mande make the team but he also got up the courage to try stand-up. His first outing was at a club inside the Mall of America.
Though Mande dabbled in stand-up during high school, he felt he wasn't ready. His first year of college was spent studying political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison but he became very unhappy with the prospect of working on congressional campaigns. After transferring to Emerson College in Boston, Mande's stage career began in earnest; not only doing stand-up but also performing with a sketch group.
After moving to New York City, the bespectacled graduate got a day job working in an eyeglasses store and spent his evenings at random open mics all over town. Mande's style favours long-form storytelling over quick jokes. During his early years he adapted Glenn Beck's novel into a screenplay and performed it live. When I first saw Mande it was in the back of a bar in Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn (the weekly show Big Terrific). He did a couple of bits and proceeded to read a selection of letters sent to the daytime tabloid talk show Maury, where he did an internship. The letters described crazy domestic situations that their writers believed would make for good television.
When I asked Mande if he was able to find humour in parts of Ryan Gosling's powerful performance as a Jewish Neo-Nazi in The Believer, his response helped explain his use of the Maury letters as part of his comedy act.
"My defense mechanism for anything that's really intense and dramatic is that I laugh at it. I laughed throughout The Believer, I laughed throughout American History X, I laughed throughout United 93. Anything that's too fucked up for me to deal with, I just start laughing."
VH1's Best Week Ever was a perfect fit for Mande's brand of snark and his two years on the program made up his first job in show business. In 2007 his college buddy Noah Garfinkel moved to New York City and they teamed up to host a weekly stand-up showcase (Totally J/K), which started at a bar in the East Village called Rififi (no longer exists). Totally J/K moved to the Sound Fix Lounge in Williamsburg, then to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea and eventually ended its five and a half year run at UCB's new theatre in the East Village. The best part of Totally J/K may have been the "List of Nothing," an inventory of puns and absurd ideas that Mande and Garfinkel created (such as "Parkour Posey"). The list was originally written on a large easel that the duo had to carry on the NYC Subway, surely a sight to behold.
During his time in NYC Mande held a number of freelance writing gigs but he never expected to publish a book at his age. Yet in 2010 he became an accidental author. As the story goes, Mande's parents were visiting him in Williamsburg and his father, a hippie back in the day, was dumbfounded after seeing a hipster for the first time. He couldn't wrap his head around the subculture. Mande suggested he start a blog where he put up pictures of someone he suspected was a hipster and ask readers to vote on it. Instead, Mande took the project up himself, creating a Tumblr called "Look at this fucking hipster." He used the site's default design and added a few snide comments to each picture. The blog immediately took off, tapping into a heavy undercurrent of anti-hipster animosity, which made Mande uneasy. He had no intentions of doing the blog-to-book jump but when he got an email alerting him that someone was going around NYC pitching the idea, he got defensive and sold it.
It's ironic that Mande has had such an active Twitter account since he was originally "morally opposed" to the micro-blogging site and found it "sort of gross and indulgent." (He still does, but later discovered it gave him access to celebrities). His first Twitter feud was with an ex-MTV VJ named Jesse Camp. It yielded an immediate rush for Mande. From there he began attacking politicians, sometimes employing a "wrong link" tactic where he would retweet them with a link to an obscene image.
"For people I think are actively trying to ruin the country, I feel it's my responsibility to at least try and ruin their day," he told Holmes on YMIW.
One of the highlights of Mande's Twitter shenanigans was a têtê à têtê with NBA player Gilbert Arenas. After noticing Arenas' penchant for misogyny, Mande curated the most appalling comments and profile pictures on a blog. When Arenas found out about the blog he went after Mande on Twitter, resulting in an exchange that ended with Arenas deactivating his account. Mande now spends more time making funny photoshop images (like a poster for a "remake of the Oliver Stone film Savages starring nothing but Savages") and his Twitter activity is mostly "ironically retweeting idiots."
"I don't actually follow them. That's important. I have lists broken down into demographics of different kinds of assholes. And a few times a day, as a treat to myself, I will go through the list and I've gotten very good at scanning tweets, looking for something I can make fun of. And when I zero in on something repulsive I just pounce on it," he said.
The first week in June might go down as Mande's personal "Best Week Ever." That Monday he started work on one of his favorite TV shows, NBC's Parks and Recreation, and that Friday his The Half Hour special debuted on Comedy Central. Mande was never keen on moving to Hollywood like many of his peers, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to write for Parks, especially since he gets to work with his friend and fellow comedian Aziz Ansari (who has taken Mande on the road as his opening act). The move to Los Angeles won't be his first foray in La La Land writing for his friends; he spent three months working on Nick Kroll's Kroll Show, premiering in February 2013. And before that he wrote on Adult Swim's Delocated.
Over the course of Mande's career he has bounced between being a writer/comedian and a comedian/writer. The pencil post at Parks came at a moment when his stand-up was particularly polished, on the heels of headlining road gigs as well as supporting Ansari and Kroll, his The Half Hour TV special and a couple of appearances on Conan. Marc Maron identifies Mande's literate, long-form style of stand-up as derivative of the Jewish monologist tradition along the lines of the Woody Allen type, which he points out, is rare today.
Mande never made the trip up to Montreal while living in Boston, even though one of his friends kept pressing him to take a road trip. "His big selling point was that there was strip clubs where you could finger the strippers," said Mande. "My response was, "But we're in college, we can finger anyone we want and we don't have to take a bus to do it."
Joe Mande returns to Just for Laughs after doing New Faces in 2010. In addition to Variety's "Top 10 Comics to Watch in 2012" panel on Friday (July 27) at 1:45pm in the Hyatt 'Inspiration Room' on the 6th floor, Mande can be seen:
Wednesday at Comedyworks, 10:30pm
Thursday 'Final As Hell' TV taping at Usine C, 7:30pm
and The Alternative Show at Katacombes, Midnight
Saturday Big Top Comedy at Tent A Cool, 9pm
and 'As Seen on TV' at Comedy Nest, 10:30pm
He also has a weird obsession with Jared Leto.
Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeMande