Welcome to the second installment of my two-part interview with stand-up comedian Mitch Fatel. If you missed Part I, you can get caught up here.
Fatel is the headliner this week at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh and in Part II of the interview, we discuss how he earned the “sweet and perverted” label from David Letterman, how starting stand-up at age 15 helped jump-start his career, the brilliance of Wendy Liebman and more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Fatel on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
TC: Before you and your material became known, did you tell bookers or club owners how sexual your material was before agreeing to do a show?
MF: One of the things that I pride myself on, especially today, is that, although the act has a sexual nature to it, there is not one curse word in my entire act, not one thing that I would consider vile. If I was going to talk about it, I was going to talk about it in a very smart way so people would say, “He’s not clean, but he’s definitely not dirty.” I always wanted to walk that line.
When I got on the Letterman show, I was very proud of myself because they billed me as sweet and perverted. [interviewer laughs] That’s how David Letterman introduced me. That’s a really cool moniker and I’ve kept it to this day.
If you’re going to talk about sex on stage, you have to take out all your curse words. You have to take out anything vile. You have to take any kind of easy laugh out. Either that or it’s gonna seem like you’re just telling dick jokes. I didn’t want to ever seem like that. I don’t think that’s what I do. I think I became a little bit obsessed with sex because I was a big fan of Howard Stern and Howard Stern talks about sex. I liked the way he used to talk in a very smart way about it. I think that was kind of my inspiration.
As I get older, it’s a whole new act now. It’s new material regarding my wife and marriage and instead of talking about what a bad thing marriage is — everybody’s always talking about the old ball and chain — I talk about how hot and sexy my wife is and how to keep your marriage sexy and keep your marriage alive. As sexual as it is, there is nothing that is really offensive.
When I was younger, I was asked to do an outdoor venue by someone who was a big fan of mine. This is what bothered me: I would assume the booker knows who I am and knows what kind of audience I’m for. It was a picnic for people and their kids. There were hundreds of blankets with kids on them. I remember thinking, I can’t go out there and talk about sex in front of kids. It was very upsetting and I actually tanked my show on purpose. I didn’t wanna talk about anything while I was up there because I felt it was so unfair for the booker to put me in a situation like that. Obviously my act is not kid friendly. … I mean, I don’t do puppet shows. [interviewer laughs]
TC: Looking back, do you think you benefitted from starting stand-up at age 15?
MF: I wanted to be in show business since I was 5. The idea of being on the center of a stage, I just loved it. When I was about 13 years old, I bought my first Steve Martin album, “Wild and Crazy Guy” and I knew immediately I was going to be a stand-up comedian.
At 15, I did my first stand-up show. I wish I could tell you that it was a rousing success. It was not. [interviewer laughs] But it was not a terrible failure either. I went on stage wearing Incredible Hulk pajamas. I said I went on stage wearing pajamas because I had to get up early for school the next day, so I had go to bed right after the show. That was my one big laugh, and then it just kind of tanked after that. [Fatel chuckles, interviewer laughs] But I remember hearing laughs. They were mostly pity laughs, but I didn’t know that at the time. I felt proud that I was a little kid trying something.
I had a huge advantage over other comedians by the time I went up at open mic nights (around age 22). Part of being a comedian, Tony, is, you need a year just to be comfortable on stage. You don’t even know what the hell you’re doing until you’ve been on stage a year. … It’s very shocking the first time you go on stage. It’s all the things that you don’t expect. You don’t expect the lights in your face. You don’t expect the smell of the microphone. You don’t expect your voice to be loud. You get a little shocked that everybody’s eyes are looking at you. It’s all very shocking.
I felt all those feelings (in my teens). That deer in the headlight look? That was over (by the time I was a full-time comedian). When I started open mic nights at 22 years old, I was immediately better than pretty much everyone there. Everyone else thought I was just good, but the truth was, I had just started way younger than everybody else so I had all that out of the way. … I almost felt like I was cheating because I knew what it was like to do stand-up way before these other people. I almost felt like it was an unfair fight, but now I realize that I was the one who went through the trenches when I was 15, put myself on the line and I’m proud of myself now looking back at that.
TC: Cameron Esposito tweeted this a couple of weeks ago and like her, I think it’s an interesting idea. She asked interviewers to ask male comedians who their favorite female comic is so, Mitch, who is your favorite female comedian?
MF: Yeah, that’s an easy one. It’s Wendy Liebman.
At the time (Liebman was starting her career), female comedy was looked at as a lot of women just talking about having their periods or how guys suck, da-da-da. I think Wendy Liebman was the first woman to break that ceiling of showing that you could write really specific, unique, brilliant humor that wasn’t just about being a girl. A lot of times, certain comedians are put into groups, whether they’re African-Americans or women or Hispanics and I think what happens is too often they start to joke about, “I’m this” and forget that it’s also OK to do comedy that has nothing to do with that. Wendy Liebman was one of those first comedians who did jokes that were very unique and not the usual kind of comedy that people were used to. She opened up the path for a lot of women to write jokes that were smart.
We’re both getting a little older and maybe a little bit of the younger generation doesn’t know who we are right now, but we definitely still have our fans. Our fans have gotten a little bit older, but they remember us. I think the challenge for someone like me or Wendy is to re-introduce our acts.
You told me that you’ve been a fan (of mine) since 2008, and it means a lot to me, but it’s funny because my act is so different than it was back then. It’s so much better. People don’t know it’s my new act so I have to get a new CD out now or a new DVD or a new special out and re-introduce it to a whole new audience and kind of evolve with the times.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
TRUMP: "ObamaCare is dead next month if it doesn't get that money"
AMERICA: "we don't negotiate with terrorists"
— Myq Kaplan (@myqkaplan) April 13, 2017