In addition to writing for PolicyMic and The Humor Times, Matt Nagin is a poet, fiction writer, actor, and comedian based in New York City. He performed standup comedy as an opening act for Robert Klein, has done stints with other well-known comedians such as Todd Barry, Dan Naturman, and Jim Gaffigan and acted in a short film called Willifest, which was featured in the 2010 Williamsburg Film Festival.
This July, Matt will be featured in the East to Edinburgh Comedy Festival held at 59E59 Theaters in July. The festival is a precursor to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, which aims to "mimic as closely as possible the conditions these US companies will encounter at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe." Matt will also showcase his talent in Edinburgh in August.
Nagin's performance in the festival is called Woolly Mamoth Panic Attack, called by 59E59 Theaters "a bizarre, perturbing odyssey into the mind of a deeply troubled soul. In this debut standup show Matt proves he's darker than the average Jew."
Hannah Loewentheil (HL): How did you get into comedy? What has been your path been in the comedy scene so far?
Matt Nagin (MN): I started performing standup about seven years ago. My first time on stage I did a seven-minute bit at a place called Sal's Comedy Hole about my elbow applying for a job as a substitute teacher. It got discriminated against because the Board of Education wasn't in the habit of hiring body parts. I thought it was hilarious, but the audience looked at me like I was insane ... But it inspired me to want to get better and, over time, I began performing on more shows and developing an act that went over well with audiences … I've performed both on the alternative comedy scene and in the clubs. I wouldn't say I belong in one scene. I just try to perform as much as possible. Recently I've been performing a lot more club spots.
HL: How did Woolly Mammoth Panic Attack come to be?
MN: Woolly Mammoth Panic Attack developed out of a very simple Woolly Mammoth impression that I started doing about my second or third year in comedy. I've always had an interest in Woolly Mammoths and I've always been a highly neurotic Jew, hence the panic attack part. So those combined to give me the title. Over time the show theme became more clear and it is not really all that focused on Woolly Mammoths anymore. It is essentially about the advantages and disadvantages of being single versus being married. I provide a lot of wild dating stories such as my madcap date with a dwarf. Also, the show essentially seeks to answer the question of whether a person can be completely fulfilled while being single?
HL: Who is one comedian whose career trajectory or work you really admire?
MN: One comedian I really admire is Gilbert Gottfried. I really admire how unique his act is and think he pushes the envelope in interesting ways. I also admire how he is outspoken even if it hurts his career, like with the tweets that got him fired from his job with Aflac.
HL: Tell us a bit about the East to Edinburgh festival. Are you one of the young playwrights this year?
MN: The East to Edinburgh festival…provides a venue for certain shows heading over to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland to put on preview performances before the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. My show will appear in Scotland for a full run at the Jekyll & Hyde (August 1-25). These New York performances have so far been great and I have gotten some terrific feedback. It has really helped me tighten up the show and make critical changes before heading over to Scotland.
HL: I know that it is really hard to make it to the top in a career in the arts. How do you make it work? Do you have a side job or is comedy a full time job for you
MN: I would not say I am at the top in a career in the arts at this point ... I have advanced over time, to a certain extent, by being persistent and continuing to work on my craft and thinking of the bigger picture. For most people comedy requires a long-term perspective and a lot of hard work and determination. In terms of a side job, I have taught college writing for more than ten years, among other things, but hope one day to make a living entirely through comedy/entertainment.
HL: What advice would you give to other young comedians hoping to enter the field?
MN: For young comedians hoping to enter the field the best place to start is open mike night … This is a great place to test out material and network with other comedians. From there most comedians move up to bar shows, club spots, colleges or corporate gigs. There are two critical elements with comedy ... 1) developing a strong act. 2) networking and promoting yourself. You need to be able to do both well to get ahead. The comedy world is very competitive, so … persistence seems the most critical element in terms of succeeding … To be honest I'm still figuring out how to succeed in the crazy world of comedy myself.
You can catch Matt's performance of Woolly Mamoth Panic Attack on July 16 and July 24 at 9 p.m. The shows will be held at 59E59 Theaters, located at 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.