Nick Swardson Interview: Born to Be a Star
For the unfamiliar, it would be easy to regard Nick Swardson as an overnight sensation, if you consider over a decade in the comedic spotlight to be “overnight.” Successful development partnerships with his mentor Adam Sandler, Comedy Central, and a knack for transforming small roles into scene-stealing star turns have placed the self-described “typical class clown” firmly in the driver’s seat of his career, and he is clearly enjoying the ride. We caught up with Nick shortly before the premiere of season two of his sketch comedy show, Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, to talk about what is in store both on the show and for his career.
Poptimal (POP): First off, congratulations on being picked up for another season of Pretend Time. What can we expect from season two?
Nick Swardson (NS): Thanks, dude. You can expect just complete insanity. It’s some of the craziest sketches I’ve ever done; it’s so out there. People can expect more stand-up this season; there’s going to be stand-up and sort of storytelling on it.
POP: And how vital do you feel keeping your stand-up work fresh is to your writing and TV work and movie roles, etc.?
NS: That’s kind of what I’ve been sort of figuring out as I go along, where stand-up fits in and finding the time to do it. I mean, I don’t like doing stand-up if I don’t have new jokes and something new to say…it’s been a little tricky because I’ve just been exhausted trying to write and produce all these other things, so it’s been a little hard to find time for stand-up. But it’s always on my radar, and it will always be a part of what I do. I’ll never stop doing it.
POP: What was the development process like for Pretend Time? How was it presented to Comedy Central to get the green light?
NS: Umm, it was pretty quick. The network knows me, they’ve known me forever, and it was like, “Sketch Show with Nick Swardson.” We pitched some kind of a general idea of the sketches segueing into each other and they were like “Done!” We didn’t even get a pilot; they ordered six episodes right out of the gate because they trusted me and they know what I can do, and they trusted Tom Gianis who was in charge of Human Giant and Tenacious D on HBO, and that’s my audience. Comedy Central’s been my audience forever, so it wasn’t too complicated, you know what I mean?
POP: That’s pretty amazing, especially since the show does not rely on a lot of celebrity cameos like many sketch shows do. Was there a conscious decision from the beginning to make it a platform for newer talent, up-and-coming talent?
NS: Yeah, I didn’t want it to be just celebrities and guest stars. I wanted to really give the sketches their due and make people focus on the sketches and not the people in them, you know what I mean? I wanted to discover new people…we would go see live shows. The casting director was really great; she would turn us on to some new people. She turned us on to some great, great people.
POP: And kind of following on from that, on Pretend Time, you seem very comfortable sharing the screen and letting others take the lead, which is also unusual for many sketch comedies. Was this also a conscious decision from the start of the show, or did that develop during the creative process?
NS: With my sketches, I gave a lot of sketches to other people that were sketches I really loved. I just want everything to be the best that it can be, you know what I mean? If I don’t feel I’m right for a role, even if it’s the lead in a sketch, I’ll give it up to somebody I feel is more right for it. To me, it’s really about the final product as opposed to any kind of hubris or ego I might have comedically; that doesn’t help anybody.
POP: So is the creative process for Pretend Time a very collaborative effort? Do you usually toss around a few ideas and then go ad-lib it out on camera?
NS: No, it’s ad-libbed a little bit, but it’s pretty much all down on paper because with a sketch show like this, we don’t have a lot of time to fuck around, you know what I mean? Our shooting schedule is really intense. It’s not like a film where we’ll shoot one scene in a day. On Pretend Time we try to shoot two sketches a day, which is really, really aggressive, so we try to get everything as much down on paper as we can.
POP: So has the experience of producing and writing a television show changed your perspective on television vs. movies? Which is your preferred medium right now?
NS: I don’t know…I really like doing film; I like working on films that I have a hand in writing and producing, and movies are really fun. The sketch show is fun, but it’s really intense; it’s so many characters it’s just pretty exhausting and pretty intense, so I really dig working on a movie and creating a new character in that sense.
POP: With your movie work, how do you see the trajectory of your career at this point? Do you see yourself moving on to more dramatic work like a lot of comedians at this point in their career, or are you pretty focused on comedy for the foreseeable future?
NS: I don’t really have a blueprint for what I do and where my career goes, I just kind of follow where stuff takes me. I don’t foresee myself doing drama in the near future, but I am opening to doing anything that I really like, exploring new things and trying out new stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if I did something more serious down the line, but it’s not really on my radar right now for sure. I’m definitely just trying to figure out what the next film is and just more collaborating with friends and writing, stuff like that.
POP: So have you reached a pretty comfortable level now in the entertainment industry where you can basically walk into roles, or do you still need to read for parts and work for roles?
NS: It’s both…I mean, every casting director knows me. I’ve been in LA 12 years now, so it’s kind of both, you know what I mean? I’ll get offered stuff or I’ll have to go in and read for stuff…30 Minutes or Less, one of my closest friends was the producer, and my buddy was directing it, and I still had to go in and win the role, so you know it’s kind of everything right now, but I have no problem going in with directors who want to kind of see what my take is on the character and stuff like that; it’s kind of across the board. I don’t have to audition for any of Sandler’s stuff (laughs).
POP: Speaking of Adam Sandler, what is that working relationship like, and do you see yourself branching off from the Happy Madison umbrella?
NS: Right now I’m working with Adam and I like working with Adam, maybe down the line I’d like to start my own company, but that’s not really in the near future right now. I enjoy working with Adam and he’s been really great and he’s super creative and he’s also become one of my best friends, so I like being with him and working with him.
POP: And is there still a student/teacher dynamic when you and Sandler are collaborating, or is there enough of a comfort level there that you have license to take over projects when necessary and put your spin on them?
NS: Yeah, at this point he really trusts me and knows that I can write and produce and do the work, you know what I mean? So I’m just trying to figure out a project right now that I can take and run with, but, no, Adam trusts me completely. I mean, he’s definitely helped me out and showed me kind of how to do all this, so he definitely trusts me.
POP: So, what other projects do you currently have in the pipeline?
NS: I have two scripts at Happy Madison right now, and I’m writing another screenplay as we speak. I’m hoping to reconnect with the director of Grandma’s Boy, who’s one of my best friends, and who’s really great, so we’re looking to collaborate on another script together.
POP: Thanks for the interview, and I’m looking forward to seeing what season two brings.
NS: I’m psyched for you to see it, man. Thanks for talking with me.
Watching the season two premiere of Pretend Time, so far the show seems to be delivering on Nick’s promises in spades. A song that can only be politely described as differentiating intestinal functions from obstetrical ones definitely qualifies as crazy, as well as a gun wielding cat making it rain in a club and a pregnant 16-month old. The brief stand-up transitions are taken directly from Swardson’s current material, and while they do not match up directly to the content of the sketches that follow, as Nick described previously, they do a good job of speaking to his Comedy Central faithful. It will be interesting to see if Swardson and company tailor the stand-up more towards the sketches, or if he uses the show to test new material as the season progresses.
Going from a class clown to creating a springboard for new talent and being on the speed dial of one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood is quite an achievement, but Nick seems to be taking it all in stride. Moving from the sidelines to starring roles has provided its own critical challenges, but the foundation that Nick has built to this point should help sustain his pursuit of new creative directions in the future, and keep fans coming to the box office.
Watch Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time Wednesdays on Comedy Central at 10:30/9:30c.
Images courtesy of Mike Yarrish, Frank Micelotta and Comedy Central.