There are many ways to know Josh Gondelman. There’s Last Week Tonight (Gondelman is a writer), there’s the Modern Seinfeld Twitter account that he co-ran, and, of course, there’s his own very active, very funny Twitter account.
But now you have one more entry point into the world of Gondelman: Physical Whisper, his new comedy album, is out now. For your convenience, we’ve got an exclusive animated clip from the album above, and be sure to read on for our interview with Gondelman, who discusses everything from Star Wars to Jeff Foxworthy — our two most culturally related pop-culture touchstones.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you doing, Josh?
JOSH GONDELMAN: I am doing great. I’ve had kind of a low-key day hanging out with my dog and just getting stuff squared away for the album, getting ready for the release shows, and kind of obsessively tracking — because it’s coming out on cassette, so I just got the tracking number for the cassette shipment. I’m excited for when that arrives!
Yeah. I was talking with Dominic Del Bene at Rooftop, who’s putting the album out, and he asked, “How do you want this to come out? You can do CD, you can do just digital, some people are doing vinyl.” But he brought up that he used to work at a label that did hip-hop records and worked with someone there that wanted to do cassettes, and I was like, “Yes, cassette!” That’s too fun. It’s so funny as a thing to have in 2016, and I think it’ll be fun to be out on the road and go, “Okay, who has the oldest piece of trash car? I’m going to give you a free cassette to listen to when you drive.”
So you recorded the set for the album on the very same night as the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere — which, as you mention, overlaps considerably with your audience demographic. Were you trying to punish your fans?
It was a total accident! What happened was I actually tried to move it to the night after, for other reasons, but we had this really nice little theater, the perfect size that I needed, and we could only get it for that night. And I was like, “Oh, sure, fine. Thursday, no problem with that — whatever would create a conflict on a Thursday?” And it’s in Boston, or just outside Boston, so when I’m thinking about setting up shows, I’m like, “Is there a Patriots playoff game?” Those are the big things … if there’s sports, you just don’t expect anything else to happen there. Oh, the Bruins are playing.
In fact, my first album I recorded during a Bruins game Stanley Cup finals game, I believe. And my dad and my sister came to the taping that night. They’re both hockey fans, and when they watched the games together, they’d eaten a Klondike bar for the first two Bruins wins. So they brought Klondike bars to my show as kind of like a superstition, but they brought enough that everyone at the taping could have their own Klondike bar. I recorded the first album in a much smaller venue. [Laughs]
It’s funny, I feel like after New York and maybe Chicago, Boston seems to produce the most disproportionate number of stand-up comics or comedians. Any theory on why that is?
Oh, man. I think there’s a really great dichotomy that I think helped me develop as a stand-up. There’s a great tradition of education and history and learning, but also there’s a pervasive attitude of not taking any crap and not tolerating squeamishness, so even nerds who grew up or spent time in Boston, are like that …
Well, I don’t consider myself a nerd, I consider myself a dork more. I’m closer to a dork if anything just because I’m not good at stuff. I’m more like a failed non-nerd. [Laughs] So I think with even a twerp — the City of Boston hardens you as a twerp, so even if you are on the math team and like reading and stuff like that as a kid, or are into Monty Python albums, you’re still so steeped in “Go Sox!” Unless you’re really trying to go the other way and be like, “No, don’t go Sox! I’m going to get all my clothes at Hot Topic and pretend that I don’t know what sports even are.” So I think that kind of dichotomy really helps in Boston, where you get very highly literate or highly eloquent people who also have kind of an edge and a chip on their shoulder.
So in comedy circles and in general, you have a reputation of being a very nice guy. It gets mentioned a lot. I’m wondering, is it just that rare to find nice people in comedy that people feel the need to remark on it?
[Laughs] I don’t know what it is. It’s very kind of people to say, and it’s not a reputation that I mind. But I always feel like people who don’t do stand-up say it, which is a totally lovely compliment. I don’t resent at all people saying, “Oh, he’s like a sweetheart” … but within comedy, it’s a very funny way to talk about someone, because it usually means they don’t have much of an act. So it’s like if a comic says, “Oh, yeah, super nice guy.” If you go, “Hey, do you know Josh?” and a comic says, “Super nice guy,” that means, “Oh, yeah, don’t book him for anything.” [Laughs] So it took me a little while to get okay with having that as a reputation. But it’s also kind of nice to have a reputation at all, so that’s certainly an easy trade-off to make.
Similarly, your comedy often has an optimistic tone to it. What sort of comedians did you flock toward as a kid?
I remember when I was a kid my dad would subscribe to the BMG Music Club, and we got that initial 12 CDs for a penny … I think it was cassettes. Eight CDs or 12 cassettes, something like that. So my dad was like, if you get cassettes I will finance this purchase for you, with the penny plus the shipping and handling, which is very generous. And for some reason I decided I wanted to get a lot of comedy, and so I got Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be a Redneck album, which I say without comment. Well, that’s not true. I will comment! I thought it was great and I probably, listening to it now, would still be like, “This guy’s really good.” And I got Ellen DeGeneres’ stand-up album, which I remember really liking — it was just really super funny, dead-on observational stuff.
And then I got this 2000 Year Old Man album with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Billy Crystal’s Mahvelous! Album. And then my dad was like, you should really get Bill Cosby’s [Best of Bill Cosby] as well, which is probably the one that has aged the least well, in the context of history.
So that was kind of the stuff that my family condoned, but I also remember the first time I saw Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain special where it was like … I probably watched that a million times. It was one of those, along with Dana Carvey’s stand-up special from around the same time, that was just always on TV. It was always on Comedy Central because they would just show hour-long specials all the time. So my friends and I would sit around on a Friday nights and watch because we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything because we were early teenagers where you just want to do stuff so bad, but you’re not eligible for anything fun. So it’s either you watch comedy specials or you set things on fire in a parking lot somewhere.
Think you made the right decision there. So, I should ask about Modern Seinfeld — what’s the status on that? Still on hiatus, or are there plans to revive it anytime soon?
It’s just kind of slowed down. I think if inspiration struck in either myself or Jack [Moore], who co-writes it with me, it would come back. I think we’ve both just been kind of busy and pouring that kind of energy into other projects. But it’s certainly … it’s probably not done forever, I will say.