Nick Swardson loses his shirt, but not his sense of humor

I first met Nick Swardson earlier this year at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. We were hanging out in the “Sierra Mist Lounge,” a popular free food-and-grub afterparty area in the hotel, and Swardson and I quickly got into a prolonged chat about comedy and the backlash within the stand-up community against its biggest stars of today (that’d be Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, and Larry the Cable Guy, all provoking scorn and jealousy for different reasons). And then we got down to fun.

See. Here is a photo of him with a Sierra Mist girl at the foosball table.

Later that night, things got sloppy at the after-after-afterparty – the grand finale bash at the Goldberg mansion up high on the opposite mountain. People hunted and fought over cars to make the trek, and at one point, a woman yelled at Swardson: “I’m not f—ing driving him anywhere!” Owen Benjamin and others tried to defend Swardson, to no avail. Eventually, though, everyone made it to the mansion. And back again. And before we parted ways, Swardson said I needed to remember to talk to him before his tour showed up in Boston (May 5, Berklee Performance Center, $27.50 via Ticketmaster).

Fast-forward to this week.

Swardson already could laugh at himself about Aspen. He said his manager, Bernie Brillstein, worriedly chewed him out about his post-show partying. “The guy who managed Chris Farley and John Belushi is telling me I’m a train wreck!” Swardson said.

It’s not going to stop him from looking for a party in Boston on Cinco de Mayo.

Any chance of you doing anything worthy of being called a train wreck?
“Ah, possibly. But I really only drink. I don’t do any drugs anymore.”

Swardson, 30, won’t have to look far to find someone to party with – his friend and sometime collaborator, Jamie Kennedy, rescheduled his own comedy show at the Paradise to the same time as Swardson’s gig. Swardson appeared in many episodes of TV’s The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, and together, they co-wrote the 2003 film, Malibu’s Most Wanted. I jokingly informed him of this booking situation.

Really, though, doesn’t this just mean there are two Nick Swardson shows on Saturday, since you’ve written most of Jamie Kennedy’s funnier stand-up bits?
(laughing and catching his breath) “No f—ing way! Oh, that’s wild. Holy s—! I don’t even think he knows I’m there. If he did, he didn’t tell me. That’s really wild. What an idiot.”

“That’s funny. When I first moved to Hollywood …they said, ‘Yeah, we want you to be our next Jamie Kennedy.’ I said, ‘F— that, I’m going to be better than Jamie Kennedy. I told him that and now we laugh about it. He’s always been one of my best friends.”

Swardson explained that Kennedy tried stand-up first at open mikes before getting his big break as an actor in the films, first Romeo + Juliet, then memorably in the Scream franchise. By the time their careers crossed paths, Swardson had the comedy credentials as a national headliner with a half-hour Comedy Central special, but Kennedy had the name draw. So when the pair traveled to the Tempe Improv a few years ago, Swardson found himself opening for Kennedy.

“When he did that club, he was already famous. I wasn’t a normal MC. I was just doing the Improv a favor. It was one of those situations where he could’ve been threatened by me, but he was really nice and cool to me.”

No one can question who the star of this comedy tour is, with MySpace as its sponsor. Swardson said he has put “a lot of original content, like videos” on the site. A lot of the photos and videos feature the comedian without his shirt.

So if you and Matthew McConaughey ended up at the same party, who’d go topless first?
“Wow. Tough question. I would say I would be topless first. But my being topless would probably bum more people out. Whereas his would start the party. Matthew took his shirt off. Hooray!”

Your tour alternates between theaters and clubs. Was that a conscious decision? Or logistics?
“I wanted to do theaters and my agent was like, I don’t know why, but he’s married to comedy clubs. The only clubs I’m doing are Chicago and New York. Whatever. I shouldn’t say anything. I prefer doing theaters just because it’s less draining for me, to do 1,500 people in one night than to perform to 400 people in a club several times in a weekend. Especially since I still go out and party after the shows.”

You began in improv, right? How’d you make the transition to stand-up?
“This is kind of funny, too. I did theater in high school but I joined an improv group. We did a ton of improv, long-from improv. I always looked down on stand-up. Thought it was kind of corny. Remember this was the mid-90s and the end of the boom. I thought stand-up was Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, guys talking about their wives. There was nothing really hip about it. There was a small alternative scene starting up with people like Janeane Garofalo and David Cross…But in 1996, when I graduated from high school, I wanted to take a year off…My improv group folded, though, so I was stuck without a format to perform. I was in Minneapolis. So I went down to an open mike and was going to perform with a bunch of my friends, but my buddies never showed up. So I just went up and performed.”

With two Comedy Centrals under his belt and writing credits on three films (Grandma’s Boy and The Benchwarmers are the others), Swardson’s fan base knows him just as well from his stand-up as they do from his memorable characters – most of them outrageous, like gay roller-skating prostitute Terry in Reno: 911 and the figure-skating stalker in Blades of Glory. He also created a show called Gay Robot.

Most reports say Gay Robot is going to get a second chance as a cartoon. True?
“Yeah, Gay Robot is still alive. Comedy Central had always wanted it animated. So I think this time will be more successful. But I really love that pilot. I really do.”

Have you ever caught any flack from the gay community over all of your flamboyantly funny characters?
“No. It’s usually the opposite. I don’t think you can be more outlandish than Terry in Reno: 911. That would be ridiculous. I was talking to a friend to think if it was the gayest character ever on TV. There’s no gray area to the character. We just did season five and the character has a girlfriend. It’s great. There’s some really funny s— that we did.”

Anything special about your Boston show people should know about?
“This show I’m really really excited for. I grew up a big Celtics fan. I love the Red Sox. I’ve always had a blast there. The last time I did stand-up in Boston was like, seven years ago. I opened up for Anthony Clark on New Year’s Eve. It was freezing! All I remember is being black-out drunk, eating a sausage I had bought from a cart, watching three or four guys beat each other up. I can’t wait for the same situation to play itself out. Just warmer.”

NOTE: An abridged version of this interview appears in today’s edition of BostonNOW.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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