After developing a multi-camera comedy series for ABC in 2018 and seeing it fail to move forward, comedian Nate Bargatze quickly accepted the situation and was ready to reconsider his next steps. “These things don’t work out, and then your stand-up kind of keeps going,” he says, “and so then you just kind of reassess.” But after making his debut as the host of SNL with this year’s Halloween episode — which is so far the highest-rated of the season — he remembered how viscerally exciting it can be to perform for a live TV audience.
The experience, he says, presented new challenges. As someone who to this point has mostly done stand-up, there were moments within this “TV world” where he had to figure out “which camera to look at.”
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And of course, there are no guarantees of where things will go, given how crazy his schedule has gotten amidst myriad commitments. But Bargatze doesn’t hate the idea of taking on his own series. Says the comic, “Saturday Night Live did wake something up. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but a multi-cam sitcom, I do think that’s missed right now. Those are very simple to watch, and that’s why the old ones — Friends and all these ones — are still being watched by generation after generation.”
Given his recent track record, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get the opportunity. Because if anything, at the moment, he simply has too much of it. After joining the fairly limited ranks of elite comics asked to host SNL, he says the level of “mainstream” exposure he’s received is “completely different” from anything he’s experienced. He earned strong marks for his debut, and in the days since, his level of visibility has grown even further, amidst appearances at the CMA Awards and on College GameDay. “This week, you’re like, ‘Boom.’ You’re just thrown out there,” Bargatze says, “I’m looking forward to just going back to do the road. I just want to go back and do my stand-up for a little bit.”
Currently on his “The Be Funny” tour, the Grammy-nominated Nashville comic is 20 years into a career he describes as “a long build,” which has just recently taken on an entirely new kind of momentum. His year kicked off with the January debut of Nate Bargatze: Hello World, his fourth hour-long special, with which he’s vying for his first Golden Globe nomination. Recorded in the round at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, the special notched 2.9M views in its first 28 days on Prime Video, setting a record at Amazon and going on to be ranked as the top comedy special across all platforms for February.
Now the top-selling comic ever in both Salt Lake City and Nashville, Bargatze earlier this year broke attendance records in both cities, at the Delta Center and Bridgestone Arena, respectively. He also signed to Universal Music Group Nashville as the flagship comedian under their new Capitol Comedy label, more recently announcing the launch of The Nateland Company, a family-friendly content company for audiences of all ages, through which he’ll produce stand-up specials, showcases, sketches, scripted film and television content, podcasts, music and more.
A deadpan everyman described by The Atlantic as “The Nicest Man in Stand-Up,” Bargatze has always aspired to be a clean comic in the vein of Jerry Seinfeld or Brian Regan, whose material the whole family can enjoy. He’s attributed his comedic style to his Christian religious upbringing and his desire not to embarrass his parents, and jokes in his latest special that he hates the word “sucks,” considering it too blue.
As much as a reflection of his values, Bargatze’s chosen mode of performance presents him with a creative challenge he enjoys. “It’s almost like doing TV in the ’90s, where you couldn’t say whatever you wanted to,” he says. “I like the restrictions just because I think it’s fun to write with [them].” He also points to a gap in the market that he’s filling, given the absence nowadays of many avenues for people to see clean comedy.
If you’re looking for edgy or topical material, Bargatze says, he’s not the guy for you. His hope is instead to provide entertainment that offers fans a respite from their everyday troubles. “When people are going out and fighting the good fight,” he says, “they need mentally just to come and turn their brain off and just sit for a second. Stand-up’s a good thing for them.”
Coming on the heels of two Netflix specials (The Tennessee Kid, The Greatest Average American) and one for Comedy Central (Full Time Magic), Hello World has been referred to by Bargatze as his most personal work to date. In the special, he gets into his upbringing, as a means of explaining “why I am how I am.” The experience shooting this hour was a welcome one, following a mid-pandemic taping for his last special.
In discussing his vision for his new production company, Bargatze expresses his admiration for the “world” Adam Sandler has created with his Happy Madison banner, as well as his hope of providing a platform for up-and-comers. He’s already started to do so, in fact, with the series Nateland Presents: The Showcase, out now on YouTube.
“With Nateland, the goal of it was that…as we start acquiring other stuff and trying to eventually build out a world, I just want people to know if Nateland is attached to it, you can know kind of what it’s going to be,” Bargatze says. “I’m not saying it’s all going to fit everybody’s demands or whatever, but if you like my comedy, it’ll fit along those lines, and I think it’ll be fun.”
The comic may be operating just in his “own little lane” with Nateland for now. But the hope, he says, is that “in 10 years, maybe we can be this much bigger company.”
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