There is a man in Orlando, Florida. He’s often bitter, yet sincere, and he’s a true stand up comic. This is the life of Nick Pupo.
David Luna: You’re a real comedian.
Nick Pupo: Sort of.
DL: Well, this is what you do, and this is what you want more than anything, isn’t it?
NP: Yeah, absolutely. It’s just that it’s a goddamn struggle
DL: How long have you been doing comedy?
NP: It’s been over two years now.
DL: Born and raised in Orlando?
NP: I think it was Altima, but I don’t really know. I forget everything that my parents tell me.
DL: Tell me about your first experience doing stand up.
NP: The first time I ever did stand up was at a place that I still go to every Sunday, Austin’s Coffee, and I was eighteen — I know this doesn’t make sense yet, because you’re like, “wait, you’re 23.” This is what happened. I went up, and I thought I was great. I had a great time. I brought out all my friends. The material I did I’m sure was shitty, but for a first time I guess it worked. So I thought I’d come back the next week and write an entire new five minutes, which really is ballsy, but actually idiotic. If your first time you have a good five minutes, or a decent five minutes, or what worked, whatever worked, come back next week and do it again. Do it again. Maybe work on it a little bit, tweak whatever needs to be fixed, but don’t write an entire new five minutes, you moron.
So that’s what I did. And I came back, and I drank a lot. Before I went onstage I drank a bunch of wine in the parking lot, because I was nervous, and I thought maybe I’d be funnier if I was drunk. And I went up, and I totally bombed. And I totally embarrassed myself. And at eighteen years old I decided, “I think I’m not gonna do that again. I don’t think I’m coming back.” So I didn’t for another two years, and when I was 20 I went back to the same place, did it again, had all my friends there so I had a good “set,” and it wasn’t until I ventured downtown, to other open mics around the city, that I discovered I had a lot of work to do and this is not gonna be easy, at all.
But that’s the thing is — I don’t know. There are so many times early on, early as in like, six months, or a year, or a year and a half, that you think like “Oh, I’ve got it! [snaps fingers] I finally get it! I get how comedy works!” I’ve been doing it now long enough to know that I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s gonna take a while. But, you know, I’ve had my good nights. I’ve had plenty of good nights. But even the good ones, it’s just — it never seems like it’s enough.
DL: Do you remember the very first “bit” you had?
NP: One of the first things I wrote, when I was eighteen, was about this videogame that I was playing that was really, really violent. And I was talking about how violent videogames were getting. There’s this videogame where you have these demon serpents that grown from your arms, and when you go up to an enemy it says, “press A to rip face off” and when they’re dead, it says “press B to devour heart.” And then, I decided a funny direction to go with that, because to every new comedian apparently rape is funny — and it can be funny, but no new comedian is going to write a good rape joke. If you want to write a rape joke, good luck, but it’s probably not going to happen for you until five to ten years down the line at least. Even then, is it even worth it? But, I decided to say, “What’s the next thing they’re going to do? How much worse can it get? Are they going to make a videogame about rape? Like a guy walk up to a girl and it’s like, ‘Press A to insert with force,’ or, ‘Hold B to muffle screams with pillow.’” It’s like this rape joke. A fucking rape joke. And surprisingly it would get a good response. It was fucking terrible.
DL: How old were you when you started having an interest in stand-up?
NP: I always really liked it. To me it’s like, how does one not like stand-up comedy? If you don’t like stand-up comedy, I don’t like you. I would sit for hours and watch Premium Blend or Comedy Central Presents and that was stuff that I just thought — I just never thought that you could do that. Like when I watched stand-up comics, I didn’t know that that was a thing that you could just go out and do. I had no idea. Like these guys were born naturally funny, and I’m not. I made people laugh when I was younger, but I just never thought it was possible, so I didn’t even think about it until I learned there was an open mic.
And then I felt like I was good at it, and I had never had that. And I knew that the only person I need to rely on in stand up is myself. If there’s a gig, I’m the only one that needs to show up. An audience would be nice, but in terms of my performance or my act, it’s just me. It’s a one-man journey. I just took a liking to it, and now I’ve gotten to the point where I just feel like I can’t ever quit. And it’s not because I feel like I’m too deep into it — I’m only two years. I can still go out and go to college and be a fucking journalist or some shit. It’s what I want. It’s what I enjoy. I’m excited to see where I get, or what happens, or how my writing changes, or how I change as a person. It’s important to me, because I’ve changed more than I ever have from stand-up.
DL: What’s been your greatest struggle so far trying to make it as a comic?
NP: My greatest struggle really is just writer’s block. I feel like I’m constantly digging myself into a hole because I have depression that unfortunately is inherited. I’m self-effacing, self-deprecating, I never speak highly of myself, I’m insecure, I feel like my head is cloudy all the time. And there have been times where I’ve gone through and just written a few good jokes within like a month. And then there are times where months have passed and I’ve really written nothing. But it comes down to laziness a lot. Any struggle is internal with me. No one’s stopping me from doing anything. My biggest struggle has just been coping with the negativity I put on myself.
DL: Do you ever feel like you want to quit?
NP: Every week there’s a few times where I think, “Why am I doing this?” But anytime I have that thought of “Why don’t you quit?” it’s countered by “You can’t. You can’t quit. You’ll hate yourself forever. This is really the on thing in life that you’re good at. That you’ve figured out so far.”
DL: Since you’ve started stand up, what moment are you most proud of?
NP: I will say that I got to open for Doug Benson and Tig Notaro, Brian Posehn and Neil Hamburger. I would probably say that my proudest moment was my guest spot that I got to do with Doug Benson, because it was all kids that were my age, and it was all people from Orlando. It was 350 of them, and they got excited at the fact that I was from Orlando. I could hear them all cheering just because I’m a local guy, and they didn’t even know that local guys exist. And I came out and just had a great set. I felt very accomplished.
But I gotta say, just the little things in stand up make me feel great when I tell a joke, or I come up with something off-the-cuff onstage, and I make all my comic friends laugh, like my closest comedian friends laugh hysterically. Those are the best moments for me, because even when the audience has nothing to respond to, if you say a joke and they’re just like blank faces, but the comics in the back of the room are dying laughing, that to me is better than killing. It just feels so good.
DL: How would you describe your comedy style?
NP: That’s one of those questions that just comes up in everyday life. When people hear that you’re a comedian they want to know what is it that you do. What’s your style, what’s your voice, what do you talk about on stage? I’ve gotten asked those questions so many times that I’ve started to put together some kind of idea. The only thing that I can come up with, and it’s very vague, is that I’m very personal. I’m very honest, I think. Whether it was a traumatic experience in my life, or whether it was just a weird, odd, strange thing that happened in my life, whatever it is, I want to talk about me. It sounds narcissistic, but that’s what I think every comedian kind of is. It’s important that a comedian talks about himself because, what else is there really? Nobody can take my jokes. I have a story about killing a hamster when I was seven years old. On accident, I killed my best friend’s hamster. No one’s going to be able to tell that joke, and if they did they stole it because they’re terrible people.
DL: If you could have a conversation with any dead person from history, who would it be?
NP: I would like to talk to Jack Kerouac. I would like to hang out with Jack Kerouac. I’d like to do speed with Jack Kerouac. I would love for Jack Kerouac to tell me On the Road off the top of his head, as much as he could remember.
DL: If you could return after death as any animal, what would you be?
NP: A giraffe, probably. Just because they’re my favorite and it’s like a fucking brontosaurus.
DL: If you could choose your death, how would you go?
NP: Overdose. Drug overdose, probably. Just because it’s painless and euphoric and beautiful. I used to think that I would jump off of a building, but I’m afraid of heights, and when I think about jumping off of a building, I think as I’m falling I would regret everything and have a revelation as I’m falling. Like the worst way to go, you’re like, “Why did I do this? I’m so sorry!” And then you die. That’s a terrible way to go.
DL: How do you think your death might actually unfold?
NP: The thing is, I think about dying a lot. I think about getting hit by a car. Sometimes I’ll run red lights when I’m looking right at the streetlight. I’m looking forward, and I run straight through it not even thinking, because I’m so in my head. I don’t think I’m going to kill myself. I don’t think I’m going to overdose on drugs, because I don’t do drugs. Hopefully, I won’t get alcohol poisoning. Hopefully, I won’t get stabbed or mugged somewhere. But if I had to say, I’d just assume that I’ll get cancer.
DL: After you die, is there anything you want to be remembered for?
NP: I feel like I want to be remembered for my honesty in stand-up. I want to be remembered for my stand-up, but I don’t want to be remembered as like, “That guy was funny.” I want to be remembered as like, “This guy opened his heart to audiences across the world.” I don’t know. I have know idea what the fuck it’s going to be, but I want to be remembered for something profound, most likely to do with stand up. I’d like for people to respect my writing. I guess that’s it.
Nick Pupo continues doing stand-up in the Orlando area and other parts of Florida. You can follow him on Twitter at @NickPupo.