Nate Bargatze on Nashville and 'the Panic' of Writing New Material – Nashville Scene

Nate Bargatze on Nashville and 'the Panic' of Writing New Material – Nashville Scene

Nate Bargatze

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Nate Bargatze
A couple decades back, Old Hickory native Nate Bargatze was working as a water-meter reader in Mt. Juliet. In April, the comic will take the stage at his hometown enormodome.
Last week, the Donelson Christian Academy alum — who earlier this month won Best Stand-Up Comedian in the Scene’s Best of Nashville readers’ poll — announced that he’ll headline the 20,000-capacity Bridgestone Arena on April 15 as part of the Nashville Comedy Festival. Via relentless touring, numerous late-night appearances and a pair of well-received comedy specials — 2019’s The Tennessee Kid and 2021’s The Greatest Average American — Bargatze has become renowned for his impossibly delightful deadpan delivery and relatable material. The Bridgestone stop lands in the middle of his upcoming 27-date Be Funny Tour, with Bargatze planning to release a new special in January. Tickets for Bargatze’s Bridgestone date are already on sale. See more NCF details and additional lineup announcements via the Nashville Comedy Festival website.
On the heels of the big announcement, the Scene caught up with the comedian and podcaster to talk about Nashville, writing new material and how, as he puts it, “The panic is what helps you figure it out.” 
Whenever they built Bridgestone was a little bit before I started comedy. But it’s obviously the big arena here. And I remember when I first started, I dreamed of playing it. I don’t know if it’s like a “goal,” because it just seems impossible. But you definitely dream of playing it. … I mean, 20 years ago, I was standing on a corner in New York City, handing out flyers to get people to come into shows. And you’d just kind of daydream as you were out there, and so for it to be here is pretty wild.
I’ve done some arenas. I haven’t done one as big as Bridgestone. But I’ve done, you know, minor league hockey arenas and stuff like that. They can be 3,000 seats or something. So it’s definitely weird. It’s just different. You’re not gonna go try a bunch of new jokes. … I think I’ll move around a little bit more. I don’t think I’ll ever be someone that moves around a lot. [But the Bridgestone stage is] so open, and you have so much more space. You feel like you have more freedom. So it’ll be a new thing. I’m excited. That’s what makes it fun, to figure out how to do [a set] in that big of a space.
When I first started I was reading water meters in Mt. Juliet. And I had a buddy, we moved to Chicago first for about two years, and that’s when I took some comedy classes, and I did some open mics. Nashville’s got a great comedy scene now. And Nashville had a scene back then too, but it wasn’t as big. And so the first time I ever went onstage was in Chicago. … And then I was in New York for almost nine years. So New York’s really where I developed, and I was in L.A. for a couple of years. And now we’ve been back [in Nashville] for probably eight years or something.
You definitely play it by ear. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But once I started touring a lot, and I was going to all these clubs, and almost every weekend you’re working somewhere else. And I realized, my whole family is still here, my wife’s from Alabama, her family’s like an hour from here. So I was like, “You know what, I just want to go home.” … It’s easy to even travel out of Nashville. When I first moved back I tried to keep it a secret, because I was worried people were gonna think I quit comedy. At that time, I was in L.A. and was like, if I leave L.A., it’s just gonna seem like I quit. So I just moved back and didn’t really say anything. No one knew, because you’re just working so much. But now it’s the cool thing to do.
Yeah, I would come back a lot. Especially there at the beginning. And then in between Chicago and New York I came back for a few months. But I went to Spanky’s and … Bar Car, maybe was the name of one? This was so long ago. Yeah, some spots like that. … I remember James. I’m older than him, but I remember he was here. He was new and was a super funny dude. And then he moved to L.A. And even back then, it’s never bad to move. Usually work ends up being why you have to move. Now it’s like, you can definitely stay here longer than you used to. And I hope that Nashville can be a place where it’s like, “Yeah, you can live here.” If you have to go to L.A. or New York, you go there to do something like he’s doing, or writing or like KC [Shornima], she just got on SNL.
Yeah I’ve seen her at Zanies.
Yeah [local comedian] Chad Riden ran all that. He really kept the scene together and did a really good job with that kind of stuff. And he’s been around as long as I have. … You could smoke in Spanky’s right? … It was the one where people would show up. You just had to go.
Not yet. I’ve already got some stuff. But that’s what I’m really doing. I try to mix it in. I just taped a special, the special’s gonna come out in January, so I’ll have it ready by January. I’ll just slowly put it in. I’m touring right now, and when I’m home, I’ll just try to go to Zanies or something. I think there’s a lot of new rooms to try to pop up in and work on [new material]. Probably mostly Zanies, on a Monday or Tuesday. But yeah I’ll get it all figured out. I’m hoping [to focus on] where I’m at now and my life and family and all that kind of stuff. 
It’s not anything that you do on purpose. Doing it for so long, you’re just able to say more things funny than you are at the beginning. But I mean, every time you record a special, you’re like, “I don’t know how I’ll ever come up with another joke. That was it.” You don’t feel like there’s ever a formula. Every year you’re like, “I wish I had a system in place,” but you don’t. I gotta figure it out. The panic. The panic is what helps you figure it out.
It feels special and different. You can feel an appreciation, and it’s an appreciation for just all of us being together. I was just talking to one of the comics that was with me on the road this weekend, and we were just talking about how when you’re up there, and [the audience is] laughing so hard, they’re having fun, and you can just feel that, I don’t know, relief? …
Everybody’s having just a great time. Everybody’s got the stresses of life. So it’s like, if you can even be just a break from that for the show, that’s all you want. So when you feel that, it’s very rewarding.
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