Nate Fernald and Steve O’Brien are Team Submarine. The New York based comedy duo have recently released a CD called Correctamundo!. They’ve preformed at NYC Sketchfest, San Francisco Sketchfest, The Benson Interruption and have appeared on NPR and right here on TSOYA. They’ve got a great blog and a cool website full of videos and comedy tidbits. They are always preforming in NYC, so please check the live listings on the site. Nate Fernald was out of town, so Steve O’Brien spoke with me about origins, working in pairs, and romantic comedies. Mostly about romantic comedies.
Chris Bowman: How did you meet Nate Fernald?
Steve O’Brien: I went to high school with a guy who ended up going to college with Nate. We didn’t know each other but Nate and I moved out to Chicago at the same time, so our friend Tyler was like- every time I tell this story I feel like I’m telling the story of Nate and I being an old married couple.
For more from Steve O’Brien of Team Submarine click Read More
CB: Well, I was about to ask “how did you meet your comedy partner”. It kind of sounded like a couple thing.
SO: Well, it’s funny because in Chicago I was a delivery man. So I had a delivery partner. And I also have a comedy partner. I feel like I’m constantly talking about my partners. And really polite people will be like, “Oh that’s nice. Good for you!” Anyway, our friend Tyler introduced us and gave me Nate’s number, or my number to Nate and…(laughs) we talked on the phone, it was really just two dudes who didn’t know each other talking on the phone. So it was a little bit weird. He invited me out to go to some writers panel. I think it was at the Chicago Sketchfest, they have a writers panel kind of thing. We hung out a little bit after that, and he ended up reading some of his sketches to me and they were hilarious.
CB: So you decided to work together after reading some of his stuff?
SO Yeah, the both of us had just moved to this new city and we had both gone there with dreams of wanting to do comedy. We originally planned on getting a big sketch group together but then (laughs) we didn’t meet anybody else, so…
CB: It’s funny you say that, you guys work so well together as a pair. I was about to ask you, what made you go with a two-man comedy team instead of organizing a troupe? But, you beat me to it.
SO: Yeah, well we originally wanted to have a whole troupe of guys. There was a couple of people who we had approached about it and they couldn’t do it at the time. We were writing stuff together (Steve and Nate) with the thought that eventually we’d go big time. And Nate was into this band Wolfie and he said, “you know, this band is just two people. Maybe for now we can just see what we can do as a pair until we get more people involved.” And then, that never happened.
CB: There is a classic sensibility to Team Submarine. Kind of a modern Abbott and Costello feel. How did TS come into this style?
SO: Well, like I said, we originally started writing sketches with characters and stuff and we put together these little sketch shows but we couldn’t find any places in Chicago to perform them. So we rented a classroom in a community center and we’d just put on shows there and out friends would come out and see us. But before we’d do sketches we’d come out as ourselves and talk. We’d write these little bits. Just to sort of introduce the show. So it was a cold opening. Those ended up being the best part of the show. It just naturally happened, that it turned into the old school straight man…uh…I don’t know what you call the other guy.
CB: I was thinking about it before I called you. I thought, do you call the other guy “the funny man”? but that’s sort of insulting the straight man. I don’t know.
SO: I don’t know what you call him either. “The crazy guy!” There’s got to be a- the foil? Is that the right term?
CB: You know, I’m going to Google it after we get off the phone. Maybe I should have done that before I called.
SO: I should know this! But I don’t.
(Editor’s note: The straight man is also known as the feed man or stooge. The other guy is in fact, the funny man. Also known as the comic, or foil.)
CB: How do you work through routines? What is your writing process?
SO: We’ll write separately, someone will come up with an idea and write it out. A general bit. Then we’ll read it to the other person and we’ll riff on it while we’re writing it. And then we’ll go up on stage and do it. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t. More and more these days when we get up on stage that’s where we’ve been doing a lot of writing. Maybe we’ll figure out the skeleton of an idea and then it transforms a lot over time. We do this one bit that started off with a really basic joke, and it’s six minutes longer now than it was originally because we tend to spin out of control and go on these long asides before coming back to the original joke.
CB: Do you find yourselves laughing uncontrollably when you come up with a new bit? For example, “Pizza wanna do is fuck a bitch”? I can’t imagine coming up with that and not dying of laughter.
SO: Well, there are times when someone says something on stage and it surprises you and you start laughing. That particular line just came out of like, “OK. What else would be a surprise? Where else can we go with this?” A lot of the stuff we’ve been doing recently we’ve thought, “We could never do that on stage though.” But more recently we’ve been like, “Well why not?” and see how it goes.
CB: So is it, for lack of a better term, a workshop show? Where you’re just openly working things out on stage or are you presenting yourselves as you would, saying it’s Team Submarine show?
SO: Oh yeah, I mean, we’re doing shows all the time so we’ll try this new thing, we’ll put it in the middle- I think it’s a lot like stand up. You put a new thing in the middle of a set and you see how it goes. The first couple of times it might not go great, or sometimes it does. It goes really well, but no matter what- we really need to start bringing a tape recorder on stage. We bought one, but we keep forgetting. We’ll be like, “that worked, that worked, and that worked.” So we’ll cut out some of the stuff that didn’t and we’ll flesh out what did. So yeah, I guess we’re always kind of work shopping. That’s what’s fun about it. You throw something against the wall and you see what sticks. And realizing it’s not that big of a deal if something fails on stage because you’re just figuring it out. There’s stuff on the CD that’s changed a lot since we recorded it.
CB: Watching some of your old routines you guys definitely seem a bit younger, but you look just as relaxed on stage as you do now. Have you always been comfortable in front of an audience?
SO: Both of us had been in groups before. My mom directed plays at my grade school. So I had always been used to being on stage. I know that Nate had done a lot of stuff in college. It’s weird. We’ve just always been comfortable with being on stage. It’s probably when I am the most comfortable is when…it sounds like we’re married again, (laughs), I am the most comfortable when he is right there by my side.
CB: (Laughs) Just embrace it. You’re comfortable with who you are, you’re not married. It’s cool. Don’t worry about it.
SO: (Laughs). Maybe we should just get married. Maybe that’s what I need to realize.
CB: So you guys are both from the same area?
SO Yeah. We were both born in Massachusetts but we’d never met until we moved to Chicago.
CB: So you both moved to Chicago, both with the dream of getting into comedy, but had never met?
CB: Oh man. You guys have a great story. That’s another key point to a good couple, a great back-story.
SO: We’re like a romantic comedy. It’s all coming into focus, like, right now as I’m talking to you. It is kind of weird how we were on this parallel path form Massachusetts to Chicago. I think we moved within a month of each other. Have you seen the movie Serendipity? Our lives are exactly like the film Serendipity.
CB: The more you talk the better this story gets.
SO: And it would work even better in the whole Team Submarine characters of us just like, “Never being able to understand what the other guy is talking about.” That’s just like a romantic comedy too. It’s like, “These guys will NEVER get along” and then they fall in love at the end. “These guys couldn’t be more different.” Actually the movie The Ugly Truth is based on the relationship between Nate and I. So if you go see that movie this weekend, know that’s it’s based on us.
CB: What do you mean “if”? When.
SO: (laughs) Right! When you go see The Ugly Truth for a second or third time, actually have you seen it in IMAX yet? It’s unbelievable.
CB: It’s even uglier.
SO: But, it’s more truthful too. There’s like 10% more truth in the IMAX experience.
A five-minute conversation about haircuts, the acceptable time between cuts, and tipping etiquette followed. The only reason it hasn’t been transcribed is for space reasons. It was (and is) riveting. The Team Submarine comedy album is out now. You can buy it here.