TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Natalie Palamides creator and star of “Nate: A One Man Show”

Comedian Natalie Palamides joins Bullseye this week to talk with guest host Carrie Poppy! Natalie and Carrie talk about Natalie’s new Netflix special Nate: A One Man Show, what her parents think of her raunchy stand-up, and choosing to commit to your art over commercial projects. Plus, Natalie tells us about the occupational hazards of wrestling random audience members on stage. That’s on the next Bullseye!

Guests: Natalie Palamides

Transcript

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

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“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team.

jesse thorn

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. So, there is a very weird, very funny show on Netflix right now. It’s called Nate: A One Man Show. It’s taped in front of a live audience at the Theatre in LA, and the star of the show is Nate. Nate has a giant handlebar moustache, a bandana over his head, and he’s wearing a fleece, plaid jacket—open, with no shirt on underneath. Chest hair exposed. And Nate—well, he kind of does crowd work? He makes the audience laugh, then he makes them uncomfortable. At one point, he wrestles a stranger. At another, he improvises a handshake with them. Nate is, as you might have gathered, a character. He’s created and performed by comedian Natalie Palamides. You might have seen Natalie as part of the crew in those Progressive insurance commercials. She plays Mara. She’s been workshopping Nate for years. And Natalie will admit that he is kind of a jerk. Much of the show feels like a dialogue with the audience. As Nate ropes them into different, increasingly uncomfortable situations, he explores toxic masculinity and consent. It’s a unique and funny show. The Bullseye crew was turned onto it by our friend Carrie Poppy, who also hosts Maximum Fun’s Oh No, Ross and Carrie! So, we decided to let Carrie interview Natalie. Before we get into the interview, let’s listen to a clip from Nate: A One Man Show. In this clip, Nate has approached an unsuspecting member of the audience with an innocent enough question. What’s her name?

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[The audience laughs at regular intervals.] Nate (Nate: A One Man Show): I’m so sorry. I actually—I never got your name. Helen: You didn’t ask me before, but it’s Helen. Nate: Yeah, I’m so sorry I didn’t ask you. It’s Kelen? Helen: Helen! H-E-L-E-N. Nate: Helen? Helen: Yeah, you got it. Nate: Oh. Probably couldn’t understand ‘cause it’s actually pronounced Hee-lane. Umm. It’s Gaelic. But whatever, it’s your name. Say it how you want. Even though you’re saying it wrong.

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carrie poppy

Natalie Palamides, welcome to Bullseye.

natalie palamides

Hey! Thanks so much, Carrie Poppy. How are you?

carrie

I’m pretty good. How are you doing?

natalie

I’m alright, all things considered I suppose.

carrie

Yeah! So, I usually see you pretty regularly. We’re good friends. But I haven’t seen you in the last eight months or something, ‘cause of this quarantine nonsense. How’s your life been?

natalie

It’s been a hell of a year, Carrie. I have had a healing journey, this year. As I’m sure maybe you’re a bit aware of. Did I tell you? I did like a 20-days water fast.

carrie

Oh, wow!

natalie

You know, I always try weird health stuff. [Laughs.]

carrie

Yeah, you do commit to things completely. And that’s actually kind of why you’re here. We wanna talk to you about Nate: A One Man Show, which is your new Netflix special.

natalie

Yes, it is!

carrie

Yes, it is. And it’s essentially a taping of your live show, which—how long did Nate, the live show, run?

natalie

Oh gosh. Well, I premiered it at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018—August 2018—and then toured it all over the UK and Ireland, New York, Los Angeles, for a while. I would say I toured it up until the pandemic started. I—my last run of shows was in February 2020.

carrie

Oh, wow. [Natalie agrees.] And when did it start? Or when did you conceive Nate?

natalie

Oh, I guess I started workshopping the show in December 2017? But I originated the character I guess in a drag workshop in Philadelphia, with the Pig Iron Theatre Company in 2012.

carrie

Oh, wow!

natalie

Yeah. You know, he was baby Nate. He was much different. He didn’t have a moustache or as a—as gravely of a voice, at that time. But I still consider him to be the Nate character. Yeah.

carrie

Okay. So, walk us through the steps then from 2012. You conceive of Nate Palomino, whose name is very similar to yours. I don’t know if you realized that.

natalie

Yes, it’s a nod. [Carrie laughs.] It’s a nod to my name.

carrie

Yeah, take us from there to here.

natalie

I was doing a drag workshop, in Philadelphia with the Pig Iron Theatre Company and we were devising a play that was based on the work of this guy—or inspired by the work of Charles Ludlam. And he was famous for doing classical plays in drag—you know, performing very campy but still being able to move people to tears. So, throughout that workshopping process, I was just generating a bunch of male characters and Nate was one of them that popped up. And the first piece that I did with him was all silence and he was kind of sadly drinking a two-liter bottle of soda in his basement, all in silence. You know? It kind of goes with the theme of trying to express himself. So, he was—you know, I didn’t verbalize it then, in that piece, but he was very sad, chugging this two-liter bottle of soda, kind of caught up in his feelings. And part of the bit was just burping intermittently and also I think the act of finishing the bottle of soda was probably also somewhat impressive. Part of the bit, maybe, is—was the task.

carrie

Yeah, you were drinking a whole two-liter bottle?

natalie

Yes. Yes, exactly. And then the timing of the burps.

carrie

[Chuckles.] What kind of soda?

natalie

Uuuh, just like a soda water. I don’t—I remember trying to not get too sugared up, but you know, it needed to be carbonated, so that I could have the burps. Yeah.

carrie

[Laughs.] And so, at that point it’s just sort of a moment in this character’s life and you must not know much about him. Does Nate, then, sort of surprise you? Is that—is that the process? Do you have to impose a life on him, or does he just come alive over the next few years?

natalie

That’s a really good way to put it, Carrie. Yeah, he just kind of comes alive whenever I get into character. He just says stuff off the top of his head. You know? I don’t always know what’s coming.

carrie

Mm! Oh, wow! So, I mean… do you sometimes feel surprised by the stuff Nate says?

natalie

Sure! Sometimes I surprise myself. Yeah. I mean, I’m not that meta where I like think I’m Nate or something. I’m not gonna go all, you know, Joker on your [censored] or anything, but… yeah, sometimes I definitely am surprising myself or sometimes, you know, during a workshop I’ll say something and realize like, “Oh!” You know, went too far there. Probably shouldn’t have said that. Or, you know, “Oop! Nate said that, but that was Nate! That wasn’t me.” So. It’s fine.

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. Our guest is Natalie Palamides.

carrie

The show is such a midpoint between a play and an improv performance and it’s not quite standup, but there is that heavy crowd work. How did you decide between—while you were filming this—how’d—how did you decide between treating it as more of a play versus as one of these, like, comedy live events?

natalie

Well, you know, I think I just put up what the show already was. You know? I didn’t really decide… how I was gonna treat it like a play or a standup comedy special. It just is what it is. So, we just shot what already existed. And I guess in terms of just living in the comedy scene in Los Angeles, I try not to put a label on myself of what it is. I mean, I think it’s a comedy show. But you know, I love using theatrics. I love theatricality and I love how you can elevate a piece by making it theatrical and having some genuine moments or like some cool spotlight effects or—you know, waterworks onstage.

carrie

Yeah, there’s a literal shower on the stage.

natalie

Mm-hm. Yeah, I like to get creative. I don’t wanna put myself in a box and say like, “Oh, it’s this.” I don’t wanna limit myself. I just—if I think of something, I’ll put it in the show.

carrie

Mm-hm. Yeah, so then does Nate have a script?

natalie

No. Not currently. But, I mean, from doing over and over again, I just remember it. So, it is scripted in a way—in the way that I just remember to do those things the same every time. You know. There are written jokes and there’s definitely a structure that the show follows. But, you know, I keep it really loose and yeah, I’ve never written it down. So, maybe I should do that. Because it’s been a while since I’ve done it. I usually just rely on my muscle memory. Uh… yeah. [Laughs.]

carrie

If you get hit by a bus or something, this dies with you!

natalie

It dies with me. I mean, there’s—there’s a recording of it I guess that could be referenced. [Laughs.]

carrie

[Laughing.] Well, that’s—well, that’s true. That’s why we’re here. You’re right. My guest is actor and comedian Natalie Palamides. Her new Netflix special, Nate: A One Man Show, has been described as a powerful exploration of masculinity and consent. And much of the show feels like a dialogue with the audience and there's a lot of audience participation. Let’s listen to a clip. In this clip, Natalie’s character, Nate, has enlisted an audience member to join her onstage in the role of her best friend, Lucas. In Nate’s world, they are about to share their signature handshake, but of course to the audience volunteer, this is totally new, and they’re forced to improvise along with Nate.

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[Scattered laughter from the audience throughout.] Nate: Peeeanut buuutter, peeeanut buuutter. Volunteer: [Hesitantly joining in.] Peeeanut buuutter. Nate: Spreeeeead ooout. Volunteer & Nate: Peeeanut buuutter. Peeeanut buuutter. Spreeeeead ooout. Nate: And then you puuut on theee… [Beat.] Volunteer: [Uncertainly.] The jelly. Nate: Jelly! And you puuut ooon the… [Beat.] Audience Member: [Distantly.] Bread! Volunteer: [Beat.] Bread. Nate: Bread! And theeen you puuut it iiin the—? Volunteer: The—? [Uncertainly.] Oven? Nate: Ooooven!

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carrie

[Giggling.] So, what’s the most difficult thing that’s happened at one of these live shows?

natalie

Oh gosh. Well, you know, before I wrestle the guy, I give him that folder that he has—a waiver that he has to sign to wrestle, but before there was the waiver—okay. I should take it back a little bit. So, I always had the waiver in the show, just as a gag for a prop for them to sign, before they wrestle me. But now, there’s some directions in there that say, “You’re about to wrestle Nate, please let Nate know if you have any sensitivities or injuries and remember Nate is just a little lady, so please wrestle gently but with passion.” And so, before I kind of had that little disclaimer in there, I wrestled a man who slammed me very hard on my neck. [Laughs.] Uh, so—

carrie

[Laughing.] Oh my god!

natalie

So, there’s just been—that was probably the most, uuh, dangerous wrestling situation I got into. And there were a couple others that were, you know, a little bit risqué. And you know—‘cause I’m really egging people on, sometimes, when they come up, and pushing their buttons. And some people, they just get into it. You know. And it becomes a little bit real for them. So, whenever I went to the UK, they’re big on risk assessments in the UK. So, they kind of made me put a disclaimer into the waiver. But what I found was that it was actually a lot easier to wrestle playfully with me. Whereas, previously, they were kind of maybe a little bit aggressive most of the time. So, I guess another difficult moment—and this has only happened twice—uh, you know, when somebody walks out of the show. [Carrie makes an intrigued sound.] Especially during kind of a sensitive time, during a sensitive part of the show. You know. It just catches me off-guard and you know, I just feel bad that somebody felt the need to walk out. But you know, I encourage it, if somebody needs to. You know. That’s what they need to do. But sometimes I’m like, “Ooh.” Like, both the times somebody walked out was during a part of the show where I was wishing they’d just sat there for one more second. You know? ‘Cause I’m like, “Aah, I got you if you’d just, like—for one more second if you could hang on.” But, um. Yeah. It’s understandable.

carrie

How has the feedback been now that the show’s on a big platform?

natalie

Oh! Well, I think it’s been generally pretty positive. I try not to seek out, you know, negative feedback. You know, probably the worst feedback I got was actually from my parents.

carrie

[Chuckling sympathetically.] Oh! Okay.

natalie

My dad nearly had a heart attack when he saw it. And you know, he sent me a slew of texts that were—you know, largely… uuuh, negative, I suppose. But, like, I guess a phrase that could probably sum up all the texts would be—he said, “I’m glad your grandparents aren’t alive, so they didn’t have to see this.” [Cackles.]

carrie

Oof! [Blows a raspberry.] Oh-kay! Heavy stuff! And is that just because you’re largely nude in the show?

natalie

Yeeeah, I think so. And he’s like, “What are you doing?” He’s like, “Can’t you do something less raunchy?” Even though, you know, I said to him, I said, “You’re just saying that because I’m your daughter.” I said, “You would like it if somebody else did it.” Because my parents, they love Austin Powers. They love Sausage Party. They love raunchy comedy. [Carrie chuckles.] You know? They introduced me to Austin Powers when I was in third grade. So, I’m like, “You did this!” You know. “What do you expect?”

jesse

Even more with Natalie Palamides still to come. Stay with us. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

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jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. If you’re just joining us, our guest is Natalie Palamides. Natalie is a comedian here in Los Angeles. You might have seen her as a recurring character on those Progressive Auto Insurance commercials. She’s also got a unique and fascinating new special out. In Nate: A One Man show, she plays the show’s title character. Nate is a chauvinist jerk. He ropes audience members into weird and uncomfortable situations. It’s as awkward as it is funny. You can check it out now, on Netflix. Natalie’s being interviewed our own Carrie Poppy, host of Maximum Fun’s Oh No, Ross and Carrie!. Let’s get back into it.

carrie

Uh, one word that always comes up in reviews of Nate and of your work in general is “brave” and that always makes me think of Lucille Ball’s line where she said, “I’m not funny. What I am is brave.” [Natalie makes an intrigued sound.] Do you see yourself as brave?

natalie

Ah, that gave me goosebumps when you said that, Carrie! I mean, I guess I’m—I guess so. I mean, I like to… feign bravery. But you know, I’m always a little bit nervous. But I mean, maybe I just don’t give a [censored]. I don’t know if that’s bravery. Not giving a [censored] and bravery, are they equitable?

carrie

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think of bravery as being scared and overcoming the fear, not the absence of fear. What do you—I don’t know. So, yeah— [Natalie starts to speak but stops.] Do you feel afraid and you push through? Or do you just not feel afraid?

natalie

I think I feel afraid and I push through, because I’m excited about getting into trouble. I like to do mischievous things. But it’s fun to, you know, put yourself in a dangerous situation and then you get a little bit of a rush when you pull it off. No? [Carrie agrees.] You know what I’m saying?

carrie

I get you.

natalie

But sure, yeah, I mean—you know what? I’m flattered that people say I’m brave. I like to do scary things ‘cause I think it’s fun. But I don’t do scary things to harm anybody else or to hurt myself. That’s not the kind of danger I seek out. It’s more in the spirit of fun. You know?

carrie

What’s the most trouble that you’ve gotten into for your art?

natalie

Oh my gosh, the most trouble! Huh. That’s interesting. I don’t think I have really gotten into trouble. I mean, I… I’ve done—I’ve made mistakes that I’ve gotten, I guess, maybe a slap on the wrist for. But you know, it was an honest mistake. Like—and they weren’t too angry with me about it. Like, I flooded the stage at UCB. Usually, it has to do with making a mess. You know. Or like my trumpet case, I melted my trumpet case. Set it on fire during a show. Well, it wasn’t really on fire, it was just like smoking and bubbling up. I guess usually like I get in trouble for trying something onstage that I didn’t tell the producer I was going to do. And usually it involves, like, water or fire. Like, one time when I was at the Virgil, I did this fire breathing bit and I was really close to the curtains. And I didn’t tell the producer of the show that I was doing fire breathing. And, you know, they were very surprised. I mean, the bit went over well, but afterwards they were like, “Heeeey, you know, you gotta tell us about that stuff.” Yeah. And so, now the producers of that show—I think it was the super serious show and maybe the hot tub show at the Virgil. And they reach out to me now every time before I do the show and they’re like, “Is there anything we need to know about?” And usually there is. Like, I’ve brought Nate’s shower to that show. You know, fire breathing. I’ve brought a big—a large industrial fan and put a bunch of baby powder into it. I—you know, make out with people, which is fine. I mean, maybe now it wouldn’t be fine, but… yeah, sometimes I just kind of go rogue.

carrie

One thing that I really admire about you, Natalie, is that you have this sort of internal engine and this internal compass—to mix my metaphors—where you really know what you want to do, artistically, and if someone tries to direct you away from that, you politely thank them and move on. And—

natalie

That’s true.

carrie

Yeah, and one of the biggest examples of this is a year or two ago—without saying too much—you had been offered this sizable role in a big comedy film. And you turned it down to go do Nate for two weeks, live in London I think.

natalie

Yeah. I mean, that wasn’t easy to do, but yeah. [Laughs.]

carrie

Yeah. I mean, so—at the time, I mean—did you hem and haw about that or did you just know, like, Nate’s an important thing and he’s gonna be something and—did you just know?

natalie

Uuh, well, I mean they were really trying to work it out, honestly. But you know, I don’t know if I’m that great of like an artist that I wanted to turn down a huge comedy film. I mean, I definitely would probably rather do my art than some… you know, some—you know, show or movie made by the Hollywood machine or something. But it definitely eats me up still inside, like when it recently came out I was like, “UGH! Nooo!” You know? But you know, that happens and you gotta—yeah, you gotta go for what’s true to you. You know?

carrie

Yeah! You must be glad you did it, now.

natalie

Yeah, yeah, no, totally. I mean, a slew of things happened. Like, if I had left London to go do that movie, I wouldn’t have gotten hit by a motorcycle, which is also weird. Like, during that time in London, I got hit on the day that I would have had to leave to go do the movie. [Laughing.] So. [Carrie expresses shock.] I was like weirdly supposed to get hit by this motorcycle. Did you know about that? I told you, right?

carrie

You must have. What—obviously you’re fine. Whaaat—?

natalie

Yeah. It was a miracle! It was a miracle.

carrie

Why do you say you had to be hit by it? Did you get something good out of that?

natalie

I don’t know, the butterfly effect, you know? I mean, I believe in fate and destiny and all that. I mean, I believe you also have to make your own luck and you gotta work hard and stuff like that, but… I don’t know. I kind of—I’m a believer of “everything happens for a reason”, [laughing] I don’t know.

carrie

Fair enough! I hear that story and think, “Damn, should’ve gotten outta London a day earlier [laughing] so you don’t get hit by that motorcycle!”

natalie

I know! Well, I—that definitely crossed my mind when I got whacked by that thing. I was like, “Fricking damn it.” Like, if I had just gone to go do that movie, I would’ve not been hit by this thing. But also, I should’ve just, like, been looking—well, the thing is, okay. I got hit—the motorcycle was coming up the middle, between stopped cars. And I—you know, I wasn’t using the crosswalk, but traffic was stopped, I thought it was safe. But I was jaywalking. You know. So… I gotta take responsibility.

carrie

Mmmm. There’s the lesson with all this.

natalie

Don’t jaywalk. But maybe I had to learn not to jaywalk so that later in my life I didn’t die from getting hit by a bigger vehicle!

carrie

There it is. There it is.

natalie

Now I’m very—

carrie

We found the lesson.

natalie

Very diligent about crossing the street, now. And you know what’s funny? Is like, when I called my mom to tell her I got hit, she was like, “I knew that was gonna happen to you! You never look!” [They laugh.] “You never look when you’re crossing the street.” And I fricking looked! I looked. Anyways, Carrie, I appreciate you making me sound honorable and valiant, that I—like—stood my ground and went and did my art. But I definitely was bummed that I couldn’t do this movie. But yeah, I mean—it is true that my art is always more important to me and I think that I would always choose art over some Hollywood film. Not that it’s like crappy, ‘cause I definitely wanted to do it. [Laughs.] But you know what I mean? There’s that story about—you know, what’s his name? Charlie from It’s Always Sunny, he—not that this is the same level at all, but he chose between series regular on a network show and developing It’s Always Sunny, even though he didn’t know if it was gonna get picked up or what. And he chose his art.

carrie

So, I wanna talk—before we go—about Nate as a character. So, there’s this very important moment in the show where Nate has just realized he might have done something very, very wrong. But he’s not sure. And he turns to audience and he just pointblank asks us, “Did I do something wrong, here?” And the audience sort of peppers their replies. You hear a “yes” from the corner and a “no” from the other side and “yes”, “no”, “yes”, “no”, and usually the audience is kind of split. So, the first time I saw the show—I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but afterward I asked you if you had an opinion. Do you think he did something right or wrong? And I won’t say what you said, here, but you had a very definite answer. Which kind of surprised me. And I wonder is—do you still have a definite answer to that question? Or has it gotten more grey over time?

natalie

Hmm. Yeah, I think I still have a definite answer, but I’m not interested in telling people what I think. So, I would be interested in engaging in conversation—in a conversation about the nuance of that moment, but I—you know, with somebody after the show—but the purpose of the show is not to preach my opinion of what it is. You know? I would like everyone to feel heard and I would just honestly like it to be more of a starting point for conversation for people on all sides, you know, on all points of the wheel of the conversation to feel like they’re able to enter into it and that they’re welcome in the conversation and—you know, we’re allowed to use words that are maybe… usually deemed as too taboo. You know. It’s like we have to be able to say these things, I think, even though right now I’m like [chuckles] carefully choosing all of my words and making sure that I don’t say anything wrong. But that’s what I would like to surpass, hopefully one day. And I—you know—would like to encourage everybody else to… you know, treat each other with a bit of empathy when they’re discussing these things and—you know, so that we can feel more free to discuss these things without feeling like, “Oh, we’re gonna get harpooned by the person we’re discussing it with.” And—‘cause I think, in general, you know of course—you know—there’s always outliers, but I think most people aren’t setting out to hurt anybody when they wanna discuss these things. And I think most people wanna feel understood and if we could just approach these kind of conversations with that in mind, I think that’s—that would be helpful.

carrie

Natalie, thanks for being on Bullseye.

natalie

[Whispering.] Thank you for having me, Carrie.

jesse

Natalie Palamides. Her new special is called Nate: A One Man Show. It’s streaming now, on Netflix. Also, check out our guest interviewer Carrie Poppy’s podcast, Oh No, Ross and Carrie!. I just saw her tweeting that she was about to interview an expert on QAnon, so if you want what will almost certainly be an informative… and funny? Interview about a terrifying subject, check that out.

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jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is created in the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California—where construction across the street from my home has not only made it very difficult to record, but also has led me to go through the automated car wash about twice a week. Which, honestly, that’s actually kind of a side benefit. I love going through the automated carwash. Our show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our producer is Kevin Ferguson. Jesus Ambrosio and Jordan Kauwling are our associate producers. We get help from Casey O’Brien and Kristen Bennett. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme song is by The Go! Team. Thanks very much to The Go! Team and to their label, Memphis Industries, for letting us use that. You can also keep up with the show on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post all our interviews there. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

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