UNLV grad and comedian Maddog Mattern made a name for himself on the local circuit with frenetic monologue-style rants that make you wonder how many shots of 5 Hour Energy he just pounded. Mattern and fellow former Vegas stand-up Shuli Egar now live in New York, but the pair return this weekend, along with Matt Markman, for a Saturday night show at Backstage Bar and Billiards. We caught up with Mattern to talk green tea, The Anger Brothers and the hard-nosed Italian looking down on him.
How did you start your comedy career in Las Vegas? I was in a band for a few years and I thought I was going to be a big rock star. We were more funny than good. We were called The Anger Brothers. We would just scream and all our songs had curse words. It was utterly insane that I thought this was cool. People would come up and say, “You’re really funny,” which isn’t what you want when you’re a band. You want people to think you rock. So it dawned on me that I should probably just get into comedy.
What was it like making the transition from doing comedy in Vegas to touring nationally? It was painful at times, but that’s good. It means you’re growing. I moved to New York and that was a total wake up call. I had an act and I was taught by everyone in Vegas that you’re not supposed to go away from your act. Then I moved to New York, and I did road work and realized that talking to the crowd and being off the cuff was what I was supposed to do. So that was a big part of the transition.
At what point were you able to say, “Hey, I made it. I am actually making a living doing comedy?” The last couple of years, but I kept a part time job for awhile just because I was raised by a hard-nosed Italian, so I could just see him looking down on me saying, “Hey dummy.” But I finally got rid of it a year ago and I probably could have two or three years ago. I was waiting tables, but it got ridiculous, like to where I was trying to get fired and they wouldn’t fire me. I just didn’t have the guts to quit. I think it’s one of those things you have to do in comedy, but a lot of people do it too early. There’s a lot of green comics who think they’d actually make more money doing comedy if they didn’t have a day job.
So what is your advice for people looking to make the transition? My best advice is to save money. A lot of stuff you’re going to do, you will not make money on initially, but it’s the right direction and it’s going to make you a better performer and a better person and eventually make you more money in the long run. I would do gigs for 50 bucks four hours away and I’d think it was nonsense, but I knew it was making me better. You have to be willing to struggle and be willing to fail, to go to New York and LA and get your teeth knocked out. You have to be willing to struggle for awhile and not make money initially, so you can make more later.
Last time I saw you at the Neon Reverb comedy showcase at El Cortez, you were so hyped up I swear you must have snorted Red Bull. Do you have any special pre-show rituals? The night you saw me I was still drinking coffee by the gallon back then. I quit coffee. I have anxiety, neuroses and OCD. It got so bad that I had a meltdown after a gig, so I realized I had to stop the coffee. I still drink green tea and I’ll have one sugar-free energy drink before I go on and I take an Emergen-C and put it in a bottle of water and I just listen to music. I always listen to a podcast for a few minutes on the train, and then I listen to music and just let it shuffle to whatever. Somewhere between a groove of hip-hop and old metal. Sometimes I like some sad stuff and I like to get a couple of tears out before I perform. Sometimes I like to strip it down and go up there on the bottom and just rise back up.
At the last homecoming show where I saw you perform, many of the comics were swapping stories of their early days in Las Vegas. What’s the craziest thing that happened to you while performing here? When I first started I was so into Andy Kaufman and I was going to be one of those performance artists. We used to have Sunday night shows at a place called the Stock Exchange. I had this elaborate thing planned where I was going to get heckled by my buddy Timothy Styles from the band Big Friendly Corporation and I was going to say, “Hey man, I’m just trying to do my act. Do you think you can do better?” And then he was going to come up and try to grab the mic from me and then we’d get into a fake wrestling match. My buddy Archie was then going to jump up and take off his shirt and under the shirt was a referee jersey. He was going to be knocked out in the middle of our match and we were then going to take the referee jersey off of him and he’d have a bra on. I was going seventh that night and right around comic four or five he goes to the bathroom to put the bra and jersey on. Comic five, this dude named Dagger, was having a horrible set and he grabbed a beer bottle and smacked this heckler over the head. I was about to go do this performance art where we’re having a fight on a night when a real fight broke out, so that was ironic. They told me I had to go up there and win the crowd back but I had nothing else prepared. I was really green, but I went in there and I had to do a real set and I pulled it together and it was alright.
What’s it like watching friends of yours get opportunities you may still be waiting on in your own career? It gets weird but you need to remind yourself that everyone goes at their pace and it doesn’t matter when you get invited to the dance, just that you get invited. You want it now because it would be cool to have a couple more zeroes in that bank account, but if I don’t get there until I’m 50, I don’t care, because I’m going at my own pace. There’s kids I’ve been performing with out here who are blowing up on television, but they’re probably going to come grab me and come help me out at some point. A lot of comics out here get angry and they start talking smack about everyone but I’m not about that. You’ve just got to remind yourself to stay in your lane. In a way, I’ve made it. I made it as is. I get to have conversations with Dave Attell and I’ve been on television a couple of times. It’s all good.
You’re a big sports fan. Do you play fantasy football? Any tips for those about to attend draft parties? This is crazy but my draft is the day after this gig! I’m probably going to be miserable with a headache and God knows where I’m going to wake up. The first homecoming comedy gig I did several years ago I ended up crashing at Timothy Styles’ house because he had a good computer and my computer was too old and slow. I woke up the next day, used his computer while I was as hungover as could be, and I was all depressed because I didn’t like the show I had done the night before and guess what? I ended up winning my league that year. You know how superstitious sports fans are. The last time I drafted in Vegas after a show I won, so I’m already talking smack to people that they better watch out because I’m going to be hungover in Vegas drafting and you know what happens when I do that.
Maddog Mattern With Shuli Egar and Matt Markman. August 24, 9 p.m., $20. Backstage Bar and Billiards, cleanboxentertainment.com.