NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews a popular stand-up comedian who’s winning critical acclaim despite — well, that’s probably the wrong word. He’s winning critical acclaim because of his clean routines.
MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: The Netflix series, The Standups, is officially rated MA, for Mature Adults. For those not familiar with the TV and streaming rating system, that’s essentially like an R rating for movies. So it’s ironic there’s nothing in the first episode featuring comedian Nate Bargatze that would warrant as much as a PG-13. In fact, without a single instance of even mild profanity and only one joke that trades on potty humor, his set would likely struggle to rate a PG.
BARGATZE: My wife will get mad like when I hang out with my buddies…she does do lists though.
An act as clean as Bargatze’s is certainly unusual in the world of mainstream comedy clubs and tours. But it’s not surprising Netflix picked the Tennessee native to kick off its stand-up series.
He snagged back-to-back wins at the New York and Boston comedy festivals. That led to appearances on Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show. Industry taste-makers like Esquire and Rolling Stone have started dubbing Bargatze the hottest new thing in standup.
BARGATZE: I’m a Walmart guy. I think I’m in the middle. I’m not K-Mart. I’m not Target. I’m not old money, I don’t think I’m better than everybody.
As a lifelong standup fan who started curating my favorites list with more discernment once I became a Christian, I still remember the thrill of discovering Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan back in the early 2000s. But the acts I could unequivocally embrace since then have been few and far between.
Though it doesn’t feature much in his jokes, Bargatze has referenced his Christianity from the stage. He’s also given several interviews in which he talks about how fortunate he feels in his Southern Baptist upbringing. And he’s shared how bereft he was when his friend and fellow comic Pete Holmes abandoned the faith of their youth. In contrast to Holmes, Bargatze says success and exposure to a more agnostic urban culture led him to deeper conviction that the Bible is true.
In a strange way, the relative innocence of his subject matter seems to have played a role in his success with big-city, raunch-hardened crowds.
BARGATZE: My wife gets mad because I don’t like any of her photos. And I’m like is this not enough, us living together and stuff?…There’s not much more I can do with this photo.
There’s something about Bargatze’s laid-back style that carries universal appeal. On the one hand, his approach is far from the slightly corny or hackey style a lot of Christian headliners who typically play churches tend to have.
On the other, his counter-cultural approach to a topic like Donald Trump subtly challenges the outlook of coastal audiences now conditioned to expect presidential-bashing screeds posing as comedy. Everyone is taken a little by surprise by Bargatze’s punchlines, allowing him to achieve the minor miracle of giving all in the audience—right, left, believer, non-believer—something to laugh at.
BARGATZE: He said we’re gonna build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Like, I didn’t even know you could use that kind of logic on something. I want a fence around my yard, and I’m gonna make my neighbor build it and pay for it…I would have never had that courage if Trump didn’t come into my life.
And this is likely the secret to his rising success in the saturated world of secular stand-up—Bargatze’s soft-spoken Bible-belt restraint is so rare it’s become downright radical.
TV viewers may have a chance to enjoy more of Bargatze in the future. ABC recently picked up a sitcom pilot based on his life with his wife, daughter, and extended family in Tennessee. Until then, you can catch his Standups episode on Netflix, his Comedy Central special on Amazon, and his new live act on his current tour at clubs across the country. Bargatze’s brand of low-key dry humor may be just the thing a frazzled family could use to decompress from the holiday stress this Christmas.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.