When Mitch Fatel finally answers the phone, he’s polite and apologetic for not picking up right away. He over-explains his relationship with his publicist and how he doesn’t answer numbers he doesn’t know—he sounds so genuine, so nice. It’s a little awkward. For a guy who spends most of his time onstage in a state of stunted growth—taking on a boyish pitch to talk about small breasts and playing with his penis—Fatel on the phone is unexpectedly not. He seems more self-aware than most, coming off as a seasoned, well-intentioned comic.
But that’s not to say that Fatel has lost sight of why he dropped out of college all those years ago to pursue stand-up: He’s still in it for the girls, and he’s not shy about that. His latest DVD, Mitch Fatel Is Magical, produced by Comedy Central, was recently bought by Showtime, which will air the hour-long special uncensored this fall. (The Comedy Central version is definitely edited down.) Before then, Fatel—who appears four nights this week at Helium—talked to The A.V. Club about onstage/offstage personas and how in real life, he’s Tori Amos.
Mitch Fatel: I have all that stuff. When it first started out, I didn’t really understand it. Now I wonder how a comedian can even exist without it. When you look back at what life used to be like for performers in the ’70s and ’80s, there were really only a couple of people who would get really big, because the other mid-level talent couldn’t exist, because there were only a couple of radio stations and a couple of TV stations. But now with all these different outlets, you can keep in touch with your fans. You realize that if you have a fan, and you go two or three months without any contact, without being in their town or whatever, you can fall off really fast. Show business is very, very fickle. It’s amazing to me that people were able to be successful before this.
AVC: Do you feel that it breeds more competition as well?
MF: I definitely look at the older comedians, and I think that they definitely wouldn’t be successful today, you know? I look at someone like David Brenner, an old-time comedian, [who] to me is just horrifyingly not funny—like, he’s not a funny guy. Today he keeps trying to do comedy, and it’s kind of insulting because it’s just so bad. But he was still famous in the old days [because] it was easier for someone who started at that point because there was so much less competition. So in my mind I’m always like, “I love the competition.” If you’re not good and on the edge and writing and constantly keeping updated, then you will lose your fan base and you deserve to. Comedy is a beautiful, beautiful profession, and it’s an honor to work in it. Competition makes it so you know that you’re doing something right if you’re still filling up rooms.
AVC: Do you think fame comes quicker these days?
MF: What comes quicker is fleeting fame. Like someone will be like, “You got to check out this guy on YouTube.” And he’ll be gone in a couple weeks, because he can’t sustain that kind of success with the talent level he’s been given. If you’re good, you’re good. If you’re bad, you’re bad. And bad people can still slip through the cracks, but they don’t really stay there for very long.
I’ve been working fully in this business for four years now where I’m constantly booked every week. I’ll go into some markets and I’ll sell out 10 shows in a row, and I’ll go into another market that’s four hours away and not sell out any shows. And then the next year, it’ll be reversed. So I never really understand it. It’s very cyclical, and it’s really very fascinating to me. Like everything else in life, you accept that there are off and on periods. And if you’re good, you’ll have staying power to go through the bad and the good times.
AVC: How do you deal with the bad times?
MF: I’ve thought about that a lot. It’s not defeating if you’re in it for the long run. You have to accept that certain things are out of your power. My favorite quote is, “It’s not the will to win, it’s the will to prepare.” Like if you’re piloting a plane through turbulence, you don’t just give up and stop flying—you fly through it, and eventually you’ll come out of it. As long as you wake up every morning, do your writing, and you keep getting onstage—whatever happens, happens. If you can’t sustain the fame, you have to accept that you had your run.
People are always like, “How long are you going to do this for?” I’m going to keep doing it as long as I keep filling up the audience. I always say that you don’t get into show business to make a living. The chances of you making a living are so small that’s almost impossible. So if you are making a living, and making even a good living, which I’m lucky enough to be doing now, then you just accept it and feel blessed for that moment that it’s happening. But never expect it to go on forever. So I never really get down about the bad times, because I feel like my job is to just keep piloting the plane.
AVC: Are you at a point where you feel like you’ve made it?
MF: No. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve made it. I used to think that making it would be making a living. And then I thought making it would be making a good living. And now making it is, like, making $10 million. If I was lucky enough to get to the point where I was making $10 million, I’d probably think that making it would mean making $30 million and being able to make movies. The mentality of success is that you always want more.
I remember when I met Rodney Dangerfield for the first time, I asked him what his favorite show was, and he said he’s never done a show that he liked. Rodney Dangerfield said that! He’s never had a show that he was satisfied with. I’m not that far—I’m definitely satisfied with shows that I do. I enjoy my life. I enjoy the process. I enjoy waking up every morning and working on my act. I enjoy going out and bringing my comedy to people. But being satisfied as whole with what I’ve achieved? I don’t think I’ll ever get there.
AVC: Do you feel happier onstage?
MF: Yeah, that’s the only place I’m really happy. I feel like that’s the place where I belong. It’s offstage, talking to people and going out to real functions, where I feel definitely shy, like a fish out of water. People say to me, “That’s so ironic because you’re around crowds all the time.” But I’m not around them as a partygoer. I’m around them performing for them.
AVC: How do people react to “offstage” you?
MF: People who see you onstage expect you to consistently be that person, and are a little bit let down because you are more human offstage. And so I don’t like to show that side to too many people. I keep my life very private.
When I first started in this business, I had a lot of groupies and stuff coming over to me, and my opening act used to say to me, “That girl wants you! Why don’t you go out with that girl?” And I would say to him, “Do you realize how upset that girl would be to see who I really was offstage?” Like who wants to take that away from them? I always use this analogy of an ex-girlfriend of mine who was obsessed with Tori Amos, to the point where she thought Tori Amos was a god. The first problem with that is that I shouldn’t have been dating a girl that loves Tori Amos. Obviously she was hot and I wanted to have sex with her, otherwise I wouldn’t have put up with that much longer. She would talk about Tori Amos all the time, and I said to her, “You do realize that if Tori Amos was your roommate, within two weeks you’d be complaining about her, right? She wouldn’t make the bed or she wouldn’t take the garbage out or she’d eat your food—after a while she’d become human and you’d hate her.”
Human beings have a need for kings and queens. They want to believe that someone has a light that they can follow that’s better than them, that’s perfect. The truth of the matter is that nobody is. So I think that you do owe it to your fans to keep them believing in something that they want to believe in—we all need that.
AVC: And what you seem to offer is your live show.
MF: I love Twittering every day and stuff. I love all my fans writing to me. But the most important thing to me is getting up in front of an audience and watching them laugh. There’s always a moment onstage that I still love, where I’ll pause in the middle of a joke and I’ll realize that it’s as quiet as you’ve ever heard. You can hear a pin drop, just waiting for the next line. And I think that’s what it’s all about. You can’t get that anywhere but live. You can’t get that in video; you can’t get that in TV shows. It’s just a moment in live performing that I think is probably the most orgasmic, beautiful moment that you can have as a performer.
AVC: Your onstage self and your offstage self make for an interesting dichotomy.
MF: That’s one of the most beautiful dichotomies about comedy. I’ve always felt very comfortable onstage, and offstage I’ve always felt very, very shy. I have no problem talking to women onstage at all. I ask them about their breasts and their panties, and tell them I want to have sex with them. I don’t feel any nervousness. But in real life, if you put me in a situation where I’m actually talking to a woman, if I actually had to say stuff like that, I’d be horrified. I feel like I have to be such a gentlemen offstage, until I’m really comfortable with somebody, then they can see the real disgusting me inside. [Laughs.]
When I get onstage, that’s me boiled down to my most perfect form. If you ever watch kids play, they have no shame. What I’m saying and feeling onstage is exactly who I was before I learned you had to act a certain way in society. Whenever I made little girls laugh when I was a little boy, they’d let me play with them, and I was enamored. And I just took that to its most purest form when I got older, and just started playing with bigger and bigger girls. [Laughs.] That’s the concept: I make people laugh, and they let me see them naked.
I’m boring offstage. People say, “I’d love to hang out with you.” And I’m like, “Eh, no, you wouldn’t. I’m Tori Amos offstage.”