Joe Mande still looks young on stage. He's 33 now.
The Cedar Cultural Center
When he first grabbed a microphone, Mande looked younger still. He was just a teenager, then a high school student at St. Paul Central.
Mande's stand-up debut came at a distinctly unfunny place: The Mall of America, at a now-closed club called Knuckleheadz.
"With a 'z'," Mande recalls.
That crowd was not easily won over.
"It was probably like, a Tuesday afternoon," Mande recalls. "The people who would go in there were -- they had drink specials -- so it was probably like, housewives from Iowa. And I was doing abortion jokes. It didn't go great."
It goes a lot better now. Mande, who's written for TV shows like Parks and Recreation and this year's first-year success The Good Place, starring Ted Danson and Kirsten Bell, still finds more than enough time to write jokes for himself, including on his 2014 stand-up album, Bitchface. (The title is a reference to his own youthful image.)
Tonight, Mande's back in St. Paul for a comedy set at the Turf Club, the same St. Paul dive bar he played last time he hit the Twin Cities scene. All of Mande's proceeds from the sold-out show will go to the St. Paul Central High School Foundation's new Philando Castile Scholarship Fund.
City Pages: Now that you're a professional, is it different playing a show in St. Paul because it's your hometown?
Joe Mande: Only in the sense that it's a bit of a high school reunion. My old neighbors came last time. It's only weird in that I'm doing my set and I know more than half the audience, which isn't typical at all.
CP: Would you say then that a Twin Cities audience isn't different in a tangible way from an audience in L.A. or New York?
Mande: What I will say is Minneapolis, St. Paul are sort of known among comics as really good cities to go. I know Hannibal [Buress] shot his special here a couple years ago. It's known for having really good, smart crowds that can understand comedy at a high level.
CP: Your show tonight's raising money for issues related to Philando Castile. Why did you feel compelled to do that?
Mande: I went to junior high and high school with him. There was a memorial service for him right after it happened, and I wasn't able to make it, and I just felt like, I wish I could do more than just a Paypal donation. So, when I saw I was doing a show in the Twin Cities, it just seemed like the least I could do. It's a scholarship fund at our high school in his honor, which is really cool.
CP: Should people coming tonight expect you to speak about Philando? Or about issues like police violence, or racism?
Mande: It might come up in a very -- I don't want to make a big deal of it, because my comedy certainly isn't the best way to memorialize someone. I have a long joke where I basically talk about joining ISIS. My personal feelings toward these things, and activism, don't cross-pollinate with what I talk about on stage.
CP: You do a lot of jokes that are going after your generation, or parts of your generation, and weird things that they do -- for example, with Instagram, or the "foodie" culture. Do you feel like parts of your generation passed you by, or you just don't get it?
Mande: I think all that stuff is just, psychologically, projection, and me investigating my own entitlement in a lot of ways. I'm not going after [them] -- as if I'm not prone to a lot of these things, anyways.
CP: St. Paul is a city filled with well-meaning government employees who have a reputation for being a little dull. Did that prepare you for writing Parks and Recreation?
Mande: Maybe, yeah, subconsciously it did. I remember my sister was in ninth grade when I was a senior, and the first day of school, she brought over all these people to our house. She was trying to make new friends. And one of them was Norm Coleman's son. And I remember being like, "No, you get the hell out of here." (Laughs.) And I kicked him out of our house. So maybe that is something for me.
CP: Do you have a favorite scene or character you wrote for on Parks and Rec?
Mande: Everything was so great. Jean Ralphio was always very fun to write for because he was just a tornado. And then, my episode [that Mande acted in and wrote] was the one in which his sister, Mona Lisa, was introduced. And I'm friends with Jenny [Slate], and I'm friends with Ben [Schwartz] so it was fun to bring Jenny into the family, and watch the two of them lose their minds.
CP: You've written a book, for TV series, stand-up comedy, and a lot of things online. Is there something you enjoy most or think you might be best at?
Mande: This is hard for me because I'm my own harshest critic. I feel like the true question is, "Can I do anything?" It's impossible for me to say. I really enjoy writing for TV, but if I'm in a room for too long I want to go back to stand up. And I'm sure, after touring for three months, I'm going to be ready to go back to writing for TV. I'm happy with the balance I'm striking right now.
CP: You are noted as a veteran online troll. Why do you enjoy that? And what's been your favorite reaction?
Mande: Hopefully I've become more discerning about that behavior. I always love that, like, I can no longer look at James Woods' tweets, or Sean Hannity's. I love that Sean Hannity went out of his way to block me. The real question is, why does anyone act like that on the internet? (Laughs.) It's definitely a sign of mental illness. I do need to get it in check. It's not helpful for anyone, really. It -- briefly, I get a laugh out of it -- but all troll behavior, people should figure themselves out. Me included, obviously.
CP: You look younger than you are. Do you think that changes your act at all?
Mande: Possibly. I feel like I've been able to get away with more. My whole life has been that way. I should've had my ass kicked multiple times, but the fact I look this way, and have a smile on my face, I somehow have managed to not get my ass kicked that bad.
CP: How much LaCroix do you drink these days?
Mande: Zero. I'm at war with the LaCroix organization. I am full, hashtag, #DestroyLaCroix. They sent me a cease and desist letter.
CP: Have you switched brands?
Mande: I don't want to get sued for libel, but I definitely think LaCroix had something to do with my kidney stone incident a couple years ago. Since then, I've cut way back on carbonated water. For a while there I was living that "jug life," where I was drinking a gallon of water at work every day. Which was just annoying everyone, and I was peeing like, every 15 seconds. So, just natural water for me now. And, you know, we've got great fresh tap water here, some of the best in the world. Shout out to Minnesota.
CP: What, if anything, is wrong with the Timberwolves?
Mande: I mean, all of our players are teenagers. I think some people are worried they started 0-2, and Ricky Rubio's already injured. But they're going to be so good. There's no worries. I have a license plate frame in Los Angeles that says "Timberwolves, 2019 NBA Champions." I'm sticking by it. I think that's the right time frame everyone should set in their heads.