Pete Lee isn't a boring guy.
Like many comics, Pete Lee's back story and the chain of events that led to him making a career out of getting onstage and telling jokes is pretty incredible -- in a good way.
"I feel like some comics, or any type of artist, really, think that you have to be a tortured soul or something in order to be a great," he explains. "I don't agree with that at all. You can be a nice person who works hard and succeeds, and that's what I've always tried to do."
And work hard he has. In his 34 years of life, the University of Minnesota grad has been a professional skateboarder (at age 13), internet marketing guru (at 22), and, of course, a successful standup. And he's just getting started. This week, Lee is coming back to the stage where he got his start for a headlining gig at Acme Comedy Co. which runs through Saturday.
This past week, he spoke with City Pages over the phone (while packing to participate in the MS 150 charity bike tour, no less) about his podcast, upcoming television shows, and how he was tricked into starting his comedy career.
Let's start this completely out of order. What are you working on right now?
I'm actually working on two television shows right now. One is for Fuse TV called Special Videos Unit: Video on Trial
and the other one is for the NFL Network. Then I'm getting ready for a college tour in the fall that will be like 40 or so dates, and I've got a new podcast called The Nonsense Podcast
that's doing really well. Last week's episode had almost 100,000 downloads, which I was really blown away by.
What's the podcast about?
Honestly? Nothing. It's like Seinfeld. I think that some podcasts get a little to heavy with their material and try too hard to be serious. We just want to make comedy that's actually fun.
You're a busy guy. Are you excited to get back to Acme?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Acme is where I started, so it's always really special to go back.
How did you get started in comedy anyway?
It's an interesting story. My college roommate at the U was an author, and wrote articles for a lot of major publications. He taught me the importance of writing, and was always encouraging me to write. He also kept telling me that he thought I was funny and that I should try standup, which I never even really considered. He always had this notebook with him at dinner, and it turned out he had been writing down all of the funny things I would say just randomly.
At the end of the year he gave me the notebook. So I looked at it and realized there was some stuff I could use, and I spent that summer working on material. When I came back for my sophomore year I kept trying out my jokes on my friends, but I still hadn't planned to actually perform. One night, we read that it was going to be Nick Swardson's last night in Minnesota, and we all wanted to go see him perform at Acme. What I didn't know was that without my knowledge my friends had signed me up for the open mic. I got in and literally had like three hours to memorize my jokes and get a set together. And I destroyed. That night the owner of Acme, Louis, told me if I kept writing and preparing new material that I'd be welcome to keep coming back and performing. So I did.
So it's safe to say that you didn't aspire to be a comedian when you were growing up?
No. Even once I started doing comedy I didn't want it to be my career. When I started, there were still some relics of the old system. You had older guys who had made a bunch of money in the '80s and '90s who had a solid 30 to 45 minutes of material and just rested on their laurels. And it was sad, because these guys were just sort of losers. They had lost all of their money, they didn't have people they cared about; it was a really sad life. Then in 2003 there was this sort of shift that I noticed happening in comedy. All of a sudden, people started working harder and getting more creative, and I decided that was something I wanted to do.
It seems like you made the right choice based on your success.
I think that anyone who is successful in comedy is finding that success by working hard. The people who for years we'd look at and say, 'How come he doesn't have a TV show?' are getting the shows now. It's really great because the internet has allowed you to go out there and take your own success.
How do you think you've personally evolved as a comic since you started?
My comedy is starting to hit another gear. Comedy is funny because you'll do it for a while and think you know everything, and then it turns out you know nothing. You develop this stage persona, and over time that becomes the most accurate reflection of who you are as a person. But as you grow and change and evolve over time, your persona and comedy changes too.
With the interesting life you've lived, I'm sure it's not done changing, either.
I don't really feel that interesting. I just feel like I've had a fun life. I feel like if you were Bob Costas you'd wrap this up by saying something like, "And hopefully it continues to be fun." Really, I just want my life to be as perfect as Bob Costas's hair.
IF YOU GO:
Tuesday, August 8 through Saturday, August 11
Acme Comedy Co.
708 N. First St., Minneapolis