A wry comedian and writer whose Twitter account is the source of internet glee and corporate ire, Joe Mande is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades for 2017. He’s written on shows like Parks And Recreation and The Good Place; put out a stand-up album, Bitchface; and is releasing his first Netflix special, Joe Mande’s Award-Winning Comedy Special, this week. His sense of humor blends ’90s nostalgia with obscure YouTube clips, dark deep cuts, and basketball references, making for a wit that’s both sharp and approachable. To get a look at where some of that sense of humor might have come from, The A.V. Club asked Mande what he thinks is funny.
Joe Mande: HoodClips makes me laugh on a daily basis. It’s kind of like the best of Worldstar memes. So, it’s the cream of crop in terms of memes of people falling down or dogs doing shit. It’s just the purest form of the internet in one place, I think.
A 15-second video of Raven-Symoné in nightmare makeup singing a Monica song
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick this Raven-Symoné clip?
JM: That’s just a thing I’ve had bookmarked on every device I own just because I think it’s the funniest thing. It was pre-The View, so I think she was going to art school or something.
She’s singing a Monica song, and she’s wearing nightmare makeup. It’s kind of a “Weird Al.” She kind of changed the lyrics a little bit.
I don’t know. It’s hard to describe, but I’ve probably watched that video on a loop easily 10,000 times.
AVC: There are so many layers to it.
JM: I know.
AVC: The reveal… the Monica song… and is she aware of how weird it is?
JM: Oh, she’s definitely aware of it. And then it’s like, what is that headboard?
AVC: Who did the makeup? Was it for art school? Was it for a role?
JM: Exactly. It asks more questions than it answers for sure. Also, my sister kind of looks like Raven-Symoné, so that’s an added element to it for me personally.
The work of Martin Noakes, particularly the song “9/11 Building 7”
AVC: Another thing on your list that raises a lot of questions for me was the work of Martin Noakes. Is that guy for real?
JM: He is for real. He’s a British conspiracy theorist who also happens to be maybe the best songwriter in the world, in my opinion. His songs are beautiful. They’re crazy. That 9/11 song… no song has ever gotten into my head more. And it’s inappropriate. You can’t just like walk around singing about “jet fuel doesn’t melt steel.”
He has a bunch of songs. Some of the songs are too British. Like, they’re too much about the British Parliament for me to get into, but there’s a song about he thinks Tony Blair should go to trial for war crimes. That’s a jam. There’s a song about how Nikola Tesla never got the fame and accolades he deserved.
AVC: My husband and I spent a measurable amount of time this morning Googling Noakes trying to figure out if he was serious. It’s hard to tell by his internet presence, which is pretty scant.
JM: I know, It’s confusing. I think someone—it’s hard to tell if it’s him or someone pretending to be him on Twitter—is constantly asking for retweets and stuff.
It’s hard to know who the real Martin Noakes is. He’s like Steve Winwood or something. He’s like Richard Marx. He writes these beautiful, kind of dated ’80s jams.
The work of Janice Misurell-Mitchell, particularly “Scat/Rap Counterpoint”
AVC: Speaking of dated, where did you find “Scat/Rap Counterpoint”?
JM: “Scat/Rap,” I think, is incredible. But she has some newer stuff. She does a lot of scat/slam poetry-type things, and she plays the flute. There are a lot of great flute videos on her YouTube.
AVC: Do you remember how you found her stuff?
JM: “Scat/Rap” thing was the first thing I ever saw of hers. I don’t remember how I ended up seeing that. But in The Good Place writers’ room, we’ve been watching a lot of her newer flute videos.
JM: They pump us up if we’re stuck on a story point and we can’t get anything going. It relaxes us, and it flushes our brains. We start over. It’s hard to describe. It’s a powerful thing.
AVC: The flute is a weird instrument, especially when played solo.
JM: The flute is hot right now! There’s a lot of flute samples in hip-hop right now. If I were Drake or Future, I would be reaching out to Janice. See if she would lay down some tracks.
AVC: What do you like about “Scat/Rap Counterpoint” specifically? Why did you pick that instead of the flute stuff?
JM: It’s so long, but it never loses momentum. There’s a point—I think it’s 45 seconds or so in where she starts saying “major key/minor key,” and then she goes into pure gibberish. It also has that VHS-quality to it that a lot of Adult Swim stuff tries to replicate, but it’s real. She made that video in the early ’90s. There’s something about it that you can’t quite replicate. It’s the analog nature of it.
Plus, she’s speaking truth to power, which I think is very important.
AVC: “The Bread” is another video on your list that has a pretty lo-fi aesthetic.
JM: Oh my God, yeah. It’s legit my favorite movie. It’s honestly my favorite piece of art ever made.
We started watching that a lot at the Parks And Recreation writers’ room. Jen Statsky brought it in. I would guarantee that every writer at Park And Rec the last three seasons could dictate that whole video word-for-word.
AVC: It is very quotable.
JM: It’s the best. We actually counted, and they say the word “bread” 27 times. Under the video, there’s a comment from our writer’s assistant that says, “They say the word bread 27 times” just so we remember for next time.
AVC: The video is a little mysterious. The person who uploaded it hasn’t uploaded anything else.
JM: We did some research.
AVC: Thank God.
JM: It was part of a series by a guy named Jerry. I think it was a bit like Black Mirror. It was a series called Jerry’s Scarys. But “The Bread” was the one that stole the show, I think.
I can quote that whole thing. It’s so good. I love that there’s no fade in. It just starts, and it just ends. It’s brilliant.
“555” by John Early and Kate Berlant
AVC: Why did “555” make the list?
JM: I think those two are two of the funniest people on the planet. In fact, to bring it to “The Bread,” I once sent John Early a video of the last scene of “The Bread” where the milk comes out of the woman’s mouth. So we have that connection, too. I think those two really appreciate “The Bread.”
Did you see any of “555”? It’s so good. The bit that broke my heart was the part about extras in the makeup trailer. Oh my God. It’s so accurate.
I hope those two never stop making stuff together.
AVC: His Instagram is one of my favorites for a number of reasons, but I’ve been really into his velour sweatsuit dance videos lately.
JM: Yeah, that ’N Sync, 98 Degrees-y dance he does is mesmerizing.
Connor O’Malley yelling at people
AVC: Another fine choice.
JM: Man, that dude… He’s so funny.
I actually brought Connor O’Malley videos to—I keep on bringing up the Parks And Rec writers’ room, but that’s kind of all you do all day when you write for a show like that. Eighty percent of the job is just watching videos online.
AVC: You’re really making writers’ rooms sound awful.
JM: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Anyway, this was before he was doing stuff at Seth Meyers, but we would watch his Vines and just crack up, because we were like, “This guy is unhinged. It’s crazy.” It’s amazing people haven’t attacked him. The one where he’s on the riding lawn mower and has a gun, and then he points it at a cop? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s four seconds long, and it’s a pure panic attack watching it.
I think on Parks And Rec, we got the line “Hell yeah, pimp” into an episode. Retta/Donna says, “Hell yeah, pimp,” and that’s straight from Conner O’Malley’s Vines.
JM: Cuplicated came from Clip Cup originally. The Craig Healy character hosted a fake clip show called Clip Cup.
Cuplicated is so amazing because it’s not like the Clip Cup series was this smashing success. But it’s this insane escalation of the Clip Cup world into a prestige comedy. And they created their own streaming network to put it out.
The amount of time and energy that went into Cuplicated is really something to behold. It’s mind-boggling.
AVC: Do you need to watch Clip Cup to really understand Cuplicated?
JM: Oh, absolutely. Cuplicated makes no sense if you don’t go back and watch Clip Cup. And you have to watch Clip Cup in the right order, too.
That’s what I’m saying. It’s so much work for what I assume is fewer than one thousand people. But I’m one of those one thousand people, and I can say that it’s one of the most impressive feats in comedy I’ve seen in a long time.
Someone at work recently described Cuplicated as a labor of hate, which I think is a pretty apt description. It’s the most laser-focused parody of prestige dramedy.
AVC: Do you like versions of MacGruber, or just the movie?
JM: I don’t know. I didn’t want this all to be web videos, and I think MacGruber is the funniest movie of the last 10 years, probably.
AVC: That’s bold.
JM: I think it’s so fun. MacGruber is so funny.
The scene I sent—it’s a weird video of it—that’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie, too. It’s so dark.
AVC: And Ryan Phillippe is just sitting there.
JM: Ryan Phillippe is great in MacGruber.
AVC: Now he’s on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Maybe he’s not taking himself so seriously anymore, or maybe he never did. I don’t know.
JM: He’s in a video on my website.
AVC: What? How did that happen?
JM: I just reached out to him, and he was like, “Yeah, I’ll be in this insane video.”
I’m trying to become like L. Ron Hubbard, and he’s my first client. He’s really funny in it.
AVC: Did MacGruber do okay at the box office?
JM: I think it did terribly, but I know those guys wrote a MacGruber 2, and I want nothing more than for MacGruber 2 to get made.
The Lonely Island, “Dreamgirl”
AVC: Speaking of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you have “Dreamgirl” on your list. Why did this make the cut?
JM: I love that song. I’m sad that they never made a video for it, because I think it’s one of my favorite songs they ever did. It’s perfectly constructed.
It’s just two jokes: First, it’s this R&B love song dedicated to these crazy sounding women, and then the song just slowly transforms into a commercial for Chex Mix. It’s Norah Jones singing about how good Chex Mix is. It’s hilarious.
AVC: Joel Dongsteen was inspired by you.
JM: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s too self-promote-y, but I have nothing to do with it. Someone made this bot for me based on a joke I told about changing the word “God” in Joel Osteen’s tweets to “your dick.” Ninety percent of the time it works, and it’s amazing. It makes me very happy.
AVC: How long has it been going on?
JM: It’s been a few years now, I think. There was a brief moment a couple of months ago where Joel Osteen had blocked the bot somehow, so the bot didn’t work anymore. The guy who was in charge of the bot was like, “Okay, I guess that’s it for Joel Dongsteen.” But then he figured out a different way to start the bot again, and now it’s up and running. So, it’s back.
AVC: You’ve mentioned being in writers’ rooms and watching a bunch of videos. Do you see any of the things you put on your list influencing your work—either as a writer or a stand-up—in either a direct or indirect way? Can you draw any lines?
JM: The videos don’t really influence my stand-up. I actually have a long bit in the special about watching ISIS videos and documentaries online. I definitely talk about stuff I watch, but it’s longer-form stuff.
AVC: I suppose it could just be more about your sense of humor, or what you convey. If you think Martin Noakes is funny, you might like Joe Mande. If you can laugh at a 9/11 joke, then check him out.
JM: [Laughs.] Please emphasize that. If you think 9/11 is funny, then watch my special.
No, I think that’s true. These videos that I’ve selected are a good summation of my sense of humor. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about watching my special.