Steve’s Interview with Argus Leader

Are comedians the most accessible stars of this generation? They are the ones who are most likely to reply to you on social media. They’re the ones who will man their own merchandise stand at gigs.

They’re also the most frequent podcast guests, and Minneapolis-raised Steve Gillespie is the perfect example. Just in the past few months, he’s been a guest on “Magnotronic,” “Bedtime Stories,” “The Stand-Up Chronicles,” “Three Guys Talking” and many more.

It’s safe to say that Gillespie is a fan of the freedom that podcasts offer to anybody with a microphone. “I think it’s a really cool media,” he says. “It’s a really cool do-it-yourself kind of thing. I feel like it’s a very American thing, too. It’s very true to our character.”

In fact, Gillespie loves the format so much that “I’ll do anyone’s podcast,” he says. “I’ve done some of the more popular ones, and I’ve done some where I’m assuming the person that did the podcast is the only listener. So if anyone out there wants me to be on their podcast, just let me know.

Question: I’ve found that interviewing comedians is very similar to talking to musicians, especially when it comes to having artists that inspired them to do what they’re doing. Who would you say had the biggest impact in inspiring you to become a comedian?

Answer: I was always a big fan of comedy growing up. I started watching it really young. A lot of old Eddie Murphy, Brian Regan, George Carlin. I really kind of figured out that I wanted to do it when I watched Doug Stanhope’s “No Refunds” special. I got it off the old way of Netflix where you got the DVDs in the mail. That was the one where I really went, “Oh, wow, I want to get into this.” So it was by watching it while growing up. I was always a big fan, but I never really thought that I could do it. As I got older, I thought, why not?

Q: A lot of people think that they can be comics because people tell them they’re funny. There’s a huge difference between being funny among friends and being funny on a stage in front of strangers. How did you decide that maybe you were more than just the funniest of your group?

A: I always knew that it was going to be a lot of work. I don’t think there’s anybody who gets into stand-up that thinks you just be funny on stage. That’s not how it works. So it was never like I was going to be funny right away. It was more like if I put the work into this, I can figure it out. So I started going to open mics at night to kind of break down that barrier of stage fright, and (learning) to become comfortable on stage.

Q: How do you create your bits? I’ve found that some comics sit down like a songwriter, while others take notes as lines or ideas come to them.

A: I kind of get small ideas. Or I guess you could call them angles, or a point of view of a certain situation. Or something that had happened to me personally. I’ll just jot that down. I never really write out word for word. I do have a few story bits where I would do that. A lot of times it’s more just a topic sentence, and then I have a few ideas on how to shape it into something funny. Then I just take it on stage and build it from there. It’s usually worked out on stage.

Q: How has the material evolved over the years?

A: It’s definitely gotten more personal. It’s turning more into a kind of social commentary, like my personal opinions on what’s going on in the world and what’s going on in my life. I think early on it was more surface level kind of stuff. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I think that’s a normal progression. You start off by figuring out how to be funny and how to tell a joke, so a lot of times it’s just surface level stuff. More like self-deprecation kinds of things. Now it’s getting into more personal stories, and more elaborate and more layered opinions about things.

Q: You’ve shared bills with the likes of Dave Attell, Jim Breuer and Doug Benson. Have you asked them for advice on how to further your career?

A: A little bit. Some guys are more open than others. Everybody I’ve worked with has been pretty nice, but as far as offering up advice, most of these guys have all their own (stuff) they’re dealing with. They’re just trying to survive as well. But Harland Williams gave me some good advice when I worked with him early on. He said the only thing that matters is that microphone, the stage and the audience. If you can just keep your focus on those things in your stand-up career, that will serve you well. I think he’s right. It’s not just comics, but a lot of the show business industry gets caught up in the game of it. It’s easy to get caught up in the business side. It’s easy to get caught up in what other people are doing and accomplishing. It doesn’t really serve you. It just comes down to your ego. Your focus needs to be on keeping your ego on stage and keeping your connection with the audience

Q: When you decided it was time to leave Minneapolis, why did you choose Los Angeles? Why not New York?

A: I like New York. I just didn’t want to live there. L.A. offered a few more things that I wanted to do. I also had more connections, so it just kind of made sense. On top of that, L.A. is a much easier city to live in. I like the outdoors a lot, and I do a lot of hiking and play golf. I’m pretty active, and L.A. has a lot more of that to offer.

Q: How long did you work on perfecting the material before recording your 2013 album, “Stever Fever”?

A: That was my first album, so it took me from the first day I started to do stand-up to the day the album was released. That was about seven years. But I would say it was more like three or four years of shaping that show. It’s funny. A lot of comedians and musicians hate their albums. The further they get away from it, the more they hate it, and I was in that boat. Yesterday, I had a long drive, and I don’t know what got into me, but I decided to listen to it again. I was actually a lot less harder on myself about it. I’m glad that it turned out the way it did. It felt good to listen to it again. I’m now at the point where I’m going to be recording another one. I might be doing it in Madison (Wis.) at the end of December. If not, at least within the next six months, I should be recording another album. I’m excited about that.

Q: What was it like to be on “Conan” last April?

A: Oh, man, that was fun. It’s a similar thing. I hated it when it came out. I hated the set. I was down about it, but all of my friends were telling me that I was crazy. Everybody who would ask me, I’d refuse to talk about it. I think that’s just normal self-hatred that we all go through. But it was fun. It was a nerve-wracking experience. My first national television appearance, so it was definitely a new experience, but it was really cool. I had my brothers with me, and they all got to go backstage. We got to meet everybody. Fred Savage was on the show. He was one of the guests, and I grew up watching “Wonder Years.” We didn’t get to meet Fred Savage. They kind of kept us separate, but our dressing rooms were next to each other. The (dressing rooms) had all this music equipment. So we were just blaring the “Wonder Years” soundtrack song hoping that he could hear it and come and yell at us.

Q: Late-night talk shows used to be among the ultimate goals for comedians, especially during the Johnny Carson era when there were only three channels. Now there are dozens of talk shows, and tons of channels, along with Netflix, Hulu and everything else. So an appearance on a show like “Conan” may not be as monumental as it once was, but I’m sure it still helped with promotion and booking.

A: Yeah, yeah. It definitely got me some things. I definitely saw a bump in people just knowing who I am. I’m by no means famous, but it’s definitely helped a little bit. The one thing that it really helped me with is getting the good shows in L.A. There’s a thousand stand-up comedy shows in Los Angeles, and the majority of them are not great shows. They’re not fun to do. They’re not well-attended. There are a handful that are really good shows, and doing “Conan” really helped me get some headway in L.A.

Q: I started off by asking who were your early comedy influences, so let’s end with who is out there today that you really enjoy?

A: Doug Benson is still probably my favorite comedian. On the whole other end of the spectrum, as far as style of comedy and the way he carries himself, is Harland Williams. I absolutely love Harland Williams. I see him here and there in L.A., and he still just cracks me up. On stage, off stage, it doesn’t really matter. He’s just really silly and not really serious. There’s no real social commentary. It’s just all goofiness. Doug, on the other side of the spectrum, is very much edgy and opinionated, and pretty much tears down everything that’s going on in society. It’s a good contrast.

If you go

What: Steve Gillespie comedy show

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Wacko’s Comedy Club, 3224 E. 10th St.

Tickets: $13-$17, at wackoscomedyclub.com