Meet The Comedian Who Warms Up Oliver, Colbert, & Fallon: Part II
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Last week, we caught up with WNW Member #84 Craig Baldo to discuss his double-life as a stand-up comedian and freelance copywriter. Craig shared some of his experiences serving as the warm-up act for the likes of Oliver, Colbert, Fallon, and Stewart. Below, we continue the conversation, and Craig continues to surprise us: "Fun Fact: I DJ’d Peter Dinklage’s wedding." What?!
Craig also discusses New York and its influence, how he spends his time Not Working, and advice for his fellow creatives: "Exercise your creativity out of the office. Don’t always have it pinned to a brief. I don’t trust creatives without side projects. If your creative mission in life is to sell paper towels, that’s fucked up. No disrespect to paper towels. They come in handy with spills."
How does New York influence your copywriting and your stand-up?
To me, New York is the best place in the country to do stand-up. There’s boundless material – day traders and models and little old Chinese bag ladies on one block, drag queens, police horses, Moby on the next. Every block’s different. Long, oppressive winters get you good and depressed which is GREAT for your act, as long as you don’t close shop altogether. In LA, what’s to write about? “People are SO Hollywood here, and what’s up with traffic on the 405?” If I did it over, I’d do it in NYC again. Ditto for copywriting.
What cultural and creative venues do you frequent in New York?
I go to hip bars in Williamsburg and Shazam songs, curate playlists, then throw dinner parties with my 40-something friends, blowing them away with how cool and relevant my musical tastes have remained. Is that cultural?
Seriously though, I’m loving Spotify right now (not just cuz my wife works there) but because it’s like a custom record store at your fingertips. Obviously not as romantic as crate digging through vinyl, but I don’t have time for that anymore. However I still like to stay on top of emerging music and old funk stuff, so I appreciate what Spotify offers. I used to be a mediocre DJ. Fun Fact: I DJ’d Peter Dinklage’s wedding.
And I’ve always loved going to the movies. Any excuse to eat Twizzlers. I like BAM! in Brooklyn because they put up good films and I can walk there from my home. And I like telling my friends to meet me at BAM! Where? BAM! BAM!
The New York Hall of Science in Queens is a great place to visit, even if you don’t have kids. Unless you hate science and learning. Then you wouldn’t like it.
Do you thrive off of being part of a creative community or are you more in your element as a lone wolf?
In a way, anyone doing stand-up is a lone wolf. So in that regard, yes, being solo works for me. But I really love to collaborate, which is another reason I took to copywriting. I love people and working in a team. As far as an overall community, I probably assimilate more with the weirdos of stand-up comedy. I miss it. Not to say I haven’t become friends with some beautiful weirdos in advertising, I’m just more at home among the die-hard joke tellers.
If you weren’t a copywriter and comic, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Maybe I’d be a high school teacher. I’ve always been nostalgic for high school. I feel like most people weren’t into it. My hormones were relatively balanced so I had a blast. It’s an exciting age because kids aren’t fully cynical but they’re still very sharp. I’m pretty good with kids and think I could really inspire them at that age. Does this all read as creepy and “pedophile”? I hope not. I just think I could make a difference as a high school teacher. I’d teach pre-algebra or French kissing. I’M KIDDING.
What do you do when Not Working?
Take trips. Make playlists. Hang out with the fam. Play piano. Play cribbage. Be outside. Slow-cook pork. I also look for work. I’m not right in the head when I’m not earning. It’s funny, you tell yourself freelancing is the ideal situation – I’ll work a bunch, make bank, then take off a couple months and finish writing my screenplay or building my Burning Man float or whatever. Then, DAY ONE of being jobless, you’re like, “Um. Shit.”
From time to time, I collaborate with Harry Bliss, writing captions to his cartoons (because I can’t draw). Some of our toons have been published in The New Yorker.
What are some things you would tell your high school or early twenties self?
I’d probably tell myself that stand-up comedy is a viable career path and to start doing it ASAP. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I discovered regular people like me were pursuing stand-up, not just people born into TV or rogue highwaymen without families. But I really don’t regret a minute of my life, except maybe the one in Allentown, and even that made for a funny story, so it’s a win. I’ve lived every moment the way I’ve wanted. That’s also part of my problem. My long-term goals have suffered because of my in-the-moment mentality. I’m still working on that. I also might tell my early twenties self to warn people about 9/11.
What are some tips or advice you can offer to fellow creatives?
Exercise your creativity out of the office. Don’t always have it pinned to a brief. I don’t trust creatives without side projects. If your creative mission in life is to sell paper towels, that’s fucked up. No disrespect to paper towels. They come in handy with spills.
Who are some of your biggest creative idols and influences, comedic or otherwise?
Growing up, my idols were mostly comedic and musical: George Carlin, Eddie Murphy (his comedy), John Ritter, Rik Mayall, Paul Reubens, Michael Jackson, Rush, the list goes on, sadly a lot of white men. Louie CK became my North Star in ’98. I remember seeing him and being like, “I want to do what that guy does.” His ideas were so weird, but still grounded in his sharp trademark insights. Louie would have killed it in advertising.
Today, I’m inspired by even more white men: Stone/Parker, Mike Judge, Ricky Gervais, the people who say fuck you to the establishment a lot in their work. Non-white men I admire are Esperanza Spalding, tUnE yArDs, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tig Notaro, Tariq Trotter, Samantha Bee and José Parlá.
Any album, film, television or book recommendations for your fellow WNW members?
Watch the film, What We Do in the Shadows. So good.
I’ve been reading some pretty boring stuff lately, like Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, which helped me deal with some recent death stuff. Also reading The Sound of the City by Charlie Gillett, a tremendous book about the history of rock music.
I always have music recs. From my current rotation, I’d recommend Rodrigo Amarante, Jacques Dutronc and Amen Dunes. I make ongoing music and film recs on an app called Rex (created by Chris Smith, a director I worked with years ago on some Wendy’s spots). Find me there for more good stuff.
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire, and why?
Jeff Church is a great creative and good friend who’s helped me a lot. Really creative guy. He organized what I’d call a motley-professional stickball league. He might categorize it another way, like an outdoor gentleman’s club with homemade bats.
There’s a guy, Justin Gignac, who has done some fun stuff. I’d love to meet him someday.
Dan Rollman is nothing but awesome.
Kim Schoen is a wildly talented experimental artist who never stops putting stuff out there.
I just love people who take risks and do their thing. Ya know? They just do it. That would be a good tag line. Maybe? Nah.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Really, after all that? How about a funny GIF. Please add one here for me. Thanks.
Craig's tweets are on point. [Click below to zoom.]