As Nashville and Middle Tennessee continues to grow in notoriety nationally as the "It" city, one comedian who has "made it" can trace his roots right through Mt. Juliet.
Hermitage-based comic Nate Bargatze opines on growing up in Middle Tennessee during his first two albums, "Yelled at by a Clown" and "Full Time Magic."
In fact, if you love jokes about what is funny about living here, last weekend was your ticket at Zanies in Nashville as three local comedians make fun of the Gulch, post-election traffic and non-native Nashvillians.
Bargatze tells a story about working at Opryland in his youth, welcoming a couple to the now-defunct amusement park. He asked them their names, which they responded, "John and Jane Doe."
Bargatze's style is to play the idiot, and he amuses about how baffled he was that he actually met someone named John Doe who married a woman named Jane.
A minute later in the joke, he tells how he reflected on the moment 20 years later only to realize they were probably lying.
"Here I am, thinking about it 20 years later, and he probably doesn't even remember telling that joke."
A few years after his stint at Opryland, Bargatze settled into a job at the West Wilson Utility District as a meter reader, driving and walking throughout Mt. Juliet yards before it grew into an unrecognizable version of itself.
There he met Michael Clay, also a local product who shared a love of comedy.
The two young, single meter readers decided to pick up and move to Chicago together, "because that's what we thought we were supposed to do," Clay said.
"We had a mutual friend who worked with us: Trey Pearson. If it wasn't for him, we probably would have never met.
"We were at a Christmas party at Cherokee (Steak House), because everybody used to have Christmas parties there, right? He said, 'do you know Nate? He's into comedy too.'"
From there the two began talking jokes and goals. Bargatze was a fan of "Seinfeld" and Clay aspired to do sketch comedy like "Saturday Night Live."
They moved to Chicago, got an apartment and enrolled in the famed Second City comedy troupe.
Clay settled into the improv scene, eventually graduating from the Second City first-year program, but Bargatze's humor began to gravitate to the singular focus of the stand-up comedian.
"You could tell he had something unique when he first started," Clay said. "I tried it a few times, but I would get so nervous before I went on, my stomach would hurry so bad.
"I would ask myself, 'why am I doing this? I'm just torturing myself.'
"I would literally wish the club would catch on fire and burn down before my set so I wouldn't have to go on, and I was doing this voluntarily," Clay laughed.
Not long after graduation, Clay met his future wife, Mandy, and moved back to Middle Tennessee a couple years later.
"Even though it didn't work out for me with comedy, I got a wife in Chicago, so that's pretty good."
Bargatze moved New York around the same time to make a full run at comedy as a living.
He says his biggest break came when he was asked to appear on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," and he's returned several times since.
After several years in New York, Bargatze and his wife moved back to Hermitage, which he says somehow hasn't changed in 15 years.
"It's funny how Nashville is completely different, but Hermitage hasn't changed, like, at all," Bargatze said. "The change skipped right over Hermitage, and it landed in Mt. Juliet."
Nowadays, Clay is back at WWUD and Bargatze was headlining a weekend set at Zanies with other Middle Tennessee products Keith Alberstadt and Brian Bates, a Lebanon High School alum.
Maybe somewhere in Mt. Juliet, someone is recognizing Bargatze on TV from 20 years ago as a young 20-something reading their water meters.
But probably not. As Bargatze puts it, "nobody has lived here that long anymore."
But maybe they remember the joke he told them 20 years ago that he wouldn't remember telling now.
The Wilson Post was able to ask Bargatze a few questions recently. Here's what he said.
You used to read meters in MJ before moving to Chicago and NY for comedy. How did you get that job, and what was a normal day like?
My friend John Paul Williams got me the job. The beginning of every month you would go read everyone's water meters. Driving around listening to talk radio doing your work.
You are a big Vandy fan, and according to our local sports editor, your uncle worked there and with the TSSAA. There was also a humorous column for the TSSAA newsletter with a Bargatze byline. Was that you or your dad?
My dad Stephen Bargatze is a magician and works at TSSAA. Ronnie Bargatze coached at Vandy.
Why did you decide to return to Old Hickory to live? Wouldn't it be easier to be a pro in LA, NY or another big market?
I lived in NY for nine years and LA for two. I go back to LA very frequently. I travel a lot going all over the country. So it's much easier to fly out of Nashville then LA. Nice to be in the middle. I did it for a long time living in those big markets to one day hope to be able to move back home.
You are married and tour. How often are you on the road, and what is that struggle like?
Way too much. As I type this I am coming off a 17-day tour. I travel almost every week of the year. It's hard, but FaceTime is a lifesaver and it's much easier to have my wife and daughter around family at home.
Recently starred in an ESPN commercial. Any desire to get into movies or into TV? What's the 5-year, 10-year goal?
Working on TV now. Trying to sell a show and get one made. I have tried three times before without making one. But will keep trying it. Would love to do movies too. Just seeing what happens.
Your website says you've done 5 tours for troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Talk about how that impacted you, and maybe a story?
It's amazing. The best experience ever. I have always kind of wished I went into the military, so to go over there was awesome. I always say it's a thank you tour because they thank us for coming and then we are like thank you for serving. They are just so nice and it's great to give them a little break from their day.
What kind of people would enjoy your show?
Hopefully everybody. I'm clean, so I know some people like that.
Who is the most famous person you've met or played with?
Jimmy Fallon. I did a tour with him. Also did a show that Matt Damon was a part of. Ray Romano. It's been fun.
You've played Conan, Fallon, Marc Maron. What do you consider your big break?
Getting in with Fallon. He saw me at a club in NYC called The Stand. He helped me with a lot of things and has been a huge supporter.
A lot of excellent comics have given you props, such as Marc Maron and Jim Gaffigan. Here's your chance to call out someone: who should be getting bigger crowds than they do?
Keith Alberstadt. He's another Nashville comic. Has done Letterman. Very funny. He lives in NY now. He went to Vandy.
Who is the biggest jerk who plays nice, and who is the nicest person in showbiz you've met?
Keith Alberstadt. I'm joking. I don't know biggest jerk. Everyone is pretty nice. Jimmy Fallon is about as genuine as he comes off. Very nice guy.
What's the best way someone can support your comedy, CD? Stream? YouTube? Live shows?
Just listen or watch things I've done and come out to shows when I'm in town.
Local news quick fire
Should Vandy fire Derek Mason?
Wait until the end of the year to see. He's a great guy. And great coach. So hopefully he can get it turned around. This would be too long for me to go into it. But I can talk about Vandy all day long.
Live in Old Hickory, near Hermitage and Andrew Jackson, so Harriet Tubman on the $20?
Andrew Jackson had a great run. I'm fine either way.
Marijuana decriminalized in Nashville: good idea?
Probably. Who knows. I surely don't.
Favorite local place to eat? Perform?
San Antonio Taco near Vandy. And there's a cool room called The East Room and another called The Basement that are cool venues to see comedy.
Want to see more? Check out their websites:
Nate Bargatze- http://www.natebargatze.com/
Keith Alberstadt- http://keithcomedy.com/
Brian Bates- http://brianbatescomedy.com/
Managing Editor Zack Owensby may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.