February is not a time when many Californians think about heading north. Listen to comedian Nick Thune talk from his home in L.A.: “With El Niño, it’s treacherous down here. I mean, we’re dealing with overcast skies and 70-degree weather,” he says. “It’s tough. Everyone’s kind of bearing down and staying together and we’ll get through it.”
But the rains won’t deter him. The Seattle native grew up with them, and spent a lot of time in his youth skiing at Whistler and Blackcomb and fishing in Tofino, where he caught a 32-pound king salmon when he was 13.
“I gotta look back and think that my dad probably played a major role in me catching the fish,” he recalls, joking that he’s still eating it. “Still have it in the freezer. Just every year, one bite. Savour the memory.”
Thune started out as a guitarist in a jokey cover band doing songs by Latin artists like Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias. Like many a musician turned comedian before him, when the banter started overtaking the music he knew a transformation was in order.
“I started doing my first—without knowing it—standup sets at kind of dive bars around Seattle,” he says. “And that’s when I realized that’s the direction I needed to go in.”
For years, he incorporated the guitar into his act, as you can see in his 2014 Netflix special Folk Hero, using it as soothing background for his absurd one-liners (“C-sections are like the DiGiorno of pregnancy. Because it’s not delivery. But it’s gonna still smell like a delivery”). But don’t expect anything like that when Thune comes to town for the JFL NorthWest festival. When asked how his current show compares to the special, he says, “In zero ways. I guess in the sense that it’s still funny, but it’s not me holding a guitar and telling one-liners, it’s me standing there talking about my life.”
That’s a big change for a guy who really wanted to be a musician. But having a baby can do that to a fella. Or at least this fella.
“I think having a son is what kicked me into gear,” he says. “And also finishing my last album. I don’t want to just make the same thing again with different words. I just want to try and take a risk and do something different.“
He’s not afraid of making changes in his career. For a while, he imagined he’d be working at a nonprofit organization with teenagers for the rest of his life, as he did with the Boys and Girls Club. “I really liked it and was good at it, I think,” he says. But after travelling around Europe, he suddenly felt he needed to stretch his wings. “I just said, ‘I gotta change, I gotta try something new whether I fail or whether I don’t.’ ”
Ditto the change in his comedic stylings and content. “Not that I hated playing guitar anymore and felt like I had anything to prove,” he says. “I just really thought it was getting too easy and I just needed to challenge myself, because I figured growth isn’t going to happen if I just kind of stay in this lukewarm water.”
And he’s not talking about the rain. But that fits too.
Nick Thune plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (February 20) as part of the JFL NorthWest comedy festival.