Craig: 'It is weird to tell these jokes in front of my mom.'
Nate Craig has Madison in his blood. He was born here, and attended both West High School and UW-Madison. While Craig is open about the love he has for his hometown, it's hard to make a career in comedy living in Dane County. That's why he moved to California, where he now works as a writer and warm-up comedian for MTV's Ridiculousness.
The holidays are bringing Craig back home to Madison, giving him a chance to perform in a pair of local shows: a standup set at the Brink Lounge on Tuesday, Dec. 23, and Townie Fest, an annual fundraiser he produces, and is set for the Frequency on Sunday, Dec. 28.
Craig has a noticeable energy in his voice talking about the two shows, and it's clear both are special to him.
"Of all the standup shows I've got coming up, the Brink show is the one I'm most excited for," he says. "I've had a lot of good shows recently, but I'm so excited to do comedy in Madison again."
While Craig opened for Bill Burr at the Barrymore last year, he hasn't done a headlining set in Madison for a few years. He credits a pair of local Madison comedians for making that happen this year.
"Nick Hart and Sarah Connor with Stray Dog Charm Comedy have done an amazing job," says Craig. "As they are comics themselves, they understand what it takes to put on a great show."
The time since his last local appearance means Craig has an entire hour of fresh stand-up to share. In fact, this is one of Craig's final tour dates before he records a new album in January.
"All the stuff I'm doing at the show will be stuff for the album. The new album will be called Nate Craig: Eggshell," he explains. "'Eggshell' is a theme running through the set about how I crack in tough situations, the times when there's nothing for me to do but be a grouchy baby."
A Madison show, particularly one during the holidays, typically brings out a number of Craig's friends from high school and college, but that doesn't bother him. When it comes to his family members in the audience, though, well that makes him a little nervous.
"I prefer performing in front of strangers -- it is weird to tell these jokes in front of my mom," says Craig, "I always have material about my parents. When you write a new half-hour to hour of stand-up every year, you have to dig into the core of who you are. And my parents are the core of who I am. Luckily, my mom has a great sense of humor."
Craig's upbringing doesn't just offer him comedic inspiration; it has provided him a set of values he tries to live by today.
"A few times a year, my dad took me to the soup kitchen at one of the churches down on Wisconsin Avenue," he recalls. "One year, at Christmas, I think he cooked there all week long. My parents taught me it was important to give back."
This lesson stuck with Craig. Several years ago, he put together Townie Fest, a benefit show in support of the Aaron Meyer Foundation.
"At the time, I had no connection to the Aaron Meyer Foundation. It was something that was just suggested to me by Tom Farley, Chris Farley's brother, who was running the Chris Farley Foundation at the time," explains Craig, “But then I saw what they were doing with Aaron's House, creating an environment for young guys with substance abuse issues to heal, it was tremendous work. Unfortunately, I've gotten closer to that work over the years since I lost someone very close to me to abuse issues."
The first Townie Fest was a success, and it's become an holiday tradition for him. This year's show features music by DJ Pain 1 and a raffle. Craig does not plan to do stand-up this year -- he just wants to emcee the event and make sure everyone has a good time. He says people should attend Townie Fest because it’s a great party on top of being a benefit.
While the stand-up show and Townie Fest may seem quite different, Craig says they share a common hometown vibe.
"Both shows represent what's great about Madison," he says, "This is a town that loves to have a good time, and also loves to show its support. This place has a lot of love."