The pursuit of an entertainment career is one that never fits under the phrase “one size fits all.” One can find themselves in either the warm embrace of success and comfort in little to no-time, or they can trudge through the challenges that come with sacrificing the stability of a “normal” life for a piece of creative fulfillment, for however long it may take to reach the top of their world. The stories that feature these creative types on the fringes -- many of which may ring familiar to those that have kept up with the ever evolving underground scene, are very analogous to another community that is not often thought too much about, but whose function in the fabric of society and art as a whole is arguably pretty vital amidst the increasingly bleak world: the comedy scene.
Enter Nik Oldershaw, a Los Angeles-based self-described former stand-up comic and one half of the podcast Coward Hour. Nik is one very funny voice out of the east coast comedy world that, throughout the course of his life as an entertainer has put his physical needs on the line in order to properly fulfill his comedic desires (and general need for survival).
It is worth noting that his journey is not without failure; Nik himself has noted that the onus of bad luck has often fallen on his shoulders through the choices he made. Despite that, the beauty of the often grim situations that have befallen him isn’t just the fact that he vocally owns up to these experiences and grows more resilient from them, but that through Coward Hour, he and his co host Brendan Krick approach the shortcomings and rewards of life and the human condition with some of the funniest and irreverent lenses. Coming from a world where creative expression is used to exorcise demons of the past, the allure of comedy and longform, honest conversation plays just an important role as music and traditional artistic mediums. Nik is one that is exemplary at putting his truth on full display, a truth that comes with a fusion of humor, concern, and a knack for good conversation pieces.
Who are you, and what do you consider yourself to be artistically or otherwise?
My name is Nik Oldershaw. I'm a stand-up comic and podcaster. I should say I used to be a stand-up comic, I haven't been on stage since Covid hit.
For someone not familiar with standup comedy, club circuits or what’s behind the curtain of the grind, what has your journey been like?
I started comedy when I was young. I was doing open mics in Baltimore when I was 18. I was never really good at doing actual comedy clubs, I wish I had gotten better at them. I have bad anxiety about getting on stage, I've gotten better at managing it so I don't look like a complete mess when I'm performing but it's always there. Throw all the club stuff on top of that anxiety (hosting duties, comment cards, keeping track of intros and credits, remembering where the headliner asked you to put his mic etc.) and I whiffed most chances I got. When you're 18 you think you know everything, so after a couple bad weekends at local clubs in Maryland I kind of arrogantly wrote them off. Started focusing more on doing bar shows and alt venues. Those are cool rooms and you'll get to see types of comedy there that you might not see at a club but they will make you soft. Audiences in alt venues are more patient and forgiving but they'll trick you into thinking you're better than you are. It feels nice while you're having a good set but those rooms will leave you unprepared for professional gigs and industry opportunities down the line. Open mics are bad everywhere but open mics in LA are especially dire. Nobody looks happy to be there, there's always bitterness about who's getting special treatment and decent stage time on booked shows is hard to come by. Comedy has a lot of bad vibes. Comedians in general aren't good people, granted some of them are my closest friends, but in nine years of doing stand up I've met so many comics who have given me uneasy feelings in the pit of my stomach and that gut reaction has usually been right. Part of the reason Brendan and I started the podcast was because we were put off by the social politics of the scene, we just wanted a place to do stupid bits and make each other laugh.
Where do you currently reside? As far as being an entertainer goes, or at the very least attempting to rise as an entertainer, how have the various locations you’ve bounced around affected your artistic/comedic aspirations, or luck for that matter?
Right now I'm in Los Angeles. I moved out here to try and make it as a stand-up but it's nearly impossible to support yourself on comedy alone, especially in a city where the cost of living is so high. My living situations have ranged all over the place, shitty apartments, nicer apartments, a few months sleeping in my car... LA kicked my ass a little bit and I'm glad it did. When I was younger, living comfortably in Maryland, I approached comedy with an unearned cockiness. A lot of my jokes were from the perspective of "I think I'm really smart and funny and I'm basically up here to tell you why I'm right about things" I was very influenced by the condescending gen x alt-comedy guys. After a year spent in LA living in humiliating poverty, I quickly realized "Wow, I completely overestimated myself. I'm kind of stupid and I regularly make bad decisions". Embracing that perspective (I'm stupid and I make bad decisions) probably contributed the most to improving my comedy, it's just a funnier place to write jokes from.
You're not a stranger to being down bad. The most telling crossover between our communities is that each scene happens to attract gluttons for adversity, by choice or lack thereof. What’s been your biggest challenge as of recent, and do you ever come close to cracking and thinking, “Fuck it, I’ll manage a Ashley Furniture Home Store for a decade then die”?
I have no idea what I'll do if this doesn't work out. I kind of like it that way. I don't have a college degree of any kind, no special training, and I'm terrible with computers. I like not having a back up plan. If I had one I'm certain I would have bailed by now but since I don't it's just forced me to be more motivated. I live minimally, I don't need a lot of money to survive or even be happy. If everything bottomed out and things got really hairy maybe I'd just check into a medical study, make a quick $10k and then try to teach myself how to day trade from a hostel somewhere.
Seemingly, one of most unique things about you is “hospital jail.” There are some tales about the early underground scene muscling through some dire straits via unorthodox means, but this is a new one. Do you have any advice for those that are currently coming up out of the mud facing the decision of having to revert to the “regular” life?
[Laughs] Damn, I hope it's not "the most unique thing about me" but yeah I did a couple medical studies, we call it "Hospital Jail" on the show, I was hard up for cash and I just thought “Fuck, I've put so many questionable drugs into my body through the years how much worse could it be to have a doctor administer something in a controlled enviornment and earn a few thousand bucks”. It was a good decision, it got me back on my feet after being so poor that I was couch surfing and sleeping in my car for the second time since moving to LA. It feels irresponsible to encourage people to do something like that to stay afloat but I guess I'll just reiterate my point that there are always ways to make money. Also if I hadn't been an idiot who knew how to budget I probably wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. You actually don't need that much money to survive if you're willing to live minimally but I was just spending poorly and driving my car into doing gig economy shit.
To the uninitiated, tell us about your podcast Coward Hour.
Coward Hour is a weekly comedy podcast hosted by me and Brendan Krick. We've both had a lot of pretty insane life experiences and we'd both tell people stories usually to mixed reactions of laughter and concern. The early episodes of the podcast were a lot of recounting things that have happened to us and it's still got plenty of those but it's really just a place where we can joke and talk about things that the format of a stand-up show wouldn't allow. It's a hang.
With the pandemic still moving onwards, what do you see coming up on the horizon? Are you hopeful for a soon to be abundance of live shows and ‘casts to gear up for?
The most I've ever enjoyed being on stage was the couple times we got to do Coward Hour live. I think it's the best version of the show and if it keeps growing Brendan and I are looking forward to doing more of those. I just hope venues are able to survive the shutdowns. Everyone's eager for live entertainment to come back but all the places you'd go to see it are in dire straits financially.
With the internet quickly reshaping our interactions—discord, group chats, podcasts, Twitch and Zoom as venues, has your relationship with being a comic/podcaster changed? Has the whole “parasocial” phenomenon hit a questionable point yet?
Well I guess my relationship with comedy has changed because I just don't do it anymore. I've watched a couple Zoom shows and they don't really seem appealing. I did see one awesome one at the beginning of the pandemic, it was before people had really figured out how to use the platform so the rooms were just open to anyone. Within five minutes of the first comic's set the room was flooded with people screaming slurs and screen sharing gape porn. Very funny show! The podcast hasn't changed at all really, other than we've had to get better at finding stuff to talk about during a year where we couldn't do anything. I think the parasocial element of podcasts and entertainment right now is strange, maybe it's because in 2021 it feels like everyone is a part-time content creator. Everyone is consuming content while they make their own content, it makes sense that the lines would start to blur. I have people in my life who I'm actually friends with and I still get that friendship-simulator dopamine rush from listening to their podcasts. It doesn't feel like a new phenomenon either, like if you listen to old Stern clips a lot of the callers on that show are talking to Howard with an unearned familiarity... though I guess if an unhinged person became obsessed with a podcast host they would have much easier access to them. There are strangers who listen to our podcast who message me as though we've hung out before and for the most part I don't really mind it, most of them are pretty cool. I'm not that weirded out by strangers striking up a conversation with me online, I spent all of my teens in chatrooms and forums.
What’s your experience with rap music, if any?
I like rap but I have no idea if I have good taste. Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn, J Dilla... I'm pretty sure all that stuff is considered corny. My girlfriend will play me newer stuff like Lil Baby and it's all pretty good. I should have just said I love Aesop Rock. The ONLY rapper I'll listen to is Aesop Rock.
Do you have any shout outs? Perhaps any for those that wanna experience new and funny podcasts?
I'm just gonna shout out our friends who are funny. Robbie Goodwin's podcast Loudboys, it's hilarious. If you like Coward Hour it's right up your alley. Daniel Cabral's got a new pod Sleepover that's gonna be huge. Our buddy Tom Brink does a show called Forced Opinions, he gets incredible guests on that show. Lowres Wunderbred on Youtube, that guy is building a media empire, I love all his stuff. If you like movies and comic books Tim Kish has a podcast called Reasonable Beef, very funny, very insightful. I’ll also add The Hard Times, the best satire site on the internet and probably the only podcast network that would give us the creative freedom to do this show exactly the way we want to.
What’s the best way people can support you?
If you like the show, throw some coins in the patreon at www.patreon.com/cowardhour for bonus content. We appreciate it.
Follow Nik on both Twitter and Instagram
Follow The Coward Hour Podcast