Nato Green records a new stand up album this Saturday, and it’s all about being white. It already has a name -- The Whiteness Album -- and on it, the self-proclaimed “official spokesperson of all white people” will be covering all the hot topics: gentrification, raising white children in a big city, and, of course, President Donald Trump.
“I’m having a talk with the whites,” Green says.
Green, 42, has always been an aggressively left-wing comic. But his reasons for making an album now are nothing like what they were when recorded his first album, The Nato Green Party, five years ago. Back then, Green was building up his resume and press packet in the hopes of climbing the comedy ladder. It did: a few months after it was released, he was writing for the FX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.
For his second album, Green says he wants to capture a moment in time. He sees a shelf life for some of the material -- “jokes I wrote a month after Trump’s inauguration don’t work anymore” -- and he's whittled down overwhelming amount of jokes he’s written post-election into a tight set.
He also feels that he should do something before he moves to Cuba, because he doesn’t know how long he will be there.
“I’m issuing my last will and testament,” Green says. “I don't wanna leave the country and not have left the right body of work behind.”
A Late Start
Green grew up in San Francisco in the '70s and '80s, a time when the city's local comedy scene was not only easily accessible, it was ubiquitous. Back then, the San Francisco Comedy Competition and Comedy Day were extremely well-attended events, and the city boasted twice the number of comedy clubs it does today. Even KQED hosted a TV show featuring local comedians. It was called Comedy Tonight and it lasted almost a decade.
Green was going to college in Oregon when he first tried stand-up. The father of Green’s friend ran the Comedy Underground in Seattle, so the two drove up one night and tried out some material.
“It was April 1, 1996, and it was the closest I’ve ever come to literally sh*tting my pants as an adult,” Green says.
It did not go well. Green bombed, so he turned his attention back to his first love: politics. Green grew up in an activist family and it rubbed off on him early. By college, Green focused his energies on becoming a labor organizer and activist, which he pursued for the next decade.
Green’s successes in the labor world led to speaking engagements around the country. It was during these speeches that he realized he was focusing on the funny bits, obsessing over their structure and how they landed with audiences. He figured he might as well give stand-up another shot, so he went down to the open mic at San Francisco's Brainwash Cafe & Laundromat. He bombed again, but he'd caught the comedy bug; he kept at it. He found his voice when he decided to go political.
“I started out trying to do dick jokes like everyone else, ” Green says. “Then Hurricane Katrina hit and I got upset about it. I rewrote my entire act so it was about the hurricane and the news, and that was the first time I got laughs.”
Green kept on working, starting popular live shows like Iron Comic and putting together the Laughter Against the Machine tour with friends W. Kamau Bell and Janine Brito. Then when superstar comic Chris Rock offered to produce a show for Bell -- Totally Biased -- Green was tapped to write for it.
He did not like the job. For one, it forced him to move to New York and leave his family behind in San Francisco. On top of that, talk show writing means cranking out jokes like a factory, all focusing on the crazy news stories of the day, and that’s not how Green works. When FX canceled Totally Biased two years later, Green reflected on what he wanted to do with his comedy. He realized if fame meant compromising, he wouldn’t be famous.
“The things you have to do to reach success, I don’t want to do them. I don't have the patience for garbage,” Green says.
Nato in Cuba
The normally-monotone Green lightens up when he talks about the successful comedians who started at the same time he did. Ali Wong, Hasan Minhaj, Moshe Kasher and Chris Garcia are just a few, and Green says he’s honestly proud of them. When his old boss Bell came home with an Emmy earlier this year, Green celebrated with him the day after he arrived.
Back in San Francisco, Green returned to consulting with and negotiating for labor unions. He also started a short radio show about comedy for KALW and a column on local politics for the SF Examiner. Then his wife, a doctoral candidate in medical anthropology, chose to pursue her studies in Cuba. They agreed the entire family should join her.
"The Nato-ist Nato Green thing I could do when leaving the country is to move to Cuba," Green says.
Once in Cuba, Green plans on focusing on his writing and raising his 9-year-old twin daughters. But after spending the last 12 years of his life on stage telling jokes, Green says he wouldn’t be surprised if he put on a free show in an expat bookstore from time to time.
"I'm a guy who needs to talk on a microphone,” Green says. “It's a thing I needed to realize about myself, and plan accordingly."
Nato Green records his second album at Doc's Lab in San Francisco on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 10pm. His final show before moving to Cuba is Riffer's Delight showing of 'Wargames' at the Alamo Drafthouse on Monday, Nov. 27.