I don't like to write intros. I just say, “I'm sitting here with Whitmer Thomas.” You had a show Wednesday night. Was that your first time doing The Golden One?
It felt like it was. But it also felt completely perfect.
Thanks, man. I was just thinking about that. I still know a lot of it is changing. Well, not a lot. I'm taking some stuff out and adding some things. But I was just thinking about the unpolished nature of it. It feels very weird to do it at that space.
Because the sound is bad and it's difficult. I like to feel cool when I'm singing those songs.
It doesn't feel cool in that black box theater. And I can see the people.
There’s no stage. You’re right there on the floor.
Yeah. And I can feel the people who don't know why they're there. They are looking at me going, “What is this?” It's such a big ask for people to be entertained by it.
Do you think people end up there who aren't familiar with your work?
Yeah. I think so.
Like the way somebody just goes to a UCB show. They’ll be like, “What’s at the Lyric Hyperion?”
Yeah. A couple of people DM’d me videos of a woman in the audience who wasn't enjoying herself. But I think it's kind of difficult doing the show. That was the first time. I used to open for Bo Burnham and he's such an inspiration to me. He's got the screaming fans, the sold-out theater. That's my only experience with musical comedy. And I used to be in a band, which is how I became a comedian. So I'm used to just singing songs and having no one really care.
What was the name of your band?
I've been in a bunch of bands but the most recent band is called Tooks. And there’s one that’s evolved into these songs, which is called Whiplock. I changed the lyrics and that's how--
I love the music. I would listen to the music just on it’s own.
Aw, thanks man.
They work as comedy but they also work as songs.
I appreciate that. I want to one day take it away from the MIDI keyboard that I use to plug into GarageBand and make it a real warm, analog feeling album. The dream is to make this into a comedy special in the theme of Stop Making Sense by the Talking Head. Have it very fun and funny. Thinking about it like a whole presentation and not so much like a comedy special: Here's the stage, here's the theater, here are the four cameras. You know what I mean?
Yeah. It's great hearing you talk about it in these very serious terms. And I also genuinely love the idea of thinking of you as a “pre-cum Jim Carrey.” How do you balance that? There’s something about your show that's very, very funny and there's also this thing that's extremely dark.
There's just no way to avoid it. As much as I want to be irreverent and completely silly, which is my dream. Those are the kind of people who really make me laugh the most. Someone like Conner O'Malley.
Yeah. His stuff is so dark.
Yeah, but it comes from this authentic place. Connor knows those people. That's his family. My upbringing is very much a direct influence on how I am now. I’ve just been wrestling a lot for the last couple of years about where I stand as a comedian and how to be authentic. I hate this current wave of straight white comedians saying, “It's not our time because of MeToo.”
I think it's really lame. It's just these grouchy white guys being afraid to evolve. Or just feeling like, yeah, maybe it's not your time because it's whack.
It’s like, do something new, man. And I am a basic white straight comic and until recently I--
It’s also that thing where people think they need to have an opinion about everything. Why can't you just listen and learn? If someone's telling you something, it's not because they're trying to be a jerk. Maybe it's because they're offering a point of view that you hadn’t thought of before.
Right. I don't think I'm the voice of a generation. The only thing I can do is just be authentic to where I'm from and who I am. And going back to the whole Bo [Burnham] thing, he's got the screaming fans and he sings these songs and tells jokes, too. And they learn things about the world and about him. Our greatest difference is that my songs are only about me and you're not learning anything about the world. Maybe you are, but I don't think so. I think it's just me.
Is your family aware of your material?
My dad is.
What’s his response been?
He's really all I've got as far as family. I’ve got an older brother.
Yeah, your big brother.
I think he probably would love it. And I think my dad feels that he deserves it if I make fun of him. He doesn't know about one of the last songs I sing. The one about comparing our hopes and dreams and goals. But I'm sure he would appreciate it.
Have you gotten your iPhone fixed yet? [In one of Whitmer’s songs, he refers to having a broken iPhone]
Yeah. It's broken again but--
A lot of these songs came from just doing stand up and trying to write a proper joke about it. I was trying to do a joke forever about hopes and dreams and comparing them to our parents and how ridiculous we all are. And it just wasn't working or somehow it works as a song. Or it works better. I still think it's kind of long.
If it's a sad beat, you let it be a sad beat. You're not trying to force the joke, which I really appreciate.
Well, thanks, man. That's difficult. I'm trying to be comfortable just being as human as possible. And as “in the moment” as possible. I like acting and performing. And I like sad things. I don't want people to feel like it’s cool that I talk about my mom dying or whatever it is. Or that I'm brave. I just want them to understand how I am and who I am. And hopefully think it's really funny and silly. I don't want to have a Nanette moment.
You may just, in spite of yourself.
I think what she did is very profound and important. But that's a lot of pressure. You saw the very first test of me doing that. And towards the end, I felt myself going like, “What am I doing, saying all of this?” I can't figure out if I'm a musician or comedian or like, in order for the show to work, I have to be unsuccessful.
I have to remain un-famous. You know what I mean? I kept thinking I have to do the shows in New York and Philly and then I'm doing a big one back in L.A. And I'm really nervous about selling tickets because no one has any incentive to come see me. A lot of my friends have developed this strong following. And I'm not there yet. And I keep thinking, well, maybe it'll really play well if no one comes because it's about my obsession with success and being successful.
During the show, it seems like you're searching the whole time. I'm worried that the more you do it, it’ll become too clean. Sometimes you were reading the lyric and it wasn't quite the exact lyric. And I love that. Are you trying to tidy that up?
No. I want it to remain vulnerable. And the more I do it, the less it's going to feel that way. As far as those lyrics go, it’s impossible to remember them all.
I mean sometimes it was just “when” or “can,” where it could have been the other word.
Yeah, I was really impressed with myself that I only completely fucked up one or two lines.
It was 99.5 percent perfect.
That was the most impressive thing for me.
I was thinking about what you said about what your work means to other people. I had an advisor in school who wrote a novel that was autobiographical. And there were people in his family who told him they were hurt by it. And he said, “I was hurt, too. And that's why I wrote it.” The idea that everybody has the right to express their pain.
Right. If my dad was upset with me, I’d be like, “You left!” [Laughs] You don't get to bail and then return when it's convenient. He and I are very close now. And that story is true about him.
It’s hard to find that balance.
What’s appropriate and what’s exploiting people. And I feel like you strike the perfect balance of expressing yourself. And I don't feel like you're asking people to feel sorry for you. You're just telling your truth.
I just want people to know me. I've been in L.A. for a long time doing stand up and doing comedy and everything. I feel like it's something I've always wanted to do. And I feel like I’ve just never done it. I've been afraid or something. At the same time, now I'm learning as I get older that I romanticize my upbringing. My mom and her tragic life and that she’s such a great mother. Right now I'm starting to realize that she wasn't.
And why am I hanging on to this? Why am I so obsessed? The closer I get, the more success that I have as an actor, as a comedian as a director, whatever it is -- the more I have a hard time sleeping. And it's because now I'm a little further along than my mom was in her career as a musician. And it's very scary to think about losing it and not kind of becoming what she titled me as [The Golden One]. You know what I mean?
I just can't imagine having to move back to Alabama like she did. And go, “I didn't do it.” You know? And I can't imagine if she's alive and saw me get this close. I'm at this point where I do I have an agent and I work. I don't have a day job anymore and stuff like that.
When I first saw you on Instagram, I was like, “Who is this person? Is he an actor?” And then I checked on IMDb and I'm like, “Okay he acts a lot. He's an actor.” But then I saw Shot on Film [which Whitmer directed and co-wrote with Mitra Jouhari] and it's so great. How did that come together?
Mitra and I were just talking. And that's just how we talk, the way we were talking in the movie. Just about the male influence in comedy and television and how it's just bullshit. Right now I feel like it's really important as a straight white guy to be a villain on television and in movies.
I'm really interested in it and so is Mitra. And so is my other collaborator Anna Seregina and my best friend Clay Tatum. We really like these subtle villains. These real villainous creature characters who take advantage of people and their relationships in this way. It's not obvious that they're bad people, but really they are. Because there's no introspection going on. And Shot on Film is just us bouncing around talking. And then you kind of learn that I'm scum and she's desperate.
I love the way it’s filmed. Who shot that?
Oh, thanks. Me and my friend Budd Diaz shot that. We got good about stealing shots with a long lens.
I love that. Out the window, looking down.
Yeah. We've done some really good things that way out of necessity. I really like that style. I think about making a movie like playing with toys as a kid. Setting up a garbage can which would be, like, Darth Vader's chair. So whenever I'm thinking of a movie, I'm thinking up high for some reason. And then two people across the street. I just like seeing the full scope of the world.
Yeah, definitely. I was thinking about what you were saying about straight white male villains. I also struggle with the idea of the white guy who wrote Stuff White People Like. The idea of kind of profiting off of, “Yeah, white people are stupid.” Even though he's a stupid white person. It’s hard to find the balance with that stuff.
Maybe it’s not even a white thing, really. It might just be a male thing. Why in movies do some girls like these guys? I've been in movies where my character does not deserve the love that he's receiving from a woman. I think a lot of television is really guilty of that.
I like to think about my dream show. It would be fucking me, I’m this cool young guy in L.A. and -- this isn't really my dream show -- and I'm dating and I'm kind of shitty and I can't get a fucking boner ever and I'm bad at sex. But I'm cool enough that I can still can keep dating. You know what I mean.
The characters and the shows are just not flawed enough.
This is also getting a little nitty gritty about writing and stuff like that. I feel that you need such a strong protagonist and such a strong antagonist and you need characters that have such strong priorities. I watched this HBO short last night and it was very well-constructed, but the female character was just there to be a beautiful person. And people think they’re progressive, but they’re doing these same things.
I just love the struggle of making stuff and writing. The journey to wokeness is cool.
Patti Harrison was retweeting -- or maybe she was writing it herself, I can't remember -- just about how it’s a journey. You're learning. You have to kind of remain open. And I just like that as a starting point when it comes to writing a joke or a song. Therapy has been helpful for that a lot.
What was your early comedy like?
Dude, this is all within the last four months that I've written all of these songs.
It was just stand up. I like doing stand up and telling jokes. Basically the origin is that I was in a band. I started a group with my friends called Power Violence and we did a show together. And I became a stand-up comic through that. Just telling stories and jokes. I did all that stuff that you do as a comedian. I went to comedy festivals. I went to Montreal Just for Laughs, New Faces. I just didn't feel like I had the whole thing.
I didn't know what it was or how to do it. Maybe I still don't. And that's how it was until recently. In early April or March, a guy who hosts a show called Late Late Breakfast asked if I could make an ad for myself and do it as a break. And so I'd written this break about a motor scooter. It was just a fun little song. And I made it an ad about going out with me. And it was this song about my mom partying to death. And this is the conversation that I will continue to have over and over again.
That song about your mom partying to death. There are the three choruses. She drank, smoked. You expect the next one to be the joke part. And then it’s just another sad thing. The expectation of the humor makes it funny in a really unique way. Were you playing with the idea of making the third part a goofy thing?
No. No goofy thing. In L.A., people are weird as hell. People tell me privately that they like that one a lot. And that it's important to them. But no one ever seems like they're laughing anytime that I do that in L.A. But I've done that song in Philly and New York and people actually like it.
How did you get from Alabama to Los Angeles?
I just drove out here when I was 18.
Yeah, I just wanted to.
What was your first job when you got to L.A.?
I was at a skate shop on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. It was awesome. Then I worked at a pizza place for a long time. My favorite job that I ever had in L.A. was delivering groceries for Yummy.com. That was the best job. I did that for a few years. That was my last job.
What did you like about it?
It was great as a comedian and just getting to go and see these people's lives. Fifty percent of the time, it wasn't a normal person who was too busy to go to the grocery store. It was always someone who was a shut-in and doesn't leave the house or a hoarder or a fucking evil person. Somebody who's got obsessive compulsive disorder. Somebody with some condition. You just meet all kinds of wild people and the types of situations I’d get myself into were nuts. It was really fun.
You’re one of the only musical comedians I've enjoyed. I have a hard time with the genre. The way you do it, it's so raw and you mean it so deeply. It really works.
Well, thanks, dude. I can't approach it any other way. Before I started singing these songs, I was on a quest to get on late night. For two years, I was trying so desperately to be on late night and nobody would have me. I just couldn't figure out how to appeal to the mainstream bookers of those shows. I would do these showcases.
I remember one time I was backstage with Harris Wittels a few years ago. It was a week before he died. We were showcasing for Fallon. I went out and did my set. I remember I did really well. He went after me and he was doing all these jokes about kicking Oxy and it was just hilarious.
And he kept saying “Jimmy Fallon” in his jokes. He goes, “You're going to love this one, Jimmy.” And I just remember thinking backstage, “There's no way that's going to go on TV.” That is such a huge moment in my career, watching him do that. Because it was the funniest thing. It was completely silly. He was talking about something very dark and some people might find it sad, but it was the silliest thing.
Along those lines, when you do acting jobs, do you struggle with that idea of -- what is it: “One for them, one for me?”
It's all for them and for me because I'm poor. So I will do anything. I've never turned down anything. I think one time I turned down a dancing show on E!
I was in New York for four years and I feel like there you have your day job, and it’s bullshit, and then you do stuff that you love at night. And here, it's all the same. Or it's hard to find that balance.
Yeah L.A. is different. It's totally weird. It's a city that prides itself on not going out. Not seeing things.
Not experiencing things. And it's why, you see people or meet people who do, it's just an alien of joy. In New York, everybody's out and about. The experimentation aspect there is much more interesting and fun. Comedy there is just so good.
You go to Union Hall any night of the week and there are just amazing shows.
Where in L.A., there's the Satellite, but everybody who does a show there is established.
When is your show there?
Every third Sunday.
How long have you been doing that there?
There we’ve been doing it for three years.
Yeah, it's good. It's fun. I'm going to hopefully finish [The Golden One] there at the end of October.
I'm at such a weird moment as far as being a comedian goes. Because I'm so afraid of seeming too cool and my fear with the songs and the short films that I make is that they’re not very funny and it looks kind of cool. You know what I mean? I'm just at a--
Is that bad?
I want stuff to be funny.
You want it to be like There's Something About Mary?
I would dream of making There’s Something About Mary. But I don't know if it's in me, you know? So I'm just trying to think.
But Whitmer: You are a truly unique voice. Who cares about what percentage of it is laugh out loud? If I'm not laughing, I'm just sitting there like, “This is fascinating.”
Is that tough for you, though? Is it hard for you to think about the audience? I'm thinking now, “Maybe I like watching Whitmer's squirm on stage.”
Maybe, but the criticism of a non-traditional stand-up is often… Or I would just like to be funny and I think I just don't know.
Patti Harrison spoke at Union Hall last summer where it was this very serious speech about her nephew who had died and I was so struck by it and moved, but it ended up being a bit. She carried you for so long, thinking it was serious. The idea of expectation about what's funny is what’s surprising. Your show is surprising. You don't expect it to go the way that it does.
Right. I hope people will take time to see an entire show about this hick fuck in Alabama who is obsessed with becoming famous.
Well, obsessed with his mom, too.
Right, obsessed with my mom and all of this. And how everything connects and how there's this cinematic narrative attached to his entire life that probably doesn't even exist. And how fucking ridiculous is that?
Wait, what's the narrative you don't think exists?
My mom telling me, “You're the Golden Child.” And my mom being this supremely gifted musician who is trapped being in a bar band.
That song rips. That song’s a good song.
The “He’s Hot” song?
That’s a great song.
I know, but I probably need to lean into that more in the show.
My desperation for fame.
What's interesting is that now you're saying, “My mom wasn’t as cool as I thought she was.” I didn't get that as much. I just thought you thought she was great. Although you do talk a lot about different problems that she had...
It’s hard to figure out…
How old was she when she passed?
I think it's hard to kind of figure out a fun way. I think I figured out halfway through the show to just talk more as I talk and take away the microphone.
Yeah, it was great. Half the show you’re on the microphone and then half way through you’re not using it. I was thinking, “This is great. I've never seen this before.”
The sound is so weird there.
It feels odd to talk into a microphone that isn't necessarily doing anything and I don't necessarily need it.
Yeah. I just liked watching you discover that. It was so fascinating. There are so many people who have their acts down and it just feels very rote. It felt like you were alive in the moment.
I will always be in constant peril on stage, just trying to figure out who I am and what the hell I'm talking about. Whether or not it's fun.
You have a song about being a hero in a relationship. How did that come about?
That’s just a song about me wanting to be admired. And in order to do so, never being honest. Because if I'm honest, I might hurt a person. And just kind of allowing people to have qualities about themselves that they could easily improve or change that could make their lives better.
I struggle with that. I don't want to give somebody advice unless they ask for advice. But when you're in a relationship, there's an understanding that you'll call people on their shit. How do you find that balance?
Yeah, man. I don't know. I think that I've never been honest in a relationship. I've always lied because I'm afraid of a fight. And just about the most simple things. I will just lie because I would prefer the person to not be angry with me. And it's small things. I just don't want that person to dislike me. Which is my biggest fear. Being disliked.
I can’t think about someone disliking me.
I also want to ask you about your Instagram. I feel like it’s great. What are you doing there?
What do you mean?
You just have these videos where you're grinning at the camera. It's really interesting.
You mean on my Instagram story?
Oh, I don't know, man. I'm just goofing off. I'm just having fun on there.
But you're still self-conscious about other things. On Instagram, you’re just able to let it go?
On my Instagram stories, I just kind of goof off. I don't really think too much about that.
I guess that would be a high level of neuroses if you did. Every story is just 24 hours.
Yeah, I just wish people would like it more. I think there's plenty of good stuff on there.
So, you're at like… Where are you at? 8,000? Almost 9,000 followers?
No, just barely eight.
What's your dream follower number?
Just a [blue] check. I just want people to swipe up. I really just want people to be able to swipe up to buy tickets for shows. Because that would be helpful. And I would just like it if people were excited to see what I have going on.
But a lot of people are verified. I'm verified on Twitter. No reason. I only have a thousand followers. I had a job. I applied twice. It was totally arbitrary.
Yeah, I don't know.
I'm just glad I got to mention that I'm verified on Twitter.
Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s a dream. But you don't get any of the perks? It's the same for you, right?
Yeah, I didn’t get new followers or anything.
I would love to be super good at promoting myself on social media--
I feel like you're great at promoting yourself on social media. I discovered you through Instagram and it was like, “This guy is really funny.” The only thing I knew about your comedy before I saw The Golden One was what I've seen on Instagram. And it was great. Well, no, I saw Shot on Film. But Instagram was the gateway drug.
It is. I should post more stuff on there everyday.
[Laughs] You post a lot. You post a lot of stuff.
It's so hard because all I really want to do is post a poster to come to a show and nobody really likes posters. It’s very discouraging. So I wait to do it and then no one knows about it. So, I don't know.
Do you have a dream number? What’s a “like” number on a post that you're comfortable with?
No, I'm not comfortable with any of it. Because I post a photo and it never gets a lot of likes. A lot...
Yeah, what’s a lot?
A lot is like, 700 for me. But then I have friends who have 700 followers and they get 700 likes. Every follower is like, “I love this person.” With me, it's like, “I don't know who this is. Maybe I saw him on The Walking Dead.”
I just see on Instagram, you’re in Kentucky, in a room somewhere, making funny faces in a mirror. I'm like, “Who is this person? What is he doing?”
Some people get to the big city, they move to New York or L.A. They have a thing and develop a following. It sells out. They have the sold-out thing. Everyone knows who they are.
Right. They’re Drew Carey. They launch The Drew Carey Show.
I've never done anything that's sold out. Ever. Everything is work to get anybody to go to anything.
It's so funny that you view yourself this way. I think of you as like, a deeply cool person.
No, I am deeply cool.
But nobody comes out. The one department in my life I can relax on is being cool and having cool taste.
But everything else is a real struggle. To get people to come out to things.
You had a really nice turn out for the Lyric Hyperion.
You're right and now it's just -- I'm just finding things to complain about. That's what's going on. That's what my therapist would say. But it could be way worse. I'm just comparing myself to my peers you know and uh--
You know what I do love though? I love the people on Twitter who have a million followers but they're all followers from 2009 and they post stuff now and they get like three likes.
That's so weird.
That's my favorite social media interaction ever.
Yeah, I was looking at some massive celebrity who has like five million followers and they posted something and it got like five likes out of five million.
They’re looking at the Twitter analytics: two million impressions, five likes.
And it wasn't controversial. It was like, “Whoops, got in an elevator and farted.” Or something like that. It’s so broad. How out of five million people, just 20 like it? What are you doing wrong? That'll be me, by the way.
What can people expect from the show?
It will feel like a show. I don't think it'll feel like stand-up. I think it'll feel like one of those VH1 Storytellers shows. It's okay to take your phone out and film. I don't give a fuck.
Do you care about people posting videos?
Oh, I don't care. I'll take whatever I can get. If you just want to watch a guy kind of spiraling into this stupid ass... I don't know. What am I doing? I wrote all these synth pop songs and I sing them with a British accent. It’s stupid as hell and also the most sincere vulnerable pieces of anything I've ever done. And a genre of music that I have no connection to.
[Laughs] Oh you’re not a big--
I like it, but I'm singing in a voice that isn't my own the voice. Until the very end when I'm singing that “He’s Hot” song. But until that, I'm singing in this ridiculous voice the whole time. So I don't know what people can expect. I just want people to go and tell me what they think about it and if they if I should keep doing it.
It was really packed out for the first one! I feel like you just threw it up in a week.
Yeah, I'm not trying to blow my load on promotion. I wrote that song about Instagram, which I constantly want to stop singing because--
Are you hopeful that you'll get the swipe up feature?
Yes! I would love that. I’m obsessed. I want that so bad. That's not the first time I talked about that. I talked about that for about a year, wanting that swipe up thing. I just can't get it. Nobody's giving it to me. I keep wanting to cut that song. Somebody comes up to me and says that was the song that they like the most.
Why do you want to cut that song?
Because I don't know if it's funny to me. It's funny, but I don't know if the audience is loving it. You know?
Yeah, but that's the energy of your show. I need you to keep that energy. Like, “I think this is funny. I don't know if the audience is loving it.” Perfect.
Okay, well, maybe that’s the mission statement for these. The dream is everybody comes to my Satellite show in L.A. and it's a party. And people can get up and dance during the songs. I want it to be really fun as far as the music stuff goes.
And maybe you’re reversing. You’re “pre-cum Jim Carrey.” He's doing all this more interesting stuff now. Maybe this is what you do and then you'll work your way up. And then later you’ll be in the Mr. Popper's Penguins sequel or whatever.
That’s the dream.
Anything else you want to say?
No. Just follow me on Instagram.