Alumnus combines poetry, stand-up comedy in autobiographical one-man show
Nathan Mosher said after a traumatic breakup, he started doing stand-up comedy and poetry that discusses the difficulties of mental illness and relationships. He said the supportive atmosphere of of stand-up eventually led him to perform his poetry as well. (Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)
By Max Flora
October 14, 2019 10:32 pm
This post was updated Oct. 19 at 10:51 a.m.
Nathan Mosher originally planned to be a surgeon, but after a mentor told him he would be better off pursuing any other career, he found his calling in stand-up comedy.
Now, the UCLA alumnus has created “Nathan Mosher is Injured,” an autobiographical one-man show detailing a traumatic breakup that resulted in a mental breakdown and time in multiple psychiatric institutions. The show features his comedy and poetry, both of which discuss the difficulties of mental illness and relationships. He organizes a monthly show in Los Angeles called “Waxing Poetic,” which will take place at the Beyond Baroque on Oct. 24. He said he started performing comedy at poetry open mic events because of the supportive atmosphere, which eventually encouraged him to perform his poetry live as well.
“I started going to a lot of poetry mics, but it’s just intense the whole time,” Mosher said. “As a comedian, I start to get a bit antsy and jaded and start to make jokes about the performers. So, I realize with my show there’s a pacing and rhythm I’m figuring out.”
Mosher’s time on stage began in high school and continued as he became the co-founder of Shenanigans Comedy Club at UCLA, in which he performed in over 100 shows a year. According to his director, Kyle Wassell, Mosher’s previous stand-up was silly and observational, whereas this difficult time in his life brought his comedy to a darker and more personal place. Mosher said going to a psychiatric ward after his breakdown reinspired his creative process.
“There was this night where one of the guys was crying, then I was crying, then my friend was crying and like all of us are crying,” Mosher said. “We’re all crying, and I was like, ‘Do you guys want to hear some stand-up? I know you’re talking about yourselves, but can I talk about myself some more?’”
Mosher said he credits his transformation from silly one-liners to more observational stories about his life to a creative writing class. He chose to focus on writing memoirs, though he said he initially disliked the vulnerability. But he said he only started embracing jokes about his own struggles after he realized the humor in complaining about things, such as his daily commute to UCLA. The creative writing class’s influence contributed to his one-man show, as well as research on the narrative structure of films and one-man shows, he said.
The show that resulted, “Nathan Mosher is Injured,” includes a poem at the beginning, middle and end of the show. Mosher said they provide a break from the back-to-back jokes and anecdotes and rather address the more honest, emotional impact of the stories. Christian Perfas, a poet who has previously worked with Mosher, said his poetic voice consistently covers mental illness in an accessible way, such as how New York City represents his anxiety. The revealing nature of his poetry and his genuine delivery makes his persona as a performer more relatable to the audience, Perfas said.
“Nathan is pretty funny in the sense that he’s very self-aware and he doesn’t hold himself in high regard,” Perfas said. “Good poetry and good comedy taps into this emotional core and articulates certain narratives that a lot of people felt but never had the words to describe.”
Mosher was inspired to make a show when he saw Us The Duo in concert using music to narrate how they met each other. He said he had been planning to make a show in which the story concludes with the narrator in the present moment since he was 19. The show jumps around nonchronologically from injury to injury, expressing to the audience exactly how “Nathan Mosher is injured.”
“They’re invested in you, and you don’t want to hurt them with your pain too much or too callously,” Wassell said. “He’s got to make sure that he is not throwing it in someone’s face in a way where they can’t hear the beautiful thing about what has come since then.”
The poems in Mosher’s show target the panic of New York City, the closeness he feels to his notebook and the students he met while working at an after-school program in L.A. Wassell compared Mosher’s poems to hip-hop, because they both include quick rhyme schemes and a discernible rhythm.
“It reminds me of someone like Chance the Rapper, the way that he is throwing a lot of syllables in a playful way,” Wassell said. “Maybe with some puns or metaphors in there.”
Balancing the poetry with the comedy in the show has been a challenge, Mosher said. But he has learned that in order for it to work, the audience has to feel that the serious parts have been resolved. That resolution could be a lesson or a breakthrough for his character, he said, and he structured the storytelling within the show based on this premise.
The poetry and storytelling within the show are intended to acknowledge Mosher’s injuries, both mental and physical. He attributes these injuries to bringing him at his current artistic state. The inspiration for the title came from when he twisted his ankle in London.
“In my mind, that started the chain of events, which was me getting bad at sports, which turned to me getting bullied, which turned to me overcompensating by trying to get girls, which turned to me getting cheated on, which turned to me writing sad poetry, which turned to me getting into jokes, which turned to me wanting to be a surgeon because I got injured so much, which turned to that surgeon telling me to do stand-up,” Mosher said.