Mike Drucker is an accomplished comedian with a broad history in both television and stand-up. Now, after a career that includes writing credits for the likes of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Drucker is looking to change things up with Shit Arcade, a combination of two of his biggest passions: comedy and video games.
SYFY WIRE sat down with Drucker ahead of his first Shit Arcade in New York City to talk about the show, as well as his career in general.
I had no idea you were on the East coast! How long have you been here?
Mike Drucker: I moved here in January for [Samantha] Bee. I used to live here when I was working on The Tonight Show and I went to college here. I started working on comedy here, then I moved to L.A. for a couple of jobs, then moved back.
What have you been up to?
Well, I wrote on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, then I wrote on Adam Ruins Everything. The President Show, which is also here in New York. I wrote on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and did some stuff for the Golden Globes. I’ve worked on a couple of small PlayStation games, and sort of bounced around a bit. Right now I’m focused on my stand-up and Shit Arcade, but I’m still writing for Full Frontal.
If you could briefly explain what Shit Arcade is and where the idea for it stemmed from.
Sure! The idea stemmed from, I think... People have played bad video games in the past.
Angry Video Game Nerd comes to mind.
Exactly. A lot of people have done really deep dives on them. For me, what it was is I wanted to do a live version of that. I’d never seen that before. I’d seen live shows about video games or comedy competition shows, where people do crazy tasks. But I’d never seen just a straight-up show of people making fun of games live.
It’s something I wanted to watch, and it’s something of a live show that isn’t just some stand-up showcase. There’s a thousand of those. You can see amazing stand-ups for (nearly) free in New York or L.A. This is something a little different.
What does the format of the show look like?
Sometimes we’ll have a stand-up open the show depending on how much time we have. Then usually we’ll just switch off controllers, have two-player games, and people are just commenting. We have mics on stage, and people grabbing the mics will make fun of it, or invite people on stage to play the game.
We usually do a tournament at the end of the show and fill in space with an audience member to compete. Usually it’s Shaqfu. We’ve also done Timekillers, which is a terrible fighting game. We’ve done the TMNT fighting game for Sega Genesis.That has some fans, the TMNT one.
Yeah, it’s not as bad as I remember! That’s also a weird pitfall of the show. Once in a while, there’s a game that I remember being very bad, but then I’ll play for an hour to test it, and despite the fact I think it’s a bad game, it’ll just totally click.
What's been the evolution of this show?
The evolution of the show is getting the right number of guests, the right number of games, and figuring out how quick to end a game. When I was first doing it, I let people play one game for a while, and for some games, that’s super fun. Some games you can play them for an hour, but some games, once you get 20 seconds in you’re ready to be done with it.
It’s hard because, I’ll think, “This is the perfect bad game,” but then instantly what’s bad about it is very apparent. The jokes about it just run out. There are other games, though, like Mario Is Missing! or Where’s Waldo? on NES that get worse as you play them. So it’s funny as you keep playing, and you’re like, “How is it this bad?”
So it’s weird finding the “good-bad” games to play on stage, and then the other “bad-bad” games that we change out quickly. It’s like DJing a bad concert. What is a song that people hate enough to feel compelled by and don’t hate enough to want it to end? You never really know until you try.
I thought Elf Bowling would be a super funny game. It was a popular flash game in the early 2000s that turned into a Game Boy Advanced game. I thought, “This is perfect,” then literally 30 seconds in I was like, “This is boring.” It’s boring-bad, not fascinating-bad.
You’re very rooted in gaming and nerd culture. Then you worked on shows that had very little to do with that. What about your interest in those things informed your writing on those shows, and have you created Shit Arcade because you missed working in a space like that?
Yeah! To answer your first question, as much as I am a nerd, I’m not a reference comedian. I never go, “I remember this...” Things that we enjoy as nerds are often darker, or have interesting, weird subtexts, and I bring a lot of that to my comedy.
When I was at Fallon, I was one of the few writers getting very dark material on the show. Not mean or violent, just things that are weird or horror movie stuff. That sort of satisfied me as a nerd. Adam Ruins Everything is a very nerdy show, a very research heavy show. The President Show, the host of that, Anthony Atamanuik, is a huge gamer.
But yeah, definitely one of the reasons I wanted to do Shit Arcade is because I missed writing for Up At Noon [a show on IGN], so it’s nice getting back into that space.
Even though you’ve done a few of these shows, this will be your first on the East Coast. Is that going to change the show at all?
Union Hall, where we’re hosting Shit Arcade, definitely has a built-in audience. Some of them might not be gamers. At Meltdown Comics [in Los Angeles], there was a very big built-in audience of very nerdy people. At Union Hall, some people might not play games or maybe they do but they’re not “gamers."
So we’re going to go at a different pace, and not just assume knowledge. When I do things like Meltdown, and I say "Shaqfu," everyone’s like, “Aahhhh!” With Union Hall, you might need a little bit more of a running start to get there; you can’t just assume people have as many touch points as you do, even if they had bad video games as a kid.