In It for the Laughs

" " When Matt Nelsen ’10 started his job at a utility in San Francisco, he had no intention of pursuing his interest in comedy as anything more than a hobby. Twelve years later, the former engineer is a filmmaker, combining his analytical nature with the freedom he finds in creating smart, comedic entertainment.
Illustration of Matt Nelsen
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
When was your passion for comedy born?
I did a little performing in high school, but auditioning for the improv group We Brake for Nobody when I got to Bucknell is what really propelled my interest.
How did you make the leap into filmmaking from engineering?
Right out of college, I moved to San Francisco to work as an engineer. I did a few comedy shows around the city and that led me to a new improv theatre. I started doing more shows and teaching classes, and when the theatre’s founder moved to Chicago, I took it over with two other people.

Eventually it got to be too much, and there was this fork in the road where I had to choose between a very solid union engineering job — with consistent pay and pension and everything — and the comedy route, which is obviously very different.

I went with comedy, all in. I quit my job, stepped away from the theatre and moved to New York.

Do you consider yourself more creative or analytical?
Well, there’s an understandable expectation that I would be more analytical, and that definitely comes through. But as I’ve gotten more resources, I’ve become more free, comedywise, so I guess I’m a mix of both at this point. There are, of course, many great analytical comedy performers.
Who are some comedy greats you admire?
My grandfather and family introduced me to all the ’60s and ’70s comedy stars. Peter Sellers and Steve Martin; Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner — those SNL greats. I’m also a huge Gene Wilder fan.

At Bucknell, I watched a ton of sketch comedies like Mr. Show and also got really into Clone High. Punch Drunk Love stands out too; Adam Sandler with Paul Thomas Anderson. You see this broad, very talented comedy performer and a great director creating something that perfectly meshed their abilities.

What projects do you have in the works?
It’s really a mashup — some individual projects and scripts I wrote. I spend about half my time working on a YouTube channel called Climate Town. It has a pretty big following [385,000 subscribers at the time of this writing] and we make videos that cover climate topics from a comedic angle. I’m also working on my second feature-length comedy. We have a script and producers attached to it, and we’re trying to arrange financing to shoot later this summer.
Climate Town sounds like a mashup of your engineering background and filmmaking.
It really is. I came to this place where I felt the desire to mix engineering into my comedy work somehow. Climate Town has done that. A friend I met doing comedy in New York started the channel, then I came on a little later to help it grow. He went to Columbia for his master’s in climate science, and so our interests and expertise align. It’s grown into a full-blown company, and is a direct mashup of engineering and comedy.
It’s certainly an interesting combination.
It feels like things have come full circle and I’m satisfied. Life is just a balance of interests, and I’ve followed the winding path that connects the different things I want to learn more about. Now it feels like it’s all coming together; coalescing and ever-evolving.
When can we expect to see your next film premiere?
If all goes as planned, we’ll begin shooting the feature in September and release it next year — maybe in early 2023. There are a lot of variables there.

As far as Climate Town, we put out new videos once a month. So that’s an easy way to see my work and learn a little bit while you laugh. Hopefully.