As our driver approaches the Wiltern Theatre from a jam-packed stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, Nick Nuciforo, partner and head of comedy touring at UTA, keeps his eyes locked on the line snaking out from the theater’s front entrance. It’s an early May evening, cool and breezy, and the marquee pulsates with electric blue and red. The words “Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival” stretch wide across the sign, with “Chelsea Handler,” the night’s sold-out act, in black lettering.
“I want to see what’s happening out in front of the venue,” says Nuciforo, craning his neck as we inch down a side street. “I want to see, is there a line? Is the line moving? How backed up is it? I start to think about what’s happening at the venue. I observe who’s in the line because I want to better understand the consumer. We have a lot of tools that we use at the agency to get a proper understanding of who the fans are — through data and analytics and metrics. But what I’m really looking at is the fans. It helps me to understand who they are and how to reach them.”
Nuciforo got his start as a booking agent in 1996, cutting his teeth at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Irvin Arthur Associates and then APA, steering the agency’s comedy touring department, where he launched the careers of such comedians as Lewis Black and Larry the Cable Guy. Prior to joining UTA, Nuciforo headed CAA’s comedy touring division. A seasoned pro of the stand-up circuit, Nuciforo reps a hefty roster of superstar talent including Handler, Whitney Cummings, Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman, Sebastian Maniscalco, Seth Meyers and Ali Wong. He also reps a bevy of experimental comics and podcasters such as Crime Junkie and Tiny Meat Gang Live.
“It’s a complicated time for touring, but an exciting one,” he says. “The clients are excited to be out touring. Fans are excited to be out and together. So many people were locked in their homes for so long in quarantine and there was the inability to have shows for such a long time.”
On this particular night, Nuciforo will crisscross town, shuttling between Handler’s sets — the Los Angeles stop on her nationwide Vaccinated and Horny Tour — and client Bert Kreischer’s show at the Greek. Plus, he will make stops at various other clients’ performances.
“I’m out on the road a lot,” says Nuciforo. “I don’t go to all the shows. I try and pick and choose when and where, but I like to see clients with enough frequency to be aware of what material they are doing on stage. I like to choose locations of some importance — either it’s a meaningful night because they’re playing some special venue or it’s a special event. Sometimes it’s when I need to sit with an artist, go over some planning. It might be that buyers are coming to the show. It could be an odd, quirky location. Basically, I’m there to just make sure that everything is going OK.
“It’s not my thing to shuffle in and shuffle out,” he continues. “If I’m there, it’s all about seeing the client, seeing what they’re doing on stage. That’s their art. It is my job to know what they’re doing so that I know how to give them advice and guide their careers.”
We enter the Wiltern through its backdoor entrance and scale a flight of stairs amidst a flurry of pre-show activity: technicians and stagehands, the quiet snap of clipboards. Minutes later, we arrive at Handler’s dressing room. In a denim jumpsuit and sneakers, the comedian is the epitome of pre-show cool, checking her make-up in the mirror while recalling the time she “kidnapped” Nuciforo to the Bahamas.
“Remember that boat?” Handler asks him. “This wasn’t the first time we met, but this was the first time we went on vacation together. We were doing Radio City Music Hall — and this was many moons ago — and I was doing three nights there. And right before we decided to get a boat in the Bahamas. It was like that show …”
“‘Below Deck,’” says Nuciforo.
“Yeah, so this was above deck,” Handler quips. “It was way above deck. This was a yacht. I remember watching Nick get on a jet ski and drive away from the boat like he was just driving into heaven. We all just sat on the deck of the boat looking at him. And I was like, God, I feel like this might be the best day of Nick’s life. This was before he was married and had children.”
Comedians are notorious for being mercurial, thriving on public adulation. Nuciforo is a foil — soft-spoken and measured, a steady branch resistant to the roughest of winds.
“I’m not the funniest guy in the room,” he admits.
But funny is not what top-tier comic talent needs. What they need, notes Handler, is someone who “believes in their ability
“It feels very good to have an agent that I’ve known for such a long time,” she says, readying to go on stage. “And that goes a long way in this industry, because everything is ephemeral. A lot of relationships don’t last forever.”
Thirty minutes later, we are backstage at the Greek with Kreischer. Reclining in his dressing room chair, the comic, nicknamed “The Machine,” cuts a Falstaffian figure, an assortment of beverages and miscellany — hot tea, iced coffee, an asthma inhaler — on a table near him.
“I’m not the party animal everyone thinks,” says Kreischer. “I just had an IV drip — vitamin B, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D. I also just ate an entire honeycomb. I haven’t had one since I was a kid, but I saw one and went, oh, shit, I want a honeycomb. So, I just murdered a honeycomb.”
Tonight’s show at the Greek is a “special” one, he continues.
“Not to slam on any city, but if you’re doing the Egg in Albany, you’re not going to get yourself up for it. But if you’re doing the Greek or Red Rocks or an arena in Cleveland or Tallahassee, it’s cool because you’re not nervous — but everything’s fun. You get big charcuterie boards, you get a Glutathione Plus, you get a coffee and an asthma inhaler. You get a big party after the show.”
“This all started during the pandemic,” notes Nuciforo of Kreischer’s rise to fame. “The drive-in movie theater tour and performing outside—this is a continuation of Red Rocks and this performing outside which is now evolving into Fully Loaded [Comedy] Festival, which I would say is a comedic lifestyle, with multiple comedians built around Bert and Bert’s brand — Fully Loaded.”
The energy at the Greek is electric, the crowd — a large majority of them male and 40-something — buzzing in a post-pandemic excitement. From a VIP box seat, Nuciforo watches Kreischer’s set with rapt attention. The comedian kills, the audience reacting to almost every joke with raucous, throaty laughter. Nuciforo smiles, visibly pleased.
“I can’t remember a time when a client that I’ve worked with has ever bombed,” he says, filing out of the Greek. It’s time to return to the Wiltern for Handler’s second show. It’s nearing 10 p.m. — 10 minutes after Handler’s scheduled start time. In the world of a high-powered comedy agent, the night is still young.
“I think that comedy is bigger than it’s ever been,” Nuciforo says. “And I think there’s an awareness of comedians and people following comedians and who are excited about comedians and wanting to go see live shows and consume it. Podcast listenership is up higher than it’s ever been, particularly in the space of comedy. Special viewership on whatever platform it’s on is at an all-time high. There’s this straight audio consumption of comedy through Pandora or Spotify or Sirius XM or whatever means. YouTube has been a very powerful tool for comedians to get their work out into the marketplace. I mean, this is the democratization of content that right now. It’s a great moment.”