Q&A: Comedian Nate Bargatze talks lifelong Vanderbilt fandom, favorite Commodore moments

Bargatze didn't attend Vanderbilt, but the Nashville native has always supported his Commodores.

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Nate Bargatze's hour-long special "The Tennessee Kid" is available on Netflix (Photo courtesy Netflix)

Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor


Nate Bargatze was one of the first stand-up comedians to perform on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He performed at the 2016 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, released a Comedy Central special, “Nate Bargatze: Full Time Magic” and in March 2019, released another hour-long routine on Netflix, “Nate Bargatze: The Tennessee Kid.” Despite his long list of accomplishments in stand-up, Bargatze’s own website reads, “I love the Vanderbilt Commodores,” before any mention of his career.

The Nashville native sat down with The Hustler to talk about his lifelong Commodore fandom, favorite memories, future outlook and more.

Vanderbilt Hustler: Not everyone who grows up in Nashville supports Vanderbilt athletics. What made you such an outspoken Commodore fan?

Nate Bargatze: To start from the beginning, Ronnie Bargatze is my second cousin. He coached at Vandy in the ’70s, then became a color commentator. So we grew up being around Vanderbilt a whole lot. My mom also worked in the Vandy ticket office for ten years in the ’90s. We had some ties to Vandy; plus, it was before the Titans were here. All my friends are University of Tennessee fans, but I stayed local and just became a huge Vanderbilt fan. All my life I’ve loved sports, so that was basically where all my attention went. Now, it’s Vanderbilt, the Titans and the Predators, but Vanderbilt has been my long-loved sports team.

Do you have memories of attending games in your childhood?

Well, if I think of Vandy memories from a long time ago, it’s hard to sugar coat it. They’re mostly bad games. And I mean bad. Bad, bad, bad. But to think positive, I remember one big one from my childhood. We beat South Carolina in 1998, our first SEC football win in so many years. Around that time, the Titans had just come to Nashville. They didn’t have a stadium just yet, so they were playing at Vanderbilt. And after the game, we went to tear the goalposts down, but the Titans were playing there the next day, so they wouldn’t let us. I remember the security guards just standing around the goalpost, looking at us and saying, ‘No. Absolutely not.’ And I feel like Vandy fans are just polite, so we’re all just like, ‘Oh, that makes sense. Sorry for the inconvenience’ and then we just left. At any other school, they would just trample those guys and get the goalpost down. 

The very next week, we beat Duke. Like I said, Vandy fans are just weirdly polite, so you know what we did first? We asked those same security guys if we had their permission to tear the goalpost down. At that point, they’re like, ‘Alright, fine. Now you can tear it down.’ So the fans rushed the field after the Duke game, tore it down and I carried it out of the stadium. Not even kidding. We took it to a fraternity house, and they just put it in their yard. This massive goalpost was just sitting in their yard. I think I was like a senior in high school, so out of all the kids holding the goalpost, I was probably the only one who didn’t know a single other kid there. I just remember carrying the goalpost with these random kids, dropping it off and saying, like, ‘Oh, there you go,’ even though they didn’t really need my help. Then I just walked back to my car and went home.

To me, that was a very big deal, and my good memories are that one and the first bowl game that we went to. We played Boston College. That’s the one I have a joke about in my special, and that game was just huge. I mean back then, you just never saw Vanderbilt getting into a bowl game, so to see the first one in like 25 years was enormous.

 

You mention the 2008 Music City Bowl win over Boston College—Vanderbilt won that game 16-14. The game had 17 total punts, and Vanderbilt didn’t score a single offensive touchdown. Is that how most of your stories go?

Our punter was the MVP! We’ve had two bowl games where a punter has been the MVP. Come on, you just can’t make that up. Let me put it like this: Vanderbilt does Vanderbilt things in a very Vanderbilt way. The good thing about rooting for Vandy is there’s so much stuff you have to go through that you learn a lot. You’re not winning championships unless it’s baseball or the powerhouse women’s bowling team. It’s always these other things. You never do it in the traditional way. I think it helps build character, just being a fan of theirs. How could you not build character when it’s 16 to 14 and the punter is the MVP? It’s insane; it sounds like it’d be a comedy movie or something. It’s all just very different. Which is part of the reason why you love Vandy and root for them. Like, Alabama expects to win it all. Meanwhile, Vandy? We’re just begging, you know ‘Please, please get us to a bowl game, and then we’ll go from there.’

Can you think of another moment where “Vanderbilt does Vanderbilt things in a very Vanderbilt way?”

Vandy Football is really what made me come up with that phrase. For football, there are three other Vanderbilt moments. It was Vanderbilt vs. LSU, Woody Widenhofer was the coach—and may Woody rest in peace—but I remember I was very, very excited when he came to Vandy. All the real Vandy fans will remember this. His slogan at Vandy was ‘Have Fun, Expect to Win.’ At the time, I really don’t think people realized this was the most Vandy slogan ever. Everybody else’s slogan is like, ‘I hope the other team dies,’ and ours is like ‘Let’s just have a good time out there,’ and the fans are like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. I won’t argue.’ 

That LSU game, they were 13th in the country. We scored with maybe five seconds left in the game, so we were trailing 7-6. Vandy decided to go for the two-point conversion. Might as well go for the win; we had absolutely nothing to lose and expected to get killed in this game. Anyways, we line up and get not one, but two delay of game penalties as we decide what play to run. At that point, Vandy was just trying to cut their losses and tie it up with a 30-yard point-after. Send it to overtime at least. The extra point attempt—which was super far to begin with—gets blocked, and then we lose the game. That’s like a perfect Vanderbilt moment, where we just got in our own way.

We had another one against Georgia, where we’re winning in the fourth quarter. It would’ve been a huge upset. For some reason, we ran a fake punt to our punter on our own 20-yard line, and he just got tackled immediately. Then Georgia got the ball, scored and we ended up losing that game. Oh man, and how can I forget the Florida vs. Vandy game in 2005, where Earl Bennett got an unsportsmanlike for celebrating in the endzone, which is ridiculous. He just didn’t celebrate enough for that. I still think about that call pretty regularly because we were going to beat them to go to a bowl game. We were driving down and everything was going great. Then we scored, and they flagged Earl Bennett. He didn’t even celebrate. So we couldn’t go for two, we made the extra point and ended up losing in overtime.

But like, as a Vandy fan, that’s just where we stand. We look at it like, refs never give us the benefit of the doubt because they never expect us to be in those moments.

 

You’re a pretty outspoken Vanderbilt baseball fan. How impressed have you been with the way Tim Corbin has turned around the program?

Obviously, college baseball is not the biggest sport to watch. But back then, when Corbin took over, it’s not like he was completely on my radar of sports I was following. I tried to follow it as much as I can. After Corbin came, it was like an electric shock was sent through the program or something. We started, like, actually winning. Like really winning. And Vandy fans aren’t used to that.  I remember I was in Charlotte doing a show and I was watching the first World Series we won against Virginia. I went to a bar and watched it by myself. That’s how I watch Vandy. Everywhere I’ve ever gone, I have to ask them to turn the Vandy game on and no one knows, they’re like ‘What?’ Like they don’t know what to do. I got in a full argument with a guy. He walked over to the TV and said like, ‘Hey, can we get this game off’ and I’m like, ‘Excuse me. I’m way too invested into this game. Get out of here with that.’ 

What Corbin has done just shows you that it’s a winning program at Vanderbilt. Nashville is the best city in the SEC. We have everything going for us. We have too much to offer. It’s awesome to see what Corbin has done for Vanderbilt baseball and Vanderbilt athletics as a whole, just giving us something that we can really root for. Then getting guys in the pros and seeing these guys on TV. Like with baseball, I don’t really have a team, but I follow all the VandyBoys. So I just root for whoever: Yaz and Giants, Sonny and the Reds or the Dodgers now with Price. I just hope that they do well, and it’s so it’s nice to continue to get to see them play.

If you could deliver one message to Vanderbilt Athletics, what would you want to tell them?

My message, as an outsider who’s a crazy fan but has zero connection to the school, like didn’t go or anything, is just invest in sports. I didn’t go to Vanderbilt. It’s funny to even be a fan of a school that would never allow me in that school. And rightfully so, like I barely got into Volunteer State, the community college. My joke is that it’s the Vanderbilt of Gallatin. I want Vanderbilt to just give their fans a great product. If you give them a great product, more people are going to be rooting for the school in general. 

I get tired of blaming the coaches because I just don’t think it’s on them. These coaches all deserve a lot more than they’re given. That’s how I feel, but it’s also fair for them to ignore a guy who never could’ve gotten in. I’m just thinking like, I can’t go root for a science thing. Like Vanderbilt is trying to solve cancer, but I can’t burst into the hospital and yell, shout, scream and cheer them on. I can’t root for that the same way. So what we have is sports; that’s the thing that I can root for. Why would you not want your team to be successful? Your whole school is successful. Your whole school is through the roof with how great it’s doing. Why would you leave a glowing hole with sports? If they could get all the sports clicking and competing, I think we would be the top university in the country. Just please invest in sports. Please. You know, I don’t want to feel like an idiot cheering on a team where they don’t buy-in.

Do you have any favorite Vanderbilt players?

My first one is Corey Chavous. He was a cornerback for Vanderbilt. I loved Chavous. I have a football signed by him that was used in the Tennessee game which we lost, of course. I was at the game and he got unsportsmanlike after the interception, which is crazy. Both that and the Earl Bennett unsportsmanlike still make me furious. Then I was a big Jordan Matthews fan. Shan Foster, too. Then I loved all the baseball guys that I’ve mentioned. Price, Dansby Swanson, Sonny Gray, Mike Yastrzemski, Curt Casali, all those guys. 

I also liked the first era of players I watched with Drew Maddux. Bill Marinangel, our old punter who had our longest-running play. I have a lot of favorite punters. Those are my favorite guys. But Bill ran a fake punt against Alabama for like 95 yards or something and scored. I still think about that play at least three times a week. It just pops in my head and gets me all excited. And I actually love what Jordan Rodgers is doing right now for Vanderbilt. He’s the only one that kind of speaks out against Vanderbilt and thinks they deserve the world, so he fights to get what they deserve. Some Vandy fans get really mad at him because he calls out Vanderbilt for not doing stuff, but he’s doing it out of love from his heart.

What would you like to see out of Vanderbilt athletics in the future?

Oh, perfect question. I know this is a great outlet for this. I’m thinking I’m the only one that wants it, but now I can gauge interest. I wish we could build a dome for Vandy football. I know it won’t happen, but it would make us different. It would make us stand out. They could even keep it gym-sized, like 20,000 people or something. Then make it closed with a dome. I wish they would do something like that to be different. They’ve got to give these students the stuff, invest in these student-athletes and give them everything that they need to succeed. And me—the guy who is so far from a Vanderbilt grad—want to know what I think? It all starts with a dome. I just want a dome for some reason. It would be different for sure. Plus I’d never get too hot or too cold in the stands. Let’s get it done. I’ll throw in $100 or something like that.

 

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.