If you’re one of the millions of people to have watched an installment of the hit YouTube series “Epic Rap Battles of History,” you’ve seen Peter Shukoff, a.k.a. Nice Peter. This summer, the co-creator of the acclaimed series is taking his show on the road, including Harlow’s on Tuesday. The Bee talked to Shukoff.
Tell us a little about how you got your start.
I went to Chicago to perform improv, and I was doing comedy and music. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I met Lloyd, who’s my partner in the rap battles, at a porch on a party, and he invited me to join his touring improv group. I got kinda hooked on that concept. I kind of cut my teeth doing comedy in the most unconducive environments possible, like in a fully operating McDonald’s in Detroit.
What kind of audience do you get there?
Oh, it was in a restaurant on campus. It was like, noon. It was a bunch of students who were just not in the mood. We were just tooling around the Midwest, doing three- or four-hour sets in front of a bar full of people. I learned a lot, but after eight years of that, I just felt like I was hitting a wall, so I moved to L.A. After a while, though, I was just running out of steam. And Lloyd, again, sent me over this casting notice saying this YouTube startup company was looking for writers. I applied and I became their resident songwriter. And that company was just sold to Disney for tons of money. Quite a journey!
And where’s the name Nice Peter come from?
Well, I was in Chicago, and I played on stage, and my name was Peter Shukoff. I wanted something a little catchier. … One night, I was playing at a hip-hop open mike, and the MC there, he used to call me “Pete Nice” after the rapper from the ’80s who’s got some old-school street cred. And one night he called me “Nice Pete.” And I was like “ ‘Nice Pete,’ that has a sort of nice ring to it!” I ran home and checked, and nicepete.com was taken, but nicepeter.com was not, so I changed my name.
Turning to the tour, have you done anything like this?
I used to do these tours of England that would pretty much save my year, both financially and emotionally. England was a place where I could go where I feel like I was successful.
Did you take any inspiration from any British comics? Were you raised on Monty Python or anything like that?
Not really. My old set used to be pretty racy. I was frustrated and I was angry at things, and I dealt with it in a really funny way, so I sang songs from a place of angst. It was just bar humor, and it connected with England really well. If you go into a little town in England and say, “I love this town. This is a really nice place,” they’ll boo you off the stage. But if you go into a bar and England and say, “This town is the s-----iest town I’ve ever seen in my life,” they’ve love you instantly. They like a good crack, you know.
What have you got in store with this tour?
The audience is gonna be a big part of the show. … A lot of people know the lyrics better than I do. They’ll pick which character they wanna play, and I’ll do the other character.
Who tends to be the audience you draw?
When we look at our YouTube demographics, we get a really interesting mix of 15-year-olds and 50-year-olds. There’s something there for everybody. One time up on stage we had a small girl, a very large Swedish man named Thor, and just a normal kid in glasses, and they all rapped. The girl was the best, actually; she crushed it.
How does a guy named Nice Peter deal with hecklers?
You can’t really heckle me. Everything you give me is good for the show. That’s usually my favorite moment of the show, when we start singing about, “Oh God, this guy brought a watermelon to a show. Why do you have a watermelon? This next song is about this man and his watermelon.” And that makes a recurring theme, and that makes it a more memorable experience for them and for me. … It’s kind of an open forum, and I’m just kind of the conductor.