by Andrew Wantuck
This week I spoke with a veteran stand up that has an all-star resume. The credits include SNL, HBO, Comedy Central, and all the late night talk show hosts. Dave Attell is a comic that started telling jokes after graduating from NYU in 1987. He has a dry sense of humor that, at moments, crosses over into the ridiculous. It would not take a giant stretch of the imagination to compare his career to George Carlin's. He is honest, relevant, and hysterical. In this interview we spoke about looking for 'poon' on the road, how to get a laugh from an audience that doesn't like the subject matter, and the secret to Middle East peace.
Andrew: How is the travel at this point in your career? Are you sick of it?
Dave: Yes. That was an easy question.Yes,the traveling sucks. The summer travel is the worst. Everybody is going on vacation, everything is packed up. Other than that I guess the older you get the longer the walk to the gate is.
Andrew: What kind of things are you currently working on right now?
Dave: I hope to do a new CD or DVD or something before the fall. New things, a line here in a movie whenever. I’m not really an actor so I think that stuff is more funny than something I’m really doing. Just on the road mostly.
Andrew: Here’s a question about your writing style. Are you one of the guys that’ll pen and paper a joke ahead of time and go on stage and tell it or will you go up with a premise and then find a lot of your punch lines on stage?
Dave: I do both. I think the secret to my writing style is go up there with a lot of ideas and tape yourself and see what you get. That’s how I seem to get the most fresh and new stuff. I’ve done the sitting at home writing it out stuff too. I don’t want people to feel they’re getting cheated. Not just making it up I mean. Some of it is on the fly, but a lot of it has to do like you said with just going up there with a couple of ideas. So a little bit of both.
Andrew: Is there a bit over the span of your career for some reason that stands out as one you are most proud of? If so what is that?
Dave: Well Andrew I think the jokes I like the most the audience doesn’t. The longer you do this the more your realize the audience are good people and don’t like anything that’s not politically correct. So making them like it, that is really the fun and job of it. I kind of know what they want to hear but it’s not really what I want to say. So it’s trying to find a way of saying what I want to say that they will like hearing. So it’s a little harder than you know, I guess I make it a little hard on myself because the audience is very judgmental on a lot of things and rightfully so but not in a comedy club. You figure that in a comedy club that they let down their inhibitions, but it seems that is when people are the most moral and righteous.
Andrew: [laughs] How long did it take you to find your voice or have you found your voice? A lot of guys I’ll talk to say that thats the most important thing that they could ever do in their career. How long did it take until you were yourself on stage?
Dave: I don’t know. I’d say seven years is what they say before you really know what you’re doing up there. I’d say it took me probably ten to feel really feel funny and another three before I found what I was going to do. The first ten years are the best for material but the worst for performing. Then the next ten are the worst for material and the best for performing. Cause when you first start you think of your first dick joke or whatever and you think ‘ Oh wow, this is great.’ The longer you do it the more you realize everybody's got a dick joke and his this been done already? Then you got to spend time checking with your friends to see if they have a joke like that. Not everyone does that, but that's how I kind of do it. It becomes very hard to find new things to talk about. I guess if I got married maybe that would help out. The more you have going on in your life the more you have something to say about something. So I’d say seven to ten years, like a prison sentence.
Andrew: Have you ever been in a club and ever seen a comic do your own material in right front of you?
Dave: Oh yeah.
Andrew: What’s your reaction to that, what’s your procedure when you see that happen?
Dave: What do you do, well it depends if you know the guy. Cause if I know the guy I’ll say I have a joke that’s similar or that’s a joke I’ve done. But if it’s a guy I don’t know then I usually think that someone is supposed to tell them. I guess you could say that anybody could come up with anything, but if it’s been on a CD or DVD I did four years ago and I see the guy doing it then I’m like this guy is a hack. I think part of the job is knowing what else everyone else is doing you know?
Andrew: I’ve read that you may do some more Insomniac specials overseas is that true?
Dave: I did some overseas. We did hour specials in Japan, England, Germany and Brazil and things like that. Those went really good especially at the time before all these reality shows it was good to see something that we did in the states which was harder and harder to do cause of just people knowing what it was, to take it back to that point where we could move around pretty easily and just jump in and do things. I’m old now and people always come up to me and ask me about that show which is great. I think it touched a nerve especially with the drinking crowd. I wanted to do stuff in the Middle East, but it’s impossible to get insurance. That I think would be the ultimate to do, something of that nature in the Middle East. That’s the answer to that one. I don’t think that Comedy Central wanted any more of that. They wanted half hour shows and we couldn’t do those over seas. There’s nothing more fun than jumping around from bar to bar to bar, but if you got fifty people around following while you do it then it really doesn’t have the same charm. It’s the one thing I was very successful at yet the one thing I can’t really do anymore. Especially now with all these American Idols and all these different reality shows. I think we’re reality’d to death you know?
Andrew: When you’re on the road how do you pass the time mostly? On a random Friday how do you find yourself spending time these days?
Dave: That’s a really good question because when you first start doing comedy when you’re the middle which is the best part of being a comic, then you have everything going your way. You don’t have to get up for radio, all you have to do is twenty five minutes.You can hit your best stuff, your job is basically to make it as hard as possible for the headliner who is making way too much money in your eyes. Then it’s all about going to bars and looking for poon.
Dave: When you’re the headliner it's more of a job. You got to make sure the room is filled, you have to look at the waitresses when it’s not. They’re looking at you like ‘ I thought I was going to buy a new muffler.’
Dave: Then you have to spend two hours on radio, jumping around from radio station to radio station basically talking about something you did ten years ago, the Insomniac show.
Dave: Then you’re exhausted for the show. If you’re old you’re like ‘Oh no, I can’t drink. Maybe I’ll treat myself to an in hotel room movie. So that’s about it. On a Friday I’m usually exhausted. Saturdays are a little better. When you get older you hit the mall. I’m not like one of these comics who are like, ‘Let’s go play golf. Hey, I hear they have a batting cage.’ I’m not like one of those kind of guys. These guys are like one event away from ‘Let’s go have nuts and solve crimes’ in between shows. I’m like, aren’t you exhausted? But it’s way better than a real job that’s for sure.
Andrew: [laughs]. How much political humor are you doing these days?
Dave: Hmmm. My politics are I’m pro everything. I’m for pot and gay marriage because they both make me giggle.
Dave: That’s a kind of clean joke. I’m not a political comic. Everyone is so political now. I have like three jokes on politics. There’s nothing I can do that Lewis Black isn’t doing a thousand times better. He’s really good at it. I think Democrats are corny and not liberal enough. This whole debating abortion,either you’re for it or against it that’s how it is. Politically I’m more of a libertine. A Libertarian I guess. I’m not as bad as Doug Stanhope. He is the ultimate.
Andrew: What does he want?
Dave: I thinks he’s for anarchy.
Dave: I want to get mail. I like blaming someone for my problems.
Andrew: [laughs] Do you ever dabble into conspiracy theories? If so, which ones?
Dave: Here’s one that no one seems to be talking about, how Pakistan is our friend. They’re not, they hate us. They’re like your best friend who fucks your girlfriend and steals your pin number and they still want to hang out. They’re not our friend. Here’s another thing in the middle east, I think that the problem is the land. Why can’t they build land over there like in Dubai where they built islands off the coast. Why don’t they make more land? I don’t know why they can’t build Israel all the way out to Italy which would cut down on a flight since that’s one of the few countries that’ll fly to Israel. That’s one of my ideas. The Palestinians, I think they should bomb the Israelis with other stuff than missiles. They keep sending rockets into Israel, but if they sent in a paintball or something, you’d be angry at first, but then you’d be like this is kind of cool.
Dave: As a homeowner all I can say is this, I don’t know how much my house is worth. You don’t know if the homeless are homeless or just smart. They’re just waiting to see how the market turns out. I have a lot of theories.
Dave Attell is headlining The Comedy & Magic Club on Thursday, May 21st - Saturday, May 23rd 2009. Reservations Required. (310) 372-1193 or comedyandmagicclub.com. ER.