Talking to Dan Soder About ‘The Half Hour’, Twitter, and Learning To Do Comedy
For the past 15 years, Comedy Central’s half hour specials have showcased the future stars of standup. Looking back, the early years of Comedy Central Presents included memorable sets from the likes of Mitch Hedberg, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Dane Cook and dozens more. Re-branded The Half Hour in 2012, the series continues to feature the best up-and-coming comics in the country.
For many comedians, it’s that history that makes doing a half hour special so significant. While a half hour may once have been a comic’s first major exposure, comedians now have many ways to build an audience. Almost everyone who taped a special this year does non-standup comedy as well, branching out into the worlds of podcasting, sketch and improv, web series, acting, and more. In this new series, I sat down with each of this year’s 16 Half Hour comedians to talk about their specials, their careers, and their generation of comedians. Each interview will also feature an exclusive clip from the special.
I met up with Dan Soder, who’s been seen on Conan and MTV2’s Guy Code and is a regular on Riotcast’s You Know What Dude! podcast, over coffee in the East Village to talk about burning material and having to be everywhere.
So first, how did your taping go?
Awesome. It was fun. It was surreal. You do stand-up for so long, you have all these goals and then when you reach your goals, it’s weird when you’re doing it. You’re like, “Oh, I’m taping a special for Comedy Central. This is weird.” All my heroes have done half hour specials. [Louis] C.K., Patrice [O’Neal], [Bill] Burr, [Greg] Giraldo, I remember watching like [Nick] DiPaolo’s when I was in high school and all these guys, I found out about so many great comedians because of the Comedy Central Presents series. So you know, kind of the same thing. It’s just called The Half Hour.
Well that was my next question, what does doing a half hour special mean for you?
It means I got a whole bunch of jokes that are burned. It means I got to write more jokes. It was unbelievable. A lot of my best friends have taped and I’ve been at their tapings, like Nate Bargatze and Mike Vecchione, and then to be actually doing it, it’s great. Especially being a comedy fan and a comedian, it’s awesome.
So if people don’t know you, what’s your typical gig like these days? Are you on the road?
I’m actually very lucky enough to have a nice mixture of being in the city and on the road. I’m gonna go on the road a lot more starting in the summer, which’ll be fun, because obviously the next step is an hour. I think at the time of the taping, I was a really good feature and a new headliner, and it’ll just be fun now to be try to become a good headliner, and then hopefully do an hour. So yeah, I’m just excited for the next step. It’s something new, it’s new goals. It’s like what Seinfeld said in Comedian. He’s like, “A half hour isn’t comedy. An hour, 90 minutes, that’s comedy.” So now I’m gonna go learn how to do comedy. Gonna go learn how to open, maintain, and close. It’ll be fun.
Do you just start over with material?
Well, yeah. I had a couple newer bits that I was gonna do on the special, and then I talked to comedians that have done half hours and hours, and they’re like, don’t do anything that you don’t feel is complete, that you don’t feel is done. That was really helpful. And I even went over my time taping, so I still have seven or eight minutes that I’ve worked out enough. Now it’s finding another 53 minutes to put it all together.
Some people I’ve talked to did brand new material in their specials, which I was surprised by.
That’s a balls move. That’s tough. I couldn’t do that. I just wanted my set to be locked in, muscle memory, and then have fun with it. Because you don’t know what’s gonna happen during a taping. Lights could go out, mic could cut out, but I was lucky.
One thing I’ve noticed is that almost everyone who did The Half Hour this year does other stuff as well. You’re on Bobby Kelly’s [You Know What Dude!] podcast. It seems like this is the first generation of comics where everyone does things besides just standup.
Well I think we’re in the age now where you have to. You can’t just do standup. I wish you could. I think I was born in the wrong generation, because I just want to just do standup. I love standup, but being on a podcast, I don’t consider it a thing. It’s awesome hanging out. I’m lucky enough to be on Bobby Kelly’s, and I’ve been a fan of Bobby’s for a long time. I got to open for him and then become friends with him and then be on a podcast with him. And then Joe List got on the podcast, one of my other great friends, and it’s just awesome. It’s weird when someone’s like, “Oh, you do a podcast.” I don’t really do it as much as I just hang out. We just make each other laugh.
But you’re right, we’re entering a new age where you have to, sadly, make yourself available as much as possible. I was joking around with my roommate late night about how we’re such an impatient culture now that saturation is minimal. You have to saturate, and if you don’t, you’re considered bad at comedy. It’s like, why aren’t you everywhere? And you’re like, I don’t know. I just like doing sets at night and performing for audiences. And there are some people that are unbelievable at it. There’s people that are great at creating web videos and funny on Twitter and you know, I’m not. I’m not good at Twitter. I don’t ever want to—I would like to be if it clicked naturally, but I kind of feel like it’s like, alright, slow down everybody. Can’t we just be comics? But no, you can’t. Now you have to have a blog, and, “Oh, I was on this list of the best tweets of this month” and it’s like, I dunno, man. Because I get a lot of people put a lot of energy into Twitter and and you can tell because it’s really good. I don’t. I put all my energy into stand-up. And a podcast is more just shooting the shit. You know, Bobby and Kelly [Fastuca] on the podcast, they do the work, setting it up, getting the mics ready, recording it. Joe and I just show up and try to be funny. Or not even try to be funny, just show up and hang out. So, on one end, I feel lazy and the other end I feel a little annoyed.
Why do I have to do all this stuff? Why can’t I…I became a comedian because I love standup comedy. It’s the one thing that I have an unwavering love for. I can watch comedy, I can talk about comedy, I can do comedy. It’s almost, not an obsession, but a passion. [Laughs] I don’t know, I don’t know how you make it sound not weird.
But you know, I still watch Conan to see who’s doing standup, and I still watch all the specials that come out on Netflix. It’s a very interesting time, and I think we still don’t really have a road map of where all this is going. But if I can make money off hanging out with my friends and doing a podcast, and being a standup comedian, I’m fine with that. That’s all I want, I just want to be a really good standup comedian. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I find it weird when you meet comedians that want fame. Beause there are some. And no one in particular am I thinking about, but I find it odd. And some people will become famous because they want to be famous. If I can just have sold out shows—I heard Chris Rock say the greatest sentence ever at the Cellar. He said, “All I wanted out of comedy when I started was to sell out on the road without doing radio.” Like, yeah. That sounds awesome. Just to show up and have a comedy club full of people and they’re cool, and you can fuck around with them and laugh. That’s what I want.
That’s very interesting. A lot of people that I’ve talked to love that they get to do all these other things, and they feel like lucky to be in the right time.
I feel like I’m in the wrong time. I’m a very private person. I like being private, because I feel like my material is personal. So off stage, I’m not good at doing the thing after shows where I pass out cards and shake hands and like, “Hello!” Like I’m like, “Ahhh.” I don’t know, maybe I’m fucked up, but comedy’s my moment to be the annoying little kid that’s like, “Look at what I can do!” That’s me on stage. Me off stage, I just want to play video games and hang out with my friends. I really am just a giant child.
Do you think having to do all those other things ends up influencing your standup?
Well, I feel like podcasts are very good at making you conversational, because that’s all it is really is a conversation. Some comedians you see flourish in podcasts. Like Pete Holmes, he’s unbelievable because he’s really great at having a conversation. Bill Burr, that was really, a real boost for him. If you haven’t seen Bill Burr, listen to his podcast. You’ll get an idea that this guy is a fucking hammer, by himself. The guy does a podcast by himself, and there’s no shtick. It’s just him being funny for an hour, weekly. It’s unbelievable. And it’s great because you see how much material you can churn out of that. And it’s really inspiring, as a comedian. I’ve always considered myself a shitty writer, so I’m not good at Twitter. 140 characters, I don’t know. Occasionally I might have a good tweet? But there are some people that are so fucking funny on it, and I’m not one of them. [Laughs] So, I like long form, I’m a long form person. But I do believe podcasting can help you be more conversational and say things that maybe you wouldn’t say on stage initially but you say it on a podcast, and you’re like, oh that might have legs. Maybe I can work it in a way where I can do it on stage.
And you’re on the MTV2 show Guy Code, which is a show I see comics posting about online but I have to admit I don’t really know what it is.
I guess the basic synopsis of Guy Code is that it’s kind of a guide book for teenage males. It’s cool in that I wish I had it at 17, because some of the stuff we say on there, an insecure kid might think he’s weird for thinking, but then you see a comedian say it, you’re like, I’m not. That’s the great thing about comedy. Comedy has always been able to do that. When a comedian has a joke about something that you’re insecure about and you can laugh at it, it makes you genuinely feel better. Louis C.K.’s the king of that. You know how many parents probably breathed a sigh of relief when he did the joke, my kid’s an asshole? You know how many people were like, I fucking totally agree with that. I love comedy when it can do that. And Guy Code, some people don’t like it and some people love it. All I know is I got paid money to sit in front of a green screen and talk shit to one of my friends. It’s an interesting show. And I found out that 16-year-old girls love my voice. Which is creepy. But 16-year-old me appreciates it, because I was awkward in high school.
And then what’s next for you?
The road. Hopefully an album in the fall. I’d really like to do an album within the year, once and for all burn everything. And then just go after building a brand new hour, which I’m really excited for, because I’m just excited to see how I change as a comedian. Whether I become more comfortable, whether I become more personal, hopefully my jokes get stronger. I’m really excited to do it.
Dan Soder’s Half Hour premieres on Friday, May 3 at midnight. He’s on Twitter at @DanSoder.
Elise Czajkowski is a contributing editor at Splitsider and comedy journalist in New York City. She tweets at @EliseCz.