Dan St. Germain on His Start in Standup and the Power of Self-Deprecation
Dan St. Germain has made his mark in the comedy world with his energetic on stage persona, his podcast (My Dumb Friends), and a Comedy Central web series (In Security). In his standup, he doesn’t shy away from the dark truths of life, weaving his own issues with depression and alcoholism in with his jokes. Now, he’s ready to bring those truths to everyone with his debut album, Bad At the Good Times, from A Special Thing Records.
I recently chatted with St. Germain to talk about the album, his start in comedy, and being the “I’ll take it” guy.
Tell me about the album. When did you start working on it?
Well, it’s been an almost, dare I say, two-year process. We originally did it at the Boston Comedy Studio, and I wasn’t totally happy. I felt like the bits weren’t totally completed yet, so we recorded it a year later at NerdMelt in LA in September. It’s my first seven years of material.
Where did the album title come from?
I guess it’s more of a glass half empty sort of thing. When I used to party, it was too much and it would freak people out. Now that I don’t, I’m the sore thumb sticking out. It’s more of an Irish thing: When times are good, you know they’re going to end, so let’s just focus on the end so you can’t get hurt by them.
That sort of reflects the dark edge of your comedy. How do you balance the darkness while still trying to make people laugh?
Even when I try to act, I do a lot of characters who are unaware of how sad it is. It’s always a self-deprecating thing. The truth is, as long as you put a twist on it, no one can feel sorry for you. I try to have a lot of energy with them, so I don’t go up there like Steven Wright, who’s hilarious. The guys I really looked up to coming up like Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Dana Gould, and Todd Glass; there’s always this gusto with what they’re talking about. They made it more than just “I’m baring myself on stage.” There’s a theatricality with it.
In your act, you do bring your on truths on stage and make fun of yourself. Is that part of comedy important to you?
I always feel like you can take other people down a lot easier and a lot more guilt-free if you put yourself in front of the firing line first. I’ve just been wrong so many times before. Nobody got into this because they were a paragon of rationality and courteousness and shit-togetheredness. I maybe know a handful of comics that I would let babysit. It’s also a lot of first comedy album stuff where a lot of times you have to introduce the audience to somebody. I think when you’re introducing yourself it’s important for them to get to know you. Even for this album premiere, I’m doing a roast party. I had a moment where I was like, “Do I have just a regular show? Or do I just kind of shit on myself?” More people are going to come if it’s just people shitting on me. And that thought process, I really think it only happened after doing comedy for eight years. What’s the best way for me to try to sell some of these things? I don’t care how much I get hurt, I just want to make sure people are there.
What was it that first got you interested in comedy?
I did standup two or three times in high school and it was a disaster. I was really bad at it. I tried to do a sketch comedy group, surprisingly enough we didn’t put on one fucking sketch the whole time. Then I got really into dramatic writing and acting in plays and musicals in high school. I won the young playwrights conference award, and I started just writing a lot. After that I sent in a writing packet — I was a PA at Conan at the time — and got some decent feedback, so I thought, maybe I should try to do this. I started working, doing open mics. If you have any theater backing, you get noticed more easily. So if I sucked or did well, I would get noticed because I knew how to talk on stage. A lot of times, people don’t have that. In the beginning, they’re just figuring out how to talk. I was very fortunate that people I started out with, Mike Lawrence, Mark Normand, we all started at the same time. So it was cool to have that class around so most of the people I know are now all working. And we were all at mics trying to find the best set wherever we could. It’s kind of crazy to see so many of those people working in some capacity.
Is your show with Fox still in the works?
Stay tuned. That’s kind of all I can say about it right now.
What do you have coming up next that you can talk about?
I am working on a project that I cannot speak about just yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about it soon. When somebody says that, it’s either like they actually do have something going on or they’re literally just writing a screenplay with their stuffed animals in their room in the darkness never to be seen again.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt there.
We have our podcast, My Dumb Friends, on the All Things Comedy network. I have some live dates coming up. I will be out and about doing stuff. We’re trying to produce some more shorts. I’ll be on some late night shows coming up with some hosts holding the album. I’ll be able to use that as my Facebook profile picture for a year to try to get chicks.
I’ll do whatever, I have no shame. I was actually out to eat with Dan Pasternack at IFC yesterday, name drop, name drop, but we were hanging out, and I told him, “I feel like there are two ways to do entertainment. You can either be the cool guy and be very selective or you can be the ‘I’ll take it’ guy.” There’s no middle ground really. And it’s really hard as a comic to be the selective guy. Because you’ve already done fucking comedy shows in Chinese restaurants. You came up in the most carnival, freak show way possible so it’s hard to be like, “I’m too cool for that now.” Oh really? Two years ago you were doing a show just for your parents, but now you’re too good for it?
And that attitude’s been working for you so far?
I have no idea. I’ll try to rest somewhere in the middle.
Photo by Mindy Tucker.
Brianna Wellen is a writer in Chicago who loves television, podcasts, and whiskey.