Bathroom Emergencies and the Human Condition with Doug Mand
Doug Mand is a successful TV writer (The Comedians, How I Met Your Mother, NTSF:SD:SUV::). But he’s also the host of Doodie Calls, a podcast where comedians, which have included past guests Lauren Lapkus, Bob Saget, and Jon Daly, confess their embarrassing bathroom stories. The through line connecting these two roles is a lifelong struggle with anxiety that both directly inspires and hinders his creativity. With Doodie Calls celebrating its 100th episode at UCB Franklin on April 29th, I talked to Doug about how anxiety affects the writing process, pooping’s connection with the human condition, and how love is strengthened during life’s most embarrassing moments.
Your podcast Doodie Calls is centered on comedians telling their most embarrassing bathroom stories. What is it about these situations that made you want to start a show devoted entirely to that topic?
I’m someone who’s had what my parents call a nervous stomach since I was seven. If I ever was in a position where I couldn’t use the bathroom, that’s when I’d have to go. In a friend’s parent’s car or a bar mitzvah. Any place you’re not supposed to stand up in the middle of and leave, that’s when I would have to go and it’s happened my whole life. So I have a ton of those stories and I’ve always loved hearing other people’s stories because it makes me feel less crappy about myself.
Was there a particular incident in your adolescence that scarred you?
When I was 13, I went to Milwaukee with my really good friend to visit his grandparents. And they were really wealthy and in the upper crest of Milwaukee. One day they were like, “Do you wanna go to the All-Star Game?” Because they were friends with [MLB Commissioner] Bud Selig. And we were like, “Yeah, of course.” So we went to the game on a private jet with Bud Selig and there were seven people in this jet. Around halfway into the flight, I had to go. But there wasn’t a real bathroom, there was a jump seat that was also the toilet. And it wasn’t covered fully, it just had a curtain. Basically it was there if you had to pee. So I had to get up and shit in a private jet with Bud Selig probably seven feet from me. And the whole plane stunk to the point where his grandparents were actually mad at me. And on the way back, they plugged me full of Imodium because that could never happen again. I felt so much shame that I was with the one person who the All-Star Game couldn’t have happened without and he spent 45 minutes smelling my shit.
Did you fly back with him?
I believe we did and it was terrifying. It completely shaped me because the grandparents’ reaction was so not cool about it, that it heightened my anxiety about the places where I shouldn’t shit.
A lot of the comedy from the podcast comes from the storyteller’s anxiety because they’re in situations where they couldn’t use the toilet, like rushing to an audition or a party with one bathroom. What’s the connection between anxiety and your comedic sensibility as a writer?
I think that anxiety is the #1 contributing factor to my comedic voice, if I have one. I live in a place of fear far too much. I spent most of my life scared of irrational things. I’m petrified of death. I recently started to become scared of flying. I’m someone who is generally nervous. I’m working on it and trying not to be that way. So it completely shapes the way I see things. Just from a bathroom point of view, when someone says to meet them in Santa Monica, my first thought is always, “How am I going to get there and what places can I stop along the way if I have to go?” So when I’m writing, I have to actually work to not make all my characters have IBS.
In terms of the writing process, would you say your anxiety helps kick start it or hinders it? Or some combination of both?
I think it mostly hinders it. But I have a writing partner, Dan Gregor, and God bless him because he has his own set of neuroses but he doesn’t deal with the same fears that I do. So it’s helpful to have someone there to be like, “No, this is good. Keep going.” Because if not, especially in the beginning when I started writing, I would have just been in a constant circle of “this is garbage.” What I found with writing with Dan is that the 1st and 2nd draft of things you write suck and that’s OK. So I think my nature of worrying is that I have to try and fend it off when I’m writing. You have to get the self-doubt out of your head. I think it happens to the great writers too. Sitting in front of a blank page is horrifying.
The upcoming episode of Doodie Calls is the 100th. Over the last 99 episodes, what have you learned most about the human condition from asking celebrities about crapping themselves?
It’s confirmed what I already thought to be true: that everyone has a shit story. And that everyone feels some level of shame about it. Even me, who’s going into my 100th episode of talking about it, I still feel shame. And it’s exciting when someone comes on the show and they say, “That’s the first time I ever told that story.” I get so excited when that happens because it’s something that I want people to own. It makes me feel less alone and less bad about shitting on a tree in Griffith Park, which just happened recently.
The bathrooms there don’t have doors.
I’ve gone in those but I’m talking about actually on a tree at night. I drove off the 5 and I was about six minutes from my home but I couldn’t make it. So I just pulled my car over and found a tree. And I felt terrible shame from that. It wasn’t like I thought, “This is so hilarious.” I didn’t want to do that but that’s what I did. So with this podcast, I’ve learned that a lot of people have shared experiences. I’ve been really excited about how many women have come on the show and how many women seem to like the show. Which, I’ve never had a problem with women talking about pooping. I just think you assume that women won’t be into the show for all the wrong reasons and that just hasn’t been the case. I feel validated.
It really is a universal thing. I like to look at it from a historical perspective. Every great figure has shit their pants. Alexander the Great, Martin Luther King.
I don’t necessarily think everybody has shit their pants. But if you haven’t, you almost did. And those stories to me are just as harrowing. I like to think about Obama running down the Oval Office hallway with his hand on his anus holding his shit in. You can be the most powerful person in the world and still be at the whim of the shit Gods. And sometimes they will just not smile down on you. And how you deal with it, I think, shows your true character. I love hearing people’s stories about it. They’re mostly funny, sometimes a little heartbreaking, sometimes they’re touching. I especially love stories about couples who went through some kind of shit situation or “shituation” together. I think that’s actually romantic.
There was an episode with Kourtney Kang that fell into that category.
Kourtney Kang and Zack Rosenblatt was actually a beautiful story about being committed to your partner and looking past what is gross or unsexy and being like, “I’m going to help you get through this” and I think that’s a beautiful story of love. I’m not kidding. There’s funny moments in it and sad and gross moments, but it’s mostly about a great love between two people. And my writing partner, who told a story on the first Doodie Calls, is now married to the woman he told the story about. And that is the story that brought them closer together. A shituation brought them together and I think that’s amazing.