Talking Standup, Podcasts, and ‘Stan Against Evil’ with Dana Gould
With well over three decades in the game, Dana Gould has experienced many of comedy’s highs and lows. From humble beginnings (“I started doing standup two weeks out of high school. I was taken to my first mic by my high school librarian and her husband”), he went on to survive booms and busts (“The heydey of the alternative comedy scene to me is just a blur of guys in suede jackets writing on their hand”) to become a successful career standup, writer, producer, and podcaster. Dana’s new album Mr. Funny Man drops tomorrow on Kill Rock Stars and season 2 of his horror/comedy passion project Stan Against Evil will premiere November 1st on IFC. I talked to Dana to get the behind-the-comedy scoop on the new album, the origin story of Stan Against Evil, and a lesson in the power of podcasting.
So you’re doing a press day today, huh?
Half a day, about my favorite subject: me.
So what hasn’t any other interviewer covered that you would like to talk about?
The oppression of Baath separatists.
Weird. I had that written down to discuss, but I was going to save it until the end. Your new album is called Mr. Funny Man. I’m hoping the title is tongue-in-cheek.
It’s always used in old film noir as an insult: “Hey, Mr. Funny Man, get over here.” As a kid watching those movies I think it’s interesting that I was like, “That sounds like the job for me.” In the pantheon of show business we’re basement dwellers. In the evolutionary ladder of show business where opera singers and prima ballerinas are at the forefront, comedians are way in the back next to the guy who fluffs the donkey. George Carlin once said that a woman that goes home with a comedian is like someone who goes to an organ grinder show and tries to fuck the monkey. I think my favorite part of that is the phrase “organ grinder show.”
Ah yes, everyone’s favorite, Ye Olde Organ Grinder Show.
Remember the commercials when you were a kid? “This Sunday at the Houston Astrodome, it’s organ grinders! ORGAN GRINDERS!
The other thing about the expression “funny man” is that it’s lazy. Sometimes you’ll get a write-up about a show and the local paper will just describe you as “funny man.”
One of my favorite aspects to that is that Laura Kightlinger would always insist on being introduced as “Funny Man Laura Kightlinger.” That’s amazing.
You recorded the album in Seattle. Why Seattle?
There are a couple of cities that fit me like a glove: Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Austin. I love them because they’re not New York or LA, not that level of saturation. You get a better cross section of an audience. You get real people, not just hardcore comedy devotees. And Seattle is a beautiful city to spend time in. I have a lot of friends up there. The great thing about recording the album in Seattle is that after you’ve finished recording the album you’re in Seattle.
You got your footing in San Francisco, right? Did you feel connected to all the other scenes on the West Coast?
I started in Boston, but unlike Louis and everybody else I never went to New York. I moved to San Francisco with the intention of moving to LA eventually, but I didn’t have a network of gigs built up. I didn’t want to move to LA and work as a waiter. I just wanted to be a comedian. So I moved to San Francisco and developed a network of road gigs that would support me financially. My first year in LA I was mostly in San Francisco and on the road, but at least my address was in Los Angeles and I could sort of wean myself off of that. That was one of the few plans I’ve had in life that actually worked. You go from LA to San Diego, then up to San Francisco, then up to Portland, then up to Seattle. It was a great little run.
Do you think it’s easier for comedians to get a start now with social media?
Social media networking has made a huge difference just in terms of appealing to your fan base. Because I started at such a young age, I’ve gone through several eras of the business and I’m still pretty vibrant and limber. In the ‘90s you would go into Uncle Fucker’s Chuckle Hutch in whatever goddamn city and people would go to the club. You were just a comedian that they plugged in that week. Now you really have to cultivate your draw. I find the thing that keeps coming up when I perform is my podcast (The Dana Gould Hour). People never say “Saw you on that show” or “Saw you on this show.” I get “I love The Simpsons” and “I love your podcast.” I don’t see how you could be a touring comedian and not have your own podcast unless you’re like Gaffigan or Regan or something.
There’s that thing that happens to some comics where if the podcast gets big enough it becomes your job.
Yeah, it becomes your own business. I look at my podcast as, “If everything else goes belly-up I can always do the podcast,” despite that I still have what is possibly the most time-consuming podcast to produce. It’s the Barry Lyndon of podcasts. I want everything I do to be lit by candles. But I see it as another wedge in my pie. When people ask, “What are you doing?” I have to take a deep breath because I have three major careers and one minor career. You have to be smart with your time management. The way I look at it is that it takes the knife away from my throat because I can always go concentrate on something else. I think everything feeds into the same tub. Adam Carolla says, “In the ‘50s people had a big fire hose and they used that to fill up their swimming pool. Now you have to have seven or eight little hoses to fill up your pool.”
Let’s talk about season 2 of Stan Against Evil. I love this show because I’m a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and all those classic art house horror films. You’re an old school horror nut too, right?
Oh, huge, huge. Standup is my livelihood and life’s work, but horror movies are definitely my passion. My friend Matt Weinhold says horror movies are my football. What’s funny is that it’s taken me so long to do the most obvious thing, which is a comedy show that’s part horror movie. The idea behind the show is that I’ve often described my dad as Archie Bunker without the elegance and sophistication. I always wanted to do a show about him. He’s very curmudgeonly, bigoted, and sexist. He’s got a really big heart, but he’s the least politically correct person you’ll ever meet in your life – and that’s intentional. He has no time for it. I wanted to do a show with that character, but I didn’t want it to be about that character. I didn’t want it to be All in the Family where we’re just ridiculing this unwoke individual. I thought, “What if I made a horror show and put this character in it, this character who didn’t belong there and everyone just had to deal with it?” I got very, very, very lucky in the cast with John McGinley and Janet Varney, who are both crazily brilliant. As a horror fan I get to write eight half-hour horror movies. I write them pretty straight. The humor comes from these people not behaving the way they’re supposed to in a horror movie. The template is An American Werewolf in London.