Talking Standup, ‘Cheers,’ and the Importance of Silliness with Geoff Tate
A lot of people know Geoff Tate from Doug Loves Movies. He is the “winningest player in the show’s history,” according to the podcast’s extensive fan wiki. In his three previous standup albums, Tate has carved out a niche as a cranky, thoughtful dude with a deep, abiding love for the television show Cheers. Tate has appeared on The Late Late Show and tours regularly with premiere comedy Dougs, Benson and Stanhope. His latest album, People Are What People Make ‘Em, is out now on Blonde Medicine.
You live in Cincinnati, but we met in Bloomington, Indiana.
That’s right. I honestly don’t do much comedy in Cincinnati. If I had to make a tape or something, I would probably go to Bloomington. It just feels like Jared [Thompson, owner of The Comedy Attic] is a fan of comedy. He hasn’t done it for so long that he’s bored with it, he’s not over it, he doesn’t overextend himself with bookings either. A lot of clubs, they’ve all been there for 25 years, and they all seem bored. Plus, all the kids in Bloomington seem pretty cool. The comics have made a nice scene there. They make me feel young.
Bloomington is interesting, because it’s a small liberal college town in the middle of Trump-land Indiana. Cincinnati is the same way, surrounded by northern Kentucky and southern Ohio, which are very red. What is it like having friends, acquaintances, or even family members who have very divergent political opinions from you?
I’m not friends with any of those people anymore. And as far as having family members who think like that, it’s embarrassing.
You’re not one of those people who is like “Look at where they’re from!” and make allowances like that?
No, fuck that. Don’t look at where they’re from, look at when they’re from. Are they from now? Then get the fuck with it. I don’t care if they don’t have internet or cell phone service or whatever. It’s not the fucking 1600s.
Do you have more patience for movies and TV shows that are from a different time, speaking for that time?
Well definitely you can have more patience, because a movie is timestamped. They can’t go back. You can’t go back, although, didn’t they go back and edit Huckleberry Finn?
Yeah, they did.
And that seems dumb. We would all agree that that seems dumb, and pointless, and is actually doing a disservice to progress. It’s dumb to clean that up and make what seems to be a fairly accurate description of what people were like when that book was written, and turn it into what? Today? But if Mark Twain was still alive, and just talked like that… I can at the same time think that Huckleberry Finn is great and Mark Twain is a piece of shit. The book can’t evolve but the person should.
This was my awkward segue into talking about Cheers.
Okay. That’s pretty smooth.
I was watching some Cheers in preparation for this interview, and I happened to put on an episode where Kirstie Alley starts the episode by getting hit on by Sam, then goes to meet her new boss who immediately propositions her for sex too. And we’re kind of supposed to be on the men’s side and think that she’s something of a shrew for not fucking either of them.
Oh my God, you’re talking about the one where it’s “hilarious” that her new boss [Martin Teal] was really short? There’s a lot in that one that’s pretty…there’s a lot. There’s a lot in Cheers that is terrible. I won’t beat around the bush on any of it. A lot of it is bad. I actually watch it less now than ever. I saw an episode where they throw Frasier a bachelor party, and they all start talking about the first time they ever had sex. And it’s all the standard jokes. Cliff is looking forward to it, it hasn’t happened yet. Norm makes mention that it was a few weeks after he got married. And then Sam mentions that he was in the sixth grade, and it was with the school crossing guard. And all the other guys are like “Ohhohohoh, you dog!” like Sam was a real charming 11-year-old. Those are the types of things where I can watch the show and I can see the time it was made.
That moment when Sam tells everyone about the first time he had sex, Frasier should have turned around and immediately had a eureka moment. “I just figured you out. You were molested by a trusted adult when you were 11, but because of this toxic masculinity idea of ‘boys will be boys’ or whatever, you can’t admit that. So now you can’t have any relationships with women at all that don’t involve sex!” Except for Carla, but only because she is more sexist and dude-like than anybody else in the bar.
Which itself is probably a coping mechanism for being the only chick in a bar.
And being a single mother, she had to exist in a rougher environment. Her life is not great. They wrote all this shit into it. This is how prevalent those archetypes were. But now, the show is like its own photo negative, where you’re rooting for the people who were set up to be the foils back then. Rebecca is a shrew and some kind of stuck up bitch because she won’t fuck Sam? Like what? The fact that she doesn’t fuck Sam for three years is heroic now.
And then later, on Frasier, that’s basically the same way he lost his virginity. He had sex with his piano teacher when he was in high school.
So Frasier is also…
Undiagnosed molested, yeah.
But it’s that masculinity where you can’t admit it, or you can’t admit that it was weird. Even in my own life, I remember the first time in my group of 15-year-old friends, one of them had sex with their girlfriend. He told us, and I remember thinking “This is weird, but I should not think it’s weird.” So now with Cheers, I’ve got to watch it all with that in mind. Sam is clearly a sex addict, but they don’t ever mention it until the very end. Like the final episode. They don’t even bring it up until the final season is almost over. And it should have been brought up right away, and also when Sam says he was, essentially, raped by what should have been an authority figure. I hope that at some point, all this stuff is going to shake itself out of society. Evolution happens, and it just needs to happen in behavior now.
Do you think that your work is in any way forwarding the conversation, getting people to treat each other with a little more humanity?
If it is, it’s only because I was trying to figure out how to do that as myself. And it’s not altruistic, I just decided I didn’t like the way I felt. So I started going to a therapist to try and figure out how I felt, and that made me more open. If that’s coming across in what I’m doing on stage, then I’m glad. It should.
Dice is still doing that bit, and that’s supposed to be a character. But at some point, how can you think that stuff up?
If it’s not in you, at least a little bit?
Yeah, but now he’s that character all the time. Any time anybody sees him, he’s that guy. He’s never any of his other characters. Have you read the book Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut?
No, I haven’t.
That’s my favorite book, and it’s all about at some point, even if you’re just pretending that’s what you are. I feel like that’s Andrew Dice Clay.
I’m pretty sure that’s the only time Andrew Dice Clay has been compared to a Vonnegut character before.
Condemned as such. The only good part is that he’d be mad if he read it.
Since 2013, you’ve been putting out an album almost every year. What motivates you to put out that much work?
Really, I just wanted to be better than Louis C.K. Everyone was always like “Can you believe he does another hour every year?” and I thought, “Really, that’s it?” And then it turns out generating an hour of material was immaterial. I just didn’t have to be a fucking sex predator to be better than Louis C.K. Boom! Now I’m topical!
Is it harder to come up with a new hour when the world is so unfunny?
No. What it’s done is it’s freed me up to be sillier. I want an escape from all of this too. How do you know what batshit thing to talk about? There’s like 50 a day. I feel like being silly now and not trying to make the jokes be anything or mean anything. I’ve got this joke about Breathe Right strips, and I do it five times in an hour. It’s the same joke, I just wrote five different punchlines. I think up punchlines for that joke all the time. It’s a structure joke: once you have the beginning, the punchline just has to be a couple of fun sounds in a row. You get away with a lot, once you learn the tricks.
I watched every episode of SNL last year, and it was so hard starting every episode with a Trump sketch. I couldn’t stomach it. Just be sillier! Everybody knows about Trump, what are you doing? You’re not changing anybody’s mind. It would make him crazier if you just stopped doing it. Like imagine if Saturday Night Live decided to never say his name again. Just refer to him as “the president,” or POTUS, because that sounds kind of gross. That sounds ball sacky, a little bit. Alec Baldwin doesn’t put on that fucking face again, they never do another sketch about him again. They can talk about him on Update, because that’s what that’s for. But only call him POTUS, never by name. And don’t show any pictures of him. That would make him crazy.
Photo by Troy Conrad.