By Ben Kharakh
On the advice of the late George Carlin, comedian Dana Gould held back the social critic inside of him for years. Now, the veteran comic and former Simpsons scribe is older, wiser and funnier. And lucky for him, the world is more fucked up than ever. Let the social criticism begin!
The world can be just as funny as it is infuriating, but most people are usually too caught up in being annoyed to pick up on the humor in it. That’s one reason why comedy is such a great release.
You take a guy like Dana Gould, put the spotlight on him, and he’s going to vent about the things that get to him and they’re going to be the same things that eat at all of us— except when Dana brings them up, we laugh at them and feel a little better. And while Dana may have made people laugh on HBO, Comedy Central, and as a writer on The Simpsons, nothing compares to seeing him live. Luckily, he’s been doing the road a lot since leaving everyone’s favorite dysfunctional yellow family.
You’ve said of the differences between the young ‘you’ and the older ‘you’ that, ‘I was just a young, single guy and my act was based in anger and frustration. Now I’m an older married guy with two little kids and my act is based in anger and frustration.’ Since a sense of humor is able to turn aggravating events into something more palatable, do you find comedy a useful tool for dealing with life?
Yes. Not so much as vodka. But yes. I also think all comedians are innately dissatisfied with life in one form or another. No one becomes a clown because they so have their shit together.
What are some things that still make you angry or frustrated as when you first discovered them?
I still get infuriated when I see people coaxed into voting against their own economic well being because one millionaire politician purportedly likes guns and bullets more than another millionaire politician. I see people still lining up to gulp it down and it boggles my mind.
And why does every Cirque du Soleil show have to have a sad clown in it? Those shows are amazing! Chicks in blue paint and mermaid suits jumping off a flying boat into water that’s on fire, but they still all have to start with that sad-eyed douche bag with the baggy pants and the wilted flowers.
An interesting thing about stand-up is that you can tell a joke that connects with a crowd and makes them laugh one night, and the next, nothing. Is there a time this happened to you that comes to mind?
Well, years ago I was in New York and I was crashing on Lizz Winstead’s couch, and the copy of the key I had didn’t really work, and I got locked out at, like, 3 a.m. Finally another tenant gets out of the cab, walks up to the door, throws up on my shoes, then looks up and says, ‘I forgot my keys.’ This is true. I told the story that next night and it was really funny, but for some reason, it wasn’t funny again for like four months.
Do you find stand-up to be at all therapeutic?
Yes. Especially now that therapy is no longer therapeutic. I’m out of stuff to say. I drive to the office and work up a set list of stuff to fill the hour.
You’ve mentioned several times how you were searching for your stand-up persona around the same time as your walking-around persona. How long did it take you to find both and how did you know when you found them?
Oh, that’s very ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ It basically came down to this. I’m the kind of guy who dresses like he’s in Weezer. That applies to everything. Who doesn’t remember Weezer?
Both a comedian’s stand-up and off stage persona, however, are always evolving, no?
Yes. That’s one reason I love meeting young comedians. They still believe that you’ll get everything you want if you believe in yourself. They are a hoot!
A lot of jokes that you tell are about interactions with people, but how do you feel about people in general?
I love people in general. Specifically, they bug the shit out of me.
So, what sort of material did you do before making the transition to the Dana Gould we know now?
When I first started out, I wanted to be a social critic, like George Carlin was in his angrier stuff. Then, another comedian told me that it’s better to hold off on social criticism until you’re older – I was about twenty-one at the time – as you have the wisdom of experience in addition to looking more like you’ve earned the right to offer those opinions. Had that comedian not actually been George Carlin, I probably wouldn’t have listened. In other words, I wanted to be George Carlin, until he politely advised me to wait.
Did you ever consider changing professions?
I’d like to be a reporter. I love that idea. Police band radio in my grimy bachelor apartment. A hot plate, a Murphy bed and a big stack of porn. Wait! Maybe I am a reporter! But, honestly, no. I’ve always had this in me. Sad to say.
Were there ever any times when you felt that you’d be unable to be a comedian?
No, but I am questioning my delivery system. Going on the road makes me feel like a door-to-door joke salesman. I really have to find a way to do this from my house.
Comedians drop bits that they perform, similarly to how people drop habits and behaviors. Although it’s probably easier to drop a bit, what’s a habit or behavior that you’ve let go over the years?
I’m trying to give up listening.
What’s something that society needs to let go of?
The more insecure people are, the more apt they are to wear a T-shirt showing a furious eagle beating something to death with a flag. Move on, I say from that whole anti-intellectual, macho-patriotic nonsense. George W. Bush doesn’t make my skin crawl because he’s not intellectually curious. He makes my skin crawl because he brags about not being intellectually curious.
A lot of what makes us human is the ability to relate our experiences to others. It’s a good feeling when we find we share similar experiences. Have you ever felt that way?
I’ll quote George Carlin: ‘Y’ever wear a hat so long, it feels like it’s off? Then you take it off… and it feels like it’s on?’ Wow. Stalin would laugh at that. Hitler. Jeff Daniels. It’s a beautifully human observation.
One experience we can all soon share is your DVD. It’s released in early 2009. How will it be distributed?
It’ll be on my website. On Amazon, and in stores if there are still stores that sell DVD’s. It comes out March 24.
Once it’s released, what will you be doing with the material on the DVD?
You’re also at work on writing the movie Alternadad for Warner Bros. and The Last Larry for Comedy Central. How are those things coming along?
Same as Iraq. Slow going, and best not to dwell on the bloodshed.
I read that you’re also writing the big screen adaptation of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. How did you get involved with that?
Tom Stoppard passed and they called me.