Why So Serious, Dana Gould?By John Wenzel | July 15th, 2011 | 4 comments
Like many stand-ups, Dana Gould is better known for his writing and producing credits and cameo appearances than as a touring comedian — even if that’s the Hopedale, Mass., native’s creative bread and butter.
Gould played an instrumental role in L.A.’s early-’90s alternative comedy scene, writing and performing on Fox’s groundbreaking “Ben Stiller Show” with Stiller, future “Mr. Show” figureheads David Cross and Bob Odenkirk and a who’s-who of the comedy landscape (Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Dino Stamatopoulos, Andy Dick, etc.).
As a writer on “The Simpsons” for seven years, he was responsible for some of the show’s most memorable episodes, and chances are you’d recognize him from any number of bit parts in classic sitcoms, from “Seinfield” to “Roseanne” to “Ellen.” Over the past decade he’s also released comedy specials, popped up on every late-night TV show, appeared on “The Family Guy” and produced episodes of NBC’s Emmy-nominated “Parks and Recreation.”
We caught up with Gould via phone as he drove around L.A. in advance of his Comedy Works South appearances Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16.
Caution: This video contains mature language.
You came out of the ’80s comedy boom but were also part of the scene that helped form alternative comedy in the late ’80s and early ’90s. How do you feel about the state of stand-up now?
It is definitely in another renaissance phase, at least in terms of creativity.
Do you see any of your influence out there?
It just happens that a lot of the comedians now were people in high school when we were doing “The Ben Stiller Show.” They were watching us same way we were watching “SCTV.” It’s funny because you’ll see some guitarist trying to play like Jimmy Page, when (Page) was just trying to play like Howling Wolf. But it’s great because today with social media people have much more direct access to their audience, and comedians can find their fans through Twitter and Facebook and any number of ways. You can fill a room a lot easier than you used to be able to. The thing I find kind of weird is everybody has a CD. When I was growing up you’d get a George Carlin or Steve Martin or Richard Pryor album and it was a big deal. Now the doorman at the club has a CD, the barback has a CD. It’s not bad or good, it’s just different.
How would you describe your act to people who have only seen your writing or bit parts on TV?
I’m the Forrest Gump of comedy.
Of course, a lot of folks coming to your show are probably fans, since you’re a legend among comedy types.
Ah yes… what I call comedy nerds. And we were the comedy nerds in our time. They’re looking at us but we were looking at Albert Brooks. That was the one thing that everybody had in common then — everybody loved Albert Brooks. I remember Ben (Stiller) had a poster for “Real Life” (Brooks’ 1979 directorial debut) in his apartment. And now he owns the block that the building is on!
Do you ever look back and feel like you were doing something special in the early ’90s, since so many of the best comedians today — Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K., people like that — were more or less descendants of that ethos?
I remember people like Janeane and myself and Bob Odenkirk and Kathy Griffin… at that point all audiences were not going to comedy clubs. It was the end of that era and it had really reached I would say its point of putrescence. Like, “We’re going to have to eat this or throw it away.” And I remember going to see Elvis Costello at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. at the time and there were like 18,000 people there, and I was thinking, “Where are these people? How come they’re never at our shows?” So we started doing them at a bookstore called Big and Tall Books, and (seminal alt-comedy show) Un-Cabaret came out of that. Kathy Griffin had her show at The Groundlings. Instead of bringing our audience to us we went out and found them. And later on David (Cross) Patton (Oswalt) took it to the next step.
I have to ask, since you wrote and produced for them for seven years: What’s your favorite “Simpsons” episode?
My favorite all-around episode I think is the “Last Exit to Springfield,” the one with the monorail. That to me was the show’s early zenith where it just really cranked on all cylinders. My favorite of my own was called “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” where they flew to China to adopt a baby for Marge’s sister Selma, and based on my own experience adopting our daughter.
OK, now for some standard “Why So Serious” questions: What was your first time on stage like?
The first time I went up I was a week and a half out of high school, at the Ding Ho of Boston in the summer of ’82. Stephen Wright was discovered there…
How did it go?
For a first timer it was great. It went really amazing and I walked out thinking, “THIS IS EASY!” And then the second week I went back an it was just a disaster, but by that time it was too late.
Do you have a joke you used to love to tell but now can’t stand?
Actually, I had one joke in my very first set that I would describe as “not horrible” and it was more or less because I was raised Catholic. It was: If you go to church they’ll bless the wine and it becomes the blood of Christ. But that doesn’t work in real life. You can’t be on the beach with a glass of wine and say, “The blood of Christ!” when the police come up, because what about those two six packs? “I’d like you to meet the 12 Apostles…” It wasn’t a terrible joke. In the summer of 1983 I was on a special on HBO, by a fluke, called Campus Comedy, and I’d been doing comedy less than year. If that ever surfaces I will kill myself. I was 18. I was literally a child.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
I gotta say, the scene in bridesmaids where Kristen Wiig is being offered the Jordan almonds, where she’s trying not to throw up. That was the hardest I’d laughed since the montage of dick drawings in “Superbad.”
What’s your favorite thing to do outside of stand-up, writing and producing?
I’m a big monster movie guy and I’m at all those weird Fangoria conventions. I love all that crap. There’s a drive-in in L.A. about a half hour from where I live and my wife and I — we’re very old-school — we take our kids to the drive-in. We take ‘em to go karts. We want to be the coolest parents of 1966. It’s a nerdy life for me. I’m profoundly uncool.
Do you have a favorite joke of the moment?
Yes, I do, but I don’t know if you can print this… There’s a new comedian who’s my favorite new comedian, a girl named Ali Wong. She’s one of my favorites and she has a joke that says putting on a pair of Ugg boots is like sticking your foot in Care Bear’s vagina. (stops to laugh) I was also going through my Twitter feed just to see if there was anything, because I needed a little joke while putting together my next set for TV. I needed a bridge joke and I found one that I’d written and forgotten about, which was: I’ve never deflowered a virgin, which is why I’m also so eager to break the seal on a new jar of peanut butter. Of course, nobody wants peanut butter with a big cock-shaped dent in it.
John Wenzel is an executive editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. He is the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum) and maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles and band names.