An Interview With Dana Gould
Comedian and writer for The Simpsons Dana Gould will be appearing at the Comedy Works this weekend. Westword’s Adam Cayton-Holland recently interviewed the prolific comedian about everything from his start in stand-up, to the upcoming Simpsons movie to the brilliance to the second-to-last episode of The Sopranos (Not the last one.) Read the full interview below.
Adam Cayton-Holland: Where are you right now?
Dana Gould: I’m at my house working on a little movie script I’m writing
ACH: I was looking on your Web site and it seems like you do stand-up shows mostly around LA and around your house.
DG: Yeah. Most of my shows I do around my house; I’m doing a show in the tool shed, then I have one in the pantry. I’m married with two little kids, they’re three and four, so it’s like at this age, I might as well have apes; it’s like having a house full of badgers. So I tend not to go on long, long road hauls, that’s my way of keeping my wife out of the mental institution. I do at least try to go out once a month, because I’m working on material for a new album and a new special so you can’t really take too much time off.
ACH: And what brings you out to Denver?
DG: I love the Comedy Works. Before I was working on The Simpsons and touring all the time it was one of my top, top clubs that I loved to go to. I was playing there the night the first Gulf War broke out. And we still had a crowd. I was 26, so it must have been ’90 and I remember being paranoid that I was going to get drafted.
ACH: And now the world has changed so much.
DG: Dramatically. Now the president’s name is Bush, there’s a war in Iraq. It’s really different. It’s like having a time machine.
ACH: Your performance is geared around the release of a new CD, do you have a date for that?
DG: Not really. I’m just now getting ready to record it, I’m still perfecting the hour. I definitely will have a special along with it, though. I haven’t decided if I’m going to film it and sell it to HBO or Comedy Central or just release it as a DVD. I will probably film it and lease it to Comedy Central because I’m also doing a pilot for them right now.
ACH: What can you tell me about that?
DG: The pilot is called The Last Larry, that’s the working title. And it’s basically a very traditional sitcom about a group of young people who live in LA after a plague has wiped out 98% of humanity and the majority of the survivors are zombies; it’s basically Seinfeld meets 28 Days Later
ACH: Tell me about the very first time you did stand-up, was it out in Boston?
DG: It was in Boston, I was 17, I had to sneak into the club, it was called Ding Ho, it was a Chinese Restaurant. Steven Wright had been spotted by The Tonight Show at that club the week before I did my first open mic there, and he premiered on The Tonight Show the week after my first spot. The reason he got spotted by The Tonight Show was because the talent booker Peter LaSalle was in town looking at Harvard for a potential college for his son Tom who is now my manager, small world.
ACH: And you went to U-Mass Amherst?
DG: Yep. And I did stand-up all through school. Then I lived in Boston, then I moved to San Francisco. Kind of a career move, but I’m actually one of the few guys who moved to San Francisco for a girl. Didn’t work out but it did get me there, then it was a short jump to LA.
ACH: How long did it take before you started to get really good at stand-up, when you started to realize this is something you could do?
DG: Seven years. I started when I was seventeen so I had a double handicap, I was an amateur comedian and I was an amateur person. I was kid. I was an idiot until I was about twenty-six. I have a friend who is now sober who says, “I meet people who I met when I was drinking and the first thing I say is, ‘First of all I’m sorry.’" And that’s just how I feel about people who met me before I was thirty. I just want to apologize.
ACH: Was it always stand-up that you wanted to do, or did you view it more as a platform for other things?
DG: It was clearly a great way to get into acting and be a movie star and that’s a pretty sweet life, but I always loved doing stand-up as an end into itself. The first thing I wanted to do when I was a little kid was I wanted to be the Wolf Man.
ACH: Then when you turned thirty you realized that wouldn’t work out?
DG: It took me until I was thirty until I gave up on that.
ACH: I was reading your press release, you said you moved to LA in the “go-go '90s.” I imagine this was in the hand-every-comic-a-sitcom era.
DG: As I said, over the course of the '90s I had my hands in more pilots than an Air Force proctologist. But I was always still doing stand-up on the side. I wanted to do stand-up to become a famous comedian so I could make movies so I could be a movie star and then I could write my own movies. I wanted to become a movie star so I could be a writer. Then I realized in this sort of epiphanous moment, “Wait, I can just be a writer!” It’s a great way to live. I perform when I want and I satisfy that and then I can also write, which is what I want.
ACH: How did The Simpsons gig come about?
DG: George Meyer, who was a writer on the show, I guess you could say was a fan of my stand-up. They were looking for someone to come in a day or two a week to punch-up scripts, to work on the jokes. And I was astounded that I was going to work there. I started there in April of 2000, then in June of 2000 I got married, and in August they said, “Your term is up, do you want to come and work here full time?” And I said, yeah, why not? What that meant was that I couldn’t really go on the road much, but I could still perform in LA and have a great day job. That’s what I did for seven years.
ACH: Were The Simpsons staff a hard group of people to break into it?
DG: Fuck yes! Fuck yes. It was brutal. And I actually even knew a lot of them ahead of time, but like anything, you have to prove yourself. And because it’s animation you don’t really have production, you’re just in a room all day. You get cabin fever, and there’s all the politics and personalities of any group, except it’s smart people who think too much who are locked in a room twelve hours a day. It’s one of those things were you see what makes the show great, you have these really smart people competing and that’s why the show is so good. And you laugh all day, but they take the show really seriously. Because you don’t want to be in the team that fucks up The Simpsons. It was on for 18 years and then I showed up.
ACH: What are some of your favorite episodes you have written?
DG: My favorite was called "Goo Goo Gai Pan", it was when they went to China to adopt a baby for Marge’s sister, because that was based on my own experiences of when my wife and I went to China to adopt my oldest daughter. Easily my favorite episode. But I think the funniest episode I ever wrote was called, “Homer the Moe,” that was the first one I wrote. I thought that was good. And then there is one I have on this season, right now it’s called, “I Don’t Want to Know Why the Cage Bird Sings,” it was inspired by the idea if Marge was a hostage in Dog Day Afternoon.
ACH: What was your involvement like in the movie coming out?
DG: There’s a movie coming out? No, they’re writing it across the hall. Everyone knows all the writers of the film. But they keep a very tight lid on it. They brought in all the writers and showed us the early version of it, and asked us what we thought, etc. Then we wrote down the ideas and they ignored them. It’s a very small group of writers who have been with the show a long, long time. The only thing I can tell you is that Marge dies. And Homer drowns Maggie in the tub.
ACH: And then Bobby and Silvio get it.
DG: Oh did you see that episode? The brilliance of The Sopranos is that I have no idea how this is going to end. They’re so fucking good. There were a couple of wishy-washy ones this season but after that last episode, I was like god damnit it just got going. And it looks like the ending is going to be very operatic, which I hope. Did you notice how in that second-to-last episode they kept teasing it to make it look like Tony was going to kill himself. When he took out that gun, he was holding it near his mouth, and they fluffed up that pillow, they do those great misleads. I do hope that Phil Leotardo gets it, though.
ACH: I hear you on that.
DG: I can’t see Tony living.
ACH: But that seems so obvious.
DG: I tell you what I thought the ending was going to be. They were going to get Christopher on the murder of the Tim Daly character, the cops, because he really fucked up. He had a dumb mistake, was going to get bagged, and so they would turn him over to the Feds and then they were going to say, you’re married, you’ve got a baby, you’ve got this beautiful wife, give us Tony Soprano, and you go live in Arizona. And that would have been a great ending.
ACH: Back to you, though, you’ve been on a number of television shows, what’s your favorite, most-obscure performance?
DG: My favorite obscure thing, is that Joel Hodgson, from Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a friend of mine and they would often do tiny homages to my act in the show, which is my favorite obscure thing. I played Newt Gingrich in the first episode of Mad TV. My two favorite things I did, obscure or not, I had a run as an insane Wilfred Brimley on The Ben Stiller Show and I was in a pretty popular episode of Seinfeld.
ACH: I was going to say of all the things you have done, I bet people most recognize you from Seinfeld.
DG: I get that all the time. I was Summer George, thank you very much. I always get, “You’re the guy in the ditch.”
ACH: What should people know about your act?
DG: I don’t sing. No, the last time I was in Denver, 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. It’s different things that you notice with age. Here’s how being in my situation now allows me to see things differently: I just took my kids down to Disneyland, we actually go there all the time, my kids are little and it’s fifty minutes away. I would have never gone to Disneyland when I was a single guy, I was too busy, I didn’t care. One thing I’ve noticed about Disneyland is you get a very clear view of a wide cross-section of America. What is it about guys who are more than 100 lbs. overweight that always wear T-shirts with furious eagles clinging to the flag? It’s like they wrap themselves in patriotism because nothing else fits. I would have never had jokes like that without kids.