Comedian Dave Attell on Insomniac, Marc Maron and vintage porn nerds
Best known for his hit Comedy Central show Insomniac, Dave Attell is an all-around beloved character in standup comedy. While often edgy and at times arrogantly confrontational, his razor-sharp wit gives him an everyman-at-the-bar diplomacy. During nearly three decades in the business, Attell has seen the ebb and flow of the comedy industry and his own career; in anticipation of his four-show run at Comedy Works this weekend, we caught up with the knight of nightlife to chat political comedy, the irony of reality TV and vintage-porn nerds.
Dave Attell appears at Comedy Works South this weekend.
- T.J. Miller debuts a Fox comedy -- and soon a Mike Judge collaboration
- Ron White on gay marriage, marijuana and opening acts -- including Josh Blue
- Comedian Chris Hardwick on hipsters, sobriety and the true meaning of being a nerd
Westword: You've been around the New York comedy scene for so many years, working alongside comics like Louis C.K., Marc Maron and Jon Stewart. With those comics becoming huge successes late in their careers, do you think they improved, or did the rest of the world finally catch up to what they were doing?
Dave Attell: That's a good question. They all were great comics for a long time, but it took them finding their vehicle to get to a bigger audience. I couldn't be happier for them -- they've been good to me and they're good for comedy.
I guess Louie's stuff has changed to some degree; he's been focused on being a dad and having kids, and when I started with him he was doing more eclectic, esoteric stuff. I'm not really into the whole family stuff, but I could see why that appeals to a wider audience.
With Maron, he was bouncing around for years and years between the alternative scene and the straight New York club scene. He didn't fit in with either, but with this podcast he connected with his audience. I've seen him since the podcast, and the audience hangs on his every word -- it's great.
You worked on The Daily Show before it really became the sensation that it is today. Looking at then and now, do you think programs like that and Bill Maher's show have altered comedy to be more focused on politics?
With The Daily Show, a lot of kids were getting sick of straight-up news; they wanted something unfiltered and smart -- and Jon is definitely super-smart. He got what was funny about the news. Shows like his and Bill Maher's, they tackle stuff that's easy to make fun of but really hard to do it right. It's cool that those shows are this generation's news source.
One of the best political comics that I know is Lewis Black. He takes it to a level that you want it to be taken to, which is that it's all ridiculous and there are no white-hats and black-hats; it's all a gray area. But I'm not a political guy. I enjoy it all, but it's not really my bag.
It's been said that Insomniac stopped working because you'd go out and people would recognize you and the camera crew, and the spontaneity would be lost. I wonder if that would happen today: With so many reality shows sprouting up everywhere, maybe we're getting used to camera crews following people around in public.
Well, today's reality shows are so scripted and set up beforehand. With Insomniac, all that was scripted was calling ahead and asking if we could come to their bar. But, yeah, it got pretty popular and became hard to do. The idea of reality shows today is kind of a parody of itself. They all stick to a format. People don't seem to tire of them, though.
In terms of getting on camera, everyone's on camera today. With YouTube and Facebook, everyone wants to be heard, be a product, be both the performer and the audience. Doing a show like Insomniac was really difficult, because it wanted to be spur-of-the-moment, going from place to place to place. That was a different time; people weren't always TV-ready. We saw that more toward the end -- people would be performing for the camera. I'm glad that that people liked it and grew up on it, but I'm also glad I'm not doing it now. The crowds we were getting were all drunk frat boys wanting to be on MTV.