It’s not easy being a comedian these days. Just ask Oscars victim Chris Rock — or, more seriously, Dave Chappelle, who had to fend off a knife-wielding attacker onstage at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this month. The morning after Chappelle’s close call, Dana Gould is on the phone and he heard the news and saw the photos.
“I saw the photo,” Gould says, referring to the viral image of the wounded suspect on a stretcher, “and from what I understand, the guy’s arm, it’s not supposed to be bent like that.
“You know,” she adds, “after the Chris Rock thing, Kathy Griffin was like, ‘Oh great, now all the comedians are going to have to worry about being attacked on stage,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, Kathy, calm down.’ But then I said, ‘No, she’s right.’ That’s the good thing about human nature. There’s no bottom line. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they come up with something new.”
Gould, who has been performing stand-up since she was 17, hasn’t had to deal with any scary situations on stage. The closest he came to being attacked was when a drunk guy threw a beer at him at the end of a Donald Trump joke. “He was such a poor shot that I was never in any danger,” he remembers.
Gould first discovered his love of comedy, risque as it was, as one of six children in a boisterous, working-class Irish Catholic family in Massachusetts.
“There was always a fight on TV,” he says, “but if they put on a Clint Eastwood movie, if they put on The Three Stooges, or if they put on George Carlin, everyone would shut up and watch. [Carlin] I was very hippie back then; he was kind of wonderful and had a very soft vibe about him, and for some reason, I felt a kinship with him through television. It was 1972, so he was eight or nine years old, but I said, ‘I’d like to do what he does.’ So from a very young age, I knew what he wanted to do.”
Gould’s connection and respect for Carlin is clearly evident in an interview he did with the comedy legend for HBO in March 1997 at the former USA Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. The apparently well-researched questions Gould asked of his idol make one wonder if he ever considered a career in journalism.
“Well, I’m on a thing called Bulletin”, he replies, “which is a version of Substack, and I write two, I call them articles, I can write two articles a week about short-lived weird movies. The other thing I loved as a kid, apart from George Carlin, was [the short-lived 1970s TV series Kolchak:] the night stalker, so if I hadn’t become a comedian, I would have become a reporter like Kolchak. I have a feeling that many reporters my age were inspired by Kolchak.”
After getting his start in comedy by sneaking into underage clubs to do stand-up comedy, Gould got a job writing and acting in The Ben Stiller Show in 1992. During its 13-episode run, that sketch comedy TV show helped launch the careers of not only Gould and co-creators Stiller and Judd Apatow, but also Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross and, to a lesser extent, measure, Andy Dick.
“That show was a launching pad for a lot of careers,” says Gould, “but at the time, it was just an extension of my social life. These were all my friends, and Ben was broadcasting the show from his living room. We were all in the living room watching TV, and the call came in and it was like, ‘Well, we’re doing the pilot; I guess you all have jobs.
“So it was a great moment,” he adds. “I think one of the reasons the show resonated so well with people is because it was a very organic group; It was not made in a laboratory. We were all friends before, so we knew each other’s rhythms and stuff.”
After getting your break in The Ben Stiller ShowGould made appearances in comedies such as rosaanne, ElenaY Seinfeld before hitting the creative jackpot by becoming a writer at The Simpsons for seven years. Remember that the best thing about that job was being able to work with people who were so talented.
“I really learned how to write in that writers’ room,” he says, “and sitting in a room all day, every day, with some of the best writers in town, there’s no way it won’t rub off on you. . And I am very grateful to that program for not only teaching me to write, but for making me a better writer.
“And it’s a bit like the mob,” he adds, “in the sense that you’re always part of the show. I was talking to Matt Selman, the showrunner, last night. You know, you’re always there a little bit, and it’s great to know that your work will live on. I wrote an episode about when the Simpsons went to China to adopt a baby for Selma, based on my own experience adopting my children, and apparently that’s the only one not shown in China. So I’m proud of that, I guess I’m proud.”
Gould’s skills as a writer keep him very busy these days. In addition to working on projects for film and television, he has his own miniseries on YouTube, Hang out with Dr. Z; a monthly podcast, The Dana Gould Hour; and his two articles a week for Bulletin. So when he gets to do stand-up now, it’s a total release.
“Having all those things happen,” he says, “going onstage is just wonderful, because I can just pop open the cork and let it all pour out. And I think like a lot of comedians who’ve been through the pandemic, we have all this material backing and all these experiences that didn’t really have a way out, so I’ve Really I’ve been enjoying getting on stage and playing riffs.
“Another thing I did last year that might give you an idea of what I’m doing [with standup] is a documentary I made with Bobcat Goldthwait called joy ride, which is available streaming now. Right before the pandemic, we did a two-man show and drove all over the southeastern United States and did four or five shows together. The documentary shows us onstage and shows us offstage and travels with us and tells our stories, because even though we’re best friends now, we used to hate each other, and the reason we hate each other is because… you’re basically the same person. . So we had to outdo ourselves a bit.
“Me [standup] things are very autobiographical,” he adds. “You know, my older brother is anti-vaccine, so I’ll talk about him. There is no specific policy; it’s more about trying to navigate a bifurcated world in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone. Like, I’m just trying to get through the day without screwing up. It gets harder and harder and harder.”