Dana Gould's comedy career launched by love of Carlin

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      It ain't easy being a comedian these days. Just ask Oscars slapping victim Chris Rock, or, more seriously, Dave Chappelle, who had to ward 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's heard the news—and seen the pictures.

      "I saw the photo," says Gould, referring to the viral image of the injured suspect on a stretcher, "and from what I understand, the guy's arm, they aren't supposed to bend that way.

      “You know,” he adds, “after the Chris Rock thing, Kathy Griffin said, ‘Oh, great, now all comedians are gonna have to worry about getting attacked on-stage,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, Kathy, calm down.’ But then I was like, ‘Nope, she’s right.’ That’s the great thing about human nature. There’s no bottom. Just when you think things can’t get crappier, they come up with something new.”

      Gould, who has been performing standup since he was 17, hasn’t had to deal with any scary situations onstage himself. The closest he ever got 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 bad shot, I was never in danger,” he recalls.

      Gould first discovered his love for comedy, risky as it might be, as one of six kids in a boisterous, Irish-Catholic working-class family in Massachusetts.

      “There was always a fight over the TV,” he says, “but if a Clint Eastwood movie was on, if the Three Stooges were on, or if George Carlin was on, everybody would shut up and watch. [Carlin] was very much a hippie back then; he was very kinda groovy and had a very mellow vibe about him, and for whatever reason, I felt a kinship with him through the television. It was 1972, so I was like eight or nine, but I went, ‘I’d like to do what he does.’ So from a very young age, I kinda knew what I wanted to do.”

      Gould’s connection to and respect for Carlin is clearly evident in an interview he did with the comedy legend for HBO back in March 1997 at the former U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. The apparently well-researched questions Gould put to his idol make you wonder whether he’d 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 get to write two articles a week just about weird movie ephemera. The other thing that I loved as a kid, outside of George Carlin, was [the short-lived 1970s TV series Kolchak:] The Night Stalker, so if I didn’t become a comedian I would have become a reporter like Kolchak. I have a feeling a lot of reporters about my age were inspired by Kolchak.”

      After getting his start in comedy by sneaking into clubs underage to do standup, Gould scored a job writing and performing on The Ben Stiller Show in 1992. During its 13-episode run, that sketch-comedy TV show helped boost the careers of not just Gould and cocreators Stiller and Judd Apatow but Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, and, to a lesser extent, Andy Dick.

      “That show was a launching pad for so many careers,” Gould says, “but at the time, it was just an extension of my social life. These were all my friends, and Ben cast the show from his living room. We’re 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 really great time,” he adds. “I think that one of the reasons that show resonated with people so well is because it was a very organic group; it wasn’t put together in a lab. We were all friends before, so we knew each other’s rhythms and things.”

      After getting his break on The Ben Stiller Show, Gould made appearances on sitcoms like Roseanne, Ellen, and Seinfeld before hitting the creative jackpot by becoming a writer on The Simpsons for seven years. He recalls that the greatest thing about that job was just being able to work with people who were so wildly talented.

      “I really learned how to write in that writers’ room,” he says, “and to sit in a room all day, every day, with some of the best writers in town, there’s no way it can’t rub off on you. And I’m so grateful to that show for not only teaching me how to write but for making me a much better writer.

      “And it’s kinda like the Mafia,” he adds, “in that you’re always a part of the show. I was talking to Matt Selman, the showrunner, just last night. You know, you’re always kinda there, 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 is 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. As well as working on projects for both film and TV, he’s got his own YouTube miniseries, Hanging With Dr. Z; a monthly podcast, The Dana Gould Hour; and his two articles a week for Bulletin. So when he gets to do standup now, it’s a total release.

      “Having all that stuff going on,” he says, “going on-stage is just bliss, because I just get to uncork and let it all pour out. And I think—like a lot of comedians that have gone through the pandemic—we have all of this material backup and all of these experiences that really didn’t have an outlet, so I’ve really been enjoying going up on-stage and just riffing.

      “One of the other things I did last year that can give you a taste of what I’m doing [with standup] is a documentary I made with Bobcat Goldthwait called Joy Ride, which is available streaming now. Just before the pandemic, we did a two-man stage show and we drove throughout the American Southeast and did four or five shows together. The documentary shows us on-stage and shows us off-stage and travels with us and sort of tells our stories, because although we are best friends now, we used to hate each other, and the reason we hated each other is because we’re basically the same person. So we had to kinda get over ourselves.

      “My [standup] stuff is very autobiographical,” he adds. “You know, my older brother is an antivaxxer, so I’ll talk about him. There’s no specific politics; it’s more just talking about trying to navigate a bifurcated world in a way that doesn’t alienate anybody. Like, I’m just trying to get through the day without fucking up. It gets harder and harder and harder.”

      Dana Gould performs standup comedy at the Rio Theatre on Saturday, May 28, as part of Just for Laughs Vancouver.