Interview: Dave Attell

Interview Dave Attell

Comedy Central viewers know the drunken pirate theme that brings in each episode of Insomniac with Dave Attell. The theme song often provided a backdrop to numerous late night sessions of pounding out this very magazine. And because I’m a TV whore and Comedy Central, like any channel, runs shows relentlessly in repeat, I’ve seen most episode’s of Dave’s show numerous times. Each episode starts with the tail end of Dave’s appearance in any given city. He then proceeds to roam the city streets with cameraman in tow looking for drunken adventures. The expected bars and drunk chicks abound, but what gives the Insomniac show it’s charm, is it’s unifying them of finding people up all night. Each episode usually features a few unique job segments where they find someone who works a late night profession. But the snap that keeps the show moving is Dave’s ability to wisecrack his way through most every situation he’s presented with. And liberal amounts of alcohol make its expected impact. It’s funny. As a comic, and even more pleasantly surprising, as a person, he is sharply observational, often self-depreciating and proudly pushes the limits of political correctness. My kind of people.

It’s 10:00 in the morning, shouldn’t you be in bed?
Dave: I’m doing radio today. I like doing phone interviews. I’m chain smoking. I’m in my underwear. It’s not like I have to get up and go somewhere.

Do you do a lot of press and promotion for theshow?
The only promotion that this show really has is what commercials they show on Comedy Central. I’ve done a lot of college newspapers. A lot of radio. Because I do stand up so, usually when you blow into town to do a week, they bring you out for radio in the morning. Everything else is word of mouth.

How did it come about to get your own show on Comedy Central?
I guess it was my turn. (small chuckles to himself). What happened is, I went in for a pitch meeting. I pitched something. They didn’t like it. My second pitch was just kind of the comic life, reality based. They had no reality based shows on Comedy Central. They had no stuff that was outside of New York or LA. Out of LA, “Win Ben Steins Money”, and of course “The Daily Show” which is a great show here in New York. But there was no stuff that covered anything outside of the two big TV hubs. And being a comic, I’m on the road all the time. Birmingham, Alabama. Houston, Texas. Kansas City, Missouri. St. Louis. All these little towns all over the country and I always thought it would be cool if you went and caught the nightlife there. Especially with that, “Wild On E!” show. Which I never really got how, a beautiful model travels to exotic locations, and goes to great fancy places, how people find that exciting. Other than seeing that hot Brooke Burke. That’s not the life I live. That’s not the people I see.

So you are kind of like the poor mans “Wild on E!”?
Yeah. I guess Comedy Central liked it because it was something different. And it’s kinda cheap to do the show. Nothing’s really written. We have no writers. No makeup or wardrobe or anything like that.

How big of a crew do you have when you go out?
When we go out, we probably use about five of my people and about three locals to help move the equipment and drive and do all that kind of production stuff. We need extra people to get releases from the people we run into and the jobs we go to. Because everything we go to, we have to be invite to. Everybody has to sign off with being on television. No one is being “X’d” or there is no hidden camera shit. We want everybody to have the option of being on or not being on.

I very rarely see that someone will be blurred in the background.
We try not to do that.

I just assumed that was just that one hard ass that didn’t want to be in the show for some reason.
Sometimes they’ll do that. The worse thing is people will come up to us, and talk to me for like an hour about the show. And then they’ll go, “Oh, we don’t want to be on it”. And we just wasted an hour of our time. It’s cool and all that, but then don’t be on it. Walk away.

Who conceived the general premise of a traveling comedian who gets drunk and fucks with the locals?
Me. Yeah, it’s my show. People always say that, “Fucks with the locals.” I don’t think I’m fucking with anybody. If you’ve been to a stand up comedy show, and you’ve heckled, and you’ve been put down, you know that’s being fucked with. But me going up and going to a guy, “Hey I like that shirt. What was the second choice?” If that’s being fucked with, I think we are going to lose this war on terrorism. There are a lot of sensitive pansies out there. I hold back a lot on the street. Try to have a good time and keep it light. There’s a lot of young college drinkers out there that have kind of been TV trained to ‘whoo’ and do all that kind of stuff. We try to keep that to a minimum. I’m older, I’m 37 years old. I’m more of a functional alcoholic than a ‘party drinker’. I don’t really know where they are coming from. But like I said, it is a comic night on the town.

Have you ever said anything, in an attempt to be humorous, that either came out wrong, and/or the person got really pissed off?
There was only one thing that ever made the air that I felt bad about saying to somebody. You never see the people who are way too drunk to be on the show, even though they have followed us three blocks to be on the show. And they are drunk and they yelled at me and called me an asshole. You never see any of that. Cause I know the next day they’d wake up and go, “Aw fuck man, what did do? I’m a drunk.” We’ve had emails from people that said, “Remember me? I was the guy who was trying to get you to try and drink out of my shoe? Remember? And I was calling you a ‘fag’ cause you wouldn’t do it? And I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer? Well I got arrested after that. Please don’t put me on the air.” And we don’t put them on the air. Other shows would do that. There are even a lot of people that are super bitter. Here’s a guy going around, kinda I guess, living their dream of having TV show. They’ll come up to me and go like, “Why do YOU have a show, man?! I’m 19. I skateboard. How come I don’t have one?!” And I’m not so into whole ‘TV celebrity’ world that I feel that strongly about having a show or not having it. The good thing about having a TV show for me is I’m a stand up comic. Now people know I’m a stand up comic and when I go to their town, they come see my show. That’s the cool thing about it. The people that I get at the gigs are usually pretty cool. Some of them think that I’m gonna be shooting the show, so they get super wild. That’s annoying. There’s really no ‘cool TV thing’ about the show. We are eating in the diner. Me and the crew. We are traveling around in a van. There’s no hot after party. There’s not wrap party. There’s no, “Let’s go over to this guys house and smoke pot by his pool party”. We are usually packing up at like 5 in the morning, to get a plane at 10 AM.

The show comes off with a credible air of spontaneity.
It’s really hard, especially when you only have a certain amount time to shoot, you have to go with it. And that’s the thing that sometimes makes me cringe. Where I have to act over excited about something that’s really not happening, but that’s what we have to shoot.

I notice a fair amount of alcohol consumption going on during the shoots. Do you have a good recollection of the shows you film, or is it kinda fuzzy until you see the final edit?
I’m a different type of drinker. I remember every pathetic thing that happens. The drinking gets throttled up because I guess people see it as ‘college drinking show’ and that was not my initial thought of doing the show. But it is a bar show. We are at bars. I’m really drinking. You see a lot of drinking on TV. A lot of that’s just like apple cider and like Ice Tea. This is real alcohol. I’m really against the drinking and driving. That’s why at the end of the show, from I’d say after the second season, I said I’m not driving a car or anything like that. Even if I’m legally not drunk, I think it’s wrong. So that was like my public service thing. Because a lot of people out there are drinking way too much out there for no reason. Guys and girls. And when we go to a bar, everybody is trying to give me shots. And I’m like, “Why man? Here I am from Comedy Central. I’ve got some cash on me. I’m gonna buy you guys drinks.” And they’ll keep buying me drinks thinking that’s what it’s all about. A lot of it, I think, is just to say that you did it.

What signs do you generally exhibit that lets the cameraman and producers know you’ve had too much to drink?
Sometimes when I’m too drunk, but we have to keep going, I usually get something to eat and I’m pretty much back at it. I get wasted in my personal life. I’m way too old to be drinking the way I do, which is hard shots. I don’t drink these crazy electric slides and beer bong shit.

I’ve seen you wince almost every time they make you drink a girlie drink.
Yeah I hate that. And these shots are bigger than they used to be. I guess it’s kind of the Burger King, or fast food super size. It used to be a little shot gloss. But now it’s a rock glass, and that’s usually not right.

What kind of stuff goes on that doesn’t make it to the show?
There’s sometimes when I’m a little sarcastic that we won’t put in there. Especially after someone’s been asking me the same question 15 times, like, “What are you doing here? What are you doing here?” After being nice like 20 times, I usually walk away and then they call me an asshole. That stuff you don’t see in there, but I don’t think anybody needs to see that. Most of the stuff in the show is stuff that we all agree should be in there. There’s definitely some funny lines that we don’t have time to put in there.

Will there ever be a ‘best of’ or DVD release of Insomniac, like ‘Insomniac Gone Wild’ with all the drunk chicks who flash you?
We do have a DVD coming out. It’s not what people are gonna think, like a director’s cut with all that stuff. Because Comedy Central doesn’t have the money for that. At least with my show. I guess it’s like five episodes from the first two seasons, without the blurs and beeps that you see on the TV.

As a comedian, you must recognize the euphoric, somewhat laughing state that marijuana induces, and I would think that would be attractive to you, yet on the streets of (the Philadelphia episode I believe), you encountered two young men, sharing a marijuana joint. (You asked what kind and they said ‘chronic’). They offered to you, you refused, and then you then kind of championed smoking cigarettes instead. How come you passed up the free chronic?
I don’t smoke pot. I’m a drunk. See I’m old. I’m 37 years old. I think the last time I smoked pot was at a Hall and Oates concert. I’ve done drugs. I’ve smoked pot. I’m no hypocrite. I think pot should be legal. I don’t smoke it. I’m more of a drunk. Those guys were actually very very cool. Those were guys who worked and they smoke a little pot afterwards. I chain smoke cigarettes. That’s wrong. I know that. But that’s something I do. We are gonna go to Amsterdam. We are gonna smoke some pot over there because it’s legal. On Comedy Central, you can only show the host doing something legal. I don’t really do any drugs or anything like that. Like I said, when we go to Amsterdam, I’ll probably smoke some pot over there because it’s legal and its part of what Americans think about Amsterdam. But we are into people doing whatever they want to do. There are people doing other drugs out there that we don’t show. There’s always one bar in every town, which is like the ‘known’ after hours drug bar. And that’s the thing that’s different from other shows, which is, whoever is the host, doesn’t go back in six months and do stand up. I do. So a lot of it has to do with, I don’t want people to think that I was an asshole, and when I come back, they are gonna be like, “There’s that asshole.” I know I have to go back to these towns, because that’s really my living, being a standup comic, that’s what I like to do. So I’ll go back to these towns and somebody will always come up to me and go, “How come you didn’t go to this place, man.” Then I’ll have to explain to them, we called over there, no one answered the phone. We went by, no one would let us in. They were doing blow in there, we aren’t allowed to show that. So, I feel for them, because there is always the one cool bar, the bar that everybody knows in town, is where everybody ends up, that we can never hit.

Do people offer you drugs a lot? Does that seem to be a goal? To get Dave fucked up?
Yeah. I feel kind of like the local retard when they do that. Yeah, they try and buy me shots. I buy people shots. It’s a great problem to have. But there’s only so much drinking we can do. Comedy Central has even said they wanted the drinking toned down.

Does alcohol make Dave Attell funnier?
It makes me a lot of things. But I don’t think funny is one of them. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me relax. But I don’t think it makes me funnier. I don’t drink before I go on stage. I might have a beer while I’m on stage, but it’s not like I’m pounding them to go up there because I’m afraid or anything. Alcohol is something I like to do after the show to relax.

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You are in your 3rd(?) season now correct?
What you are seeing now on TV is the 3rd season.

Is it getting harder to wander around without the recognition factor getting in the way?
Yeah. People know the show. They see us on the street and come up to us. They are excited, which is cool to see. We run into a lot of people who want to talk about the show, or tell us about what they like or don’t like about the show. Which is cool, but we are shooting the show as they say it. So we can’t put that on the air, so it’s kind of wasting our time. But the cool thing that we are running into now, which is we are running into people that we met in other cities. When we were in Las Vegas, we must have met like seven people that we met in other cities. So we always try and do a flash back or something like that. So it’s pretty cool seeing how as you go around the country, it’s not as big as we all think.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve encountered doing the show?
The ridiculous things that are usually good for us are some things that I think are a little played out, especially on my show, which is the drag queen thing. Whenever people see us, they always say, “You gotta go to this drag show.” And I’m all for that thing. I see the humor in it and it’s fun and they are always good people. But once you’ve done it once or twice, it’s really hard to find a new take on it.

Insomniac seems to really support the ‘alternative’ lifestyles.
Oh yeah, absolutely. Because you know what, if you want to know what’s really going on in your town, you gotta really hit the alternative clubs. The gay and lesbian groups. They are the people out partying late and having fun. And they’ve been really cool to us and letting us in. And also, we’re not the Man Show. We’re not any of these ‘guy, drinking, football, fucking shows’. We’re just regular dopes, who hang around anybody who is up late. From college bars to a little bit upscale bar. Not many dance clubs, just because you really can’t talk to people in a dance club. We’ll go to a gay bar, fetish bar. A gun club. Anybody who is up late, we’ll hang out with. And they all seem to fit together. That’s the cool thing of the show, is that if you take them all together, it really gives you a taste of the nightlife. It’s not just New York and LA. Everywhere in the country has a gay bar or a fetish club now.

What city was your favorite to do?
The cities with the late last call are the best cities for us to do. It gives us more time in bars to talk to people. And there is a cool factor to drinking like at 4 or 5 in the morning. Like Myrtle Beach or New Orleans. Towns that go really late. Towns with no last calls are the best. But it’s so hard to do the show, because when do you stop drinking? Last call is there for a reason. For us, it gives us a reason to start closing the show down. The fun towns are the ones outside of these big cities where they give us access to like the police or fire department. That’s the hard thing to do to the show. We always have a job [segment] in there. And it’s harder than it looks to get access. A lot of people at home think, it must be kind of boring going to a job late night. For me, that’s the coolest part of the show, seeing people work late. It’s really hard to set up. It takes my research people weeks and sometimes a month
to say we are coming to this town. And they want to look at tapes of the show. And then they have to decide if this will make their business look bad. It gives a little credibility to the show. That is the funnest part of the show. Seeing somebody do something outside of a bar or a dance club.

What was the coolest or most interesting ‘tourist’ (non-alcohol) related segment you shot for the show?
We’ve hit a lot of great events in the show. The Key West Fantasy Fest was probably the most ‘Wild on E!’ thing we’ve done. We were in New Orleans, but not during Mardi Gras, because I really wanted to separate the show from the beginning from the ‘Wild on E!’ show. I don’t think the show is a ‘Eureka’ new invention. It’s just a version of a lot of these reality-based shows. But the cool things when you go to an event that not a lot of people know about it. It’s usually something that has a kind of southern kind of NASCAR feel to it. We went to stock car racing outside of New Orleans in the first season. And basically, families would come down and work on their cars all week, and then they would do it. And I don’t know much about NASCAR or anything like that, but it was a great time for me. It was just really fun to see. Living in New York City, or in a big city, you don’t know about this kind of cool fun. Some people think it’s white trash or whatever, but it’s fun going to a Monster Truck show, or shooting guns. I find that it’s really fun and a little different from what people think of as a TV late night party show. You don’t see Brooke Burke going to a sewage treatment
plant and then going out to a Monster Truck show.

There is something very white trash friendly about Dave Attel. You seem to be able to blend in and be accepted at a lot of different places.
I like all that stuff because I find that show business is pretty boring when it comes down to it. Being a stand up comic, you are kind of your own army of one. You are out there alone. You are doing your thing. You get drunk. I guess if you are a famous stand up comic, you know celebrities and hang with them and go to the VIP section. You know, I’ve never been to a VIP section of any club, until I did this show, where they bring the crew into the VIP section. I never knew anything about that shit. I was usually the guy waiting in line outside the club. The only reason I’m in the VIP section is because I’m there with a camera crew.

What’s cool about the VIP section?
It sucks. It’s boring. They are all there waiting to be seen. The celebrity lifestyle is pretty boring. They are very health conscious and who knows who and what’s going on and that kind of shit. But the white trash element, I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it, I like to think I’m not being politically correct. I’m 37 years old, I remember when America was a lot wilder. When there was no airbags. When there was no lawsuits because I ate too much McDonalds and now I’m gonna sue you because I’m fat. People used to just kind of take it on the chin. And that’s kind of the naivety of me thinking that America is still like that. And it is to some degree, but not really as much as it used to. And that’s kind of what we are trying to search for. If you are trying to think of why we go to these small towns and why do we do these things, I really think it’s the wildness of what America could be, or used to be. That’s why the drinking and smoking stands out. Everything’s so politically correct. So role model oriented. So kid-friendly. Like I was just in Las Vegas. The casinos are crawling with kids. It’s not supposed to be that way. That’s not the kind of Vegas time that I want. I want to get drunk, gamble and get a hooker. That’s what this show is about… fun.

That’s cool they let you smoke cigarettes. You don’t see that much on TV anymore.
And I think it’s (smoking) wrong and it’s slowly killing me. I’m not gonna say, “Aw fuck it. Smoking won’t kill ya!” It’s killing me. It’s killing me and it’s wrong. I’m hacking up shit. It’s bad…

It makes you look so damn cool though.
Does it? Ok then. I smoke to distract people from the fact that I’m bald. But it’s the wild factor that I like. The real wild just kind of trash. People who just don’t give a shit and have fun. That’s harder to find. Every town has the same themed restaurants and bars now.

Are you seeing the homogenization of American more and more as you travel?
Yeah. It’s bad. It’s just boring.

Any chance of taking the show outside of the US?
Yeah. Actually this season we are going overseas to Amsterdam, London and Dublin. Great. Just in time for war. We’ll be shooting them in February and March. We got one or two more in the states then we are going over there. A big highlight of the 4th season, which is something that people won’t see until June or July, but we are going to have a small contest. You’ll see it on Comedy Central, where you can write an essay and we’ll come to your town and hang out all night. It’s kind of a MTV thing, but we get so many good emails. The fans have been really good to the show, just putting up with the show moving around. It’s really not a promoted show. It’s really a word of mouth show. I’ve always wanted to do that, where I go to some guy’s town, or some lady’s town, and we just hang out at their house and let them be the tour guide a little bit. I think that would be good for the fans.

How does comedy differ from region to region in the US? Is there a marked difference in the material you do in say, Seattle as opposed to Nashville.
That’s a great question. There are regions to comedy. Like there is the southern comedy. It’s a little slower, a little more story-telling. There are definitely types of comedy depending on ethnicity. But region to region, it does change. But when you get to what I’m doing now with this show… the best thing to come out of this show, and the one thing that I wanted from it, was to find an audience for my comedy. So most of the people that come to the comedy club now, I’d say like 80% are people who saw me, kind of think I’m funny, and want to come and see me do my stand up in person. I think a lot of people come thinking I’m going to be doing the Insomniac show, and I’m pretty straight up about it. I’ll be on the radio all morning, up from like 6 AM till Noon, saying, “I’m doing stand up at this club. I’m not doing the Insomniac show. Come down if you want to see me do stand up.” It’s a little more personal or whatever, but I’m bringing in my audience no matter what region it is. I’ve done stand up all over the country from the Midwest to the South to the Northeast to the West Coast. You have to be able to do stand up everywhere in the country. You can’t just be a certain type of act. Unless you a magician. Or a puppet guy.

What’s the funniest thing to have happened to you in the last week?
I was in Vegas, we were shooting a show out there. And it was the AVN Adult Video Porn awards. And talk about fans, these people in that business know my show. So they would come up to me, and that was really cool because that’s what I wanted the show to be like. The fringe element people. And they were really nice and into it and everything. I hung out and did the show. I stayed an extra night and gambled and got drunk. And then I came back and said to myself, you know what, I can literally say, “I cannot get laid at a porn awards.” There was no sex talk at all. It was all talking about the show or having a drink. And I’d see these beautiful women that I’ve masturbated to and now I finally get to meet them. And I realize that these ladies have it harder than me because their fan base is all bald, loser guys like myself who are sitting at home masturbating to them.

You didn’t cash in your celebrity cards there?
I really don’t have any celebrity cards. I think I’m somewhere behind Screech. I don’t know why people would want to be a celebrity. Luckily, I cannot ever be caught doing anything like… honestly, if I was caught watching kiddie porno, people would be like, “Oh that seems right. I’ve seen his show.” For me I could do anything short of killing a hooker.

And to leave on a self-defeating note, among the numerous, expected embarrassing situations the show has presented you with, what was the most unexpected mistake/embarrassing moment Insomniac has presented you with?
I guess it’s a high school thing in a way, where I’ll be drinking and shots will be going around, and I really don’t have any wardrobe on the show, and sometimes I’ll just be covered in booze and mud and shit like that. And one time I spilled a shot on my pants like right around my dick. Now I’m walking around doing a TV show with a wet stain around my dick. There’s nothing we could do about it. I kind of looked like a retarded man wandering the streets bugging people. I had a million embarrassing things happen. I think a lot of that has to due with, that’s what drinking is. Just so much embarrassing shit happening. I really don’t get embarrassed to easily. I pretty much know how I am and I know I’m no big deal. There’s no real ego involved in terms with the show. I don’t like when people get a little rough with it. People will be slapping you on the back and all that shit. Getting a little rough with me and crew. But it seems like almost every moment is a little bit embarrassing. Here you are, talking to some girl who is showing you her clit ring. And my mom goes, “How do you do that?” and am I’m like, “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last 16 years? Who do you think I’ve been hanging out with? What, do you think I do my show then go to the library?”

Any last words to the youth culture that are looking for your wisdom to guide them through these troubled times?
Oh, the youth thing? I have no real voice of reason. The only think I know is if you mix your drinks, you are probably going to end up in a car crash, jail or with me. Choose wisely. But people should email us (at Comedy Central) and tell us what’s going on in their town. And not just the bar they go to, but the late night jobs that they know about or events that are going on. And I also have a CD and a DVD coming out in February. The CD of my standup stuff that I’ve been doing called, “Skanks for the Memory’s”.