Just for Laughs exclusive - Dave Attell Interview

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There are very few people who have made me love Comedy and inspired me to be a comedian as much as Dave Attell.  I remember Watching Tough Crowd and Insomniac as a teenager and being awestruck by how raw and constantly hilarious the man is.  
It's been several years since those shows were on, but Dave hasn't lost a step in his act.  My girlfriend and I were lucky enough to see Dave close a show at the world famous Comedy Cellar in New York last August and it was incredible.  The material was there, but he barely touched it.  Attell spent most of his time goofing on the ultra-touristy crowd the Cellar gets. My favorite line of the night was hurled at a good-looking gentleman who was followed by his not so good-looking friend to the bathroom, "Oh look, a male model... and the guy that does his website."
Dave joins a stellar line up of comics including: Jim Norton, Jim Breuer, and Bill Burr for the "Anti-Social Network" tour that plays the Chicago Theater Wednesday, June 15th at 7:30 PM as part of TBS' Just for Laughs festival.  BUY TICKETS
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CAC: Who's idea was it to put the tour together?

DA: That's Jim Norton's tour.  Jim asked me to do it.

CAC: You came up with a lot of great guys like Louie C.K., Todd Barry, and Jon Stewart. Where there moments when you  guys started out that you looked at each other and knew  there's going to be some success there or were you all just trying to be funny onstage?

DA: Haha.  I like how you said we all looked at each other.  I knew all those guys were really funny.  I'm so happy and it's just great that they've all ended up doing what they were meant to do.  I would have to say the coolest thing so far would be Louie's show on FX.  That show is great.  You know Todd is super funny.  Jon Stewart is the best.  He's always been very very cool to me as a comic and also as a boss.  I used to work for him.  I hope the younger people understand that he was a comic for a long time before he was on the Daily Show.  It was a great time for Comedy.  It was before Twitter and we had to get the word out through telephone.  It was tough, we each had a phone tree with a couple hundred thousand numbers and we just sent it out and people showed up.  It was like a barn raising in Amish times. There was a lot of great comics I started with: Marc Maron, Jay Mohr.  I like all these guys as people and it's amazing how they are as comics.  

CAC: When Jim talked to you about putting the tour together, was one of the things that clicked the fact that you guys might share some of the same fans?  

DA: I doubt it.  I think my fans are kind of a different type of fan.  Most of them are people who really really like Comedy that also really really like to drink.  The other guys have their own fan base, but they also click.  And it all works together because people come to these shows, especially since it is Jim's tour and I can't thank Jim enough for having me on it.  I've toured with other guys, but I rarely get the chance to see and work with other comics now because I have to go out and do the rooms alone.  So the chance to be with these guys and watch them do their acts is a lot of fun and the audience is digging it, I think they're really into seeing 4 headliners together doing time.  The audience is into it.  Hopefully in Chicago it won't be so hot that we won't get a crowd but I think we're going to do all right.  How many seats does it hold?

CAC: I think 3,500.  

DA: Oh my Lord.  That's a lot.  It's going to be a big week there.  


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CAC: I think myself and a lot of people who enjoy Comedy have been drawn to East Coast comics like yourself because there's a fearlessness when you guys are onstage and you don't even give the crowd a chance to doubt you.  Is that because you guys have to start out in rough rooms or is it the East Coast mentality?  
DA: I used to say that too, that's it's because of the rough rooms, that's why we are the way we are.  Now I think it's just because, not speaking for the other guys; just for myself, I don't care one way or the other.  At some point you have to give up caring and I think that's what I've done.  Which is just like, I'm telling a joke, I think it's funny, either they get it or they don't, and if they don't get it, then move on to the next one.  There's a lot of really good East Coast comics, there's a lot of good guys out in California too.  But, the audiences were pretty tough, especially late night, New York.  It was hard.  (Out of left field) You really think this is going to be a festival? Like a Renaissance fest?  What do you think is going to happen?  Will there be crafts to be bought and sold?  Will we all wear costumes? I'm only funny up to 100 degrees out.  Is it going to be over 100?

CAC: It might be, it's been over 100 lately.  Today it's down to 65.
DA:  That's it!  That's great!

CAC: I was at 1 of my favorite clubs 2 weeks ago, Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton, WI and I saw your picture there.  Do you remember how long ago that was?
DA: I love that room.  I haven't been there in years, but I liked it though.  Those are the clubs that are the best because it's a small room, you get to work the crowd, you get to do more time.  Ya, I like that room a lot.

CAC: Let's hear more about the tour.
DA: It's me, Jim Breuer, Jim Norton, and Bill Burr.  We all get to do a little time then at the end we all come out.  Jim Norton hosts it and he does a little time in between and I just like it. I like the way he does it.  It's not too long or too short, it seems to be just right.  We do about an hour and change, a little longer than that, then we hang out, mix it up with the crowd.  It's pretty good, and for an old hack like myself, you're a young guy, how long have you been doing Comedy?

CAC: 4 years.  
DA: There you go.  So for an old guy like myself, 20 plus years in, these are the sweet gigs, these are the ones you can't believe that you're still getting.  I'm not really a theater act, I'm more of a club, dirty, filthy act, so it's cool to be in these fancy venues.  


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CAC: Do you remember when you first realized you had fans and people buying tickets to see you?  Rather than people just coming to see a Comedy show. 
DA: I still don't think they're coming to see me.  I still think it's because there's something else going on that they didn't get tickets to.  I did a gig recently in Albany where it was me against the Legends of Rock, it was ZZ Top and Survivor, and I was like "Wow, I'd rather go see that gig, that must be sold out if there's people here."  I'm always surprised when people come to see me, come to see my act.  The first time, I guess it would be when I started doing stuff on Comedy Central.  People start coming out.  Just cuz you get a big crowd doesn't necessarily mean it's a Comedy crowd.  I've toured a lot and realized it's better to get people who really like Comedy in a small venue than a lot of people who just want to do something in a big venue.  With the way Comedy is, people can go see anything, they don't even have to leave their house, just watch it online.  What's the cooler way of saying it?  The web or the net? 

CAC: I would say the inner-web.
DA: The inner-web, I like that.  

CAC: How long did it take till you felt comfortable onstage?  
DA: I don't know.  If you want to know Comedy stuff, I'd say it takes around 7 years, to feel good about anything you do.  But for me, it took a way long time.  I never felt comfortable, I was never a performer.  I liked writing the jokes, but the jokes sucked, and I didn't even really know how to write a joke until about 5 years in.  I would say that after doing it a lot of times, every night for years and years and years, that eventually you will become comfortable onstage.  But maybe that's not true because there are probably people who are uniquely comfortable and other people who are like "No, I just can't deal with it."  But that's the good thing about doing Comedy in New York, you know all these great guys like Louie and Jon and all those guys, we got to go on a lot of times in one night, or at least I know I would pop around from open mics to the clubs, then go back to any place where they would do a show, I knew I wanted to do a lot of stage time, as much as possible, because I realized I really wasn't as good as like... Jon Stewart.  Jon Stewart was almost immediately great, and the rest of us came along at our own speed.  I think the more stage time you get, the better you are going to get at it.  Getting comfortable onstage, I think is really just about getting onstage a lot and it doesn't matter what the venue is.  Unless you're like a naturally gifted performer like a Justin Bieber or something like that.  These younger kids seem to be like immediately, brass balls, they can just get up there and start talking.  For me, I was really uncomfortable.  

CAC: I know comics like you, Ted Alexandro and other people in New York do several spots a night...
DA: I used to, now I'm an old hack.  Ted Alexandro is probably 1 of the best comics I have ever seen.  The guy's like zen about it, he's so calm.  He's got some great, great material.  The way he thinks is unique and very special.  When he does like a Letterman set, it's great to watch.  A lot of comics now don't really care about doing these network spots, but they're really difficult to do and when I was starting out, that was the only thing we had and we were really excited about doing them and watching them.  You'd stress out for months and months and months, and they would change your act.  Clean it up and all that kind of stuff. Very stressful situation, but now there's so many other ways into Comedy that very few people do it.  And they don't use that many comics which kind of sucks too.  If you can get on one of those shows, I think that's great, even though I guess it doesn't lead to what everybody thinks, a sitcom or something like that, but as a comic it is kind of a cool thing to do.  

CAC: How would you categorize everyone on the tour?
DA: We're all white, and we're all getting old.  It's like a homecoming.

CAC: In Chicago.
DA: Yeah, it's like if the group Chicago got back together. 

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  • Great interview.

  • In reply to Jimmy Greenfield:

    Thanks Jimmy! Part 2 is up.

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