By Ryan Meehan
Comedian Dave Hill is Hollywood’s new “It” girl, the next Leonardo DiCaprio, America’s fresh-faced boy next door, and your new best friend all rolled into one. He’s a poet, a dancer, but above all a thief – as he is soon to steal your heart. Closer to the point, he is a New York comedian, writer, musician, and man-about-town originally from Cleveland. On the show business front, you might recognize him as a frequent on-air correspondent on the popular premium cable television channels HBO and Cinemax. Or perhaps you saw him on Fuse TV’s “Hoppus on Music”, a show he was totally on all of the time until it was cancelled. He also recently starred in the wildly popular program “King of Miami” on the MOJO Network (a futuristic high definition television channel that was recently destroyed in a horrible explosion) which is now airing in the United Kingdom on Film24. You may also have seen him on Court TV’s comedy news show “Smoking Gun TV”, which was canceled in a move that was unrelated to his comedic prowess. He’s also appeared on MTV, Comedy Central, BBC America, VH1, Adult Swim, Sundance, TLC, Current TV and Spike TV networks a few times. Some he misses being able to walk into the free clinic without constantly being harassed by people who watch TV really late at night, but for the most part he would say that this “fame” thing suits him really well. On the writing front, he has written for the New York Times, GQ, Salon, VICE magazine, McSweeney’s, The Believer, HBO, Blender, The Huffington Post, FHM UK, The New York Daily News, XXL, Guitar World, Guitar Player, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, VH1, SpikeTV, The Learning Channel, and CourtTV. Additionally, he is a contributor to the popular radio program “This American Life”. His first book “Tasteful Nudes” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012, and you should buy several copies of it because it is the greatest piece of published literature ever written. When he’s not busy being famous on television all of the time, he performs stand-up at New York City clubs and is also the host of a live chat/variety/donkey show called the Dave Hill Explosion. He’s appeared at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, San Francisco SketchFest, The Edingburgh Fringe Festival, Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, SXSW, and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. Every Monday night he hosts his own radio show – The Goddamn Dave Hill Show – from 9PM to midnight on WFMU which is the greatest radio station of all-time. Aside from all of the other credits in this extremely exhausting bio, he has also rocked America as a member of such critically-acclaimed-but-not-so-popular-as-to-be-considered-a-sellout bands as Uptown Sinclair, Cobra Verde, and Sons of Elvis. Lately he has been rocking people into submission as the singer and guitar player for Valley Lodge, the guitar player for The Walter Schreifels Band, and the bass player and guitarist for Diamondsnake. We are pumping our fists high into the heavens but at the very same time all of the way down through the fires of hell as we welcome Dave Hill as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: When was the first time you can remember being recognized by others for doing something funny; and what did you enjoy most about coming to the realization that you had the ability to make others laugh?
DH: I always used to try and make my siblings laugh at dinner from as young as I can remember. I think then and now, the thing I enjoy most is the laughing part, seeing people smile and all that. Of course, all the sex and money that goes with it is good too. Haha. I am kidding. That is a humorous joke I just made up on the spot. It’s important to keep the comedy muscle in shape.
RM: What musical experience did you have with regards to black metal that initially sparked your interest in the genre; and what can you tell us about “The Black Metal Dialogues” and how that whole project came about?
DH: I love all kinds of music, but I’ve always been a big fan of metal in general. Like a lot of people, I became pretty fascinated with what was going in the Norwegian black metal scene, the murders and church burnings all that, mostly because it was just plain nuts. I like some of the bands, too, although, to be fair, a lot of is unlistenable. But I found the level of commitment a lot of them had to be especially interesting even though it often resulted in horrible stuff happening.
Around 2003, I was just bored one night and started emailing black metal bands, just being an idiot and asking silly questions to see how they’d respond because they are known for taking themselves very seriously, which I always think is funny. Along the way, I came up with the persona of Lance, a teenager from Indiana who works at Subway and lives in his mother’s basement. His band is called Witch Taint and he claims they are the most extreme band of all-time. They have a live goat on stage and everything. Eventually, I started emailing with a Norwegian black metal label for a few months, just talking about ridiculous things and the guy kept responding. I tried to get him to sign Witch Taint to the label. I actually even recorded one song with my friend John Kimbrough to send to the label. The song is called “Necrodreamraper” and It’s excruciating, the longest three and a half minutes of your life if you listen to it.
Anyway, every few days, I’d send my emails with the guy to a couple other friends who were into metal. I never planned on anyone else seeing them. In fact, this was before Norwegian black metal had become a part of pop culture and all that, so it never occurred to me that what I was doing would be of interest to anyone but me and a couple of my friends. But then my friends started sending them around to other friends and eventually, once the correspondence with the Norwegian black metal label had run its course, one friend of a friend, Jeff Watson (with whom I am now friends) wanted to
build a website for all the emails that is now at http://www.theblackmetaldialogues.com. It became very popular very quickly after Gawker wrote about it. Even over a decade later, it still gets tons of traffic. And I sell Witch Taint shirts all over the world to this day. Not bad for a band that has recorded only one song and doesn’t really exist other than in my mind.
RM: You did a piece back in 2013 for Gentleman’s Quarterly where you mentioned how hilarious British entertainment can be…What are some of your current favorites in UK television; and why do you think that their world of entertainment has been able to capture the attention of Americans beginning with Monty Python and working through history all the way to Downton Abbey?
DH: There are so many great British shows. I’m not so up to date on the latest stuff, but I love The Mighty Boosh, Snuff Box, Look Around, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Brass Eye, Father Ted, and a bunch of others. I just started watching Catastrophe, which is great too.
As for why UK shows have been able to capture the attention of Americans, I think part of it is we mostly just get the good stuff over here. There’s plenty of bad stuff over there too, but they tend not to ship that over with the possible exception of The Benny Hill Show, which every British friend I have completely disowns. But another thing is that there’s a level of quality to British shows that’s not as common here. They tend to do fewer episodes per season than shows in America and they don’t do ten seasons of a show. For example, the British Office, which I loved, only did two seasons, a total of twelve episodes and one special or something like that. They went out on top. That doesn’t happen much in America. Here, if something is successful, they beat it to death, milking every last advertising dollar out of it or whatever until your favorite show suddenly makes you want to puke.
RM: I saw in a recent blog post that when discussing the WFMU fundraiser you stressed the importance of donating to the cause because most of the people who work at that station work for free…What is so special about the environment surrounding that station which has allowed it to become such an integral part of your life?
DH: WFMU is a great station and the one of the last of a dying breed in freeform, ad-free radio. They let their DJs do whatever they want (as long as it doesn’t go against FCC rules, of course). I could make farting noises with my hands for three hours if I wanted. I mean, I wouldn’t, but I appreciate the fact that it’s an environment where I’d be welcome to try out pretty much any idea I can come up with. They let me rip guitar solos on top of records over the air. I’m sure it annoys the crap out of people, but I love that I can do it. No one but WFMU would let me do that. And I love that I can play a Darkthrone song followed by the Roches if the mood strikes. It’s a great station and has an incredibly loyal community of listeners. It’s worth noting that it’s also not a public radio station- WFMU doesn’t get any government grants, endowments, or anything like that. It’s truly radio by and for the people. I’m psyched to be a part of it. Also, in addition to talk-heavy shows like mine, they play the best jams.
RM: What sets “The Goddamn Dave Hill Show” apart from other radio shows that I could potentially listen to during that time slot? In other words, why should I listen to your show as opposed to someone else’s?
DH: I don’t really want to tell anyone what to think, but I will say that I try to keep my show fun, entertaining, and interesting. There are conversations with interesting guests, listener phone calls, some cool music, and whatever else happens. And if you can name any show in any form of media ever that has had a phone call Phil Anselmo from Pantera followed by a phone call from Dick Cavett, I will cut your lawn for free for the rest of my life.
RM: Which do you consider to be more difficult: Playing live music with a band or doing stand-up in front of a room full of people? In what ways are the two art forms similar; and in what respects are they nothing like each other?
DH: Stand-up is definitely harder performance wise. With a band, you’re not all alone and you can get up there and play a set even if no one shows up. Stand-up comedy relies more on the energy and the actual presence of an audience to work. Without them, you don’t have a show. Also, with stand-up you have to be way more present and aware of what’s happening right then and there. In a band, you can just stare at your feet and think about something you have to mail in the morning if you want. Not that I recommend that.
I guess the two are the same in that when they go well, you connect with the audience, everyone has fun, and has shared something together. Also, in both cases, there are usually drink tickets and lots and lots of sex.
RM: How do you know when it’s time to stop doing a particular joke or set of jokes in your act? Is there any sort of criteria you use to evaluate bits that might be nearing the end of their life cycle?
DH: When I can feel myself just rattling off something and not really feeling connected to it, I’ll usually get rid of it. Or if it’s just not funny and no one laughs, that would be another reason to stop doing it. But there have been a few jokes I’ve come up with that I love and usually only a handful of people in the audience will really enjoy, but I keep telling them anyway, knowing that most people in the room are just going to stare blankly at me in response. I don’t like to make a habit of it or anything, but with comedy- and life, for that matter- my primary interest is in entertaining myself, so if I think something’s funny that’s what matters most to me. And most of the time, if I think something is funny, there are other people who end up feeling the same. I’d say that about any creative endeavor- comedy, art, music, whatever- it’s most important to do stuff that pleases you. The audience is a distant second. Who knows- maybe if I thought differently about that I’d have more money. But I’m doing fine so fuck it.
RM: What’s the most important thing for a comedy writer to remember when working in a group setting for the first time?
DH: I think it’s the same as doing anything in a group setting- keep an open mind and be respectful and supportive of other people’s ideas and efforts while still fighting for what you believe in. Ultimately, you’re working together to make something you’re all proud of, so you just have to figure out a way to make it work and kick as much ass as possible together. Also, if you have snacks, don’t be a dick- share them.
RM: What has been the most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to you on stage? Looking back on it now, if it happened tonight how would you handle it differently?
DH: A few years ago, I was pelted in the face with a quarter twice in one show while opening for a Weezer tribute band in Williamsburg. I reacted by throwing beer on the audience, which I thought was kind of funny but they didn’t seem to agree. Throwing beer wasn’t perhaps the ideal reaction but at least it wasn’t going to injury anybody like, for example, the quarter did to me (I got a black eye, but it could have been much worse if my assailant’s aim was better). If it happened tonight, I just wouldn’t have showed up in the first place. That said, whoever threw those quarters is a vile human, almost as bad as people who litter or play music too loud on their headphones on the subway.
RM: Which aspect of the writing process to you tend to struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of writing jokes would you consider to be your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular component of the practice?
DH: Some days writing is fun and other days it sucks. The hardest thing for me (and for most writers probably) is trying not to listen to that voice in your head that constantly tells you that what you are doing is horrible and you should get another job. Granted, sometimes the voice ends up being right, but that’s what the delete button is for. The important thing is just getting it done, taking a break, and then going back to it and making it the best you can. I think with anything, it’s the doing that matters, not the final product really. Life is so short- you just gotta get shit done and then meet your friends for dinner or drinks later. What someone else thinks of the final product doesn’t matter a whole lot really. No matter how good you are at something, some people will dig it and some will hate it, so you can’t really give a shit either way what anyone else thinks. If you please everybody, you are usually doing something wrong. The only person who has ever succeeded in pleasing everybody is Andre 3000 with that “Hey Ya” song. Everyone loves it. And even he couldn’t do it again.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
DH: At the moment, I’m finishing up my second book, which will be out next year through blue rider press, a Penguin imprint. Also, I’m shooting a pilot for Universal with my buddy Rich Fulcher from The Mighty Boosh that Steve Carell is producing. It’s gonna be hot. Other than that, I’m doing my radio show, trying to remind people to buy my debut comedy album Let Me Turn You On, which just came out on aspecialthing records, ripping some sweet guitar solos, and hanging out with my puppy. That’s what’s going on this week anyway. I’m cooking up a few other things and I’ll do a bunch of live shows and go hang out with my dad too.
Official Website: http://www.davehillonline.com/
Dave on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheDaveHill
Dave on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mrdavehill
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