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Dan Cummins Interview

Dan Cummins is shooting like a rocket; he has been in the comedy game for only ten years, and in that time, he has been on Live at Gotham and had his own Comedy Central Presents. On Saturday, May 29th, Dan will make the next enormous leap in his career when he upgrades to his very own Comedy Central one-hour special.

As a friend of Rooftop Comedy for years, Rooftop wanted to help Dan get the word out—watch the special—and had Comic Nathan Timmel give Dan a call.

NT: Where’d you get your start in comedy, and where are you now?

DC: I started doing comedy in Spokane, Washington, and August 2000 is when I first walked into a comedy club. Right now, at this moment, I’m in Florida, on vacation, but I live in Santa Monica.

NT: Are comedians allowed to take vacations? Isn’t being a comedian in and of itself a vacation; traveling to new places, meeting new people, having your days free…

DC: [Laughs] I guess you’re right, but I think I do need a vacation. It’s nice to have some nights where you don’t have any shows to do, so I can drink earlier in the day and not have to worry about how it’s going to effect my timing or remember that I have to be somewhere. It’s not a powerful excuse, but I’m going to stick with it.

NT: Well played, I’ll accept that. So, tell me a bit about the comedy scene in the Pacific Northwest; is it anything like the music scene? Is it grunge inspired? Do the comedians wear flannel? Is it hip and alternative?

DC: [Laughs] Seattle is about four and a half hours from Spokane, driving, and Portland Oregon and Seattle are the true epicenters of the Northwest comedy scene. They have alternative comics in there somewhere, but I’m not too familiar. I think it’s mostly thrift store and mustache based; I haven’t actually been in any of the alternative rooms, but I know of some of the guys and that seems to be the code: loose joke structure, thrift store clothes, strong knowledge of indie bands, hatred of anything popular, and mustaches.

NT: And then the audience doesn’t laugh, they just snap their fingers casually, like in hip jazz clubs.

DC: Yes! Exactly! That’s the other thing, the complete disregard of audience approval. It’s almost better, I guess, if the audience doesn’t like you, because that doesn’t mean you’re not funny, it just means they’re just not ready for your stuff because you’re so cutting edge. As opposed to being just lazy and not knowing how to write a real joke.

NT: [Laughs] YES. Ok, enough bashing; tell me about your new special. How did you get approached for it, and how long did you have to prepare for the taping?

DC: Well, I taped my half-hour special in 2007, and it aired in January 2008, and I remember telling my manager at the time that I’d love to try for an hour next, and he basically was like, [unenthusiastically] “Well, they don’t give many of those out.” But later in 2008, I switched managers, and my new manager was more positive about trying to get one. In 2009, then, Comedy Central had that “Standup Showdown,” where fans get to vote on their favorite half-hour, where they have one day in January where they show them all in a row and people just vote, and mine ended up getting third place. Based on that, my manager talked to whoever it is at Comedy Central—I don’t even know—about it, and they approved it.

So I think I found out about it in February 2009, and we taped in October 2009. I remember as soon as I found out about it, I just took a notebook up on stage, in Spokane, and just started feeling material out, seeing what worked best on stage. I ended up writing about fifteen more minutes between February and October. I even took a couple old notebooks, all the way down to my first year of comedy, and found some jokes I couldn’t make work at the time but am able to now.

NT: Now, that said, do you think alternative comics should research their old notebooks, find the jokes that were so cutting edge when they started they were ahead of their time, and pull them out years later to see if society has finally caught up?

DC: [Laughs] Well, they probably should, because their jokes are so ahead of their time, they could probably find a joke they wrote ten years ago, pull it out today, and it would still be like five years ahead of its time.

NT: YES.

DC: What would be cool is: they could take a band reference from back then, a band nobody knew about ten years ago, and reference it today, and it would be retro and cool, like when people wear 80s clothes today. So instead of making a new inside reference to a current band no one gives a shit about, they’d be making a reference so cool even the current indie bands don’t know what they’re talking about.

NT: [Laughing] Yes, yes, yes. Ah… [Smiles] hilarious. Now, I know Comedy Central tapes their half-hour specials in New York; where did you record your hour?

DC: This was taped in Spokane.

NT: Neat! You got to go home. Did you get to choose the theater?

DC: Somewhat. I mean, I suggested it. Comedy Central gave a licensing deal to my management, and I have a record deal with Warner Brothers… [Pauses] I actually know very little about how this all works. I wish I could say I have more control over these things, but I pretty much just write and tell the jokes. I mean, I said, “Hey, Spokane would be nice,” and they say, “We’ll think about it,” but then it actually worked out.

It was kind of a weird thing, because I taped my special right after another comic taped his hour special. Juston McKinney. Juston’s great comic from the Northeast, and is also with Parallel, my management company. He also got an hour slated for 2010, so what Comedy Central did was combined our budgets, and then picked one spot to record. Originally we were going to be in New Hampshire, and I would open, because that’s his home area, but then something happened and we ended up in Spokane and I had to follow someone doing an hour special of their own.

NT: Was there an intermission?

DC: Thank God there was an intermission, but it was still the same audience. So, yeah, by the end of my set they’d been sitting there for three hours.

NT: With Comedy Central Presents, you get to design or create a backdrop, but with the two of you on the same stage it was probably just had a plain stage.

DC: There wasn’t an intricate setup, but what they did do was some pretty cool things with the curtains. Juston had a fairly traditional theater curtain design, and then they did some cool stuff behind his for me. It was all set up beforehand, so during intermission they could just pull his curtains apart and mine was right there behind it. I wanted a “Tim Burton-y” feel, which was the only thing I could think of to describe to them what was in my head, sort of absurd or surreal. Like Salvador Dali, that kind of look that says, “What the hell is going on?” And the set designers did a great job of putting that together for me.

Dan’s special airs Saturday May 29th at 11:00 PM, on Comedy Central.

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This was taped in Spokane.

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