The Awkward Glory of Comedian Dana Eagle
Comedian Dana Eagle has come a long way since her childhood Christmases spent in the Catskills, her parents sneaking her in to watch foul-mouthed comics. This Saturday, Dana will record her new comedy album, showcasing her playful takes on such “serious” topics as bi-polar disorder, confronting gay hate, and years of being a slave to “self-help” books. Dana, who regularly opens for Bill Maher, has performed on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Comedy Central, and Comics Unleashed. We sat down to chat with Dana about being an underdog, performing in Iraq, and being pigeon-holed as a gay comic.
Rooftop Comedy: On Saturday you’ll be recording your new comedy album. Why did you want to produce a CD now?
Dana Eagle: A lot of people keep asking me and it does seem like one of those rites of passage for a comedian to be able to say that this is me, this is who I am, this is what I’ve been working on. It makes me feel official.
RC: Some comics have their album release meticulously calculated and others just make the move when it feels right.
DE: I don’t think it feels right. I will say that. [Laughs] And that’s one of the things I’m finding—you have to set deadlines, because nothing ever feels right. You just have to go in with all your awkward glory and do it. I could title the CD that –Awkward Glory.
RC: Did your family background influence you to become a comic?
DE: You kind of had to have a sense of humor with my family, because no one really had a filter. If you got a bad haircut, no one tried to politely cover what they thought. No one tried to build you up and say, “Oh, no. It looks really good”. They’d say, “Wow. What happened?” So you kind of had to have a thick skin and my parents took [my brother and I] to a lot of comedy too. We were Jewish and always went to the Catskills for Christmas. They always had comedians there. It was really cool. My parents would bring us and we knew we were at an adult thing and they were letting us watch it, but that didn’t give us permission to repeat what we were hearing.
RC: Has your comedy persona/voice evolved a lot since you started out?
DE: I definitely started out going with the underdog thing and I think that’s continued. I guess the biggest change right now is, somewhere in the middle I dropped that I’m gay and I talk about that and that’s been a bit of a tricky thing because there’s this perception out there that once you’re talking about being gay, it’s a gay show. It’s always been this tricky thing that club owners and promoters don’t know what to do with. There tends to be two different promos—there’s the one you drop off at the LGBT center and there’s the one for everybody else. It always seems to be the more I talk about those things that would make me blush or turn red in public, that tends to be the stuff that everybody connects with the most. When I talk about the difficulty of being gay and then when I was diagnosed with bipolar, I hated doing them. I didn’t want to reveal that much about myself, but I couldn’t resist the laughter. They just always seem to hook into those things.
RC: It’s interesting that we live in an age when there are more openly LGBT comics than ever before, but there are still these limiting expectations for “gay” jokes.
DE: It’s a little bit tricky. I think that was always the thing about not coming out. You kind of feel like, well, this is a part of my life, but you don’t want it to eclipse every other part of you. I think what happens for a lot of us, who do the mainstream clubs, they just advertise us as they would any other comic and then we drop it in the middle and it’s a little gay surprise!
RC: Do you think there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about bi-polar disorder?
DE: I think the thing that I find in comedy is that a lot of people will stay behind after to talk to me—especially college students. Kids are getting diagnosed younger and younger, so it just seems to be on everybody’s radar. A lot of comedians make jokes about it—how everybody has something. I’m always more concerned about the people who don’t go and get diagnosed. I’m always concerned about that person that’s like, “I don’t know. I never needed a therapist”. Well, you’re the reason the rest of us are going.
RC: You’ve done quite a few shows overseas for US troops now. What do you take from those shows?
DE: It’s pretty compelling. I’m always very interested in the news and events. I think it definitely broadens my world view. The first year I went was 2007 and that was definitely when the climate here in the United States was everyone was very restless. That was the year of peak protesting. So when I returned, I felt like everybody kind of wanted an answer from me and it was my job to have one for what’s going on over there. I think the more I’m exposed to things, the more I realized, there is no black and white. Everything is just shades of gray. You try to make sense out something you can’t make sense out of. That’s my take.