How Stand-Up Comedy Led To A Strange But Perfect Career For Dana Gould

Comedian Dana Gould. (Courtesy Mandee Johnson)
Comedian Dana Gould. (Courtesy Mandee Johnson)

It’s the morning after Dana Gould’s favorite holiday, Halloween, when he picks up the phone to speak with me from Los Angeles. He says one of the great perks of living in LA is that they know how to do Halloween.

The previous night, Gould had taken his two kids to the best trick-or-treating neighborhood, where old friend Tom Kenny, better known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, lives. They ended up at special effects legend Rick Baker’s house, which he said had a display like a horror-themed Disneyland. And he got to participate in an annual staged reading of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" with a bunch of comedian friends.

“I love it,” he says. “Breaks my heart that it’s over.”

Before Gould was a stand-up comedian (he's performing at Laugh Boston from Thursday, Nov. 16 to Sunday, Nov. 18) in the first wave of alternative comedy, before he performed on the groundbreaking "Ben Stiller Show," and before he was a writer and producer for “The Simpsons,” he wanted to be involved in horror somehow.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be an actor so I could act in horror movies,” he says. “And I didn’t want to be the star. I just wanted to be in a horror movie. I like to be on the set, I like the makeup, I just love that world. But I was funny, so then I became a comedian.”

Gould’s childhood in Hopedale, Massachusetts, helped shape his sense of humor. “Everybody in my family is really, really funny and really sarcastic,” he says. “And kind of dark.”

The only time his family was quiet was when George Carlin came on television, which is partly what gave him an affinity for the comic legend so early in his life. At the same time, he was what he calls a “monster kid,” which set him apart from his peers.

“If you were a kid that grew up watching horror movies and monster movies and watching monster movies on TV and reading Famous Monsters magazine and all that,” he says, “you were considered weird. And kids that grow up being told that they’re weird gravitate toward other kids that are weird.”

That feeling of being an outsider followed him to his career as a stand-up. In the late '80s and early '90s, the comedy boom had begun to fade and, as Gould sees it, comedy clubs had become drab and corporate, and that drove a lot of comedy fans away. Gould and fellow comedians like Janeane Garofalo and David Cross were seeing the fans they wanted to play for at alternative music shows, so they went after them.

“We did that by going outside of comedy clubs and going into bookstores and coffee shops,” he says. “We followed our audience instead of our audience coming to us.”

As a stand-up, Gould likes to put his audiences on edge. He does this by addressing personal issues, like his somewhat recent divorce, and political issues like gun control. He describes one bit about guns he's been doing on stage lately:

“What I get to do is, I get to discriminate between people who aren’t into guns, people who are into guns but own guns to do stuff that they love like go hunting or defend their family, and people who, quote, love guns, who, by my definition, have a mental problem because loving a gun is like loving a flashlight,” he says. “By doing that, you allow people who do own guns to laugh at other people who own guns, which they normally don’t do. And it gets everybody on edge. And I like that area. I always like to do non-controversial jokes about controversial topics, because it puts people on edge and it gets them involved and sort of breaks the complacency of having somebody come out and tell stuff that makes you feel comfortable.”

On the new album, he has a bit called “My Biggest Fear,” in which he talks about how strange it is that people getting a divorce will say they don’t want to die alone. “People always say, ‘I’m afraid of dying alone, I don’t want to die alone.’ And it just hit me, 'You want to die in front of people?' I think I do want to die alone. ‘I’m just terrified of having diarrhea alone.’ I’m not! I want to have it alone.”

Here's Dana Gould's "My Biggest Fear," from the album "Mr. Funny Man":

Gould’s talent as a stand-up comedian and writer has opened up a world that 10-year-old Dana could only fantasize about. On Nov. 1, Season 2 of his horror-comedy “Stan Against Evil” premiered on IFC. The show stars John C. McGinley and Janet Varney as the former and current sheriffs in Willard’s Mill, a town cursed by witches. This season is funnier and scarier than the first, and Gould is excited for people to see it.

“Last season was very heavy on John and Janet because we were sort of building this world,” he says. “Now that it’s built we can kind of go in and expand it a little bit.”

One of the new monsters this season is the “werepony,” played by Steven Ogg from “The Walking Dead.” It’s an apt synthesis of Gould’s instincts as a comedian and a horror fan. “Something I thought of driving around,” he says. “Why does it always have to be a wolf? What if it was just a cute little pony?”

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at "Stan Against Evil":

On his popular podcast “The Dana Gould Hour,” he gets to interview his favorite comedians, authors, directors and other artists. On his recent Halloween episode, he interviewed Joe Dante, director of “Gremlins” and “The Howling,” and Mike Mendez, director of “Big Ass Spider” and “Don’t Kill It,” and give a history and appreciation of pioneering director Roger Corman.

Gould estimates he gets about 100,000 downloads per episode, which helps him promote everything else he does. The routine used to be that you’d go on a talk show to promote a project. Gould still does that, but his fans are much more connected to him through the podcast.

“I think a lot of people that are dedicated podcast listeners probably sampled ‘Stan Against Evil’ when it premiered,” he says. “Probably bought my album when it came out. Would probably go see me when I’m in town. And so the podcast really creates enough interest and awareness that it allows me to do all these other things.”

Gould has a few other projects in the hopper while he thinks about stories for a possible Season 3 of “Stan.” He’s working on a film script and is developing an hour-long show he says is “a perfect combination of ‘The X-Files’ and ‘This Is Us.’ ” Not the kind of stuff that will likely make him a household name, but it’s all work he finds personally satisfying.

"Whatever kind of niche I have in show business, I just concentrate on the stuff that I like," he says. " 'Stan Against Evil' is the kind of show I like to watch. ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space,’ a bunch of comedians doing a stage reading of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space,’ if I wasn’t in that show I would go to that show. It’s just the stuff that I like. On the one hand I think it probably limits my accessibility. I’m not a huge comedy superstar. But the people that do get it, get it in a big, big way.”

Comedian Dana Gould is performing at Laugh Boston from Thursday, Nov. 16 to Sunday, Nov. 18.


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