It’s kind of hard not to fall a little bit in love with someone who, immediately upon meeting up for a mid-afternoon interview, asks if it’s cool to stop at the liquor store first to buy a big bottle of booze. That would be Dave Hill—New York-based comedian/writer/rock star (whose band Valley Lodge is actually big in Japan), who is probably wearing a fancier outfit than you. Originally from Ohio, Hill is now the amiable host of the Dave Hill Explosion talk show at Upright Citizens Brigade, often boasting big-name guests like Rufus Wainwright, Ira Glass and Dick Cavett. He is also responsible for the Black Metal Dialogues, an epistolary something-something for which Hill assumed the identity of Lance, a teenager from Gary, Indiana who calls himself the King of Black Metal in order to exchange email messages with some scary Norwegian guys. Hill has written for a bunch of publications and television programs, and now frequents comedy clubs all around the city. He wants to write books. He wants to design ties. And who else could get away with toting around such a gigantic fluffy microphone?
Rumpus: What did you do today?
Hill: I just went to the gym and am just coming down from yet another killer workout. I suppose that’s not too surprising since I’m pretty ripped and all. I have been trying to jump rope because my friend told me it’s really good for you. I suck at it though. As far as I’m concerned, jumping rope is the hardest, most painful thing that anyone could ever do ever. I don’t know how little girls do it.
Rumpus: You started out as a freelance writer. Writing is so behind-the-scenes most of the time. What made you want to make the move from writing to performing?
Hill: With comedy, the only reason I’ve had even the tiniest bit of success is because I had absolutely no expectations or goals at all. I never did it. I was just retarded with my friends and now it’s getting worse, now it’s my career!I just want to have fun, and maybe have people be slightly nicer to me than they would a normal person. With writing, I always liked writing funny stuff, and I was writing on this hidden camera comedy reality TV show and from acting idiot on set they asked me to audition so I did but the network said I was too strange and volatile to be onscreen, but then I got to thinking, maybe I should perform. Then I got hired as a writer at another show so I brought the tape to show them. They said I should be a correspondent, so my plan totally worked! But then the network, Court TV, was like, “absolutely not.” The network’s quote was: “Dave is good in small doses.” And four years ago my friend told me about his show at Parkside Lounge and invited me to come down and do something. At this point, I had already been on television but I had never performed for a live audience, it was kind of weird and backwards. So I did it. It was a horrible, horrible experience.
Rumpus: How do you come up with your ideas? Do you incorporate personal experiences into your comedy?
Hill: Most of what I do is based on personal experiences in some way or another. Lately, I have been telling rambling stories about my recent trip to Japan. I have been more interested in just talking more as opposed to some of the other stuff I normally do lately. That way I don’t have to carry around that big sledgehammer and all that produce. It’s career suicide, I know, but my shoulders are getting sore.
Also, I just think about what my friends and I would have liked when we were 15 and hanging out in each others’ basements. I haven’t matured much since then, so it’s not too hard to figure out. And just knowing that I have booked a show and have to show up somewhere and do something or I might get pelted with rocks or not get any money for candy (and by candy, I mean drugs, lots and lots of drugs)—that creates a little external pressure to keep thinking of stuff. Mostly though, I view what I do as a sort of secretion or, perhaps more accurately an excretion. You know that slimy stuff that a snail leaves behind on the sidewalk? It’s pretty much like that only sometimes it costs five bucks.
Rumpus: How do you bounce back from a really, really bad performance that totally backfires?
Hill: Well ever since I started, there are people who just do not like what I do at all, and then there are people who love it. If you go on Youtube, the comments are that I’m a fat faggot. I’m either a genius or a fat faggot. It’s fifty-fifty. I guess I kind of always think I should quit, like somehow I pulled a huge scam thinking I could do it the last few years. But as much as I complain and want to kill myself, I think what do I do all day? I have a really fun existence. I don’t do anything I don’t think is really fun. I have to do my taxes once in a while, that’s not very fun.
Rumpus: So much of your comedy exists on the internet. What are some sites you visit often/videos you watch regularly?
Hill: I pretty much just watch that one video of squirrel on water skis over and over again. No matter how many times I see it, I still never see it coming for some reason. I don’t know who is more awesome- the squirrel or the guy who was all like “I’m gonna put that squirrel on water skis.”They are both champions in my book. I have no doubt the squirrel will have the last laugh though.
Rumpus: Do you like stand-up or video better and why?
Hill: I like both. With TV or video, I don’t have to wear pants, so that’s nice. If you leave the house to see stand-up though, there is a bar and greater chance of making out with someone in the bathroom. It seems silly to go into the bathroom to make out with someone in my own home. I still do it, but I feel silly about it. As a performer I like both too. TV and video take longer to do than stand-up, but there are usually more snacks so that is nice. I am a man of low standards, so if you give me a bagel, some bottled water and maybe a Kit-Kat I will do pretty much anything.
Rumpus: Where did you find such a large fluffy microphone?
Hill: That belongs to my friend Keith Goldberg. I like them because in addition to looking like a big furry donger, they are really good at picking up sound, which is good for a guy like me who doesn’t always talk very loud or point the microphone in the right direction much of the time.
Rumpus: You write, play music and do comedy. What are some of your favorite writers, bands, comedians? Major influences?
Hill: As for writers, one of my favorites is my friend David Rakoff. He’s insanely funny and is a linguistic acrobat. Even when he speaks, he manages to form sentences most people couldn’t construct even if they worked on it all day and had five friends helping them. I have also been enjoying Joan Didion a lot lately, not that I get it. That having been said, I am a firm believer that people should read whatever they can get their hands on, even the back of a cereal box. The guy who reads even just the back of a cereal box will have a stronger brain than the guy who read nothing at all. There- I just wrote a public service announcement for PBS. Run with it.
As for bands, my favorites are Lucy Wainwright Roche, Alessi’s Ark, Led Zeppelin, the Smiths, Husker Du, Bad Brains, the Kinks, Cheap Trick, T. Rex, the Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., Sweet, Guided by Voices, Rufus Wainwright, Big Star, the Raspberries, the Jam, New Pornographers, Walter Schreifels, Teenage Fanclub, Corrosion of Conformity, Fleetwood Mac, Walt Mink, the Roches, Brian Eno, Slade, Teenage Fanclub, Thin Lizzy, Pentagram, and Elvis Costello. In other words, I am a fairly predictable white guy in his 30s. Sometimes I listen to jazz or some organ or theremin music or maybe Marlene Dietrich, but that is rare and I only really do it because I want to seem more interesting to whomever finds my body.
As for comedians, I like way too many to mention and I will forget to mention a million of them right now, but some of my all-time favorites are Chris Elliott, Paul Reubens, Fred Willard, Woody Allen, Andy Kaufman, David Letterman, Dick Cavett, Bill Murray, and Steve Martin a whole bunch. Other than that I will say that I think Todd Barry is great and I am not just saying that because we are friends and he probably has himself on Google alerts and might read this. And I love, love, love Tig Notaro. Also, I still say that if I were a bazillionaire, I would pay Nick Kroll and John Mulaney to follow me around all day doing their “Oh, Hello” characters. That would make me forget all of my problems (and probably create all new ones).
As for influences, I guess I like whatever makes me laugh the most or whatever makes me the most uncomfortable. Everyone I just mentioned does that really well. Especially Nick Kroll. Honestly, I can’t stand the sight of him.
Rumpus: Tell me what your idea of a “super successful” day would be.
Hill: Hmmm. That’s a tough one but I’ll try. To keep it realistic, I’ll make it include only stuff that I actually do sometimes. Otherwise, the entire day would take place on horseback and the whole thing would get too complicated. Anyway, the boring, realistic version of my “super succesful day” would go like this:
I’d wake up at 7:30am and somehow not want or need to go back to sleep. Neither would the hot naked chick I just woke up next to. We’d go to La Taza de Oro on 14th and 8th for a Puerto Rican breakfast of rice and beans, eggs, sweet plaintains and cafe con leche. If I could somehow magically still be hungry, I would then walk to Chinatown for dim sum. The super hot naked chick could come with me if she wanted. Then I’d walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and go see a movie maybe. I’d probably need a nap after that followed by an hour of playing heavy metal guitar solos, something I am awesome at. Then it would be fun to do a comedy show or play a rock show or both at some point, but just a real quick one so I could get back to eating and drinking stuff. I would wear fancy Paul Smith clothes the whole time, which I do a lot anyway because I am super, super fancy. Also, there would be an adorable puppy with me the whole time and for some reason they’d let him in everywhere. He’d always be getting into trouble. But you know what? I just can’t stay mad at him.
Rumpus: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take three things with you, what would they be?
Hill: I would bring a guitar, some sunscreen, and maybe the hot naked chick from before.
Rumpus: What’s the best news story you’ve read recently?
Hill: I’m always a fan of when animals attack humans as a result of their having been domesticated or humans encroaching on their natural environment. I say this not because I like to see people get hurt, maimed, or injured in any way. It’s just nice to know that animals aren’t taking human dominance sitting down. My favorite, fairly recent story was about a panda in China named Yang Yang that bit a college student who snuck into its pen to try to give him a hug. I don’t think anyone was too surprised about the attack aside from maybe the college kid. That guy probably never saw it coming. In case anyone’s thinking that I will get mine one day for being amused at such things, the important thing to know here is that I was bitten and pretty severely injured in the face by my family dog when I was eleven. So I’ve already gotten mine and I am okay with it. Plus, the odds of me ever getting close enough to a panda to hug him are really, really slim. I have held a monkey on more than one occasion though. And also a baby tiger once. That was pretty cool for me, but I felt really bad for the little tiger.