Dave Attell had my dream job. In the Comedy Central series, Insomniac, from 2001-2004, Attell took the typical travel show concept and gave it a degenerate edge, showcasing the people and places that come alive in towns across the country after midnight. The show was a smash hit in its own right... but I think he's tired of talking about it now. So more importantly, he's a super sharp stand up comedian with a rather dead pan manner and a knack for making hecklers feel like fools. He rocks the USO circuit on the regular, but he's doing a civilian show on a stage near you shortly (Fri/12 & Sat/13, Cobb's Comedy Club). He asked me to let y'all know that he'll be performing new materials- so all the real comedy fans, come out and play.
San Francisco Bay Guardian: So we’re all really stoked you’re coming to San Francisco…
Dave Attell: I love SF. That’s where I started headlining. That’s probably where I’m going to end headlining, too. I have nothing but good thoughts about SF- even though now that it’s all fancy and PC it’s not as fun anymore, everyone knows that.
SFBG: How long have you been doing standup?
DA: Twenty years.
SFBG: Oh yeah, some change has gone down then. The thing I keep reading about you is that you’re a comedian’s comedian. What does that even mean?
DA: It means you can’t act. I can’t. I’m a horrible actor. I like jokes, I like writing jokes. But yeah, I don’t really know what that means. It’s a compliment, I hope.
SFBG: Has your comedy matured/grown over time? New themes?
DA: That’s a great question and the answer is no. Being in your mid forties and still talking about drinking and porn, I’d say the answer is no. I’m a good comic, not a great comic.
SFBG: Who, in your eyes, are?
DA: There are so many great comics. Everyone says Richard Pryor, George Carlin, which is true. The longer I do comedy, I realize it’s hard to always come to the table enthused. Bill Hicks, who was an amazing, important part of SF comedy. He was another guy who was ahead of the curve. But I’m nothing like those guys, I go for dirty humor. I can spread the word about them, though! There’s so many new guys- and I know people don’t like dragging their ass out to a new club, but that’s how it’s supposed to be done, club experiences. Cobb’s is a club where you do that, where you can bring out the new material, it’s great. Every year or so I check in at Cobb’s.
SFBG: I have to tell you, I have a not so secret dream to be a travel show host. I loved Insomniac, was that a fun project to work on?
DA: Yes. But I’m too old to be a travel show host, I’m a has been. I encourage you to go out and do it, though. We need to see a woman’s perspective. I would go to the Middle East. It’s rough out there, but there’s a few places where you can party. Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It’d be a lot of money, but…
SFBG: Dubai! All I always hear about are those apartment islands they’ve built in the shape of the continents.
DA: Well their economy is in the shitter too, so they’re not building land masses anymore. It’s weird for people who fear God to act like God. Building the earth, isn’t that his job?
"I realize it's hard to always come to the table enthused."
SFBG: Were the cities featured ones you were familiar with before the show? How’d you scout the locations and people you talked to?
DA: I mean, it wasn’t magic. It was hit a bar, talk to folks, get a couple shots, roll out. The part no one talks about is the late night jobs. There’s a lot of shows that focus on different jobs now, but I think we were unique on that.
SFBG: Were there any jobs you featured that you could see yourself doing?
DA: Not the coal mine. I hate being trapped. The coal miners have these sleds that go into the mountain, and then after twelve hours they pull them out. I have serious claustrophobia, couldn’t do that. I’m not a big fan of the water either, so not the ocean jobs. Of course, [we did the show] back when there still were jobs.
SFBG: I hear you are a fixture on the USO circuit. What’s that like?
DA: Ah good, a new topic. I’ve done four shows in Iraq, five in Afghanistan. I don’t know if they’re going to want me back, I’m kind of dirty. But really, it’s hard for the troops because it’s really boring, but really, really dangerous. You get a perspective on what these people do and how cool they are. Everybody talks about how “amazing” they are, but they keep it low key, do their jobs, and then come back for more- some of these guys are doing second, third tours of duty. The Olympics, they fill you with pride, but the army… it does, more.
SFBG: Lots of different acts do the USO tour, right? Were you traveling with, like, a bunch of cheerleaders as well?
DA: Being in the USO, you get to see a lot of other acts. The last one I did was with Billy Ray Cyrus. We never would have met otherwise. The thing is there’s USO stuff going on all over the world and the people that do it are really, really cool. The USO has a small budget, its not a government thing, it’s privately funded. I mean, I’m really a nobody in that scene. Robin Williams, Dane Cook, they do it. That’s amazing. The troops, they’re in the dirt, the mud- and all of sudden they look up, and there’s a star.
SFBG: Do you have family that were in the military?
DA: My dad was in the Navy, he told me some great stories. He wasn’t a career man though. Retail was his real calling, him being a Jew.
SFBG: How’d you get into the USO gig?
DA: Why wouldn’t I? I’m too old to fight. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to go over there and do it. These are the times we live in. This is what we do during a war on terror, whether it’s wrong or right. It comes down to; either we have to end the war or I need to get more material.
SFBG: Or we need to get the draft going, new audiences, right?
DA: Right. What we should do, all the people that lose on the Biggest Loser, we should send out there. We should say 'you can go on this show, but if you lose you have to go to war.'
SFBG: Or how about all the reality shows! There’s your draft.
And so! Dave Attell and I = Problem. Solved.
Fri/12 & Sat/13, 8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m., $35.50
Cobb’s Comedy Club
915 Columbus, SF