Dedicated readers of these interviews I do with stand-up comedians have probably noticed that I’ve been asking a certain question repeatedly since the most recent U.S. presidential election.
I swear I’m not intentionally taking a shortcut by including weekly queries about the rise of Trump and how that has affected comedy crowds, although having that question locked and loaded can help if I feel a discussion heading to a political place, which, thank Buddha, rarely happens.
Dan Cummins, who headlines Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh this week, said during a Wednesday afternoon interview that he doesn’t talk about the president on stage very much these days because well, it’s enough Trump already, isn’t it?
I think it is, and it’s only March 9. Yeesh.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t great Trump jokes to be written. There are, and comedians, as they always do, will lead the charge in trying to hold him accountable while also making fun of his physical appearance. They will have a little something for everybody.
It’s also nice to think, however, that there is at least one place left where you can be free of Trump news. I didn’t hear the president’s name or think of him once at some of the recent stand-up shows I’ve been to, but the political state of things has been a central theme at other comedy nights out. Sometimes it changes from one comic to the next.
That’s part of the beauty of good stand-up and while Cummins might be understandably avoiding Trump now, he could just as easily create some killer bits on politics if and when he feels so inclined. Good, veteran comics can’t be pigeonholed, which sounds like having an orifice or orifices violated by dirty street birds.
Anyway, Cummins and I discussed post-Trump crowds, taking chances with new material, his impressions of Goodnights and Raleigh and much more.Enjoy the interview, follow Cummins on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: We did an email interview in 2013 and at that time, you said you didn’t get nervous before shows and that you didn’t think that was necessarily a good thing because maybe you weren’t taking big enough chances on stage. Do you feel like you are taking those chances now?
Dan Cummins: I do. The new batch of material is definitely a little more personal, a little edgier, but authentic. You get more and more authentic all the time on stage.
TC: That comes with growth and maturity I guess, but doesn’t it also come with just getting up there as often as you do and figuring out what challenges you as a performer?
DC: I think the longer you do it, the less concerned you get with other people judging you I guess is the best way to say it. I don’t ever intend or try to shock people, but I also want to be true to my sense of humor. As I’ve gotten older and done it longer, I’m more OK with a few people not enjoying it because I know a lot of other people will.
TC: I love the “Don’t Wake the Bear” album cover. It’s got an old-time horror movie feel to it. How involved are you in the process for those kinds of decisions?
DC: Heavily involved. I’ve got five albums now and I came up with the concept for every cover. I’m not artistically skilled enough to do the design myself, but I knew what I wanted and communicated that as best I could.
TC: The big bear shadow in the background makes it.
DC: Thank you. I was thinking of those real old horror movies, even from like the ‘20s, ‘30s and 40s. I remember there was a movie poster I came across that had some kind of monstrous shadow in the background. I think it was lurking behind some woman or something, some unsuspecting person. I kind of tweaked that for what I wanted.
TC: What do you remember most about working on “Duck Dynasty”? That had to be a unique experience.
DC: Yeah, it was. When I worked on it, it was kind of surreal. All the outlines for the stories, for the episodes themselves, the people coming up with the activities for the Robertsons to do in any given episode, were a few guys like me working in this crummy little office right outside LAX airport in Los Angeles. None of us had been to Louisiana or West Monroe to work on set. It’s kind of funny to come up with the ideas for people across the country that we would never meet, and also to see the success of the show at that time. You’d walk, at that time, into any major department store, and it was like they had two aisles of “Duck Dynasty” stuff. That was a crazy phenomenon.
TC: It was. I live in North Carolina and there was a time when you basically couldn’t walk anywhere here without seeing somebody trying to grow the beard the way those guys did or wearing some “Duck Dynasty” clothes.
DC: We’ve speculated on how much those guys must have made at the height of that. I mean, you couldn’t go to a gas station without seeing like 40 different “Duck Dynasty” products. There would be “Duck Dynasty” snacks and hats and shirts and everything. It was crazy.
TC: Have you noticed a difference in crowds since Trump was elected?
DC: (pause) Gosh. Right afterward, there was so much tension. I remember doing shows the week of the election and there were riots and protests going on within blocks of where I was performing. It was an interesting atmosphere. If you brought up anything for or against Trump, you were guaranteed to make half of the room really happy and half of the room just enraged. [interviewer laughs] It’s been a while since I’ve seen audiences so polarized like that, but I feel like it’s calmed down a little bit already. I don’t know. My opinion is, even the people who voted for Trump, who support some of his ideology or whatever, he’s been in office long enough now and with the way his personality is, I feel like some of those people have come around to being able to laugh about it. It’s hard to take everything he does real seriously.
TC: I’ve asked a bunch of comedians that question, and most of them will say something along the lines of, “I’m not strictly a political comedian” but at the same time, do you feel like you have to comment on some of those things on stage?
DC: I’ve talked very little about it only because I personally feel like he’s getting more than enough coverage everywhere else. [interviewer laughs] You can’t go on to Facebook (or) open any news app without Trump being the first or second thing you read about. Right now, I would rather provide a little respite from all the attention he’s getting, a little escapism. Let’s laugh about something else. Let’s not think about it for a couple hours.
TC: Have you played Goodnights before and if so, what do you remember about the club and Raleigh?
DC: I played it once before a couple years ago and had a great time. I know the club’s been there for many years and the audiences that come there are savvy. They really get stand-up and I had a blast the last time I was there and I’m really looking forward to this time.
And the town itself, I remember, you know, just like a Southern college town vibe, good food. I like playing the South, man. Southern hospitality is a real phenomenon and I’m big on manners. I feel like you get the best of that in the South compared to the rest of the country.
TC: Some folks say we’re polite to a fault, Dan, so you’ll get your full dose of manners while you’re here.
DC: Yep. I was raised in a little town in Idaho and it’s strikingly similar to certain Southern values, and manners were big growing up. It’s funny because I’m kind of known more as an angry comic, but I think the anger comes from being a little sensitive because of all the rude people there are in the world. [interviewer laughs] It’s nice to play in a location where there’s less rude people than average.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
stan is such a liar – at first he's like "i'm your biggest fan" but THEN he says his little brother matthew likes eminem even more than him
— Zoë Klar (@zoeklar) March 9, 2017