As the fifth child in a family of six kids, Dana Gould wanted to be a comedian since he was a teenager. With stints on hit TV shows like Parks and Rec and Seinfeld, his hit podcast The Dana Gould Hour and live stand-up performances, the Hopedale native can always be counted on to tickle funny bones. We talked stand-up with the humorist before his run at Laugh Boston on Nov. 16-18.
What got you initially interested in comedy? I grew up 45 minutes outside of the city in a really small town called Hopedale and I wanted to be a comedian from about the age of 13 or 14. I was a big fan of George Carlin, my older brothers had his albums, and he was sort of a fixture in our household. He was at the peak of his success at that time, and I just thought, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Some guy standing in front of everybody asking for attention sounded like something I’d fit in with doing. It seemed like a natural fit. I was the fifth child in a family of six, so doing anything I could to get attention came very naturally to me.
Favorite subject to joke about? I always just sort of talk about what’s going on in my life, and fortunately—or unfortunately—my life is eventful enough that it keeps it entertaining. I talk about pretty much whatever’s going on with me. I talk about politics, but I’m not too political. I talk about my personal life, and I’ve been accused of being too personal. [Laughs.] So I try to strike a nice balance. I like everybody to have a good time. I’m not there to lecture anyone.
Do you have any pre-stand-up rituals? Usually about an hour and a half before the show I turn off my phone. I turn off the TV and the radio and sit down with [a] set list. It’s actually very pleasant. It’s a nice sort of meditative exercise.
Biggest comedy influence? A combination of George Carlin and Albert Brooks. George Carlin taught me how to write material, and then Albert Brooks taught me how to make the material irrelevant. It’s really about the effect on the stage and the attitude and the energy that you bring to whatever you are talking about. That’s sort of the algorithm of what I try to do.
What is your most memorable performance? The weirdest performance I ever did was a private show at a super, super successful movie producer’s house in Aspen, Colorado, in which every single person in the audience was super, super famous. And the show went really well, and from that show I got cast in like four movies and a television series. So it was a pretty successful show. [Laughs.] Because of that show, I was able to buy my parents a house, so I would say it was pretty good.
Is there anything about performing in Boston that you’re particularly excited about? Well yeah, I started out in Boston, and no matter how long you’ve been away, you always seem like you’re going back to square one. You’re always the person that they knew when you started. I started doing stand-up in Boston when I was 17 years old, so even though I’m an adult now, there’s a part of me that feels like, “Yeah, I’m still 17,” and I still have to prove myself. And that is a big part of it. And for me, because of the people who are there that I started out with, that’s also like a high school reunion. You get to go back and check in with your old friends and things like that. Boston has a very special place in my heart for that reason.
What’s it like performing live versus recording your podcast? There’s nothing better than performing live. It’s like surfing. You are sort of out of control over what happens. You can only control what goes on by letting go, and that’s the great thing about performing is that every crowd is different and you have to sort of ride the crowd like you would a wave. Nothing beats the energy and the immediacy of performing live for me, and although I do a lot of other things—I have the podcast and the TV series and other stuff—I always go back to live performing because for me it is like surfing. Nothing beats the rush and the thrill of getting out there and doing it.
Has there ever been a time when you really thought a joke would land, but didn’t? All the time. It happened last week. That’s the beautiful thing about stand-up is that you never really know. You never get to the point where you know something will do well. You never know, you always have to test it. You always have to go out, and yeah, quite literally last week I had a joke that [I thought] “Well this will definitely just crush” and it just wasn’t there. It was nothing. And something that you didn’t think was that funny will get a huge response. There’s no way to tell, you just gotta keep doing it. That’s what keeps it exciting.
Go-to party joke? No. I don’t know any jokes at all. Like I don’t know any street jokes at all. (Laughs.) You’d think I would, I’m a comedian that doesn’t know any street jokes. And I’m a writer that’s terrible at Scrabble.