Dan Soder and the Importance of Originality

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Dan Soder’s comedy career began in small town Tucson, Arizona in 2004. “I did a joke about homeless people in Tucson, like the stock joke for beginning comedians. You notice homeless people and you’re like ‘No one’s really dove into this in the US.’ Everyone has dove into [the homeless joke]. But my joke was about being tricked by a homeless guy because I was high on pot and he was high on meth. And he tricked me.”

Soder says, “It was one of the first jokes I did that worked every time I did it, so I just milked that motherfucker ‘til I realized the wrong I was doing. It took me moving to New York to wash the hack off. Tucson was a great place to start as far as stage time, but it wasn’t good as far as artistic development, comedic development.”

Indeed, his comedy has evolved far beyond his beginnings in Tucson. His recent credits include Conan, Comedy Central’s Half Hour and nightly standup all across New York City. He’s spent most of his time this year on the road and right now he’s gearing up for his next few weeks in Providence, Arlington, and LA for Riot Fest.

We talked at a diner near The Stand NYC, where he was headed for his first of three sets that night.

Soder: Last night at the Comic Strip I closed with a joke about how I don’t watch internet porn, I just watch emotionally moving videos on YouTube, and I call it ‘facecumming.’ I’m trying to convince people that our addiction to masturbation has led to our terse society…Maybe if we watched videos of emotional things we’d be better people to each other.

Have you been on Chris Laker’s podcast about masturbation?

Oh, it’s one of my faves – I had a blast when I did it. What’s really funny is that it reminded me of a bunch of things I forgot I used to jerk off to. Like I forgot how much Shannon Tweed I jerked off to.

Anyways – standup in New York. Do you think New York is the best place for standup in particular and not say, Tucson?

I think it’s the best place I’ve done comedy…New York works because you’re so compact, it’s such a small space that you can get a lot done, comedically. Y’know, do six shows in a night without blinking… Whereas all my friends in LA, more than three is very difficult to get to, because you’re driving 20 minutes, parking, y’know, there’s a lot that goes into it.

How much time do you spend writing now?

Not enough. I try to write two days a week. It tends to be for about an hour.

And you just sit down and turn off the internet?

Yeah, actually. I go to a coffee shop where they don’t have internet access. People-watch. Sometimes just sit there. Sometimes go over old notes. I think with comedy it’s really like a muscle, and I think once you exercise it you can go back and write jokes about things that you couldn’t… y’know, a year, two years earlier. So it’s always good to keep your notes, kind of go back over them and see if there’s anything there.

How do you know if a joke works?

You do it. And then it works, then you do it again, and it kind of works, but there’s still room to grow, and then you mold it. Then you’ve gotta do the cross check like in journalism…to make sure no one else has done that bit.

That’s the ultimate fear of a comic?

I think what makes New York so great is people are always worried, originality is a big thing here, where it’s like “has anyone else done that bit?” and if anyone’s like “well so and so’s doing this topic, about this…”  It happens! It happens, you’ll have a joke for like three weeks and then you’ll see someone do a line about something and you’ll go “fuuuuuck.”

That’s the difference between good and hack.

Hack kills. It’s easy to kill with the same premise. But it’s hard to kill with an original premise. I think really good comedy always look at the most fucked up thing and they’re like “how can we make this funny?”… Depending on how fucked up it is, it could probably be just as funny. Which I feel like society has completely retreated against. That’s why we see mainstream programs which are just toothless and nullified and people wonder why they suck and it’s like “well, it’s your fault because you’re the ones bitching about everything.” And then something truly original comes out and people like it, until too many people like it, and then they hate it.

I feel like we weren’t ready for Lucky Louie when it came out.

Oh yeah… I remember there was a joke on Lucky Louie where Jim Norton says to Louie’s wife “Suck my dick.�� And she says “pull it out. And if it’s hard I’ll suck your dick.” And I remember  being like “that is so fucking genius.” But the failure of Lucky Louie begot Louie. So we would have no Louie without Lucky Louie failing.

Right.

I think sometimes things have to fail for better things to grow. And I think also that’s a problem with our society, we want everyone being undefeated…And if it’s not perfect, if you’re not the next Chris Rock or the next such and such, then why am I wasting your time? Y’know what I mean? Which is weird, because I’m kind of in this middle stage right now where I’m kind of a young comic still, but I’ve been around on the scene long enough where I don’t have that new car smell… all I have to worry about is being funny. Which is all I’ve ever cared about. Which is what’s great about New York. LA it’s like “what’s your look? How can we push you?” In New York it’s like “Are you fucking funny? Are you original? You’ll probably be OK.”

Do you think you’ve gotten more cynical over the years?

Yeah, but I don’t think that’s a comedy thing. I think cynicism comes with age, just comes with experience… Everyone becomes more cynical. The problem is avoiding becoming too cynical, because that can easily happen, especially in comedy, when you’re watching younger people blow right by you and you’re like “but I’m… working harder.” But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about finding your own.