Dana Gould quickly became a legend in the go-go comedy scene of the 1980s both for his famous precocity and for being the only standup comedian of his age not to become addicted to cocaine. Though he briefly matriculated at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Gould got most of his education touring shitty comedy clubs during the Reagan-era comedy boom. Though he did not get a college degree, Gould is nonetheless one of the smartest, quickest, most knowledgable minds in comedy. He’s not just smart; he’s intimidatingly so.
That ferocious intelligence is matched by boundless curiosity and a deeply geeky sense of obsessiveness when it comes to his favorite things, whether that’s Planet Of The Apes or Evel Knievel, who is fondly if irreverently eulogized on “Happysad!” the stand-out Star Wars: the Force Awakens-themed episode of The Dana Gould Hour as a pretty good daredevil but a world-class con man and gloriously outsized degenerate.
Gould marvels at how Knievel was able to become an American hero with a career that essentially consisted of a never-ending string of unsuccessful vehicular suicide attempts, each flashier, more attention-grabbing and somehow even less successful than the last. Yet Gould’s depiction of a “hero” of his, and many other children’s youths, is informed by palpable affection.
Knievel was a great character, and as a podcaster, Gould is a connoisseur and archivist of those.
But this episode is primarily devoted to discussing the intensely powerful experience of watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens with two of his best friends, Ken Daly and Rob Cohen, as well as comedian and @Midnight staffer Dan Telfer, an outsider to the group but a man whose geekiness, genial intensity and knowledge of Star Wars rivals Gould’s own.
Watching this new Star Wars movie, the first Star Wars joint since the prequel trilogy that got mixed reviews at the time but whose status has been downgraded to “an unforgivable insult to geekdom, and also society” in the years since their release, proved an almost overwhelmingly emotional experience for reasons I suspect that people who love Star Wars will understand intuitively and immediately.
For Gould and his guests, this was no mere act of seeing a new movie in a theater. No, this was a matter of conjuring ghosts of their distant past. It was about our relationship to the pop culture that shaped who we are and how we see the world. It’s about reconnecting with old friends and the tricky mojo of time and experience and remembering. It’s about being moved nearly to tears by something as seemingly mundane as seeing Harrison Ford in character as Han Solo alongside Chewbacca after decades away from the role.
The conversation is specifically rooted in Star Wars but on another level it’s about our relationship to the entertainment we love and how that changes over time. Gould refers more than once to Star Wars: The Force Awakens giving him the “Happy-Sads,” a sense of excitement and satisfaction combined with a melancholy sense of a past that is somehow so vivid that you can all but reach out and touch it yet lost inexorably to the ages, to time, to memory.
Telfer lends an invaluable outside voice to the discussion and these men of a certain age have the wisdom and perspective to see something beautiful in Telfer going to see The Force Awakens with his seven-year-old daughter and being able to lovingly pass the torch of geekdom down to someone who, if anything, needs it more than they do. There are several good science fiction role models for boys, but less for girls. As ODB so eloquently said of the music of his own Wu-Tang Clan, Star Wars is for the children and a big part of what makes watching the new movie such a profoundly powerful experience was being reconnected in such an intense and even transcendent way, to the overjoyed and borderline-orgasmic experiences of their youth.
“Happysad” is primarily about the emotions of movie-going, but Gould makes some excellent points about the film’s strengths and weakness, like his adroit criticism of Lucas ruining the prequels by parenting them to death or when he talks about how much of the film’s simultaneously surprising and unsurprising emotional power comes from the passage of time and things that it does both to the characters onscreen and the dreamers in the audience.
Gould is so sensitive and insightful in exploring his and his guest’s complicated and intense emotional response to Star Wars and The Force Awakens that it’s disappointing to hear him and guests Chris Fairbanks and April Richardson take a sharp detour away from empathy and nostalgia to sharply mock Insane Clown Posse and its fans because, well, I guess that’s something apparently has to happen on all podcasts, lest Insane Clown Posse and their fans get above their raisin’ and forget, even for a second, that most people think they’re terrible. I admit, however, that as one of the world’s preeminent Juggalo defenders, I am a little hyper-sensitive to slight against members of the Psychopathic Records family.
Gould ends the podcast by discussing the Buddhist concept that all is suffering, and that only by letting go of want and desire and realizing the beauty and essentialness of living in the moment can we attain a state of enlightenment and shuck off the pain seemingly endemic to existence. It’s deep, even profound, if not quite “old friends talking about Star Wars” level profound.
This was a particularly interesting podcast for me to listen to because, despite having made my living as a film critic for 18 years, I am perhaps the only person in the known universe who has not seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Why haven’t I seen this cultural landmark? The answers are far too complicated and emotional to go into here. As this fascinating exercise in autobiography mixed with cultural anthropology attests, sometimes a movie can be just a movie but also a whole deep, complex universe onto itself.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.