comics talk to comics

Janeane Garofalo Talks to Dave Hill About His Book and Writing Ringtones for Donald Trump

Photo-Illustration: Kelly Chiello and Photos by Getty Images, Mindy Tucker

It may seem de rigueur these days for a comedian to publish a book of humorous personal essays (see: Jim Gaffigan, Mindy Kaling, Jen Kirkman, Amy Poehler, and so on) but don’t write off Dave Hill’s Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here as just part of a trend. The comedian and rocker (he wrote the theme song for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver) delves deeper than the usual anecdotes about odd jobs and backstage shenanigans to deliver thoughtful observations about his close relationship with his father. Longtime collaborator, fellow New York comic and dog owner Janeane Garofalo talked with Hill about his new book, pants that look like pajama bottoms, and Donald Trump ringtones.

Janeane Garofalo: First of all, how did Comedy Knockout go on truTV? I saw a little bit of you on it last night.
Dave Hill: Oh, you were flipping through the channels?

Yeah, I was going around the horn, as it were. Who got knocked out?
Christian Finnegan got knocked out first, which was unfair because he was great. I haven’t seen it yet, since I struggle to look at myself.

It’s difficult to watch one’s self on Comedy Knockout on truTV, or if you were on truTV for any reason it would be difficult, yes?
Really, just in general, any image of myself — even a photograph — I struggle to look at.

Speaking of which, I see you on the cover of Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Dave Hill, who is also the author of Tasteful Nudes: … and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation; Dave Hill, who is from Cleveland and pioneered the Cleveland Steamer — I think that was you?
That’s right. I got in on the ground floor of that.

You were an early adopter, as Malcolm Gladwell would say. I also heard a rumor in the wind that you’ve taken to wearing pajama bottoms with a nice sports jacket on top.
Who’s saying this?

A couple people. I’m not going to name names. Maybe somebody who walks your dog Lucy, who might have have commented upon a photo shoot in your apartment, and then another comic who said they saw you in pajama bottoms. Is this a new look for Dave Hill?
I know what pants are being referred to in both cases.

Are they an easy fit pant?
No, the irony is they’re a lot of work to get into. The pair that I was spotted wearing in my apartment were my pants with the shark teeth on them. You’ve seen them.

I wouldn’t qualify those as pajama bottoms. So people are misunderstanding your sartorial choices.
Right, I don’t want to drop names, but those are Paul Smith pants. This was for a photo shoot that’s very exciting.

Tell us! You must have been in heaven because I heard there were lots of guitars.
Exactly. A guitar aficionado came over to my sprawling Manhattan apartment and they’re doing a story on me and my guitar collection. I have about 20, which is a lot to some and not that many to others. It’s not a super-valuable collection, but there are some gems in there.

Where in the world would you fit 20 guitars in that apartment?
They’re everywhere: in the closets, on the walls, under the couch.

Is that why your dog always has a guitar strapped to her back? It’s one more place to leave a guitar.
Yes. I used to leave more of them out before she came into the picture, but I found little teeth marks on one of the guitars.

That’s both teething and a desire to rock.
Exactly. I often have too much to drink, and I bought a Dimebag Razorback on eBay, which is the most heavy metal guitar you can buy. I was playing it the other night and I had a glass of wine on the table next to my laptop and then my dog Lucy came over and …

Don’t say it! She came over and hacked your email.
Yes, she wrote a lot of emails that misrepresented me. I want to address the other pair of pants that were called into question. Did Sean Patton tell you about this?

Yes, he did.
I was in Glasgow with him and I was wearing these pants, which, by the way, are from Brooks Brothers, one of America’s finest haberdashers
. Now that I think about it, you and I got coffee and I was feeling insecure about those pants and you were like, “They look good.” 

I’m sure I was just trying to make you feel better so you wouldn’t have to have some sort of emergency session with your therapist.
Now I’m questioning them again. Well, I wore them at the Glasgow Comedy Club one night. Sean Patton and other comics all went to a Scottish casino, but I walked to a private club and they said, “You can’t come in here dressed like that.” I said, “What do you mean? I look incredible.” And they said, “You can’t come in here with those pants.” They were the alleged pajama bottoms.

When they say pants over there they mean underwear.
That’s the second time that’s happened to me today. I was doing an interview with an English guy and we were talking about pants. And he took it the wrong way. Or the right way.

As they are wont to do. There is a reason that the empire crumpled. It was built on cups of tea as it was; they’re a very sensitive people. That’s why PBS isn’t all British all the time anymore, now there’s Americans on it. This is what happens when an empire falls.
They had a nice run though. I want them to be back in charge.

Me too, you know how I feel about this, because I’m always watching my PBS. I love Mr. Selfridge. God bless Jeremy Piven, but I don’t want the Queen’s English bastardized in that way. I want my vampires British, my Romans British, and my Egyptians British. Enough with this, Dave. Tell us about your book. Tell those of us who haven’t read it.
It’s a literary thrill ride.

Sure it is: cartwheels all the way to the bookstore.
And on the way home. It’s a lot about me and my dad these last few years. And there’s other stories. As you know, my mom died a few years ago …

Yes. I did know that your mom died, and, as you know, I kept forgetting that for a while. So whenever you’d ask me a question I would say, “Your mother knows.” I say “your mother” to many things, but your mama was dead.
I loved it. I thought it was really funny, because I thought the joke was funny, and then I was doubly entertained by how uncomfortable you were once you realized what you had said.

It made me realize that maybe I shouldn’t be saying “your mother” as a response to everything and everyone in my peer group.
No, it’s a great answer to most questions.

Guy Fieri invented it — he coined the phrase. Also, “winner, winner chicken dinner,” “not my first rodeo,” and anything Vince Vaughn ever said. Guy Fieri has coined every phrase.
You have a real soft spot for Guy Fieri.

You know what else he invented? “Never give up.” That’s his. “Children are the future?” Fieri. Also, “stitch in time” and “make America great again.” But back to your book, Dave: I’m very sorry to hear that your mom has passed.
It’s not your fault. Thank you.

So your father was there to be written about.
I had to write about somebody. It’s not all about him, but it shaped up when I was writing about different things, but a lot of it was about hanging out with my dad these past few years since my mom has been gone.

What else can you say about it?
Actually, you mentioned “make America great again” and I wrote about my time writing ringtones for Donald Trump. The year was 2004 and I was hired during the ringtone craze in the early 2000s.

Tell us (a) what kind of ringtones and (b) what it’s like to work for the man.
This is weird: Donald Trump somehow didn’t have the rights to the catchphrase “You’re fired.” Of all people, you would think would know to get the rights to that.

Why would you need to get the rights to a phrase commonly used by all and sundry?
Because that was somehow attached to The Apprentice, a show we talk about to this day, so he wasn’t allowed to say “You’re fired.” There are a million reasons why he’d make a terrible president, but among them is that he isn’t even savvy enough to get the rights to “You’re fired” when it comes time to write ringtones.

Give me an example of some of the ringtones you wrote.
“Pick up the phone, it might be me calling.” I was paid thousands of dollars to come up with something that good.

You’re telling us that you made your fortune writing ringtones?
When you see the pants that look like pajama bottoms and the guitars, that’s ringtone money. I’m going to give you something that’s not in the book, as sort of a coda to the Trump story. I got another phone call from the ringtone center and they said, “We heard Donald Trump loves you. Do you want to write for Madonna?” And I was like, “Yeah, I love her.” So I wrote the ringtones for her, and irony of ironies, they hated what I wrote and said, “You’re fired.”

Give me an example of a Madonna [ringtone] quickly before I lose my mind.
This was like 12 years ago. They were probably something like, “Hey, it’s me Madonna, answer your phone.”

The only way that would be great is if it was you saying it. Because that’s absurd. Anyway Dave, what else would you like to share with us. Dazzle us.
Well, we covered the pants. Lucy is looking at me like,
I want more food. If I’m not feeding her or playing with her, she’s looking at me like, Why would you do that?

Because dogs are love bombs. They give the love and they want the love and they need the love. And that’s what makes the world go round, and really that’s the point of your book, Dave.
Thank you for bringing it back. You’re better at this. I should have you do the media blitz instead.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Janeane Garofalo Talks to Dave Hill