Between laughing and crying

Comedian Dana Gould on upending the status quo

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Comedian Dana Gould is set to perform in Boulder on January 11.
Courtesy of Dana Gould/Von Swank

After the November presidential election, comedian Dana Gould was taken aback, not just by the results, but how sure he’d been that Trump wouldn’t be elected.

It’s not that he’s unaware of the demographics of Trump supporters. The progressively leaning Gould comes from a blue collar family of servicemen, cops and prison guards, the kind of people who “get their news from each other and who each gets it from Fox News,” he says. 

What startled him the most was realizing just how powerful the media could be, not only in convincing conservatives of their own opinions but of how convinced he’s become of his own.

“After the election I got very curious about what I was missing, so started tuning into to all sorts of conservative media,” he says. “It’s all just propaganda and it works really, really well. Unfortunately, [conservatives] are better at it than progressives.”

Since the election, Gould is considering it his responsibility to burst what he calls “misinformation bubbles.” As a citizen, he thinks all of us have a duty to seek a diversity of information to formulate a more scrutinized and truthful version of reality. As a professional comedian, he thinks it his job to reveal that none of us know as much as we think we do.

There are two ways that this can happen with comedy, Gould says, the first bordering on propaganda.

“It’s why I have a hard time with conservative comedians,” Gould says. “Which is not to say that they are not funny, because they are. But the trend of conservatism is by and large to maintain the status quo.”

The other is a more truthful sort of comedy, the kind that holds a mirror up to society in hopes of revealing its own stupidities. A wise word from a comedian can prevent us from making fools of ourselves and question senseless allegiances.

As a professional, Gould prefers the later:

“I feel it is the job of an artist or a musician or comedian to always want to upend the status quo, with a contrary sort of mind-set, and to ridicule those in power,” he says. “At the beginning of the Obama administration, Bill Maher would make an Obama joke and people would boo. To the audience he would go: ‘Hey, it’s not like he’s your boyfriend!’

“With Trump it’s just hard because I don’t know where to stop, or where to start,” Gould continues. “It’s like making fun of an explosion. So what I like to do is take the stance of somebody pretending to defend him.

“People call him an anti-Semite. But, look, he has said how much he wants to sleep with his daughter, who is Jewish. I just don’t think an anti-Semite would want to sleep with their Jewish daughter.”

And in such a cohabitation of unlikely truths, Gould refuses to employ propaganda, insisting instead on a more cutting honesty.

Gould is a cultivated talent. Since the age of 17 he has been performing live stand-up, and writing and acting for television and the silver screen. Now, as a 52-year-old father of three, his absurdly long resume boasts comedy spots on pretty much all of the late night TV shows, acting alongside the likes of Ben Stiller and Jerry Seinfeld and a five-year stint writing for The Simpsons. But more important than the notches in his comedy belt are the friendships and mentors he encountered along the way, most notably with Albert Brooks and the late George Carlin.

These narrative-style comics are masters at weaving together their personal lives with the social worlds they inhabit, offering insights to reveal universal absurdities about modern humanity. And it’s a tendency that has rubbed off on Gould. 

But times have changed since these greats were in their prime, and so has the nature of their intimate style of comedy. While Carlin would connect with audiences by inviting them into his inner life during his stand-up routines, modern comedians are finding intimacy on social media and podcasts.

Gould’s podcast, The Dana Gould Hour, offers conversations between Gould and other comedians that almost unilaterally avoid the topic of comedy, instead finding it in the hilarities of life and current events. 

But Gould doesn’t just dump the conversations on the internet. He painstakingly edits them, cuts them to bits, rearranges the pieces and reassembles them into one overarching narrative, composed of several distinct conversations. Gould calls it “a sort of comedic cubism.”

The format of the show mirrors the chaotic nature of modern, wired living with dozens of things always competing for our increasingly divided attention, but avoids falling to pure chaos by rooting it in an old-timey, ’50s radio sound that harkens back to the simpler era.

Gould’s cubist methodology is perhaps best used in the TV series he creates for IFC, Stan Against Evil, just renewed for its second season.

To a T, the show is perfectly Gould, a Frankenstein-like mix of comedy and horror that blurs the line between the two genres.

“Laughing and screaming are cousins,” Gould says. “They are both involuntary reflexes that release tension. Some people on a rollercoaster scream, some people on a roller coaster laugh uncontrollably. But, oddly enough, it is very difficult to get the two genres to work together, because they are so similar they are kept very separate.

“But it’s not hard for me. It just so happens to be the only thing that I know how to do. I am specifically built to do this show.”

This is where he started, when he was 8 years old, making horror comedies on 8mm film in his backyard. Coming full circle, Stan Against Evil comes at a time when Gould is finally embracing the carefree curiosity of childhood.

“This show happened because I wasn’t trying,” he says. “I wasn’t second guessing what I thought people wanted, in the way I voted for Hillary Clinton. This time I made what I felt like making.”

This is the sort of authentic comedy that Gould has always been after, the kind that reveals society’s stupidities and maybe even turns the status quo on its head, the kind that blurs the line between laughing and crying.

On the Bill:  Dana Gould. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, The Gordon Gamm Theater, The Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7825, thedairy.org.