Dave Attell is not going to be the next Louis C.K. He’s not going to be on magazine covers, touted as “Comedy’s Great Big Thing.” And he’s fine with that. He’s got a loyal cult following, many of whom first discovered him (and continue to discover him, thanks to YouTube) on Comedy Central’s Insomniac. He’s been mostly off the cultural radar in recent years, but tonight, those of us who still think Attell is an underrated comedy genius will have a reason to rejoice. Attell’s first stand-up special in seven years, Dave Attell: Road Work, will premiere at midnight (or 11 p.m. Friday if you’re in the Midwest) on Comedy Central. (If you’re reading this too late, or don’t have basic cable for some reason, you can buy the special for $5 at CC: Stand-up Direct.) Directly after, at 1 a.m. ET Saturday, there’s the premiere of Comedy Underground with Dave Attell, a new eight-episode stand-up series that features comics like Amy Schumer, Judah Friedlander, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Both the special and the series are reportedly “uncensored,” which means there’ll be a lot of F-bombs dropped and jokes that’ll make Suey Park get carpal tunnel from writing angry tweets.
I called Attell to talk about hyper-sensitive audiences, the pointlessness of Twitter, the existential dread of smoking outside of airports, why nobody wants to be a lawyer anymore, and of course, hardcore pornography.
I’m an old fan of yours. Like old old.
How old exactly? How old are you?
Finally! Thank god. Okay, this is good.
Have you been doing too many interviews with youngish journalists?
You have no idea. They’re like babies. We have nothing to say to each other.
We could do the whole interview just talking about VHS porn.
Oh, please! Yes, I would love that. Those were the days, right? Before the digital took over.
We’ll get to the porn. First I’ve got to ask you about the new Comedy Central shows.
Gotta keep selling. [Laughs.] That’s what we’re here for.
Both Road Work and Comedy Underground are billed as uncensored. Uncensored in 2014 means something very different than it did in 2004, or 1994.
That’s a very good point. I would say that uncensored today was probably just PG-13 in the ’90s. Now everybody is so fucking politically correct. So you’re right, maybe I overplayed it. It’s not as dirty as it could be, but it’s dirtier than it should be.
Between one and 10, one being a Toronto Mayor Rob Ford press conference and 10 being German porn, how dirty are these shows?
Wow. You’ve done your homework. I would say the special is dirty, but the series is filthy. These young kids have some crazy jokes. They have some balls, you know what I’m saying? And they talk about balls.
They managed to be dirtier than you? That’s saying something.
Here’s how I think of the Comedy Underground show. I’m just some sad old hack comic bringing on the new people. It’s really about them. Shows like this are the only place left to do this kind of material.
The dirty stuff?
Yeah. You can’t do it on network television. You can’t even do it in the clubs sometimes. They’ll be like, “We don’t want to insult the bachelor party in the back.”
We live in an age of oversensitivity.
The crowds today, it’s always “too soon, too inappropriate.” You get groans if you make a joke about the Civil War. I’m pretty sure there’s not any 150-year-old people out there. I don’t know what they’re teaching the kids these days, but they seem to be very tolerant of everything but comedy.
So what you’re saying is, they’re probably not going to enjoy your bit about special-needs children and dolphins?
Oh god, not a chance. The young people who come to the clubs now, it’s like they think it’s performance art. They just sit there and blink. It’s weird.
Are they stupid?
No, no. They’re smart. But they’ve been through the wringer. They’ve been tiger-momed into being over-achievement machines. They’re being crushed by student loans, they’ve never known a world without a war on terror, and none of them can afford to buy a house. Every day is another 15 phone apps they need to buy that promise happiness but just leave them empty and soulless. I feel bad for this generation, theMillennials. They’ve been fucked.
The very first joke on your special was about Cubans. Are you sure it’s safe to open with a racial joke?
Oh boy, you found that racial?
That’s just Queens, New York. I don’t know, I don’t think of jokes that way.
Will Suey Park have anything to complain about in your material?
The CancelColbert hashtag woman.
Oh, her. Here’s the thing, I’m not really a Twitter guy. That whole Twitter thing, and the girl with the Twitter, and Colbert tweeting but it was probably somebody else tweeting for him, it’s just… [pause, sighs] Is that the world we live in now? I don’t know.
It’s kind of tiresome.
It’s fucking awful. Who cares? And I’m not just talking about the people complaining. I don’t think anything I say is that important.
How much longer do you think you’ll do this?
Complain about Twitter?
Do stand-up. Are you ever going to retire, or just keep going ’til you drop dead in a Chuckle Hut in Omaha?
I don’t know. You always want to think that you’ll quit a week before they want you out. That’s like any job. I don’t know, man. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope here.
You’re burned out?
It’s not so much the stand-up, it’s all the promotion that goes with it. It really is just creeping me out. I’m too old for it. I remember when you’d do radio in the morning, and then you’d do the shows and it’s done. But now, it’s never-ending. You need to do a podcast and Twitter and animate something. It’s like, what about just getting onstage and being funny? What happened to that?
It’s all on the Internet now.
I’m up against a skateboard video somewhere out of Ukraine. I can’t compete with that.
Do you want to do more acting? According to IMDb, your last acting gig was a voice-over for the 2010 video Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo.
That was my best work as an actor, I think. I’m living off that money right now.
Yeah, that was a nice payday. That was $800.
That’s retirement money, my friend.
Well, it was something I hoped would lead to more work, but I guess not. I came from the era where ugly guys were either writers or voice-over guys. Now, all the A-listers are getting the big voice-over gigs. Honestly, I hate acting. Which is good, because I’m not an especially talented actor.
Did you ever think comedy would lead to an acting career?
Never. But a lot of comics now, I think they get into comedy thinking it’ll lead to acting. I’m the kind of guy who got into comedy hoping it would lead to running a comedy club.
Do you like the lifestyle of a stand-up? Going from town to town, sleeping in hotels and always heading to the next gig?
When you’re young it’s fun. When you’re old, it just seems like a lot of standing in front of airports chain-smoking. That’s really what it is to me. I’m standing in front of an airport at 20 below zero. The airport isn’t even open, I’m the first guy there. I’m waiting for the actual people to open the airport because I got kicked out of the hotel. The hotel only had me for one night, so now I’m here.
There may be some young fledgling comic who reads this and says, “Fuck that. I’m going back to law school.”
I wish they would! But that’s the problem, nobody wants to go to law school. Everybody wants to play a lawyer on TV, but nobody wants to be a lawyer. It’s true. Everyone’s an actor. I don’t know, what do you think? You live in LA, you’re on the pulse of it.
Actually, I got out of LA the first chance I got. I live in Chicago.
Good for you. It’s a nightmare out there.
Too many people in the industry.
And they’re all telling you to start a podcast or tweet more. It’s like having a comedy career involves all these other jobs that I don’t really want to do. Maybe down the road, but it’s not for me now. I just like doing stand-up.
What about doing a TV show based on your life? Like what Marc Maron and Louis C.K. are doing.
I’m not interested in being any more visible than I am. For Louis, who’s kind of a genius, and Marc, who I was just talking to before you called, they’re both great comics and I’m really happy for their success. I love seeing guys who I’ve been in the clubs with for years make it. I don’t have any kind of jealousy or anything like that. But I have no interest in trying to follow in their footsteps.
Okay, we’ve avoided this topic for long enough. Let’s get to the porn.
Your Showtime series, Dave’s Old Porn — in which you watched classic adult movies with comics and porn stars — only lasted for two seasons. Is it ever coming back?
If I had the rights to do it, you would see it right now. Hopefully down the road there will be another, as they say, “platform” for the show. See? You’ve got to get up with the terms now.
You’re so 2014.
We’re looking for another venue or avenue for digital downloads, or some bullshit. It’s about the brand!
What’s your brand? It’s about the brand, man.
Old Porn still has an active Twitter account, so that gives me faith.
That’s the only time I’ve been excited about tweeting, because it’s all porn stuff.
Your Old Porn Twitter is the only reason I learned that Gloria Leonard died.
Thank you! See, we’re doing a public service. I still feel like we were on to something. People come up to me in airports and restaurants and say, “I loved that porn show. I watched it with my wife. She didn’t like it at first, but now she sees that it’s hilarious.”
Was it based on real experiences? Do you watch porn with friends?
No way! Guys always tell me about hanging out and watching porn in their frathouse, but I never was in a frat. I mostly watch porn alone in a room, with just my sad thoughts.
But as it turns out, watching porn leads to some really fascinating conversations.
Especially with women. I loved hearing Kathy Griffin or Amy Schumer talk about this stuff. Because nobody ever watches porno with a woman in the room. It can be illuminating.
We learned some things. Like that Marc Maron got his sex education from porn and thought vaginas were a “devil’s mouth.”
I know, right? Marc is a good guy because even though he’s full of angst or whatever, at the end of the day he’s still a comic. He knows his porn. Comics know porn. We know it.
I’ve found that to be very true. Every comic I know is like a porn historian.
Why is that? Why do comedians love pornography?
Because we need it. We need it more because we’re not in bands. If we were musicians, we wouldn’t need porn. Let’s face it, music beats comedy any day. Music touches the heart. But comedy… I have no idea what it does. It rattles around in your head for a while. And then you fuck a musician and forget all about it.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)