Dan Soder and the Art of Being Reasonable: A Conversation on a Walk to a Wawa

Dan Soder discusses performing in Philadelphia, The Bonfire, and the art of just being reasonable.

By Mick Taylor

Any fan of stand-up comedy has been aware of Dan Soder’s rising talent over the past few years. While breaking into the New York comedy scene, Dan was recognized as an up and comer and became part of the regular guest rotation on Robert Kelly’s YKWD podcast (along with breakouts Joe List & Luis J. Gomez). Robert Kelly has a reputation of mentoring young comedians via YKWD and welcomes new talent to rotate through once performers begin to find success. Dan has also been a favorite guest on other podcasts and radio shows; he has made uncountable appearances on the Legion of Skanks podcast & was often heard on the former Opie & Anthony show (and its other incarnations), as well as the current Jim Norton and Sam Roberts show on SiriusXM. Dan has parlayed his talent and likability into recurring appearances on MTV’s “Guy Code” & “Guy Court” and Inside Amy Schumer (as well as a part in her 2015 film Trainwreck). Since 2016 Dan Soder has released his first hour-long stand-up special, Not Special and a Half Hour Special on Netflix’s The Standups.

In the summer of 2015 Dan and fellow comedian Big Jay Oakerson were tapped to host Comedy Central radio’s first weekly live show The Bonfire on SiriusXM. Originally a weekly program, The Bonfire’s success led to an expanded schedule and now airs Monday through Thursdays (with a “best of” released on Fridays).  As an established & lauded stand-up, Dan is grateful for the opportunity to have also moved into acting, and currently appears as part of the talented ensemble on Showtime’s Billions. His role as Mafee has made Dan a bit more recognizable in the mainstream— however, a recent profile in a NY paper labelled Dan’s comedy career as a “side hustle”. Given the impressive scope of hard work mentioned above— it was time to speak to Dan exclusively about comedy, and eschew the Mafee persona.

Dan spoke with us after a sold out show at Helium in Philadelphia. When security escorted me back to the green room, Dan was hanging with a handful of fans discussing some of their favorite quotes and audio drops from The Bonfire. As I attempted to settle in with some prepared notes, Dan had a better idea than just doing a standard Q&A for an interview…his suggestion… “Why don’t we take a walk to Wawa and just have a conversation?” Which sounded good to me.

On our way to Philly’s infamous convenience store chain Dan & I spoke a bit about sobriety, performing in Philadelphia, how he deals with social media and The Bonfire:

Dan Soder: I was home recently (in Colorado) and a buddy of mine was saying he wanted to get out and have a drink because he needed a beer… and I was thinking I can’t just do that. I can’t just have one beer, because it’s never one. If I was having a drink I was doing that for the rest of the night. If I was to have a beer, that means I was going to stay until I was done. I was a fun drunk, but I just beat the shit out of my body. Even tonight… if I was drinking, I would have been drinking at Helium until 3 AM. Then go back to the hotel for 3 hours of sleep and just been miserable doing local radio on the Preston and Steve (93.3 WMMR) show tomorrow.

The Interrobang: It’s great that you’re going to do Preston & Steve. In Philadelphia we’re lucky to have a morning show like that that’s good to comedians. Some other shows just want people to come on and do their act for a few minutes.

Dan Soder: Yeah they’re great guys. They’re great for comedians, I’ve done the show before, and they are one of the few that gets it right. I know Big Jay loves Preston & Steve and Matt Cord (95.7 BENFM) in Philly. In comparison to some of those other guys across the country that are doing silly morning shows, they hold a pretty high standard. They’re pretty open to people just being themselves as comedians. I really like that… it’s the best when the hosts get comedy.

The Interrobang: Being on the road so much, do you compare audience reactions from each venue?

Dan Soder: I would be some type of psycho if I thought my shows were always great. You would rarely catch me going… “Wow I killed tonight”. But I always know when I have my up nights. I can compare other venues to Philly— this is an honest city. If a joke isn’t strong enough audiences aren’t going to be like “yeah alright that’s clever”, they will let you know. It’s one of my favorite clubs in one of my favorite cities for comedy. Philadelphia has also produced some of the favorite people in my life like Big Jay, Mike Vecchione and Joe DeRosa. It’s also created a crop of some of the best younger comedians that are now in New York like Monroe Martin, Derek Gaines, Tommy Pope and Shane Gillis. It’s great to see Philly stay a great comedy city. I taped my special here and I love working Helium. You can do a fun show, even on a night like tonight— it’s a Thursday night and it’s the first Eagles preseason game, but you guys still came out. I’ve been cut out by sports so many times I just take it in stride. That’s what’s great about comedy, every embarrassing story makes you appreciate a good weekend in that City in a much deeper personal way.

The Interrobang: You and Jay just had your 3 year anniversary for The Bonfire, it’s amazing how the show has grown and the following you guys now have.

Dan Soder: It’s unbelievable…time has been flying by. It’s crazy that Jay & I are just hanging out having fun, and we have all the “campers” that want to listen. I get to hang out with Jay for a job…it’s the greatest thing ever. I’ve had such shitty jobs before, to be able to do this… I still don’t understand it. The fans are one of my favorite parts about The Bonfire, getting to know all these great people that listen.

The Interrobang: You and Jay share pretty much everything about yourselves on the show. In a world that brings fans closer via social media, does it ever seem like people can get too close?

Dan Soder: It’s funny because it’s a double-edged sword. It’s great to meet awesome people and have this experience. But it’s also weird because there are a lot of people I don’t know…that know a lot about me. We knew we were signing up for that, but it can feel odd when it’s too uneven. There are times when you’re like…“I’m not trying to be rude… but I’m just letting you know I’m a human being and I’m a little afraid right now— Like I’m a little bit terrified that you could stab me with something rusty”. It gets crazy, someone will know my mom’s name and I’m like… do I know you? But then it’s awesome when my mom’s on a flight to San Francisco and the kid sitting next to her is a fan and makes a reference to The Bonfire. My mom gets it, she’s very supportive, but it’s surreal when someone is excited because I’m her son. It’s cool because it’s a fun brag to her, because people give a shit.  The best part is there are some amazing fans that we’ve gotten closer to because of social media like Sarah(@sarahmcpants), Stephanie(@SFalconi), Captain D. & Nikki (@matedickerson & @NikkiPieTAI) and countless others. These people have become a part of the show… and part of our group of friends, and that makes it very interactive and fun.

The Interrobang: The Bonfire is also very natural because of the dynamic you have with Jay & and the rest of the staff.

Dan Soder: I really think that’s true, it feels like you’re hanging out with a bunch of friends…because that’s exactly what it is. The producer, Jacob Battat has become a friend of mine. This is a guy that I argued with on the first Bonfire episode. He was giving me producer energy… and I was like “knock that shit off!” I told him I was going to super-kick him if he Bing searched one more thing, and now I use Bing to look up porn on my own. The rest of the guys on the show are the best- Lou Witzki (aka DJ DeadRat) and Lou Johnson (aka LJ/Black Lou), and we miss Andy Fiori (aka Merc Face) who went to work for Nick Dipaolo’s unfortunately cancelled show.

I’m lucky to work with Christine (Evans) and Jay and all of them, because it’s not work. Jay and I start a lot of conversations just texting back and forth. Then it keeps building until we get to a point where we have to stop and say “hey let’s save this for the show.” We had a phone call about the movie Road House because we were going to talk about it that night… but our call was basically 30 minutes of the show. I had to stop us because we did so much riffing we realized we needed to save the material later.

The Interrobang: Is it more difficult to get audiences on board when they don’t already know you as a stand-up? There may be newer fans that are more familiar with you as a host on The Bonfire or as an actor on Billions?

I think the kind of person I am, and the way I grew up, I’m always seeking approval— So I want everyone to like me.In my mid-30’s, I’m now starting to see how that rationale is actually bad for me.

Dan Soder: That’s a great question…mostly because I was just thinking about that the other day. The resolution I came up with is…I am teaching myself to be more comfortable with it. What I’m now more comfortable with is not trying to be everything for everyone. That goes for the show and for my stand-up— because I think the kind of person I am, and the way I grew up, I’m always seeking approval— So I want everyone to like me.

In my mid-30’s, I’m now starting to see how that rationale is actually bad for me. The problem with wanting everyone to like me is that it’s an impossible feat. It’s like the boy plugging holes in the dike; it’s just way too much to control. So, it’s nice that there is a difference between what Jay and I do together, and what I do on stage. There are times when I’m doing stand-up and I’m like “this isn’t The Bonfire”, so it has to be its own thing… but not necessarily to please everyone. I had this crazy drunk in New Jersey that started yelling out stuff about the show…asking where is this- and where is that… and I’m like “well it’s not the same medium…you dick.”

The Interrobang: A lot of comedians have told me that as they get more popular from being on podcasts or radio that fans start to see them more as entertainers or radio personalities instead of stand-ups.

Dan Soder: Yeah that’s right… and it’s funny, because we do all this additional media so people will come out and see our stand-up. People say to me “you’re on Billions, does that mean you’re just going to be an actor now.” I’m like…no…are you fucking crazy! The reason I do Billions is because it’s fun and awesome and I’m lucky to be a part of it— But I want people to come see my stand-up. Stand-up is the thing I’m working on every night, it’s my love and I hope I keep getting better at it

The Interrobang: Also you have to keep working on it to keep things fresh. It doesn’t seem like you ever fall into the complacency rut that is noticeable with some people that aren’t working as hard.

Dan Soder: Thanks for noticing… I’m hard on myself every set. But that’s a necessity in my mind, because you’re not going to keep improving if you’re comfortable…With yourself or with your act. Most of my jokes, I feel like I’ve never finished them, I never feel like “perfect… I really nailed that angle.” I love my friends that are comics that can make me feel uncomfortable or fake. Not fake… fake is the wrong word… I like people that can make me feel insecure in my own act. That’s just a natural response to knowing there’s a weakness; it’s calling you out on being complacent– because you can become complacent in comedy. You need to be working for things to work. I don’t blame anyone for keeping the same act for a while, but also… I would never want to do that. I can’t keep the same stuff for too long, because I hate my jokes. Once you get it all figured out, and once you know the trick, then I’m like…well that’s it— I can’t use that anymore.

The Interrobang: Over the past few years there has been a lot of pressure on the comedy community to be more PC. Has the culture shift affected the way you approach your stand-up?

I like people that can make me feel insecure in my own act. That’s just a natural response to knowing there’s a weakness; it’s calling you out on being complacent– because you can become complacent in comedy.

Dan Soder: The whole thing about the PC culture is it doesn’t affect you until it affects you. No one’s fucking with me… no one cares. Mostly because I don’t go out there and say if you didn’t vote this way, then these jokes aren’t for you. I don’t give a shit… I hope we can all find some mutual ground.

However, I understand there are some people that want to use comedy in a way to push some agenda. If they want to do that fine, we’re fishing in a different pond. I’m not going to tear them down. I like Michael Che’s analogy of the situation…he said “I live by the Planet of the Apes law with comedy— Ape doesn’t kill ape”, He’s not going to kill another comic, and I agree with that. This business is hard, and if you’re in it, I’m not here to tear you down. I might not like you, but I’m not going to set out to take anything away from you.

I built my material from years of working it out in different rooms in different cities. So if someone else put in their work, but they’re doing it differently, that’s OK. If they’re in this for the long run, we might as well get along. It’s like if we worked at the same company for the same amount of time; they may make shit differently than the way I make shit…but we’re all in this together. I don’t care… let’s just not be dicks to each other and let everyone do their own thing. Everything is sensationalized now, everything’s drama… like it’s a war and everyone has to pick a side. That’s all just bullshit… just be reasonable. Comedy is such a blast; it blows my mind that I get to do this crap. Afterwards, I grab some Wawa and go back to the hotel and watch a $28 movie on demand. At least there no one is telling me what comedy should be.

The Interrobang: And social media isn’t really helping to dampen any of the sensationalized drama…

Dan Soder: That’s the downside of social media; everybody is making things worse and giving their own opinion. There are some great things about it, like getting to know comedy fans, but a lot of the time our own insecurities and our own egos ruin any chance of people just getting along. One of the good things about my dad, if he didn’t like something…he didn’t say he disliked it…he would say he didn’t care for it. I think that’s a decency that doesn’t exist anymore. There are comics out there and I don’t like their stuff… and I would say I don’t care for it…because I like to be polite, because they put in the work. If they didn’t put in the work then the audience will sure as shit pick up on that. I just stay in the mindset of “I love doing this as a job”…and I’m willing to live a different lifestyle in order to keep making myself better at it.

Dan Soder can be heard on The Bonfire every week Monday through Thursday at 6pm on SiriusXM’s Comedy Central Radio Channel 95.

For tour dates and information on Dan’s special visit https://dansoder.com/


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