Dan Soder looks exactly like what you’d get if you went to Central Casting and asked for a tall, clean-cut, middle class stoner from Colorado. His deep voice, good looks and easygoing charm have made him a fan favorite on Guy Code, Robert Kelly’s You Know What Dude and Legion of Skanks. Last year, he and LoS’s Jay Oakerson took that best guest chemistry and created an incredibly popular SiriusXM show, The Bonfire. Meanwhile, Dan was also making small appearances on Inside Amy Schumer and Schumer’s movie Trainwreck. He’s increased his on screen time with a recurring role on Showtime’s new hit series Billions and a Comedy Central Digital series called Used People, that he co-wrote with Michelle Wolf. Of course, that’s all peripheral to Soder’s central love – stand-up comedy – which is about to enter pop culture as well, thanks to his new Comedy Central special Dan Soder: Not Special.
Soder’s main thought on the impending May 21 premiere is, “I just hope people like the special. I don’t have an album out or anything, this is my first album, so I just hope people like it. I had a fun time shooting it and the people there were amazing. I already hate it. I think every comic hates their jokes a little because you build them and you know the tricks.” But Soder’s “tricks” are infinitely likeable. He touches on topics that are universally relatable, but then grasps onto specific, surprising, often peculiar details to paint a vivid picture that puts the room in stitches.
Turns out Dan isn’t just a fantastic comedian, he’s still a comedy fan at heart, so we wound him up and let him go, talking about all the ins and outs of being a “verbal trapeze artist.”
It’s kind of sad, I wish it was like “I’m super into rock climbing or bike riding” but really I just sit around and watch TV when I’m not working. What’s weird about comedians is it’s such a choice of a profession and you work so hard to make it your career that it kind of becomes your extracurricular activity as well. I still like going to comedy shows. I don’t ever look at it as “free time” I look at it as “time between comedy.” I really just play video games or go watch a movie and hang out. With the travel and doing comedy so much, it really becomes a thing of I try to have some simple sense of being normal. Most people hate their job, so their time off is their time to go do something they really enjoy. Comics are lucky because, even though it sometimes sucks, it’s great that we get to do it. So I find the enjoyment in that, I like going to work.
…a lot of people view comedy like Seinfeld, like he hangs out with Elaine and they go to movies…
When you’re not living this life, you can have a misconception about it. I think a lot of people view it like Seinfeld, like he hangs out with Elaine and they go to movies and they just show the standup at the very beginning. And it’s like, he opens and closes every show with standup to signify that that’s a constant! But I’ve had girlfriends who were fine with it. You just have to plan it out and meet in the middle. But I get why it’s frustrating to people who are involved with comedians. We’re circus folk. We’re verbal circus folk, that’s all we are.
Moving to New York at the time I did, was such an awesome time. Louis C.K. had just put out Shameless, so that avalanche was starting. You also could go watch Patrice at Stand Up New York and The Cellar, Giraldo, Mike DeStefano, Gulman.. There were a lot of guys you could watch and just, oh shit, be blown away. I remember watching John Mulaney at Rififi and being like, “This guy is the same age as me??! God dammit!” I bet that’s how pianists feel when they see genius kids and think, “Ugh, okay, I’ve been playing a goddamned casino in Reno for the past three years and this kid’s playing Carnegie.”
The class ahead of me was like Kurt [Metzger], Jay [Oakerson], [Joe] DeRosa, Nate [Bargatze], [Joe] List and then my group was me and Sam [Morril] and Mark [Normand]. It was fun just to be pushed by the people alongside of you, the guys that are a little ahead of you and the guys that are way ahead of you. And then it was cool when it started to be like, “Oh, shit, there’s people behind us now!” That’s still weird to me. But it’s cool, when I see like a Tim Dillon or Rob Haze, Jordan Temple, Evan Williams, Nick Mullen and Stavros [Halkias], there’s so many people that are just fucking funny! That’s what’s great about this city, you can just walk into a bar show and see some kid and go, “Fuck! I gotta go do better.” Or see a guy… I hadn’t seen Myq Kaplan in a while and I watched his set and this guy is so well thought out and put together. I kind of like being cold cocked. It’s a constant thing, people are always writing new bits. And re-falling in love with certain comics. Sean Patton was out in LA for a while and now he’s back and I’ll just watch a random Thursday set and go, “Oh dude, I forgot that this guy makes me hate my own comedy!” That’s the thing about comedy, unlike other jobs, when it becomes the thing you want to do most, you can really immerse yourself in it.
People don’t realize that when comics go out on the road sometimes, it’s just a shit show. I was working with Reese Waters and I was opening for him on this gig in Connecticut and this was seven, eight years ago and I was trying not to drink. I haven’t drank in three years now, but before that I was always quit, come back, quit, come back, constantly going back and forth. So, I’m trying not to drink, we go into the show and there are three people total. There are two guys at the bar and the sound guy and one of the guys at the bar is also the bartender. So, I was like “Well, I guess there’s not going to be a show, right?” and the guy that booked it was, “No, there’s going to be a show.” So I did 30 minutes in front of four people, two of whom I knew. That’s the kind of thing where you come back and you’re a different person, you’re like, “Oh, I’m not special.”
I think I thought about quitting in passing more than I ever really considered doing it. There were times when I used to bark down in the West Village for Comedy Village, the former Boston Comedy Club. So I’d get to go up super late on Monday nights and bomb. Joe List would be hosting and we’d be drinking and that was the funnest part. But one night I had bombed a couple mics, then I had that set that wasn’t going well. But then Neal Brennan had been popping around and I’m a huge Chappelle’s Show fan. Neal was like, “Hey man, that was really funny.” and I’m not trying to say that changed my life, but it was really great.
The New York open mic scene is brutal, BRUTAL. I was lucky enough to start doing check spots, where you know the abuse is coming. [Note: check spots are common to most New York City comedy clubs, a young comedian does a short set while the audience receives and pays their checks so that the more experienced comedians on the show don’t have to deal with that distraction] But I knew that you could mine out laughs. I remember when I started to get good at check spots, it was like if you were trying to lift something for a year and then all of a sudden it comes off the ground. It quickly goes back down and you’re trying to lift it again, but then you start getting the rhythm of it. Then I started doing bar shows and they were fun, so it was great training. That was two years doing check spots and it was incredibly valuable. And then Rebecca [Trent] at The Creek [and The Cave], that was one of the best things, because she created a clubhouse, you had a place to anchor where you didn’t feel nuts.
It’s been such a great year doing The Bonfire with Jay and seeing fans react to that, which has been beyond amazing. I think it’s just because we are very simple in our approach, we’re just trying to make each other laugh. I think about the partnerships I have in comedy right now, I just really appreciate getting to work with Jay, and with Michelle, and Luis J Gomez and I just wrote a script together. I like doing that and if I can keep doing that and do my own thing, it’ll just be awesome.
Dan Soder’s first special, Dan Soder: Not Special, premieres on Comedy Central, Saturday, May 21st at 11PM ET/PT.