Dave Hill’s new book, Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has some major players giving it praise on the back cover, and all well deserved. Hill’s book is a fast, funny, thoughtful and smart read. DHDLHA is a collection of stories, with a loose thread following the evolution of his relationship with his dad since his mother passed away. The stories largely come from the period of years after her death, but sometimes dip back to childhood and teenage years, weaving around exploring themes that often connect to his father.
I talked with Dave about the new book, and had the opportunity to hear Dave expound on some of the stories, and talk philosophy, craft, technique.
There is a blend of some bigger than life stories– like writing ringtones for Donald Trump or a visit to Mexico that included spending time in a cartel prison– intermingled with essays that tell simpler stories that throw a spotlight on some of the funniest life moments that you’ll undoubtably relate to your own experiences; a fishing trip, a pair of new boxing gloves, building an adirondack chair. The simpler stories are as entertaining as the wilder ones. In fact, those smaller moments make up some of Dave’s favorite parts of the book. “The first thing you think of is, oh I’ve got this crazy story. But I think what ends up being the better parts of the book, and what the book is all about, is when I really had to think about…. I wrote it kind of analyzing the more mundane stuff of everyday life.” And Hill is a master at both.
Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is Hill’s second book, and you might expect it would be a little easier the second time around. But there are new challenges. “With the first one, you have your whole life to be like, oh, I’ll tell this story, I’ll tell that story.” But with the second one, he said, you have to think harder. “I was talking with Michael Ian Black about it because we both had started these new books around the same time, and he’s like, yeah you have to live a whole new life in a year. So there’s a bit of that…. and you just have to think, what else can I talk about.”
Some of the story ideas came easily. There’s a story about a homeless guy throwing a bottle of piss at Dave while he was on his way to a big gig. Spending an afternoon with Donald Trump was another story that was an easy choice, given that Trump is in the news on an hourly basis, but he already wishes he could rewrite that chapter.
“If I had written that today, I would have been a lot meaner about it,” he said. “You know, I wrote that sometime in the last year. When I wrote it, things weren’t quite as scary. So it was kind of like.. ha ha, Donald Trump’s running for President. Here’s a funny story I have. And now its like, ha ha….Donald Trump has a good shot at becoming president and he’s mobilized millions of idiots. So I definitely– if I had another pass at that, it would probably be a little different.”
Going to Mexico and hanging out in a hardcore prison was another story he knew he would include. Hill had already shared a prison story once before. In his first book, he talked about the exhilarating experience of performing for prisoners in Sing Sing and all the positivity it brought to his life. “I went and it ended up being a really fun experience and did wonders for my anxiety. I felt good for like six months afterwards,” he said about the Sing Sing visit. His second visit to prison was a bit different, and he details the visit in the new book. This trip was to Mexico, and not “Sammy Hagar Mexico” but “cartels-cutting-off-heads-Mexico” he said. “So I was like well if Sing Sing was fun, this has got to be much more fun than that. And everyone was like don’t go that’s insane but my brother was the one person who said you should totally go. So I was like okay cool.” The experience ended up pretty dark. “It was scarier in that there was a guy who was threatening to kill me- well, kill my friends and then me by association. But their attitude was kind of like well this is business as usual down here. And you know it’s like, well why don’t we call the police? And they were like that’s like getting some other crazy person involved because the Mexican police will just show up and be like, well we’ll kill you if you don’t give us $200. So it ended up being nuts. I didn’t have a skip in my step after that trip, like I did at Sing Sing. That one I came back and I was kind of like… oh boy. I’m glad it all worked out but I don’t feel exhilarated by it.” Even though you can hear some stress in his voice as he remembered the experience, that quickly dissipated as he added, in a much lighter tone, “I would go back….the food was delicious.”
Dealing with fear ends up being a bit of an unplanned theme in the book. In addition to the Mexican prison story, Hill talks about a horrific day as a kid that resulted from a new pair of boxing gloves– I’ll let you read that one for yourself– or the night he wandered alone to a dive bar and repeatedly pestered a Hells Angels biker– or just showing up in New York to live with a person he’s never met.
He explained that he takes certain kinds of risks, but not others. Like he doesn’t go bungee jumping or skydiving. “I don’t think I do scary stuff like that, and when I drive …I drive like an old lady,” he said. “But in terms of real…maybe I do things that are genuinely threatening instead of these thrill seeking things where you’re really not going to end up dead.”
But he faces other kinds of fears. Like the fear of pursing a risky career in comedy, and wondering if you’ve made the right choices, after your parents have urged you to seek career counseling and your siblings have set you up with life coaches to help you figure things out (all of which by the way make for highly entertaining stories). I asked him about dealing with all those fears, and he had a great answer:
“You can’t give up. Giving up is easy but the alternative– and this goes for everything I think. I always say this to friends, especially working in ‘the arts’ as I like to call it. Because always, like every other day you go, oh God I quit, I’m just going to do something else, or whatever. And then I always say to them- whatever you are going to do is going to suck so much worse than whatever is bothering you doing what you love, you know?
Of course you always want more money and success and all that but if nothing changes, I still feel like I’m doing great and having a lot of fun. But I still have days like where I’m just oh God, I gotta do anything but comedy and writing and music and this weird thing I’ve thrown together. But then I think, if I had my own coffee shop– which would be like a stupid fantasy I would have one day– I would be out of business by noon, you know? Quitting is not going to work. You just have to stay the course of what you want to do, cause, quitting…you’ll let out a sigh of relief for like five minutes and then it just gets much worse than whatever you’re complaining about that day. All you really need is like a nap, or to get over a hangover or whatever. Whenever I’m like uhhh, about my career, I’m like, how much did I sleep last night? Was I out all night drinking? That’s usually what’s happening when I’m whining about something…its just like being a baby…you know? Any way…..”
So no coffee shop in the immediate future for Dave Hill, probably no bungee jumping, but possibly another visit to the dark side of Mexico. “I think I have a nice career and I stay busy working, but you know I’m not on an NBC sitcom or in the movies all the time or anything like that. So if I’m not going to get a thrill from life from super stardom I gotta find my fun somewhere. If I have to go to a Mexican prison instead of doing a three episode arc on Parks and Rec or something… You know, I gotta do what I gotta do. Until things pick up. That’s the way I look at it.”