Dan Soder is a name most Interrobang readers already know and love. If you don’t, this is the perfect time to be figuring that out. Dan co-hosts a SiriusXM radio show – The Bonfire– that is growing bigger every day. He’s co-starring on a hit Showtime series- Billions. He’s written and starred in a Comedy Central digital series, Used People. And possibly the most exciting moment of the year, Dan’s about to release his first hour special on Comedy Central. Dan Soder: Not Special premieres Saturday night, May 21, at 11pm on Comedy Central. So the timing is perfect for photographer Phil Provencio to give us a closer look at Dan in one of his favorite locations in New York City.
Dan and Phil met up at Dan’s favorite bar in New York- McCaffrey & Burke Bar and Grill in Astoria, Queens. Soder is sober now, but when he drank, this was where he drank. Dan hadn’t been back to the bar since he quit drinking three years ago, and it was definitely the first time he’s ever sat down at the bar and ordered a club soda.
“This is one of the best bars in Queens,” Dan said. “This is a bar. This is a bar. Not like next door which is like…a gastropub. I haven’t been in here since I quit drinking…but it’s…it was down the street from my house, and this was the kind of bar that my dad worked in. Where it was like..this is a bar.”
He describes the fancier newer gastropub next door as “where you try to go to get pussy.” But McCaffrey & Burke is where you go to get drunk. “And you can do it very well here,” he said. “If you look at it, there’s no bullshit presentation . Whiskeys, gins, vodkas, just go for it. There’s like 5 bottles of Jameson in the rack and that’s exactly what you want.”
Dan described a night about eight years ago at the bar that sums the place up perfectly. He was going through a bad breakup. “I came here at 3:30 in the morning and they were still open and I did shots of Jose Cuervo and drank Bud heavies and watched all of Surviving the Game with Ice T on closed caption with the bartender and we just got fucking hammered. And then I left and it was like 6:30 in the morning and it’s like one of those things where you’re like, oh wow. I kind of like this.”
Soder sees the bar as a microcosm of the real world. “You might get beat up in here. I like that. I don’t want to go to a hipster bar in Brooklyn and just get snarked at. I like it to be like (using whisper) Hey, why is that guy staring at me? Oh mental illness? Okay cool. That’s what the world is. The world isn’t this friendly environment where you’re like, ‘Are you upset with me?‘ Its like, Oh shit, I might have to avoid danger. That’s what the world is.”
Going back to the bar now, for the first time after quitting drinking, wasn’t easy. “If I were to drink– I’d fall off the wagon here,” he said, “or in New Orleans.”
“This is probably one of the hardest places I’ve been inside since I stopped drinking…. where I want a drink. Even the lacquer of the bar…I just remember what it feels like to have a Bud heavy and a room temperature glass of whiskey and then go outside and smoke cigarettes and watch people get off the train. This is a place where you can come in and waste hours here.”
The face of Queens — Astoria in particular– is changing. “It’s become less neighborhood, more young professional. But it also is like, chains are moving in. Like the Morisco Funeral Home over on Astoria Boulevard and 31st street is now a fucking Starbucks. The Greek music store is now a Crossfit. But this kind of place is still here and that’s awesome. That’s what I like about this neighborhood.”
It’s a topic that comes up frequently in his stand up. “My whole kick is, all the freedoms and stuff we’re giving up for technology. Just to make things more convenient we’re giving up pieces of ourselves. And I cover that in the special. Like jerking off and anger.” Maybe that’s why he described the bar as very similar to the kind of comedy he prefers. “There’s an authenticity with this place that doesn’t exist next door,” he says about the bar which he also describes as a “by myself place.”
Nothing is easy- not the bar, not life, not comedy. Dan likes it that way. “I don’t think anything worth anything is easy. Professionally, nothing is worth…when you put the time in and you work hard, you build yourself.”
He compares comedy to playing video games. “This is a weird analogy, but its like video games. You have to learn every level. If you skip levels to level 10, there’s going to be things you missed out on, that could save you. So whenever somebody blows up in comedy quickly, — obviously I feel the jealousy because I’m a human being– but more than anything I feel a deep sense of empathy- of how you missed a lot. When I was at my poorest and at my most frustrated. . .it’s strange because it becomes a thing where I appreciate those moments. I appreciate bombing at those one nighters in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and I appreciate not making any money and having to go to a job during the day. I didn’t like it. I hated it. But I appreciate it and it makes going to the airport at 6am a little easier knowing, hey I could be going to a restaurant right now to do a job that I fucking hate. I could have to wake up in four hours to go wait on people that I hate. Now I get to play those people that I hate on a television show and I get to talk about them on stage. So there’s no complaining.”
For anyone unhappy with their career or having a rough moment, Soder refers them to Dana Gould’s famous speech at Just For Laughs in Montreal. “Every comedian should have it tattooed on their back. Because it’s true. As long as you’re doing comedy- you’re a comedian. There is nothing better than that. I know I’m going to go up and I know I’m going to go down. But as long as I’m not here on a Wednesday getting hammered till 4 and then going to a Mexican restaurant waiting on douchebag investment bankers at 10 in the morning, then I’m okay.”
Now he has a giant comedy career and he has amazing comedy friends. Dan told us he has so much respect for the class he came up in comedy with, and the other comedy friends he’s met since. “Joe list, Nate Bargatze, Big Jay Oakerson, Luis J Gomez, Dave Smith and also Mark Normand, Sam Morril and Sean Donnelly and Michael Che and all these guys, Kevin Barnett and Jermaine Fowler, and new guys, and Mike Recine and Sean Patton who I fucking am such a diehard fan of, and Jared Logan and other guys who are kind of newer like Tim Dillon and Evan Williams. And you meet guys like Greg Stone and Anthony DeVito and guys like Mad Dog and Yannis Pappas. James Mattern. So many people. Joe DeRosa. Vecchione, is my roommate and one of my best friends. Living with a guy like Vecchione makes you a better comedian. It’s like living in a boxing gym.”
Dan Soder’s very first hour special, Dan Soder: Not Special premieres this Saturday on Comedy Central at 11pm in the east. He filmed it at the iconic Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia.
“Please come see me tell jokes, it’s what I love to do the most.”