Dan Cummins isn’t about to shy away from who he is, or what he has to say. There are certain comedians where, when you watch them, you know what you’re getting is entirely unfiltered them. There are no pretensions to it. Nothing is hidden, sugar coated, or coming at you half assed. It’s exactly what you see being what you get. It won’t be for everybody, but those who are a fan of that kind of comedy, are going to love it.
And it’s not just about going after certain people or things. Yes, he does do that. There are things that drive him nuts that he will definitely go out of his way to tell you all about. But also, he also has the ability to turn the joke around on himself. Never is that more apparent than when he tells a story in his set involving a banana peel at the supermarket he worked at. When you see that, you’ll know that not even Dan himself is off limits. All is fair game. That’s sort of the charm of what Dan Cummins does.
Over the past number of years, Dan Cummins has been making a name for himself through stand-up and also his popular podcast, TimeSuck. And his new special Get Outta Here Devil is out right now. We recently spoke to Dan about all things comedy, what it takes to create a new special, finding his audience, why it took him so long to tell the banana peel story onstage, and why he doesn’t care all that much about offending certain people.
Walk me through the process of creating the new special.
Yeah it was a little different with this one. I had a tour we called The Flat Earth Tour, which I guess would have been in 2018. And then we went back to all those same markets in 2019 and called it the Happy Murder Tour. And I wrote a bunch of stuff for 2018 and a lot of it was more kind of like flat Earth and conspiracy based. But we didn’t record it and I wanted to come up with a new hour, so I wrote a bunch of new stuff and I kind of used a combination of both tours for this special. So some material got left behind. And I probably used about 15 minutes of the stuff from 2018. And then the rest was from 2019. So a lot of it was pretty new, I guess. It’s kind of hard to remember perfectly, but that’s the gist of it.
Was there certain things that pained you to leave behind from the 2018 tour?
Yeah. It’s stuff that I don’t know how I would fit it into a new hour. But I do wish I had recorded some of that. And I had people ask when the special came out and they saw me on that tour and asked “Where can we get that material?” And I went “Nowhere. It’s just kind of gone now.”
As an audience member, and I’m sure for comedians as well, it is kind of nice knowing certain things are “in the moment” and won’t be captured.
Yeah, I agree, too. And it is kind of nice for people to know that’s just the way it works. Where the beauty of live comedy is you’re going to see some things that’s going to make it onto an album, you’re going to see some things that may have already been on an album or a special, and you’re going to see or hear something that the comic might never say again. Just the beauty of it being in that moment. And maybe they were telling that story for just a few weeks or just that night or whatever.
It’s just such a cool, just live art form. Which makes it so weird now that it’s frozen. Musicians can keep playing their instruments, and they’re not going to get the rush of a crowd for a while, but stand-up comics, we literally can’t progress right now. Not until we get crowds again. It’s so weird.
But there have been comedians that have been taking to social media, as I know you have as well, to utilize that as an outlet for the time being.
You know, I like trying to stay top of mind with people. I feel like I’m lucky where, I’ve been so busy with my podcast, so I haven’t been thinking about trying to use social media to work on new bits or anything. I don’t feel like I try to make up for stand-up by doing things on social media. I feel very fortunate that I get to have a podcast that people like that I can pour all my creative energy into. And I know some comics, I feel like they need to post more now to kind of I guess replicate what they’re not getting from stand-up? But I feel like I do that with the podcast.
And it is interesting to watch stand-up specials now because, in just a matter of months, everything has changed.
Yeah, the world is so different now than it was in October when I recorded it. To me, I like that. I watched it for a little viewing party, and what I like about the special is it just reminds me of frankly a better time. Right now our country is a f*cking sh*t show with like incompetent leadership and a disease that no one understands that I feel like people are not taking seriously enough or way overreacting to. It’s such a frustrating time. So when I watched, I was like “Oh yeah. It wasn’t that long ago that things made way more sense.” And so I think people are probably going to want that right now. Reminders of normalcy and the way things were before.
It really makes you long to be back in a comedy club. Do you miss being on the road? Is it hard for you to stay in one place for so long?
I mean it’s definitely nice to have a break, to be around family more. But also it’s bittersweet because the tour for me was going better and better where it’s been like a weird career arc because I haven’t done as many industry things in the last couple years. But because of Time Suck, the podcast I do, I had way more people coming out to shows than ever before, we were selling out shows and adding shows. And it was what I was always striving for in 20 years of doing stand-up. Like the last few weekends that I was out before everything got shut down, we were adding shows to our week at a cub. And it just felt like, my dream was always to eventually do more theaters. And talking to your agent, it’s like “That’s the step.” If you do one night at a club, it’s a door deal. If you sell those tickets, then you do a full weekend. And if you sell out of those, then you add shows. But beyond that, you’re jumping up into theaters. It just felt like we had so much momentum and we were doing it our own way. And then for it to stop was like “F*ck!” I never accepted the possibility that the entire world of stand-up would be shut down. So I’m happy to have a break but I never wanted it this way.
So much of what you talk about in the first half of your special is about your kids and your family. How do they feel about all of the things you say about them?
They’re okay with it. They have great senses of humor. They’re old enough now, they’re 12 and 14, and we have talks. I let them know what kinds of things I’m saying about them before I record something. And they have veto power. My son actually vetoed several bits that I was doing, and I had one about my daughter that also got vetoed. So they have some say now about what I’m going to say about them onstage. So yeah whatever is out there, they’re cool with it.
I’m sure there will be a point where they’re going to see what you’ve said about them eventually.
Well my daughter was at the taping, so she already knows. And my son’s been on tour with me. But I have so much stuff out there and am so irreverent. We have a pretty irreverent househould and can talk about anything. Like nothing’s off limits. So I’m not one of those super prude-ish parents that way. Like I always thought it was funny how Madonna did all this risqué sh*t, and then supposedly is like a super conservative parent. Like “Are you f*cking embarrassed about what you do then? Because I’m not.” Like yeah, I fucked a banana peel in high school in a grocery store bathroom when I was 16. Who gives a shit? I look at it like, maybe if my kids do their own weird stuff, they won’t feel bad about it or ashamed because they know they can talk about it with their dad, they know their dad has done a bunch of weird sh*t. I like being really open with them.
And since you mentioned the banana story, I’ve got to ask you what took you so long to put it in a special? It seems to have been calling out for the special treatment.
(Laughs). I forgot about it for a number of years. I wasn’t even thinking about it. And then, I did decide to tell it because when I was younger, I wasn’t as comfortable talking about things like that. I was super embarrassed. But then, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just seen how silly that is. And I like when other comics do that, where they tell really embarrassing personal stories, because I feel like it gives them more license to talk about other things. Like maybe they’re going hard on other subjects, but they’re also not above really making fun of themselves. And I’ve just gotten more comfortable doing that, like the last couple years. That was an important one for me psychologically. I don’t know what story I would tell about myself that would be more embarrassing than that. So it felt good just to kind of get it out there.
Are they any stories that you wouldn’t tell?
Yeah. There’s stuff that’s off limits that involves other people that I’m worried it would really embarrass them in a certain way. Like with my kids. There’s definitely stories about my kids, and my wife, that I would love to tell onstage. But like if they don’t want it out there, for whatever reason, I try to respect that. But the banana story, what I like about that, is that it only involves me. I’m not embarrassing anybody else. I was telling some more family stories about my mom and about other people as I was working on new stuff after the special, and even with those, I try to think “Am I being fair to the person I’m talking about?” If there’s something deeply personal to them, I wouldn’t want to say it. Because just because I’m comfortable with my stuff being out there, that doesn’t mean that they are. But I try to be respectful with the people I’m talking about. But with myself, there’s nothing off limits unless it involves somebody else and they’re not comfortable being brought up in the story.
There’s a lot of talk in your special about how people are more offended these days. At what point did you start to see that change?
I feel like in the last two or three years. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly. But I think with all the hashtag movements, and a lot of them have a lot of validity. Like #MeToo, there were things that were hidden that shouldn’t have been hidden and people do need to be exposed for being horrible people. But whenever there’s a valid movement, then other less valid movements will come in behind it. And that one started out so great, and there’s still people that need to be pointed out and brought down, but then there was situations where, to me, it read like “Oh, you went on a bad date and the guy was kind of a dick and now you want to tear his life apart.” And it’s like “No. Go fu*ck yourself. How dare you try to create an online movement to tear that person down.”
It just got taken, as things often do, too far. And then I just feel like it opened up the flood gate where it normalized people being able to not just bitch about things online, but try to punish people. And I feel bad for the women who have valid MeToo complaints, because it diminishes the entire movement. And it’s like how dare this woman who makes those complaints, take away from the power of the other women making actual rape allegations. Or actual sexual abuse allegations. They’re just doing such a disservice in a variety of different ways.
Like I think about athletes, where somebody gets drafted in the first round of baseball, basketball, whatever. And then people would dig on their twitter or their FaceBook account, and they would find an offensive thing they posted like 5 yeaes ago when they were like 15 years old. And they would demand a public apology. And one of these examples, and I can’t remember the athletes name, but I believe it was a Daniel Tosh sketch, and then the other one I believe they were quoting some song lyrics. And then they would do these tearful press conferences, and it just enraged me. Like “Really??” People feel owed an apology because somebody they have never met said something one time that they didn’t agree with. I’ll never be that person. Like I offend people with jokes, and I’m never going to be the person that apologizes. Because I don’t give a f*ck if you get offended. That’s not my f*cking problem. If you’re that bothered by what somebody posted or said, then I feel like you should be in therapy. Because you’ve allowed yourself to be a very fragile person who is easily hurt in this world of ours. I wish that person could go to Syria or some war-torn country and see how rough the world actually is, and then maybe they’d realize how petty they’re being with their complaints and shut the f*ck up.
Have you found yourself getting a lot of backlash for things you’ve said?
Yeah it does. Luckily, I’m lucky enough to get more positive feedback. I mean, the easiest place to look is just reviews or whatever. But if you look at the reviews for the last special that’s been out for a while, luckily there’s mostly 5 star reviews. But if you look every 10 or 12, there’s gonna be the 1 star where they don’t hold back. And then we get those on the podcast. Every 10-15 reviews, there’s somebody that not only absolutely hates it, but feels the need to let the world know that they absolutely hate it and why. I don’t think that’ll ever go away now.
Does that lead to you ever having to censor yourself?
You know, I think about it. The good part of it is it does make me think about what I am writing and stating more. I don’t want to cater to that, because then it really waters down your artistic voice I think. But there are some things where I’m like “Is it worth it?” You know, when I’m going over a bit or something, I just think “Okay. Am I so committed to this idea that I need to talk about it even though I know I’m going to get so much backlash because of the way people react to things now? But I feel like with my stand-up, I’m really lucky now because the people who are coming to my shows, they’re not coming to see me because of my sitcom or anything because I don’t have that. They’re only coming to see me because they’re familiar with my prior stand-up albums. And I’ve been pretty consistently irreverent for long enough now where I’m not too worried about offending people. I do offend people probably like every show, but not a significant number. And I’m okay with that because as long as the people coming to see me are enjoying the new material, I’m okay with what the rest of the people think.
Exactly. You play to those who want to hear what you have to say.
Yeah. Because if you start going down that road, I don’t know, then I think that destroys your whole act. Then your fans, they don’t like the new stuff as much. And then the people that you’re offending or you’re worried about offending, I always think like “Could you really please them anyway?” If they don’t like current sense of humor is, I don’t even know if it would be possible to change enough to try to become what they want. And then if you became what they want, then there’s going to be other people and now you’re not what they want. At the end of the day, I’ve always thought that to be the best comic you can, you just have to be willing to have a lot of people not like you.
I just do what I think is really funny. I always think to myself “What would I want to see myself talk about. What would I want to hear discussed?” And then if I could just stay with that always, I would be consistent. I do work very hard to take whatever thought I have and try to make it the funniest I can, but I don’t wanna get rid of funny thoughts because I’m worried they might upset somebody.
And living in Idaho, is there a comedy scene there? Where you’re able to pop into a club and do 10 minutes to try bits out?
You know, there are clubs. The Spokane Comedy Club is only about a half hour from me, so I’m right by the Washington boarder. And they’re a really good club and there’s other places in town. I stopped doing that, though. I started working things into my act on the road. I got to open up for Brian Regan years ago, and it was cool to see that he did that the same way. You know, which is to try stuff out in front of his audience. Early on, for me, I realized that I didn’t need to make everyone laugh. There’s some comics that take a lot of pride of being able to go into any kind of room and make a variety of different audiences laugh. I’ve truly never cared about that.
Like the comics that I will always like the most are a little quirkier, and they have acts that would work really good in some places, and really not good in other places. And I always kind of liked them the most. So once I started to kind of get my crowd, now I only have real interest in trying out bits in front of an audience who is already of the same mindset. Because my worry of going to a random crowd now and trying out something brand new is that I might lose confidence in it. Whether it’s a bad environment or a weird audience and now I’m a little bit insecure about that premise. I would much rather just throw it into the middle of my own show. I’ve been doing that for about 6 or 7 years now. It doesn’t seem to hurt things as far as audience feedback or anything. So I think I’ll just keep doing that.
It’s always nice once you can figure out who your audience is and then focus on playing for them.
Yeah, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do with stand-up. Find a nice, niche audience, be able to tell the stories I want to tell, have them enjoy them, and luckily lately there’s lots of people coming to the show that let me do that. I don’t have those same goals that some guys do where they want that bigger and bigger appeal, or some people will write more based on what they think will work and what will get the biggest reaction, as opposed to what they think is the funniest. And one of my favorite comics is Doug Stanhope. And I’ve always admired how he has such a strong voice. And you know what kind of material he’s going to tell. And it’s definitely not for everybody and he doesn’t care. And that attitude made him such a strong comic, in my opinion. Because his voice is so unique, it’s not watered down to make it work for the masses. Maria Bamford is another one. She is definitely not for everybody, but I think she’s a genius. And if she tried to please everybody, it would ruin everything that’s special about her.