An Evening with Dave Siegal

By on February 15, 2019

Jordan Raiff:                                       Dave Siegel first and foremost, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us here at Rocket Sports and Entertainment Network. With recording a new special at the Tampa Improv, features on Sirius XM, and being contributing writer at CNN as well as a father, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate. We really appreciate your time.

Dave Siegel (photo courtesy of Dave Siegal)

Dave Siegel                                         Thanks Jordan, I appreciate that.

Jordan Raiff:                                       So let’s start off first and foremost, you’re on the road a lot. What is the biggest challenge for you?

Dave Siegel:                                        Well, like you mentioned I’m a father, so that’s really the biggest challenge. Look, I met my wife….literally at a comedy show and it was in Los Angeles. I was performing at the Laugh Factory. She was in the audience, she was a friend of a friend. I left her tickets, and so she’s….the second she met me, literally she saw me on stage before we even had a conversation. So she kind knew the deal like at that point, she knew that when we got married and we had a conversation about it, we said listen, this is, this comes with the territory. This is part of the package and God bless her… she was willing to get involved and it’s kind of, I would imagine the struggle for anyone that really dates not just a comedian, but anyone that’s going to be traveling a lot for work. But she’s…you know, the comedian, part of my personality I would imagine is part of at least what allured her to me. So that would be the traveling and being away from my wife and child at the toughest part. But then again, we make the best of it when I go to an awesome city, like a San Francisco, Miami, whatever, sometimes we’ll make a vacation out of it, they’ll come with me. I’ve literally brought my daughter on stage with me from time to time and talked about fatherhood and you know, it’s all good memories and I’m sure we’ll look back one day and know we rolled with the punches and it wasn’t easy, but it’s all for the best.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, that’s definitely a difficult challenge. Being a father and finding that balance between work and home life and especially balancing out that time, especially with time changes and everything. I can only imagine, especially for you. Working so many late nights, as well as I’m certain having to go through rehearsal or material throughout the day during rehearsals and such. I can imagine that it’s got to be difficult. You mentioned that you two first met while you were on stage, so that kind of brings me into my second question, when did you get your start in comedy and who inspired you?

Dave Siegel:                                        So I was really lucky for a few reasons. A LOT of comedians come from like shitty backgrounds and childhoods. I did not have that experience at all. My parents were big time into comedy, and from a very young age, arguably an inappropriately young age, they would bring me too. I grew up in Long Island, New York. They would bring me to whatever big comedian was performing at what was then called The Westbury Music Fair, which was a pretty big venue in Nassau County. So by the time I was, I want to say 15 or 16 years old, I had seen Rodney Dangerfield live. I had seen Joan Rivers live. I’d seen Buddy Hackett live. I had seen, Mousing Lawrence, Alan King. I mean they were big on like Borscht Belt Jewish type comedians. But it wasn’t the limit. Jay Leno I saw live. And just to get immersed in it at that young an age, it definitely had an impact on me. I always loved stand comedy as a fan. And in college, I went to school in DC. I got a job as a doorman at the DC Improv just as a way to make a nominal amount of money, but the perk was get to see comedy for free every night. And that was definitely influential.

Dave Siegel (photo courtesy of Dave Siegal)

Jordan Raiff:                                       Now, speaking of that, there’s always bits….You always hear things. And you mentioned Jay Leno, who for me was at a very young age, one of my favorite standup comedians I remember watching, you know, cause I could get hands on secondhand tapes to some of his old comedy bits, and his autobiography “Leading With My Chin” I remember picking up at a garage sale and I was a little kid for like a buck. So reading that, and one of the things he talked about and there was having bits that didn’t work. So that kind of makes me wonder, have you ever had any bits that didn’t kill? They just bombed, and if so, how did you recover? Did you re-work them and give them a second go? How did you proceed?

Dave Siegel:                                        Oh, I feel safe speaking for every comedian for this one. You always want to try it again. Like you never want to do it once. And if it doesn’t work, just give up. I would….I’d really think you’d be hard pressed to find a comedian that would try a bit that they believed in at once and gave up on it. With that said, it’s funny that you asked that question because very recently I wrote a bit that I was CONVINCED was going to be like lightning. It was just going to be killer. It just wasn’t, it’s just like after you know, close to 20 years doing this, it’s amazing that you could still just be so wrong. And I did it. I tried it, I shortened it. I mean it was fine but….I’m recording a new hour and I’m probably going to leave it out and you just never know. But that’s such a good part about comedy. Like it’s always new. It’s not like an assembly line job, where like you know exactly what’s going to happen every day. It’s just like you NEVER know. You never know what an audience is going to dig and just keeps it exciting.

Jordan Raiff:                                       That, I can wholeheartedly imagine. I know in a lot of other avenues that I have done work in or I’ve been featured in and such like that, you know, there’s always that either assembly line feeling as you talked about, or the complete opposite of just pandemonium and just craziness. And I’m not surprised that that’s there, but it’s, it’s refreshing to hear somebody openly admit that they’ve had bombs because there’s so many comedians who just act like everything kills where you listened to their interviews…

Jordan Raiff:                                       Oh fuck those guys (laughing)

Jordan Raiff:                                       You see backstage stuff…

Dave Siegel:                                        They’re lying, and I don’t care how funny you are, talk to the greatest comedians in the world. They’ll tell you how they bombed, when they bombed, when was the worst. I mean it’s just humility. Like nobody’s perfect cause no comedian has never bombed. And if they say they haven’t, they’re lying.

Jordan Raiff:                                       Good. It’s definitely reassuring to hear that too. Now when talking about comedians and such, what is your favorite type of comedy to watch and your favorite to perform? Like are you more into stand up or are you more into, you know, old comedic movies?

Dave Siegel:                                        Yeah, it’s so to watch for me because I see so much of it. It’s anything that’s different. You know, so many times I’m watching comedians at a club in New York and it’s a little different in Europe. Because you’ll see like 10 comedians in a night, and I’ll often be able to predict the punch line before it comes. Just because I’m so immersed in comedy and the cadence, the patterns, and the typical jokes that a lot of comedians will tell. So when someone takes me by surprise when someone’s doing something, either a subject, or a style and delivery that is unique. That’s what I’m really attracted to these days just because, because I’m so jaded. As far as what kind of comedy, I like to watch myself. As far as a form of comedy, I actually don’t like watching specials on Netflix or at least stand up specials. I just think you really lose a lot of what’s special about standup comedy when it’s not live. I just think you have to be a live venue and you have to have the smells, the sounds, the people next to you, and the lack of inhibition of what to laugh at, and it’s all part of the experience. So I don’t like watching a stand up on YouTube or Netflix. I actually prefer like comedy movies, old movies, sketch, at least instead of stand up on a screen.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, that definitely makes sense. I mean, especially being immersed in it yourself, and like you said with the smells, the ambiance and everything that goes along with that…I can definitely see how that would be a massive preference, especially when you said yourself, you’ve gone from being the doorman at DC Improv, to now you’re up on stage and in fact here recently here in Tampa, headlining. You know, I can definitely see how that would make you, as you said, jaded versus just your everyday Joe who just happens to enjoy comedy.

Dave Siegel:                                        But you remember, Jack Handey’s, ‘Deep Thoughts’ on Saturday Night Live?

Jordan Raiff:                                       Oh God yes!! We referenced the hell out of those a few weeks ago on a retreat.

Dave Siegel:                                        So he had a joke that actually reminds me somewhat of my outlook for standup comedy, and this joke was, ‘The most beautiful sunset I ever saw was on page 53 of the most beautiful sunsets book’, which is so perfect. Because clearly the most beautiful sunset you ever saw is a live, in the flesh sunset. And that’s kind of the way I feel about standup comedy, is like the best comedy you’re ever going to see is not going to be on TV, or a computer screen. It’s going to be in a club, live, and you get the whole experience.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, I can definitely see that, and I can appreciate that. I know that…and God help me one too many beers that night, call it that…..but I know out in Phoenix, I’ve gone to a bunch of the comedy clubs when I lived out there, cause we’d be up there for a weekend and we’d go out and just watching the different reactions of people and like you said, the smells, the sounds, you know, different things like that definitely added to a lot to the flare of it. So, you know, in speaking to this, and I know I say that a lot, but, your skits that you do in particular ‘White Guy Indifferent’, right. How did that come about?

Dave Siegel:                                        So it was a funny story. I have friends that work in the film industry and they’re buddies of mine, and I saw this news story once. It was a 100% shoot news story about this news station in upstate New York I believe it was in Rochester. They did this story about how Popeye’s chicken was running this special and ran out of chicken, and they interviewed people about how upset they were that they showed up at Popeye’s and they couldn’t get the chicken for the special. And they literally only interviewed black people. And I’m just like, ‘That is just ridiculous’. It’s like, this went through so many people’s eyes before they decided to air it???  Like, how do you make that decision? And I just thought it was so stupid and so funny that it would be hilarious if there was a white guy in it, but just….was pointing out the absurdity about how the other people in it, we’re getting so upset. Because me personally, like I…I wouldn’t get upset. So to take a ridiculous stereotype like that, and then the real life footage of people feeding into that stereotype to just let it speak for itself, but amplify it with a white guy doing the exact opposite. So I called up my friend who was literally editing ‘Universal Soldier 4’ at the time, and I’ll never forget this, he’s sitting in an editing bay and he’s editing of that film. And I said ‘Hey man, I had this idea, I saw this news story and this local station only interviewed black people about this Popeye’s chicken special and do you want to do something with it’? And he said, ‘Yeah, man, I’m so busy right now. I can’t do it…..What did you want to do?’ And I explained, ‘Well, I wanted a splice me into the video as the only white guy that didn’t really care so much about it.’ And then he replies, ‘Come over now.’ (mutual laughter) He’s putting ‘Universal Soldier 4’ on hold.

Jordan Raiff:                                       That is outstanding.

Dave Siegel:                                        And we shot it. We went back and forth with versions. I had terrible ideas at first where I wanted to a bunch of white people to be in it, and then all of them were not excited about it and he tells me, ‘No, it’s gotta be just you.’ And so I sais, ‘All right.’ And it was so….it went so viral and we were so pleasantly surprised by it at we wound up doing more and more of them. And it’s just, it’s just fun.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, it definitely seems like a trip watching them. I mean there’s always a unique spin on it and it’s always got a good takeaway. But more than anything it’s just funny as shit.

Dave Siegel:                                        Thanks.

Jordan Raiff:                                       And it’s, as you and I were talking before this, you know, I’ve gotten friends of mine, because during my time in the military….I spent time with every different race, I had people from every different corner of the US, other countries that are served with and just seeing the number of friends of mine that have gotten on social media, who are of all different races and backgrounds and such, who have shared that over the last couple years. And just seeing their friend’s comments and seeing what other people would say going back and forth. It’s always hit an extra funny, just that funny spot in my body. I mean just knowing them and seeing their reactions, it’s just, that’s always hit that spot.

Dave Siegel:                                        I’d be getting messages from friends you know, that haven’t spoken to in so long, saying ‘Cheech and Chong just retweeted white guy!!’ I mean, there’s so many examples of that. It was like they talked about it on Howard Stern and that was really exciting for me, and now at this point it’s just, it’s fun. It’s fun to think of this make a good ‘White guy indifferent’ like, and it’s also points out the absurdity of the news hype and that’s kind of fun too.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, that definitely is. Now as I mentioned, a, you’re contributing writer with CNN and with CNN, as we all know, there’s a lot of political play that people are consistently twisting one way or another with every news network. Not just CNN, and don’t get me wrong, but you have a whole different side outside of that as well with your comedy and assuming a lot of political comedy, what pushed you towards that political portion of comedy?

Dave Siegel:                                        I think that wasn’t just a choice. It’s just kind of a fact. The factor is that that’s what’s going on right now. And I happened to have an inherent interest in politics and, you know, some people say pull a file, whatever it is, and I do watch it. You know, when I had a baby, I found myself talking about having a baby in comedy, and writing about having a baby. When I was dating my now wife, I was talking about dating and it was in my world. And now, ever since Donald Trump started running for President, I’ve just been so immersed in it because it’s just so fascinating what is going on in the country, and different people’s reactions and how passionate people are that I just can’t help it. I think it would be lying to myself to not talk about it because it’s what’s in my brain, and what I think about it. So I mean, I would imagine that goes for any art form. Like any musician, if they are ever in a break up, they’re going to write a song about a breakup. If any artist that paints a picture, if they have a loved one that’s dying, that’s going to come out in their painting. So that’s what it is for me. I’m just surrounded by it so much that it’s just an outlet.

Jordan Raiff:                                       That definitely makes sense to me. I mean, I see a lot of that as you and I had spoken before, doing concert reviews, doing a musician interviews, going through album reviews, stuff like that. There’s a lot of that that definitely plays in, like you said, with the breakups and the other things going on. Painting, I’ve some studied a lot of classic painters, classic artists and such and seeing what they’d go through in their life with that. And the one major difference that I see there is that there’s….more often than not, not always is it a very subtle interpretation. Yours is about as subtle as a brick to the face. So it’s like, okay, this is great because you don’t see that unpolished look that often to where it’s that deep introspect. Like you said, since you tend to do that with what everyday life is, it’s interesting that you make your personal life and your business life so intertwined that well and are able to do it without it driving you absolutely insane that that’s a hard feat to do.

Dave Siegel:                                        Yeah. And it’s especially amplified these days I think with social media. And then I’ll go back to my upbringing and also like I really came from a family where we sat around the table and talked about what was going on in the world and debated in a healthy, respectful manner and presented, you know, different viewpoints and a lot of people can’t handle that. You know, a lot of people, they always say like, all right, don’t talk about sex or what is it?

Jordan Raiff:                                       Sex, politics, religion.

Dave Siegel:                                        Yeah. Don’t talk about sex politics or religion at this dinner party or whatever. And my response to that was always like, ‘How about we talk about it and we’re just not assholes about it?’ You know, like, what do we really have to talk about the Kardashians? Like, I don’t want to do that. I’d rather talk about sex, politics, or religion, and I could listen to what you want to say about your religion and not judge you for it, and not be an asshole about it. I’d actually like to. I actually am really interested in religion and I can’t stand when someone tries to put their religion on you. So that’s like an interesting balance. I would love to hear about someone’s religion and how important it is to them and how they observe, but I don’t want them to try to recruit me or something like that. So that’s where, that’s what I mean, we can talk about it and let’s just be adults. I don’t want to ever be told what not to talk about.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, trust me. I agree. As you know 2019 this is becoming one of the most politically correct times and we’ve had pretty much since I’d say about the early eighties. Do you see anything off limits for comedy as a whole? And what about for you personally? Is there things that you consider off limits?

Dave Siegel:                                        The short answer’s no. I think in comedy as long as it’s funny, which is much harder….. it’s easier said than done to say as long as it’s funny. But I mean when someone asks me a question like that, I always go about like a lot of people think rape is off limits. Like you shouldn’t joke about rape and obviously it’s a VERY hard cutting subject. But my answer to that is always, if it wasn’t for a rape joke Bill Cosby, you would be out performing right now and not in a jail cell…and that’s just, there’s no denying that. Like Hannibal Buress spoke about, Bill Cosby made a bit about how he rapes women and you know, juxtaposed it with how he likes to work clean, and how hypocritical that is because he’s a rapist. And that’s what got that storyline, the exposure, literally to the point where more women came out. News outlets started covering it and cut to, you know, less than a year ago, Bill Cosby’s found guilty and now he’s in jail. So the bottom line is if standup comedy didn’t….Hannibal Buress specifically didn’t decide, Oh I’m going to actually talk about this, that would have changed the course of Bill Cosby’s history. He would still have the legacy they’d had before this. He would’ve still be America’s Dad and it would’ve only been just a rumor. So you know what people can say, don’t talk about rape, don’t talk about the Holocaust, whatever it is. But, you know what, there is a semblance of social commentary in comedy and we can’t always talk about waiting in lines at airports and fast food. A lot of people want to talk about serious subjects, make it funny and make people think, so just do it in a tasteful manner. Do it in a funny manner because you’re going to fall flat on your face if you tried to tackle some subjects like that and it’s not funny and you are being rude. So that’s just the balance has up to the comedian and it’s, you know, if you want to give it a try, I say go for it. But you know, you got to do it, you’ve got to execute it.

Jordan Raiff:                                       You know, and I’d heard about the Hannibal Burress connection, but I’d only heard it as basically a very weak link. You’re like, somebody had brought it up and nobody had ever really backed it or explained it like that. So it’s really interesting to realize his reach as a comedian. His reach of making that point really drove home, and fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you’re looking at it, and I think we all would see it as unfortunate, especially for the ladies involved in it, pretty much the death of Bill Cosby’s career….it’s empowering and impactful to see how far the comedic range can really be and how deep it can really reach into not only our justice system, but also our society and how we view things.

Dave Siegel:                                        It really is. And then well look at Kathy Griffin. She made a decision to do that joke about Trump, but she did a picture where she was holding his severed head and it cost her huge, it cost her big time. So…Now look, I don’t…it was a decision she made, I believe in her right to do it, but it backfired. I would imagine she wouldn’t do it again if she had the choice. So I’m definitely not saying she doesn’t have the right to do it. She, 100% has the right to do it, but it’s a decision you have to make. Like, if you want to do something that’s that controversial, you better make sure it’s gonna work.

Jordan Raiff:                                       Don’t get me wrong, I have no…I present no argument with you on that. It’s one of those things to where personally when I saw it, I was honestly disgusted, and not disgusted in a way of like, ‘how dare you’, but disgusted it in a way of, ‘Okay, you’ve been going on this same banter wagon for the last nine, 10 months at the time, you know about him and nothing’s changed with your tune. Nothing changed with your support’, nothing’s really changed with who she was. And it’s like, okay, now you’ve gone and pushed it to this other limit, that wall professionally. Personally, I can respect the balls it took to go there and it certainly is her right. But it’s like…if Hilary had gotten elected and a man had done that, regardless of race, would the reaction have been the same is what my question would be. You know, because I could see that going with the complete polar opposite way. Because you and I were talking about before we started the interview, you know, there’s the differentiation between the  feelings of people who are Pro Hillary and the people who were Pro Trump, how they felt about the other candidate and how against or how indifferent they were was just phenomenal. And still is to this point in time.

Dave Siegel:                                        Oh, absolutely.

Jordan Raiff:                                       What comedians, alive or dead, would you like to open for or have open for you?

Dave Siegel:                                        Oh, that’s really tough. I mean, I go through phases of comedians that I’m into. Like right now, I listen to a lot of Sebastian Maniscalco, Bill Burr. I think Mark Normand is a really young comedian, that’s great. And Nate Bargatze is a young comedian that I think a lot of people are going to hear more and more about. So really any comedians that are like inspiring me to work harder and write more. I’m going to be performing with Mark next weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina. And, from a selfish point of view, I’m just looking forward to watching him for, five shows in a row, because I think he’s so good and he’s so up and coming still, that it’s going to inspire me to do better. So to get the opportunity to sit and watch him for six hours, spread out over a few nights, that’s just something I’m really looking forward to. As far as historical comedians. I mean, I really would have loved to seen Lenny Bruce live. I would’ve loved to have seen George Carlin live. I would have loved to have opened for him and just…a lot of it is just getting to chitchat with these guys and girls like backstage and hearing what they have to say and hearing advice and seeing how their persona might differ from what it is on stage. I remember my first paying hosting road Gig was at the DC Improv as an MC for Brian Regan and his brother Dennis Regan was the feature act. And I’ll never forget this. His material is so clean and so great and so simple. He could do like 10 minutes on a visit to the eye doctor and it’s just like nonstop hilarity, which is ridiculous. Like, how the hell do you do that? And you know, he has a very Christian following because he’s so clean, and I remember being in the Green Room with him and one of the waiters from the comedy club comes in and ‘Hey Brian, someone left you, someone asked me to give this to you.’ And it’s a wrapped present. And he says, ‘All right, just put it on the counter’, they put it on the counter and I said, ‘You’re not curious, like you don’t want to open that?’ And he’s says, ‘Nah.’ And I’m saying, ‘Do you mind if I open it?’ And he tells, ‘Yeah, go ahead’ and I open it. And it’s like a Christian book, some sort of inspirational Jesus book. And there was a little note in it and it says like, “‘Dear Brian, thank you so much for your clean brand of family humor’. From the Thompsons.” And I was just asking, ‘Does this, happen to you often?’ He says, ‘Yeah, people think because I’m clean that I’m, you know, a Christian and I just want to tell them that after the show I’m going out to beat up some hookers’. (Loud laughter) And it was just really refreshing because I was one of those people, probably before that conversation where I’m thinking, ‘Oh, he must be really clean in real life, and he must be so wholesome because that’s what his comedy is’. But it turns out, you know, you don’t….maybe he’s telling filthy jokes to his friends off the stage and that’s his onstage persona and it was just really cool and a little glimpse behind the curtain, you know, stuff like a great comedian. It’s like, all right, it’s a little bit of an act and he’s a genius.

Jordan Raiff:                                       No, that’s outstanding because I mean, you’ve got some comedians who just can’t get away from the dirty.

Dave Siegel:                                        Absolutely.

Jordan Raiff:                                       Andrew Dice Clay is a great example of that. Um, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his act, a lot of people call him ‘Dr. Dirty’, John Valby. Like he’s never been able to get away from the dirty hooks versions of songs and such. So it’s just, it’s interesting that somebody can have that split persona, THAT well onstage. So clean and offstage, saying dirty little things or things that a lot of people tend to enjoy. It’s definitely a little surprising, so to say.

Dave Siegel:                                        Yeah. But you know, like I don’t, I don’t really like sway either way. Like, if there’s a lot of people would consider me a relatively clean comedian, but there was some filthy comedians that I love, I was like a huge Chris Rock fan when I was a teenager and early twenties. And that’s not my style at all, but I love listening to it. I think he’s hilarious. So it’s just funny’s funny.

Jordan Raiff:                                       I agree wholeheartedly. Now, who has given you the best advice as a comedian and what was it?

Dave Siegel:                                        So you should actually right now on Twitter, Gary Gulman and he just literally bullet pointed like 20 tips for Comedians and I cannot, I can’t give better advice than I thought I read from him, and I can’t remember off the top of my head, but any comedian that is interested in inspiration, and what they need to do to be a better comedian of any level at any echelon of comedy, in my opinion, should read what he had to say recently on Twitter because it was just really genius. I mean, I think Jimmy Kimmel, retweeted it. It was fascinating interview that I’d never seen it spelled out quite so eloquently as Gulman did. But other than that…..I mean obviously that wasn’t personally towards me. I used to ask the headlining comedians I’d be opening for earlier and who come here all the time ‘What would you recommend?’ You know, it’s always ‘Get on stage as much as you can, don’t be afraid to bomb, try a new bit every time.’ And those are the industry standards, but I really, I hate to pass the buck, but I’m not going to be able to give any better advice than I think Gulman gave. So anyone who’s reading this, if they’re interested in this, check that out.

Jordan Raiff:                                       All right, well thank you very much for your time Dave. Enjoy the rest of your tour and your time out here in Tampa. Now, do you have any other upcoming dates? Do you want to plug it in the interview or anything like that once you people to be aware of?

Dave Siegel:                                        Well, anyone can follow me on social media @StandUpDave, I’m in the midst of recording my second album right now. My second special, and it’s going to be ready soon. Comedy fans might be familiar with the ‘Doug Loves Movies’ podcasts, but comedian Doug Benson, I’m going to be recording that in North Carolina next weekend. I’m really excited for, and I’ll be headlining Chicago Comedy Bar in a early March. I think it’s like the March 8th, 9th, 10th weekends.

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