Dave Ross on tour mishaps, Drunk History, Deer Pile and his sketch group, Women
Dave Ross has accomplished a great deal in his comparatively short career. He's a member of Women, an all-male sketch comedy group that also includes Jake Weisman, Allen Strickland-Williams and Pat Bishop. On his Nerdist network podcast Terrified, Ross and his guests delve into their fears and insecurities. And he's in the middle of a month-long, cross-country tour that will roll through Denver next Wednesday, when Ross will headline the Fine Gentleman's Too Much Fun showcase at Deer Pile. Westword recently caught up with Ross to discuss booking his own tour, storytelling and appearing on the next season of Comedy Central's Drunk History.
Westword: So I've read a bit of your tour diary, and so far it seems like your trip been unusually packed with incidents, starting with your car breaking down.
Dave Ross: It's been interesting. And fun. It's funny -- I knew it wasn't going to be a fucking rock star, smashing shit-hotel rooms and banging prostitutes. But I did think there'd be more nightlife. Like a lot of the occurrences would come from me being out somewhere, drunk, and something dumb would happen. But it's been less of that and more just life happening.
I saw that you had to cancel some shows in Chicago, what happened there?
Oh, no, it's not bad. I was trying to think of a way to post that without people thinking something bad happened. What happened is, I got a Montreal [Just for Laughs Festival] callback.
So, yeah, you know, I'm gonna do that. But it's the same dates that I had for Chicago. It sucks that I don't get to go to Chicago, but it's good in a way that it was those dates because these were the only shows where I wouldn't be making any money and I'd have been doing shorter sets. So I have a show in Cincinnati on Monday, on Tuesday I put the car in long-term parking at the airport in Cincinnati, fly to L.A. and do the showcase that night, and then I'm flying back to Cincinnati the next day. Wow.
I know -- damn!
What have the highlights of the tour been so far?
Well, there are so many, which I know is cheesy to say, but it's true. Right now, I'm featuring for Kyle Kinane on ten dates in the midwest. Best shows of my life. Huge crowds. They've all been great.
Did you book everything on your own?
I booked the entire thing myself. Just through people I'd known from the last time I'd did this a little bit. I did a lot of e-mailing to friends and friends of friends asking them if they had spots, if they knew if anybody else in their state of Louisiana, or Mississippi, or Florida who had shows. I was just trying to find bookers in the area who had a reputation, shows that were regular, either weekly or monthly, that kind of already had an audience. Partly because I was worried about crowds and making money, but also partly because I wanted to make sure that I went places where people liked comedy and got it. They weren't going to be like, "What the fuck is this guy talking about?" I don't want to ambush people.
You're coming through Pueblo, too, right?
Do you know what venue you're performing at there?
Phil's Radiator Service.
That's a fun room. It really did used to be a radiator repair shop. Apparently Pueblo has some zoning provision against changing those historic buildings. Have you been there before?
Yeah, my parents live there. I didn't grow up there, they moved to Pueblo after I graduated college. But that's where I go fro Christmas and stuff. I know it's podunk, and there's nothing there, but I wanted to do a show there so my parents could come see me.
I think it's underrated. It has its charms. People hate on Pueblo too much.
Yeah, last time I visited my parents they took me to the downtown river walk area and it was pretty cool. That hatred should be reserved for Colorado Springs.
That's where I'm from.
I know nothing about that town, just that it's like a huge shopping mall and everyone is conservative. No offense.
None taken. I get it. The military and megachurches are the dominant cultural and economic forces there for sure. You see uniformed soldiers ever time you go to get a bagel. It's really pretty, but so is the rest of Colorado. Anyway, I wanted to ask about your podcast. Have you been hit by the patent trolls at all?
No, man. I don't even know what that is. Keep reading for more from Dave Ross.
Some company with a dubious claim on podcast technology is sending cease-and-desist letters to high-profile podcasters and suing them for ridiculous sums of money. It's a hot-button issue of the podcasting world.
Well, I have been on the road for a month and a half already, so I'm not really up on my internet news. Are they going after Nerdist?
I don't know. I know they went after Maron and Adam Carolla. It sounds like kind of a shakedown.
A podcast is just an mp3 and an RSS feed. You can't patent that! That's like the person who invented TV suing people who make TV shows. That's crazy.
It's not like podcasters have shitloads of money, either. Even the ones with millions of listeners would barely qualify as small businesses. Anyway, I'm glad no one's suing you.
Well, I'm not big time. I generally get four or five thousand listeners for each episode, which doesn't even touch what Maron and Nerdist are getting.
Does Terrified have a pretty dedicated fanbase? I'd assume that people feel like they get to know you, given the subject matter.
I think so, yeah. I think it's growing. It takes time with anything. I certainly have the Nerdist bump, which helped, and I've had some great guests.
Were you doing the podcast before Nerdist picked it up?
No, I pitched it to them. I used to co-host Sex Nerd Sandra, which is a podcast that's still on Nerdist. I left that podcast simply because sex is not my main thing --though that sounds weird to say. I'm just not a sex educator and so I couldn't do it forever.
Were you mostly there to punch it up?
Yeah totally, I was the comedian co-host. And it was so fun -- man, the listeners to that show are great and Sandra's awesome, but I left. When I left, I'd had the idea for Terrified for a while, and I was going to hold off but I thought, "I'm just going to pitch it to Chris Hardwick and see what he thinks." It took him a little while because he's so busy. I actually thought he was passing because it had been months. I didn't find out until we were booked on a show together, and as I was leaving he said, "Hey man, let me know what you want to do about Terrified." And I practically hugged him. But yeah, I have a good fanbase. The guests bring a following with them, but I'm not a huge name, so it's like a slow build for me. But it's happening. It seems like the people who get into it stay into it and love it. I've met one or two people on average at every show who were fans of the podcast.
So I think I remember you saying something last time you were at Deer Pile about being on the next season of Drunk History?
Yes, I am going to be on the next season of Drunk History, in the Charleston episode. How'd that all work? I can talk about it. It's not really an interesting story. The thing that really got it for me was that I'd worked pretty hard a storytelling and I won a Moth grand slam. I put the tape of that set online and then a manager sent the tape to Drunk History. I heard about it after I'd had a really shitty week. One of those weeks where I bombed the whole time, I couldn't write a joke and I just wanted to die. Getting that e-mail, I was like, "Oh, thank Christ!" I got along with Derek Waters from the show right away. They sent me stories, I picked one, I went over the subject matter and learned it and it was great. So you already recorded it and lived to tell the tale?
Yeah, we shot it at my house in December.
Were you doing storytelling before you started standup? No, I was doing standup first. But I tell a lot of stories in my standup, so it wasn't much of a leap. I want to stretch out the act and let there be space between punches, just live in it a little more. It's my more natural instinct to just tell a story how it's told. It's easier to do a storytelling show because I can focus on the darkness, or the characters, and not need the laugh every two seconds. I'll do a story at my storytelling show --and it'll be like fifteen minutes long with all these little caveats and alleyways I go down but still a few big laughs -- so then I'll try to tell it at a comedy show and I always forget how that it needs way more work to punch it up. That happens to me all the time. My storytelling show is great, and I try to come up with a new story every month, and I'm just so at home there I'll be running all over the place in the story. So when I'm doing longer sets, I've tried to work the story in. I was headlining a show in Ventura a few weeks before this tour and I'm up there closing the show, I was so stoked and I tell this story and the crowd is like "boo!" I have to put more time into the stories to make them work for standup.
I had the opposite problem when I tried to do a storytelling show. I skimped on details and narrative because I just wanted to get to the punchlines. I get really uncomfortable if I go too long between laughs.
It's hard to not feel like you're bombing if you're used to doing standup. I'm getting out of storytelling because I just don't like it as much as standup. I like the act of telling the story, but -- I used to think that there was more freedom in storytelling than in standup because you don't have to be funny, but now I feel like it's more limiting. You don't get to be silly or veer off the path. I also don't like that doing storytelling shows fucks up my standup sometimes.
When did you form your all-male sketch group Women?
It was at the end of 2010. We'd all been doing standup for about a year and we wanted to do some videos to get more attention. It was really loose. We were just talking, and we agreed that we all wanted to do some video shit, but had no idea what. We were talking about how we hated sketch, that it was too long and repetitive. Which is not really how I feel anymore. There's so much good sketch comedy right now.
I've noticed that Women's sketches are really short and reliant on editing. Do you guys ever perform live?
We don't do live sketch often at all. It just doesn't suit us. You know what? Fuck that. We have some live sketches that I like. It's just harder to do what we do in live sketch.
I know what you mean about traditional sketch being too long. There are some great counterexamples, but the problem with sketch is that it's usually a one-joke premise that gets repeated until it stops being funny. I'd rather watch someone get the laugh and then cut away rather than repeat the same gag three times.
Yeah, just stay on the one joke. You don't need to heighten three times and then tag it. Just do your one fucking joke and get out of there. Most sketch is heightened badly. The Birthday Boys are great at it, though.
It's diminishing returns, and then the joke becomes predictable. Just cut away.
Yeah, man, cut away. Or just try something else, something new. Look, if you're watching it and it still makes you laugh, put it on the internet, I say.
So, I just recently found out that Women are going to be back in town next month for the Sex Pot show. Since all of you guys are comics, will the show be a sketch/standup hybrid?
We're probably going to do what we generally do, which is open and close the show with something that we all do together, then pepper videos throughout the show. I have to say probably because I don't know for sure, but most of things will happen and some of them won't. We'll probably premiere a video that we haven't showed anywhere else yet, open and close the show together, and all do standup and character bits in between. Maybe storytelling, who knows.
Well, right on, thanks for doing the interview. I'm looking forward to the Deer Pile show.
Me, too, dude. I love that place so much. I love those guys. That's one of the shows I'm most excited for on this tour. I love that room, man. Doing the Deer Pile is worth the ten-hour drive.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.