Being funny on stage and making people happy are the key roles of any comedian. For, comedian, humanitarian, and host of Out In Left Field, Dana Goldberg, bringing laughter to a global audience is one of the many things she can do. In this episode, she joins Dani Behr and Tara Joseph as she showcases her life on stage – how she started, how she comes up with her jokes, and how her antics connects to today’s latest political issues. Join her as she unfolds the lives of comedians on and off the stage.
Listen to the podcast here:
A Comedian’s Life With Dana Goldberg
We have an honorable guest with us. Tara, who do we have?
We are excited about our guest. She is a super-smart, charming and all-around talent. On top of that, she is also incredibly funny. She is one of the leading comedians. I have to say that I’m lucky enough to have seen her in action and I can honestly say that she is a force to be reckoned with. Please welcome to the show the totally unique and divinely gorgeous Dana Goldberg.
I’ve never been introduced before as honorable and I’m excited about it.
We like to have a variety of adjectives for our guests. Honorable in the sense that you’ve achieved a lot and you’ve broken ground in many areas. Why don’t you start at the beginning and take us back to where you came from and where you grew up? Were you always funny? Let’s go back to the basics.
I don’t mean to brag, but my kindergarten teacher told my mother that I was the funniest five-year-old she’d ever met. I feel like it started then. I don’t know who my competition was but I felt good about it. I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was raised by an incredibly strong mom. As a single parent, she raised three of us on her own and did a phenomenal job. None of us killed each other. Because of that, I went into comedy. It was either that or a lot of psychotherapy. Comedy is where I talk through the issues. That is my therapy every day.
We’re all Jewish on this show.
Mazel tov to us all.
I’m a bad Jew. I love Christmas.
I love Christmas as well.
I’m Jew-ish. You and me both, Dani.
The -ish is the key part of the word.
Do you think being Jewish has helped with your comedic ways?
Of course, the Jews are the funniest people on the planet. Think about all of the Jewish comics like Seinfeld, Judy Gold and myself. Jessica Kirson had a Comedy Central special drop.
Exactly. I think there’s something that has to go with historical persecution. We have to be funny to deal with all of the insanity that’s happened with our people and even the present day.
Were you funny as a kid? Were you at home, always entertaining mom? Were you 1 of 3 sisters?
No. I have an older brother and an older sister. I’m the baby.
Do you think you were funny to get attention to being number three?
No, I think it was funny to get through uncomfortable situations. It’s interesting because most comedians offstage, we don’t want attention. There are a few that are the exceptions that need to be the life of the party all the time and need to be the center. A lot of my colleagues and I were observers. That’s how we get our comedy. That’s how we see what’s going on in the world. A lot of the times, they’re like, “Comedians are dark off-stage.” I’m like, “No. If you compare it to our stage persona, this is me being a normal human being.”Comedians must be funny to deal with all the insanity that's happened with people. Click To Tweet
You do hear about a lot of comedians suffering from depression when they’re not performing. They have deep emotional issues that help them find that comedic persona.
The comedy could be a cover-up for the depression.
Absolutely. If you look at our industry, most people are staying up all hours of the night. Some comedians in LA go up at midnight. Unfortunately, when there are things like alcohol and drugs that are accessible in the city and in an industry, that’s where some people’s addictions start. I know many sober people in my industry because when they first started out, that was the way that they could stay awake and hang in the clubs. As they get older, they want to get back control of their lives. Unfortunately, not all comedians are able to do that and that’s when we lose some of our colleagues.
If you think about it, it’s a late-night gig. It’s a late-night career. You have to stay up and probably suffer through many other unfunny comics until you get your slot along the way, which is enough to put anyone to sleep half the time. Especially in the early days where you are trying on your material and you’ve got to suffer a few tumbleweeds in comedy stores.
Speaking of tumbleweeds, what was the worst stand-up moment you can recall?
Mine was when I was about seven months into my career. I was asked to perform at Caroline’s on Broadway for the Miss Foundation. It was super empowering for women and the organization. Gloria Steinem was about ten feet from me. I was performing with Roz G, Judy Gold and Laurie Kilmartin. It was early in my career that I remember saying to myself. “I don’t belong on stage with these women yet.” I don’t know if you all believe this, but we manifest a lot of our reality. At that moment, the moon and the universe said, “Okay, then I guess you don’t,” and I bombed. Some comics come off stage and they’re like, “That was awful,” and the rest of us are like, “What are you talking about? It wasn’t that bad.” I bombed.
Did you get heckled off? Did you get a lot of boos?
No, it was sad. It was like performing in front of an oil painting. There was no response. Everyone was staring. I remember that I had created that situation. What’s amazing is that through my career, my growth and the things that I’ve done since 2015, I was doing an event for the human rights campaign. They were honoring Gloria Steinem and I got to share a stage with her. We talked backstage. I gave her a hug and whether she did or not, she said she remembered me in a good way. What happened was that in 2017, I got invited back to a show at Caroline’s. Gloria Steinem was sitting ten feet from me and I had a great set, a redemption. It was one of those moments that came back full circle. You see the growth in your life and your career.
You put the bad energy out of this, so you’re destined to have a bad night.
Now that you are an experienced comedian, how do you deal with a situation if you’ve got a crowd that takes time to warm up or is unresponsive?
As veteran comedians, we have so much material in our arsenal that if the crowd isn’t responding, we can shift gears and try a different material. The bottom line is that everyone has bad days at work. Unfortunately, when you’re in the public eye and you have a bad day at work, everyone starts to judge your craft and your art. They somehow think you’re as good as your last show. That is, unfortunately, not fair to people in the arts. If someone has a bad record, they get judged for the record.
It’s the same thing for comics. If we have a bad night and that’s the first time that crowd has seen us, they walk out going, “That second comedian sucked.” You’re like, “I killed yesterday. I don’t know where you were but you should’ve been there.” We try and adjust to crowds and I think a lot of us that are veterans can. Every once in a while you don’t have it. You can’t let that deter you from what you’re doing in your life and what you know you’re good at.
Do you have a particular gig that stands out as the favorite, most enjoyable one you’ve ever done? What was special about that?
I want to say one thing for you before you answer the question. Bryan Callen is a good friend of mine. He was on the show as a guest. When he was talking about the bad nights, he was saying, “You have to pull everything out you can, throw it at them, and see what works.”
Something’s got to stick.
Over time and the years of development, it becomes this well-rehearsed speech. You know what worked because you’ve tried out different material here, there and everywhere. After a while, however long your set is, you get the 10 to 20 minutes that you know is guaranteed.
Every once in a while, you go for those twenty minutes that’s guaranteed and it doesn’t work one night. You’re like, “What the hell is going on?”
Tell us about a good one. Tell us about one that you’ve loved.
As comics, we have great shows and suddenly your last great show is the one that stands out the most. My first show, when I started, was a seven-minute set in front of 650 people in a sold-out theater in Albuquerque. I remember hitting my first joke and the deafening laughter that I had heard made me feel like I could fly. That was what started this. For me, that was the best show because it was that moment where I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing in life.
I had been on stage. I had auditioned for Stomp. I was a drummer since I was a kid. I had done things where I was like, “This is my direction,” and it didn’t work out. Most comedians will tell you this. It’s funny because that laugh is a drug that we try and get every single night. Sometimes, as people that have done those know that you can’t always get that high. You have to go more. We’re always chasing it. As I get older, as a comic and as a woman, I’m not chasing it so much. I know what that laughter feels like and I love it when it’s there. I know I’m good at what I do but the fulfillment comes from a different place instead of that immediate validation from the audience.
Dani, you’ve got to see her because she’s good but she’s smart. It’s a smart comedy.
I’m coming to the next gig, Dana. Hit a sister up, as they say.
Deal, you’ll be an accomplice.
What I’d love to know about comedians is who did you find funny as a kid? Everybody has that one childhood memory of who they used to love or emanate. Even if you didn’t even know you wanted to become a comic, who was funny to you?
In every interview I’ve ever done, when they asked me who was my comic genius, it’s Robin Williams. When Robin died, I felt like I lost a family member. I cried for weeks. He was one of those people. I used to listen to tapes of Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Steven Wright. My first comedy set was a ten-minute set for my high school talent show. I was seventeen and a senior in high school. What I realized during that time is I wasn’t just listening to the comedy. I was studying and learning. I went on stage and made my peers laugh, who are between 14 and 18. I happened to win. I watched Robin and his ability to put everything out there. He was fearless. We learned different things about him before his life ended. He had a big coke problem. He was in and out of those drug problems but his brain was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. It’s not just in comedy, but in acting as well. He was a genius.
Wasn’t he? He could morph into any voice and any character at any given time. It’s not just spontaneity. The ability to improv and the speed that he did that was his genius.
That’s true. I’ll say this and I think it goes across the board. General comedians, for the most part, are incredibly intelligent. Our brains do fire in a way that no other people do. We connect dots that aren’t connected by the general population. That’s what makes us good at what we do and that’s what makes us stand out.
You were saying how you observe people and that gives you inspiration for your new material. Are you constantly looking, hearing, listening and going, “I’ve got to write that down?” What’s your process? How do you put it all together?
I wish I knew my process, Tara. Sometimes, I feel like I need to get one. What you said happens. You’ll hear something or something will be said by a friend. If you’re a comic and you’re reading this and you think you’re going to remember jokes, write them down. Especially as you get older, you’re like, “I’ll remember that.” Five seconds later, you’re like, “I don’t know what the hell happened. I don’t remember the joke. I don’t remember what we were talking about.” I try hard to write it down.
My material definitely has to do with the world around me, whether it’s politics, love, family or relationships. It’s definitely observations of the world. Most comics don’t have a daily routine because that makes us stagnant. The stimulation of different experiences is not there. People-watching, being out in the world, watching the world and relationships change, and family is what gives us our materials. That’s where it comes from.
Being a nice Jewish girl from Albuquerque, that’s enough right there.
I am a Jewish girl from Albuquerque. Two out of three kids in my family are gay. That adds up.
You’ve got material for decades. For those who have watched the show on Amazon Prime, I’m obsessed with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s an extremely original scripted show of a woman who’s a typical housewife-type role in the ‘50s. She breaks out into being a standup comic. It seems like she was one of the first female standup comics. That didn’t seem to be that many back in the ‘50s. There was the famous Lucys of the world and Lucille Ball, comic genius as well. When you’re watching a show like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is it accurate?
The writing is phenomenal. As for accuracy, we’ve talked about it within my peer group. It’s not incredibly realistic, the way that it was done. I think the show and the acting are brilliant. Alex, who plays her manager, is one of the funniest people on the face of the earth. She’s ornery, brazen and fabulous.
Is it like that in the world of comedy? Is it that harsh and hard to be a woman in a male-dominated world? Has that changed?
I think it’s shifting, but it’s still one in four comics on a bill is a female. You’ll go to do a show and they’re like, “We already have a girl on the bill.” There are some things we’re still fighting. Look at the people that are coming to the forefront, whether it’s Liz Schlesinger, Sarah Silverman or Wanda Sykes. There are powerhouse female comics that are getting on the A-list. To go back and say, “It’s still as hard as it used to be,” I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The bottom line is that we still have to deal with a lot of things like men are booking the rooms. If women are booking the rooms, they’re old school and they book men in the rooms. A lot of it is building your own community and getting yourself out there. Sometimes for me, what I’ve chosen is I create my own shows. Instead of going for a week in a comedy club, I’ll book a small theater in the city and I’ll go sell it out. I’ll make the same amount of money in one night as I would in five. I’ll feel better about my work and I don’t feel like I’m selling myself out.
Going back to the Maisel show. What I noticed is that to be a successful female comedy, you almost have to be quite inappropriate. Do you know what I mean? For women, it almost feel like, not guilty, but we’re not being feminine. We’re trying to be too manly or masculine or we have to channel that masculine energy in order to fit in with the guys and be funny. Do you feel that’s accurate or not at all?
I think it used to be. That’s what’s shifting. I think women are on stage now talking about their periods and childbirth. You’ve got Ali Wong who’s done two of her comedy specials while super pregnant. She’s talking about vaginal discharge. I mean those are the things that men don’t listen to. She doesn’t care because it’s real. Instead of talking about getting banged by some guy, women are talking about the things that affect women. If you look at it, women go see standup comedy as much as men do. In fact, a lot of them are dragging their husbands out to the club. Why sit there if you already have three misogynistic men going on stage to have a fourth woman that perpetuates those stereotypes? They don’t do it anymore, which is wonderful.
You are a fellow podcaster. You have a successful podcast out called Out In Left Field. How long has that been running? Do you love doing it? How’d you run that alongside all your comedian activities? Tell us about that.
It started off as videos. I was doing some work with Advocate where Out In Left Field was videos, which I miss. I miss sitting and having those shorter interviews, if you will. We shifted it because everyone’s listening to podcasts now. I wanted to continue it. Out In Left Field has given me an opportunity. If you know my comedy and you’ve listened, I have a political side. There’s so much that binds us as humans when it comes to our beliefs in what we see as good in the world, but I’m left-leaning.Comedians manifest a lot of their reality on stage. Click To Tweet
I’ve chosen to have a podcast that addresses the LGBTQ community and the things that we have to deal with in the world and some of the things that we’re dealing with present-day, past and things we want for the future. Organically, that happens to lean left. It’s the way things are, so that’s what the podcast has been. Is it as successful as I’d like it to be in all vulnerability? No. I’d like it to be bigger and I’d also like to change it. I think as podcasters you’ve got to find your lane. There are many people doing them. For Out In Left Field, I feel like the lane’s a little bit crowded. I’m going to start to think about how I can break out and get into my own lane.
Are you going to change the title?
Right, because you’ve started to build the brand.
Yes, I think it’s important that we stay with it. Out In Left Field will be Out In Left Field. I know that there are several people involved in many podcasts, present company included. If it goes into a different genre or different subjects, if you will, I may change and have a different podcast completely. Out In Left Field will always have a place, whether it’s videos or podcasts. It’s important to me.
I’ve listened to it and enjoyed it. You get some interesting guests on. I’m glad that we’re able to have you onto ours, like cross-contaminating. You have done some amazing fundraising and humanitarian work. You’ve shared the stage with some huge stars like Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lopez and Barack Obama. Tell us about how all of that comes together because you clearly have a passion for humanitarian work. I presume that you’ve met some of those people through the fundraising work that you’ve done.
I have a strange gift of live auctioneering and money-raising. What I’ve realized over the years is that it’s another tool in my toolbox.
I’ve never had anyone say, “I’ve got this strange gift for raising money.”
What a lot of organizations have realized is that when people are happy, they open their wallets. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing too. I can take their money and I’ll give it back to the organization. It’s something that I’ve learned to do and perfected over the years. There are a tremendous number of nonprofits around the country that are supporting, as well as protecting, marginalized communities. I’m able to go make people laugh, especially in hard times. At the time of the gala where most people check out, they’ll go to the bar and get a drink. They’re not participating but I’ve managed to find a way to keep their attention. I’ve been able to raise more money for these organizations than anyone they’ve hired before me.
That’s incredible. Good for you. You’re a wallet opener.
Getting into the career at large, which career do you emanate? Which career seems inspirational or aspirational to you? Do you look at the Lucille Balls? Do you want to get into TV and movies? Where can we see you if it was your choice?
If it was my choice, there’s two-fold. One, I’d love to have my own talk show. I look at Wanda Sykes, her career and what she’s done. She started off not talking about her sexual orientation on stage and has come into this place. If you’ve seen her last special called Not Normal, she falls out of the closet, political, TV and film career as well, and she owns and runs a successful production company. If I could emulate anyone’s career, it would be Wanda’s. Not to mention, she’s a phenomenal human being and a blast to drink with.
Tara and I have a production company. We’ll talk. We’ll try and hook you up.
That’s fabulous. We’ll talk about some about the new ideas and secrets I have in my head.
Moving forward from that, what would you like your 5 to 10-year game plan to be?
I would love to be in LA more. I’d love to find a gig here. In 2018, I flew 170,000 miles. I’m tired. I’m in my 40s. Not that that’s old but I’m knackered. I would love to be able to write. I would love a staff writing job on a sitcom or a television show. If I’m not in front of the camera, that would also be ideal. That’s on me. I need to get some scripts together. I need to get packages to submit. For 2020, that’s what’s going to be happening. All those ideas in my head, I’m going to get them out on paper. Once they’re out, I’m going to be able to format them in a way that I can submit them and pitch them to television production companies, Netflix, streaming networks and things like that.
I have a random question for you. Do you have a cat?
No, I don’t. I’m one of the few lesbians that are allergic to cats. It’s one of my downfalls.
Do all lesbians like cats? Is that a standard in the lesbian community?
It’s a stereotype that we have.
You didn’t have a reaction when you came to our house. Were you being polite?
She left in hives but she didn’t want to tell you.
Both, I was being polite but I didn’t pet the cat. We stayed in the kitchen most of the time. The cat jumped up on the counter while we were preparing dinner.
Cats have a way of doing that. Cats always go to people that are not interested. My cat always goes to Dani, who’s not interested.
She’s got a lot of material for you, honestly.
Do you test your new material out on friends? How do you decide what works and what doesn’t?
What happened is that for a long time, comedians go through a public process. When we try material out on stage, it’s quite vulnerable. There have been times where I’ve been a little less willing to take that chance. I put jokes in my routine that I know was successful. We know, like comics, when we hit gold. We only grow and we work on material by working it out. It is scary to go up there. It’s not an open mic because I’m established enough that I could go into what we call workout rooms and try new materials.
The audience already knows who I am. Since they already think I’m funny and already support me working out new material on them, they feel special being part of that process, if that makes any sense. They feel like they get to have a stage. It goes two-fold, though. It’s scary stuff and at the same time, I do trust my audiences. As a comic, if it goes bad once, we know better than to ditch it. One, it could be the audience and it can be a bad night. Two, maybe the joke needs more work. There are definitely times where I’ve told a joke six times and I’m like, “It’s time to get rid of that one. It’s not working.” Even though it makes me happy inside and brings me joy, it’s not getting the response I need to in order to feel good about it.
What would you say to up and coming comics that have kids, young children or young adult children that are looking to get into this career? It is a hard career. You have to have staying power and perseverance, like most of the arts. Standup is an exception to that. It’s even harder than anything else.
My advice would be that if this has been eating at you and you’ve been thinking about this for years, just do it. Go sign up for an open mic. Invite your friends and the people that love you so you know you have support around you. Record every show you do. I’ve been bad about that. I need to record. I’ve been doing this for over sixteen years. Now that I’m more established and been more comfortable on stage, some of my best material comes from crowd work. If I don’t have that recorded, sometimes I don’t even remember what I said. There’s gold there. We write jokes constantly and sometimes they come out of nowhere. I would tell anyone who wants to get into standup, record yourself even if you hate listening to yourself. Watch your shows and see what works and what doesn’t work.
That’s great advice. What’s the website where people can go and find you to see your schedule written down?
You better promote this show on that, though.
I absolutely will. Instagram is still @DGComedy. If you’re still using Facebook and haven’t completely given up on Zuckerberg, you can follow me on there. My schedule will be updated on my website, DanaGoldberg.com. No matter where you’re listening, I’d love to have you in an audience.
We definitely want to be there and thank you for being an amazing guest.
You have to come back soon and hit us up with some new material. We’ll be your mini-trial audience.
I have a feeling you’d be a good audience to work out some stuff on.
I got a lot of stuff on Tara I can give you. Tara’s a walking comedy sketch.
It’s probably all true. She’s known me for too long. On that note, Dana, you are a star. Thank you so much for being on.
Check out Dana’s social media. You’ll have to come back on again.
I would love to.
Everybody, thanks again for following La La Landed. Thank you to our special guest, Dana Goldberg. We’ll be back at LaLaLanded.com soon.
- Dana Goldberg
- Bryan Callen – past episode
- Out In Left Field – Dana Goldberg podcast on iTunes
- Advocate – Dana Goldberg’s page
- @DGComedy – Twitter
- @DGComedy – Instagram, Dana Goldberg
- Facebook – Dana Goldberg
About Dana Goldberg
As seen on TBS, ABC, LOGO, and Last Comic Standing, veteran host and comedian Dana Goldberg is a force of nature on stage. With performances at the San Francisco International Comedy Competition, The Comedy Festival produced by TBS and HBO, and the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland; her quick wit and playful stage presence have her earning loyal fans across the country and abroad.
Reaching a global audience, in addition to getting blocked by the President Of The United States on Twitter, her outspoken and hilarious tweets have been featured by the Associated Press, Huffington Post, Progress.org and many other online news and media outlets. Goldberg has been using her voice to bridge communities through her side-splitting humor and poignant, timely comedy. The host of the podcast Out In Left Field and a frequent guest on SiriusXM Radio, Goldberg is reaching mass audiences discussing the most controversial issues that affect all of us from pay inequality to climate change, the trans military ban to gun legislation.
A crowd favorite, Goldberg has become a triple threat combining her comedy, hosting, and fundraising talents to become one of the most sought after entertainers on the circuit. Voted one of the “Top Five Funniest Lesbians In America,” Curve magazine raves, “Goldberg is one of the brightest lights in a stellar comedy landscape.” Advocate.com named Goldberg one of the top three LGBT comedians in the nation.
In addition to headlining clubs, theaters and festivals around the country, Goldberg has performed at and emceed dozens of high profile events and has shared the national stage with luminaries such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Meryl Streep, Katy Perry, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Lopez, Carol Burnett, Sir Elton John, Mariah Carey, Shonda Rhimes, and many more.
Combining her gift of humor with humanitarian efforts, Goldberg has raised over 30 million dollars for non-profits around the country in the fight for marriage equality, LGBT rights, women’s health, and HIV and AIDS education and prevention. As the youngest child in a single-parent household run by a Jewish mother in which two of three kids are gay, Goldberg helps keep most of the comedy venues and half of the psychotherapists in the country in business.
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