Funny Never Sleeps

Comedian Dave Attell riffs on his influences, playing clubs, and the future of Insomniac.

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Do you participate in any of the Upright Citizens' Brigade, Stella sort of sketch-and-variety live New York stuff?

No, not really. They're sketch comedy, theater people. I run into 'em all over the country, because there's a lot of stuff in New York, L.A., Chicago. But I mostly work the comedy clubs, whether it's in New York, L.A., Chicago, or Newport, Kentucky [laughs]. There are a lot of clubs in small towns. I like to go everywhere.

What was it like to go from clubs to doing stand-up in bigger venues, theaters? Was it the same crowd?

I don't know. I really do love the clubs. I started out doing 'em, and when you finally sell out a club, it's a big achievement because it's hard to do, get hundreds of people into a room for three nights. The first time I sold out a club was a big achievement for me, and it had a lot to do with Insomniac, people recognizing my name from the show. My theater thing was traveling on that tour with Lewis and [recently deceased comedian Mitch] Hedberg, and that was great. For me alone, this time, these are smaller theaters. It's more of a club atmosphere in a theater setting, only hopefully with not as much drunk whooing.

Isn't there always whooing?

Yeah. It's something that's out there all the time. I think it has something to do with, um … MTV [laughs]. People have to be a part of everything. Or maybe they're just drunk.

A lot of comics, once they get big, like to bitch about having had to go on the road and do clubs, and the crowds they played to. TV has always been the way to get out of the clubs, but your TV show pretty much kept you in there, made you stay on the circuit.

At the time, I was just traveling, and I thought it would be great to have the show to do while I did it. It actually really helped with the club work, really turbocharged my act. It made me constantly come up with new stuff, made me think on my feet. And all the touring I've done had prepared me to do the show, especially the drinking part.

But I've done some other TV stuff since then, I just did a pilot for Fox, and I did some guest-spot stuff.

So Insomniac is on hold for now?

Yeah. But the tour is a good thing, because I got a new DVD out, a live thing in a club. A lot of people put out this fake, I-really-only-do-theaters sort of thing, but I wanted to do a down-and-dirty club.

Was the TV show originally your idea, something you brought to Comedy Central?

Uh-huh. It was one of those things where I pitched them a couple of things, and they liked them, but they said, 'Why don't we do something from your life?' 'Well, should I talk about the time I was molested at sailing camp? No?'

As more and more people recognized you from the show, and from stuff like your recent appearance on Arrested Development, it must have gotten harder to get sincere reactions from strangers.

It became like a fake audition for people. They'd show up, tell me that they're really good at juggling, and do it. There's always gonna be people like that, but 90 percent of the people we ran into were so cool. But then sometimes, it's just - like when you go to a bar and you expect 12 people to be there, and somebody's made a call, and there are 1,200. It's just like, 'This isn't what we expected.'

But the longer you do something, the harder it is to stick to the original vision of it. I didn't want it to get tame; I don't want people to go, 'Oh, he's still doing that?' We don't do it for the money, or just to have a show on. We want to do as good a job as we can.

So there might still be more episodes coming?

They want me to do some more, and I want to, but I don't know, I keep getting locked into longer tours, and there's stuff like the DVD. But I'd love to keep doing the specials, where it's more event-oriented. A lot of it has to do with getting access to things like, say, the Indy 500, places where lots of people are just hanging out, being themselves, going crazy and partying. [Insomniac] lends itself very well to situations like that.

What are you looking forward to doing next? Can you see yourself as the main character in a sitcom, playing a part for years?

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