By Ayla Miller
South Island-based stand up comedian, podcaster, comic book writer and all round ‘goon’ Dan Brader sat down to answer some questions about his comedy career off the back of his New Zealand tour of ‘My No Good Stinkin’ Loser Comedy Show.’
We discuss his journey into comedy, his turbulent relationship with his conservative father, running face first into a car on his 21st birthday and the struggles of having a cult following in a country of less than 5 million people.
A: Can you remember the first time you saw stand up comedy, who was it and what did you think?
D: I first saw stand up comedy on TV when I was young. I can’t recall the exact moment and who but when I started watching it regularly it was people like Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor and Rodney Dangerfield. I really loved it as already then I was a cheeky, silly kid at primary school so it really just inspired me to be even sillier in the playground and during class. I got kicked out a lot.
When I was in my teenage years Pulp Comedy came to New Zealand TV and it was the first time I remember seeing Kiwis doing comedy. That was the first time I thought ‘Hey maybe I can do this too?’ I remember early NZ favourites were Brendhan Lovegrove and Ewan Gilmour.
How old were you when you first started stand up and can you tell me about your first gig?
I actually had a crack at stand-up comedy when I was 19. I was at Otago University and after watching Pulp Comedy on TV I recalled that one of the comedians was from Dunedin. So I asked around and eventually got in touch with Scott Muir – a legend in Dunedin for running music gigs and other events. He put me in touch with Simon McKinney and I got to do my second gig with Simon, Josh Thomson and a bunch of others who’ve since gone on to do things besides comedy.
My first gig though… well they were all out of town then as it was university holidays. I couldn’t wait until they returned so Scott told me about some other guy from up North who was in town and was dead keen to do comedy. Scott warned me that this guy was a bit ‘off’ as he said ‘but see what happens if you’re really keen’ he said.
Anyway long story short I did the gig with this guy and he was quite crazy and awful and nobody laughed. So I had to follow a solid 20 minutes of comedy death. However I had silly naive youthful confidence on my side and I managed to do about fifteen minutes of stupid, mostly childish sex gags and people seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm so I got some good laughs.
Then I started doing regular gigs with Simon and Josh and reality struck. Of the, say, six gigs I did with them over a year, I’d say I did well maybe twice and either ate shit the other times or at best got a handful of laughs. It put me off stand up for a while but in the back of my mind I knew I’d always return.
Where did you cut your comedy teeth?
So I really established myself in Perth in Western Australia. I entered the RAW comedy competition there and got hooked after making the semi finals. I started doing the open mic scene and eventually worked my way up to paid gigs.
Do you get nervous before a show? If so how do you deal with that and does it go away with experience?
Nerves never leave you. Even the mighty Seinfeld still gets them he says. If you’re not nervous then you don’t care. And you have to care or the audience will sense your laziness and arrogance.
What was the worst gig you ever did and what was the best?
Worst gig was probably my first paid gig. The MC died. The first support act died. The crowd just wouldn’t laugh at all. I was up next doing my first ever paid 15 minute spot in a foreign country with no friends in the crowd. I was beyond nervous and I could barely get a sentence out. They wound up playing the music over me once I got lost mid way through a terrible joke about how there’s a PANDA PARKING building in town but no Pandas parking in it…
Tell me about the process you went through to create the ‘No good stinking loser’ set. Do you actively plan it or does it evolve in your head gradually over time?
My process is very organic. I just write and perform a lot and eventually a show develops.
You mentioned a bit about your dad and his disdain for your career choice. Do you make him laugh? And what kind of things does he find funny?
My dad is very old fashioned. If you eventually prove to him over time you’re in it for the long haul he develops a begrudging respect for anyone’s career choice. However he still thinks comedy is a ‘loser’s game’ as he calls it, due to the difficulty in making money and having stability. He’s a pretty tough crowd as he’s uptight and conservative and my humour is anything but that. However every now and again he likes a joke I tell him.
People talk about there being an American sense of humour and a British one. Do you believe this is a thing and if so which do you identify most with?
For sure. Each country has a different perspective. I’ve never much identified with New Zealand comedy as we are often very gentle, apologetic and self deprecating to a ridiculous degree. That brand of awkward comedy has seen the likes of The Flight Of The Conchords do incredibly well on the world stage. I enjoy their comedy but it’s never been something I’d mimic. I’ve always liked tougher, nastier comedy.
I like the New York City/East Coast brand of comedy and some of the tougher British stuff. I love Stewart Lee who is British and very critical of the world around him and himself as well. I like to beat up on myself and the world around me in equal measure. So I suppose I’ve taken elements of American and British and to be fair probably aspects of New Zealand and Australian humour.
I do love the plucky, fighter spirit of Aussie comedy and I was shaped by their approach for sure. I implement their harsh attitude towards annoying hecklers and often Kiwi audiences are so nice they just think I’m a bully yet when I do that in, say Perth or Sydney, they cheer and clap as they hate dickheads ruining a show just as much as comedian does.
Do you think there is some kind of collective sense of humour unique to New Zealanders or do you think it varies depending on the demographic?
With New Zealand humour on the whole overall it’s not my bag sorry. I like aspects of it for sure. I loved Boy and Conchords but as I said earlier it’s not a style I myself perform.
But… I have proven that my style – and there are others here who perform a harsher brand of comedy too – can do well here but sometimes it falls on deaf ears as people want a milder, warmer style. I tend to work best when I have a full hour with the crowd as they then realise yes I’m harsh but I’m equally harsh on myself and I’m warm hearted deep down. In general Kiwis are nice, polite, humble people and we tend to prefer comedians that are like this. Which is totally not me!
I think I can make my style work here without bending too much and I have plans to move again as well but I’ll always come back as I do love my home country overall.
Is there any subject you don’t believe should be joked about and why?
You can joke about anything but you need to be aware of the aftermath and is it worth it. I think we just need to be respectful and diplomatic when dealing with tough subjects.
I used to have jokes to do with rape that were laughing at the horrible rapists but even then it was making people uncomfortable and I decided the jokes weren’t good enough to warrant telling them. However I will still perform jokes about a number of brutal subjects and if I feel the crowd will go with me I will still very occasionally perform those rapist-hating jokes.
Who are your comedy idols/role models?
Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson, Brendhan Lovegrove, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Nick Sun, Brendon Burns, Ardie Lange, Marc Maron, Eric Hutton, Shayne Hunter, Lawrence Mooney, Greg Fleet, Doug Stanhope and many more!
Do you take on a persona on stage or is what we see pretty much the real you/ an element of you?
I certainly embellish aspects of my personality yes as do all stand up comedians. In real life I tend to be more low key and not quite as bold and angry, passionate and so forth. However get me in the right mood and that comes out in reality too.
Is there anything you’ve learnt along the way that you wish someone told you before you started getting into comedy?
I wish more people would let you know how much of a slog it is. I certainly had some that told me but a lot of comedy chat is very smoke and mirrors with people all telling silly white lies about their careers so it’s hard to get realistic ideas of how a career in New Zealand/Australia will likely unfold.
You have to really not even think about money. Which is near impossible I know. But money can’t be the goal for at least five or maybe even ten years. Earn money elsewhere in part time jobs and so forth to take the pressure off and just focus on getting good. The comedians that focus to much on the status of gigs and the money tend to be in the game for the wrong reasons. They usually suck too. The great comedians love the art so much it’s just all about getting better and better.
So the pay isn’t great and you have to deal with hecklers but there must be something that keeps you going? What is it?
I keep going as I’m basically addicted! I couldn’t really ever give up. I’ve ‘semi retired’ a few times but I always come back.
Are you working on any other creative projects? I saw you have a podcast and you make comic books? Tell me a bit about those.
I have always been into writing. I wrote video game reviews for my local paper in Invercargill when I was just 12 years old. I did it until I left for university. I then wrote film reviews and I wrote advertisements for radio and so on. So I’m always writing. I have a number of comics to my name and a bunch of unfinished novels and short stories and plays I might eventually trot out publicly.
Lately I feel an urge to return to theatre – I did playwriting and theatre at Otago University – as I often prefer writing that’s not beholden to comedy’s need to get laughs every 30 seconds. So I can see plays in my future as well as more comic books! Currently I also have a film review podcast with Dunedin comedian Simon Kingsley Holmes called ‘The Snobcast’ and also my own interview style podcast ‘My No Good Stinkin’ Loser Comedy Podcast’ where I interview comedians but also artists of various mediums. I love interviewing people and in a dream world I’d have my own chat show where I did this. Maybe one day! But certainly never on boring, restrictive, super censored mainstream media.
What do you hope people leave your show having gained?
I hope people leave feeling they can also laugh about their pain and also that they can think “Jeez this guy is a bigger fuck up than I am..” From a more selfish perspective I hope they feel conflicted about me but also feel that overall I’m not that bad of a guy much like every human on the planet. I’m just flawed. I hope to find connection via that.
Who are some of the up and coming comics in your comedy circle you can see doing really well?
I’d rather not name people just yet as it’s so hard to gauge people early in their careers. So many people leave and so forth. However I will name Simon Kingsley Holmes who is a few years in and very much in it for the long haul! He’s a very smart and passionate man who adores stand up comedy and movies. He’s my best friend in the game and when he’s firing on all cylinders he’s incredibly funny and natural. I think one day he will have an hour long show that I’ll leave thinking “Bastard! That’s better than my show!” Although selfishly I hope not! Haha!
When you say you’re a comedian do you get people asking you to tell them a joke and if you do what do you usually say to them?
You get this often and it’s very tedious. I tend to try and deflect and encourage them to see stand up live as I can’t sum up my crazy act in one quick gag.
And now for completely un-career-related questions. What’s the dumbest way you have ever been injured?
I ran into a parked car on my 21st. Woke up with a broken nose, missing tooth and face covered in blood and vomit…
And finally, what is the most useless talent you have?
I can sing but only in a very limited range and capacity. So it’s kind of useless. I’m the guy you see at Karaoke who nails the easy part then the chorus comes and you all return to muttering into your beers “when is this prick finishing up?”
Like Dan Brader on Facebook to listen to his podcasts and get regular updates about his upcoming shows.
Photo credit: Tom Neunzerling