Dave Attell Tells All

Best known for hit series Dave’s Old Porn and Insomniac with Dave Attell, seasoned comedian Dave Attell is not afraid to say that older is better when it comes to porn, cocktails or joke-telling styles.

SF Weekly chatted with the funnyman, who plays four nights at Cobb's on Jan. 29-30, about how the older generation of comics compares to today's YouTube sensations, his desire to finally settle down and why vintage porn is just better.

[jump] What's it like playing to a San Francisco crowd?

San Francisco is cool, because there are a lot of comedy fans there. There are a lot of smart folks from the IT world and a lot of drunk people that I know—the bar people—all in the same room. I've played San Francisco for a long time, and it seems like back in the day it was more Barbary Coast, but now it's very PC. But then my people still come out, and they like it a little rough and dirty.

Can you describe your act?

I do jokes. I do the whole gambit, mostly very dark, blue stuff. I would like to think that it's thinking man's dick jokes. But who am I to judge? I don't talk about politics. I'm not a PC act. I don't do monologues. I'm not a storyteller. I do setup-punch line jokes, and I know that now that is almost like going to a Renaissance Fair to see people doing those kinds of jokes. But that's what I do. My crowd seems to get it and like it. 

You came up with an impressive list of comedians: Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Jay Mohr, Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle and Wanda Sykes, just to name a few. Did anyone's success surprise you?

You see them for years developing, and there were some people you knew immediately were going to make it, because they were so good or you could say they knew who they were and would back it up with their material, like Jon Stewart and Kevin Hart. There are a few people where I'm surprised it took so long. Louis C.K. is a great example. He's been a comic for a long, long time, and then success finally hit him, and it's really impressive and great to see. But usually in the comedy world, you can, or, at least, I can, after doing it for 30 years, see the people who are multi-talented, who can act and write. Then there are the club comics like myself, so it's cool to see people grow and change over the years. Sometimes it's overnight, and sometimes it takes decades, but I knew they were going to go on to big things.

What do you think about the YouTube sensation comics of today who seem to find success instantly? 

I am an old man. I'm gonna be 51. It's very surprising how it works. Show business didn't appreciate how powerful the Web is. Everyone today watches short, viral video clips. It's a different world, and I think the new people get it right away. I think a lot of them have just grown up on the selfie culture of just being on TV and taking pictures of themselves. I'm an ugly, old guy, and even when I was an ugly, young guy, I didn't particularly like looking at myself. So it's funny to see these kids taking multiple selfies of themselves, just hanging out. Back when I was a kid, we all wanted to be Evil Knievel; now these kids want to be anything but that. They really do appreciate fame, and it can happen overnight or take decades, but YouTube speeds it up. I have done stand-up my whole career and everything else is a side project. So I don't get it, but I know that's the future.

How much does your personal life match your hard-partying image?

I'm pretty much the same guy you see onstage. I might take it to an extreme level of ridiculousness on a lot of things, but that's where the comedy is. I'm pretty much a loner. I don't drink anymore, but I did. I chain smoke and drink coffee. I watch porn.

It's funny how all my friends who've gotten married and have kids have other stuff to talk about. I don't relate to it, but the crowd does because they've also grown up. My crowd—the kids who started watching me do Insomniac in high school and have stuck with me in the stand-up world—they're getting married and having kids and mortgages, so I feel sometimes like I'm letting them down, like they want to hear about that world. But I don't know that world that well. I do know what a mortgage is, though. I know it twice, but I can only imagine what they have to go through.

Did you plan on being a bachelor or did it just happen that way?

No, I'm one of the few guys that really wanted to have kids. Luckily, I'm in quasi-show business, so maybe I can squeeze one out. But I always wanted to be the old dad that can't do anything as my kid looks on and rolls their eyes. I would definitely like to be the dirty, old comic with the family. And I'd bring my kids into the act. They'd come out and sell the merch.

I feel badly for people in San Francisco. They're under a lot of pressure. You have to find the right soul mate and make sure they're vegan-friendly. It's very difficult. Everybody's in this wait-and-see mode. But I don't know about this metro generation; they seem to hook up quicker, like maybe at some electronic music festival. But when you get older and you don't drink, it's harder. But if I don't get a family, I can always get a dog. 

Why did you quit drinking?

The real answer is I was shitting blood. I just hit the wall with it and my body was suffering, so it was time for me to stop. I had a lot of friends who were dying from alcohol and drugs, and I lost some really good, fun guys like Greg Giraldo and Mitch Hedberg. Both of them took it to that level and, unfortunately, they're not here today. It always leads to a sad place. 

How do you handle working in clubs and not drinking?

Oh, there are lots of great things you can do. Go to your hotel and stay up all night looking at movies you've already seen on their movie selector. Or sit in the lobby of the hotel and creep out the late night desk clerk. I spend my night standing outside the hotel chain smoking.

But I'm glad I drank when I could drink. I don't know anything about cinnamon whiskey or these microbrews. We drank what they put in front of us and liked it. But now it's like going to Whole Foods. It's so fancy. I never drank whiskey and thought, 'What's missing? Cinnamon.' 

As a longtime porn connoisseur, why are adult movies better than real sex?

You can turn it off, but, in reality, you have to make sure they get in an Uber cab. The beauty of porn is that it has that filthiness, and I like that. Another cool thing about San Francisco is that it used to be the porn capital. It used to be that town. But I'm trying to watch less porn, although I still have a 300-DVD vintage porn collection, where all the women look like your aunt and have so much pubic hair and actually needed to learn lines and know how to act. But yeah, it definitely hurts relationships, though, because porn is way better. I never saw a porn movie that ended with an argument at the Olive Garden or someone looking for their iPhone. The beauty is that it's just the best parts of a really shallow relationship. And, of course, I'm an ugly guy, who'll never hook up with girls like that, so I can wish I was that guy. 

Dave Attell, Jan. 29-30, at Cobb's Comedy Club, $35, 915 Columbus Ave, 415-928-4320 or cobbscomedyclub.com.

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