She describes herself as lesbian, Jewish, comedian, a Brooklyn girl, and funny. She also shares her name with a famous Hollywood producer and occasionally even gets scripts via her website….
She’s shared a stage with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Elton John and President Barack Obama. She has been named as one of the top comedians in the nation, won many accolades and receives rave reviews. Curve Magazine called her ‘one of the brightest lights in a stellar comedy landscape’.
Launched into comedy by a tragic incident in her past, when someone she was dating was killed, Dana hasn’t looked back. She continues to keep audiences around the world entertained with her humour and wit and I’m sure we all hope she’ll keep on doing it as long as she can.
Tell us a little about yourself, and your background and how you got into comedy.
I was raised by a single-mother, in a Jewish household, where two out of three kids are gay. I don’t think I had a choice. Comedy was the only thing that was going to keep me sane. I grew up in Albuquerque, NM and moved to Los Angeles a little over five years ago. I have a degree in Physical Education (I’m a lesbian, it’s the law), and I’ve been doing comedy for about 12 years, full time for the last 6.
My first stand-up show was for my high school talent show when I was 17. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to do that..and I won. I didn’t touch a stage for about 8 years after that. When I was 26 I was given a 7 minute set in front of 650 people in a sold-out theatre in Albuquerque, NM, hit my first big joke, heard the most deafening laughter I had ever heard, and that was it. I was hooked.
How did it feel that first time you were invited to Scotland to be with your peers at the US Comedy Invasion in Edinburgh? That must have been one heck of an experience.
It was an amazing experience! 25 shows in 25 nights. I was really able to kick off any stage fright I might have had over that month. I was performing with veteran comedians who had been doing this for 20 years, and I was 7 months into my career. It felt great to be able to learn from them, but also to stand tall as one of the only women, and definitely the only lesbian on that line-up. When we were done performing at midnight, we would usually go get food and drinks at another comedy show or a bar and wander into bed around 5 am. I was performing with a brilliantly funny “little person” named Tanyalee Davis. She’s 3 ft six and we tore up the streets of Edinburgh on her little scooter. Nothing like a drunk lesbian and a midget (I have permission to call her that) terrorizing the Scottish streets at three in the morning. I remember we hung out with this adorable comic who had broken both of his wrists falling backward off a wall. TanyaLee signed his cast with “I “heart” midgets because they make my cock look bigger.” It was that kind of month.
Tell us about the Annual Funnyfest. How did that all start?
The Annual FunnyFest in Albuquerque, NM is a show I started 9 years ago. The original show I got my start in went defunct and there was no one bringing fantastic national female comedians to New Mexico, so I took over the job. I produce the event in the same theatre I did that first show. Each year I bring in three more of the nation’s top female comedians from HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, The Tonight Show, LOGO, BRAVO and ABC for a night of no-apologies comedy to help benefit New Mexico AIDS Services. Over the last 8 years it’s raised almost $30,000 for the organization. I’m very proud of that production.
What are the secrets for telling everyday jokes in order to get the biggest laughs?
You have to find a way to get the audience to see themselves in your material. That’s why we laugh, we laugh because of shared experiences. The secret is to know your audience and be able to write material that pertains to them. Dinah Shore is going to be mainly a lesbian audience so that one is pretty easy. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. Sometimes the lesbian audiences are the hardest to impress. You give them permission to laugh at things they are too afraid to say out loud.
Can someone learn to be funny on stage?
That’s a great question. I’m honestly not sure. All of the people I share a stage with seem like they were born to do comedy. I think you learn to hone your craft through years of experience and performance, but I’m not sure you can teach someone to be funny. I think you either have it in you or you don’t.
What are some of the biggest mistakes new comediennes make?
I think one of the biggest mistakes new comedians make is letting the audience dictate how good you think you are. We all have bad days at work no matter what we do. If you have a bad show, you don’t quit. You’re going to have more bad shows, but you’re also going to have many many more good ones. I think some new comedians think it’s a good idea to heckle the audience because they’ve seen so many comics do it. If you don’t know what you’re doing up there and aren’t use to crowd work, that’s a great way to lose complete control of your show. Tell YOUR material and believe in your jokes. Lastly, don’t pretend to be something you’re not on stage. The audience will see right through it and they will tear you apart. OH…lastly, lastly, don’t steal other people’s jokes. The community is too small. We’ll know. 😉
What is the difference between trying to write jokes and develop comedy material?
I think for me the different is time and practice. In the beginning you write a joke. It’s a premise for what you want to deliver on stage. A written joke in and of itself may not be as funny to the audience as it is to you and it may not flow with your voice and cadence on stage. Comedy material comes from working those jokes out in front of an audience, honing them, perfecting them. Comedy material changes over time. We add certain things, take away the ones that don’t work anymore. A written joke to me is something that gets put in a book and never evolves.
How does someone get started in comedy?
My advice would be to start with open mics. Get your friends together to go support you the first time. You’ll want the love in the room in case you bomb, and you might. Keep doing it. Tape your shows so you can see what’s going right and what’s not working. Those tapes will also help you get work in other places. I taped a show in Phoenix in 2004, sent it in to Olivia Vacations, and finally heard back from them in 2006. It’s worth recording every show. You never know when you’re going to get a kick ass tape you can use for future bookings.
What advice would you give new comediennes just starting out?
If you really want to do this, you think you were born to do this, don’t give up. Ask people you admire for advice, run ideas past people. Network with your colleagues. Also, be someone that people respect and want to hire. I have worked with people who are funnier than shit on stage, but they are such assholes off stage that I would never recommend them for a job. This community really does support each other when it feels supported. Make friends.
Is timing important in telling a good joke?
Timing is everything. It really is. Small pauses in front of words can make a break a joke. There’s a cadence comedians find and if the cadence isn’t timed right a really great joke can bomb. Timing is everything. OH, and the joke has to already be funny otherwise it’s just a poorly timed shitty joke.
Who is your mentor -which comedienne do you take inspiration from?
When I was younger I use to listen to Robin Williams on tape. I miss that man dearly. His brilliance will never be replaced. To be honest, now I’m inspired by the people I actually share a stage with. There are so many incredible comedians who I truly admire and I get to share the stage with them, it’s pretty surreal sometimes.
What makes your comedy routine different from other comediennes?
I think my comedy is very much MY voice. I wasn’t trained in LA or NY and I feel like sometimes club comics can sound like they come from the same cloth. I’m telling jokes about my experiences in my life, so no one on the circuit will be telling these same jokes. My comedy is smart and edgy, I push the limits but never go too far over the line. I can honestly say I’ve had people tell me they never like comedians, but they love my material. They might tell that to every single comic they see, but I’ll pretend I’m special just for a moment.
How do you cope with telling jokes that may offend people -is that the aim, to shock them or simply to get their attention?
I actually don’t aim to shock my audience. I aim to give them a release from their everyday lives and bullshit, and just laugh for an hour. I definitely offend people with my political material sometimes, but it’s usually trolls on social media who somehow end up seeing one of my posts and then release the bible quotes. It’s kind of amazing. It’s good to offend sometimes, get people thinking, get them riled up about things. I have a voice that reaches large groups of people, why not use it to push boundaries and maybe challenge people to open their minds a little. Plus it’s really fun for me to watch some GOP religious fundamentalist freak out when I talk about Michelle Duggar’s clown car of a vagina.