L.A. Comic Dan Cummins Makes His Art Like Few Others Do
Like any great artist, comic Dan Cummins knows how to source his inspiration — or where to source his inspiration, to be exact. In his weekly Off the Pot YouTube series, Cummins goes to that last solitary place where man can escape the distractions of modern life and be alone with his thoughts — the porcelain god. OK, so it's not exactly Walden Pond, but there's a certain genius to it. He riffs topically, and quite cleverly. It's potty humor, technically, but it's not.
Cummins has been on the comedy beat for some ten years now, having matriculated to Los Angeles from the Pacific Northwest to pursue comedy and all its related fields: TV, film, novel writing, web series, etc. His tongue has sharpened and he seems primed to be L.A.'s next great comic you may or may not have heard of. Before his stint at Punchline this week, he took a moment to answer some of our questions:
I love the concept of your Off the Pot series. Do you feel a certain clarity in that, um, venue? And how did that series start, anyway?
Haha. Thanks. God, I haven't done any new ones in months. I've been distracted with other projects. Maybe I'll write a new Fresh Off the Pot in San Francisco. I'm sure they have some nice toilets. I thought of that little web series because when I sit on the toilet, I do the 2011 equivalent of reading the morning newspaper: I check the news on my phone. When I came up with that series I was trying to sharpen my topical joke skills to submit to be a writer on some late night shows. I thought why not write some jokes about the day's stories, then do a quick flip cam monologue from the toilet. I found out this is very hard to do in public bathrooms. The guy in the stall next to you doesn't assume you're recording a web series when he hears you telling pop culture jokes. He assumes you're crazy. Maybe he's right. And yes, I do feel a certain amount of clarity in that space. Especially since I really do sit on the toilet with my boxers around my ankles when I record those videos. Honestly. I want to be authentic.
I noticed your Twitter account has turned into a version of Shit My Dad Says, but with your kids more or less assuming the echoed voice. Do you suspect you were just as funny as a 3-5 year old?
Yeah, I share custody of my kids with my ex-wife, who lives in Spokane, and, when I have them, I have them ALL day long, every day they're with me. The only kinds of jokes I can come up with in those moments are kid-related. This last trip, I wanted to tweet so much more than I did. My 5-year-old saw a dwarf at the airport five days ago, and it's still almost all he can think of. There's a small storage space in my parking garage, and the cover to it looks like a little door, and yesterday he revealed to me that he seriously thought that dwarf was living in there. I guess I was a funny little kid, too. My grandma told me one time when I was 3, we were driving down the highway, and I suddenly thought I saw Superman flying across the sky. I said, "There he is, Superman, that son of a bitch is flying across the sky." My language hasn't changed much in 30 years.
I thought you had a dark but poignant tweet the other day: "Twitter: A place to make pithy, sarcastic comments to temporarily escape the utter meaningless of our own, trivial lives." Is there a celebrity you follow that makes you especially cynical about humanity's prospects?
Charlie Sheen. Twitter in general makes me cynical about our prospects. I love the romanticism and magic of art. You don't hear from an author, or a painter in a year, and then suddenly you see their new exhibit, or, read their new book (or hear a new album, or watch a new comedy special), and it blows you away. It's so fresh, so new! Like they came down from the mountain and gave you this great gift. Now, you can find out what your favorite artist had for lunch via twitter, and I think that sucks. I really, really hate it. There is WAY too much information available about everything now. No more mystery. Knowing is not always better than wondering! I would much rather focus on writing a great screenplay, or collection of short stories, or a new special, and have that be enough to propel my career forward, but it isn't enough now. There's this pressure to continually create content for people to enjoy, hate or judge, and I don't think that's a good thing for art. It cuts into your artistic focus, and it sucks out the magic of the process. That being said, art is my commerce, and I feel like I have to use these mediums, so I do the best I can to enjoy them.
You grew up in Idaho, which most people I would guess know little about. If you were the head of the state's tourism board, what would you have as the state's slogan?
"Stay out. Most of you will never come here, and that's just the way we like it." Seriously. I love how independent Idaho is. I would love to have a second home in Idaho to escape from the rest of the world, which is what a lot or people in Idaho are doing. Growing up in Riggins, I didn't know one person who had a white collar job (lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc), but I knew a lot of people who killed their own meat, and built their own homes, and I think that's really fucking cool. If the world as we know it crumbles, the people in my hometown are going to be a lot better off than most people in California.
Were you able to do anything obnoxiously American for the 4th?
Yes! I bought my kids boxes and boxes of snap pop fireworks, and we threw them about willy nilly with little regard for causing a brush fire. And we watched a big fireworks show in Pacific Palisades. And we felt superior towards millions of people who live in countries around the world we really know nothing about, even though we've never been to their country, and will never, ever visit in the future. What's more American than that? Nationalism disguised as patriotism. It's what keeps us strong.
What can we expect from Dan Cummins in the second half of 2011? Any projects in the works?
I just had a set approved for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, so, hopefully I'll get on the show sometime in the next few months. Probably won't be until the fall. I head to South Africa for a month this summer for a big comedy festival. And, I'm trying to sell a few sitcoms I wrote, a few web series, a couple book ideas, and, like every other asshole in LA, I'm working on a screenplay. Hopefully one of these things will come through, and, again, like every other asshole in LA, I can drive an Audi and constantly pat myself on the back for choosing a life full of risk, having it pay off, and prove to myself I REALLY AM better than everyone in the midwest!