Geek Gal Comedian Interview — Dani Herd
“If I could just spend all day just hanging out, swapping funny stories with people, that’s all I would do.”
By day, Dani Herd works at the Georgia Aquarium and the Atlanta Shakespeare Company (both of which are places I loved to visit when I lived in Atlanta). By night–some nights, anyway–Ms. Herd takes the stage at the Laughing Skull Lounge, a comedy club downtown, and performs some awesome stand-up. (You can check out most of her sets here.) Recently, I got the opportunity to interview Dani on what it’s like to be a geeky lady comedian, and I’d like to share that all with you.
First off, I wanted to know for how long Dani’s been doing stand-up. As accomplished as she is, she’s only been cracking jokes since December of last year. Wait–let me rephrase: She’s only been cracking jokes on stage at the Laughing Skull since December. Ms. Herd’s been in theater since middle school, and as someone who’s known her since back in the day, I can assure you, she’s always been pretty funny. Still, officially, it’s only been…(I’m counting)…eight months since she began.
As far as how she got into stand-up, like I said, Dani’s been in theater for a long time. Making the transition onto the stage involved a number of things. The first took place little over a year before her first open mic where Dani was telling a story to a friend that she thought was sad, and her friend just started laughing at her. Before she could respond, he paused and told her,
“You’re a character stand-up. These things that happen to you are hilarious.”
Now, she’s always been drawn to comedy in the theater she’s done, but actually doing comedy on a stage, cracking jokes with a microphone, had never occurred to her. So one of her New Year’s resolutions for 2012 was to try stand-up comedy. It wasn’t until that December when a friend of hers said that he was going to an open mic and that she should come with him that she finally was able to check that resolution off her list. And she’s been doing it ever since.
One question I think we all want to ask (and so I did) of comedians and actors and the like, is “Do you get stage fright?” When I acted back in high school, I’d always get it really bad before my parts, and so I wanted to know if Dani felt the same way with her comedy. She said:
She explained further, saying that with stand-up, at the least the way she does it, she’s there by herself, doing material that she wrote–telling stories from her life, essentially. If she’s in a play, and someone doesn’t like it, she can console herself by saying, “Oh, maybe they didn’t like the direction or didn’t like the script.”
On the other hand, whenever she’s done baring her soul to a roomful of strangers, it’s the best feeling ever.
Switching topics, Dani and I broached the subject of female comedians and (what seems exceedingly silly to me) the hullabaloo around their existence, seemingly. You may recall, dear readers, the other day when Em Ramser and I talked about the possibility of a Female Doctor and how that idea riled some people up. Well, there’s not nearly as much vitriol about the topic as there is about women performing comedy, but it’s still somehow an issue for some folks.
As recently as last year, Adam Corolla told the New York Post that women just aren’t funny, and the idea seems to go back pretty far. The idea is patently ridiculous–the very presence of Dani refutes the claim–but it was something Ms. Herd and I talked about. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maria Bamford, these are just a few of the hilarious women whose work/performances Dani and I agreed on enjoying, the last of which proved to be a big inspiration for Ms. Herd, but more on that below.
It seems the thought “Women aren’t funny” is still one that’s pervasive today as Dani has been to a number of shows where she’s one of the few, or the only, female comedians on the lineup, and after several shows she’s gotten compliments that seemingly carried undertones of surprise. By that I mean someone might tell her, “Wow, you were really funny up there,” but the subtext of the compliment is, “And I’m surprised because you’re a woman.”
Dani told me that she consciously downplayed her femininity for her first show, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, but once she got into the groove of things, and found that the male comedians she’d been hearing were getting more into misogynism and women-hating “comedy,” she showed up in a dress. She was proud to be a female comedian, and kudos to her for that. In fact, she brought up a cool point while we were talking about this:
Hear hear, Ms. Herd. I agree (and did so at the time of our interview) most strongly.
Moving on, I mentioned above that Dani and I both really like the comedic stylings of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maria Bamford, but when I asked who else she liked, she mentioned Jim Gaffigan, Louis C.K., Asiz Ansari, John Mulaney (whom I love), and most recently, Kyle Kinane. Who, Dani expressly said, “If you’ve not listened to, you need to look him up.” So I present you with this link, dear readers. Check him out. His most recent album is called “Whiskey Icarus,” which you can listen to on Spotify. (Or watch him on YouTube.)
As far as her all-time favorite comedian, that would have to be Patton Oswalt. He and Maria Bamford have served as some of Dani’s biggest inspirations, with their self-deprecating style and willingness to sometimes tell sad stories from their own lives, but in ways that make them hilarious, which is a difficult alchemy to perform, if you ask me. Another reason she likes them is their faculty with words. It’s not just the delivery of these guys that makes their jokes work so well, it’s the way they’re crafted. “Clearly,” Dani said, “these guys know how to move words around.” And as someone who does a bit of that himself (you’re reading one of my articles, after all) I appreciate that in a comedian too.
So when I asked my follow-up question, if you got to do a set with any comedian, who would it be? Obviously Patton Oswalt was be her choice. (Again, obviously, she’d want to open that show.) So, Mr. Oswalt, if you’re reading this, you need to get in contact with Dani Herd of Atlanta, Georgia and get this thing set up. I know you’ve performed in Atlanta before–in fact, a quick search on Google shows you were there yesterday–but the next time you swing through town, you should give her a jingle. She’s pretty awesome.
Now, when I asked Dani about her work and how she comes up with her material, which is always an odd question for an artist to answer, what I meant was this: Her comedy is very situational. So do things happens to her sometimes and in that moment she’ll think, “Aha! I can write a joke about this later!” or is it more a matter of looking back on things that have happened to her and figuring out how to craft those events into a humorous narrative?
She explained with an example. In her first set, (which you can find through this link), she talks about how she once got broken up with by a puppet–it makes sense in context, I promise. So she told me how she was heart-broken in the moment. Someone had broken up with her, for goodness’ sake. But when she was telling that story to her friends on the back porch of the Shakespeare Tavern, which features a brick wall, one of her friends filmed it. When she watched the video later and saw herself telling a story, making people laugh, standing in front of a brick wall, she went, “Huh. That makes a lot of sense.”
Usually, when putting together a set, Dani does want things to be cogent, so she’ll think about what stories flow easily into others, if there’s an overall theme to what she’s talking about. So far, there hasn’t been anything that’s happened to her yet where she’s had the thought, “This will be a joke later!” but I’m planning on visiting her this upcoming Dragon Con, so hopefully I can change that…
Switching topics once more, I pointed out that a number of comedians–Tim Allen, Bill Cosby, Jeff Foxworth and so on–have transitioned at one point or another from doing stand-up comedy to their own television show (some more successfully than others…) I wanted to know, if Dani had her own show, what would it be about?
It seems the subject is one she’s considered before. Apparently it’d be a sitcom (she and her best friend have thought about this a lot), which would always feature a cold open at a food truck. (She and the aforementioned friend often visit the many mobile eateries in Atlanta.) So imagine “Central Perk” from “Friends” or the restaurant Jerry and his gang always hang out in on “Seinfeld.” Really though, she wouldn’t want the focus of the whole show to be on her. As a fan of shows like “Parks and Recreation” and “Community,” she’d want it to be an ensemble cast.
She actually told me:
So take heed, TV producers out there. Hire Dani Herd as a comedy writer (or actress) and make her dreams come true! She says if you’re thinking, “We need a sad, sort of neurotic nerd-type character on this show,” give her a jingle. She’s your gal.
As far as what it is she loves to do most about comedy, she says,
That does sound like the life.
But she also likes, and this is true with any form of performance art, not just comedy, the fact that you get to watch people’s reactions to what you’re doing right there in the moment. She told me she remembers being in the audience back when she was in high school and college, watching shows, so she’s very aware how big an impact performing and comedy have made on her life.
Plus, when she’s able to connect with a crowd and tell these stories, some of which might be about darker periods in her life, she feels like a weight’s been lifted off her shoulders. Not many of us get to turn the crappy parts of our day into the best part of other people’s, so I dig that.
Finally, as I mentioned before, Dani works at the Shakespeare Tavern in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, the very same Downtown Atlanta where Dragon Con will be happening in a mere week’s time. (Hard to believe it.) The con begins Friday, but the night before, Thursday, August 29, there’ll be two awesome shows taking place. The first is one of my favorites, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” which takes place at 7:30 PM. The second takes place right after, at 10:30 PM, and is titled “Much Ado About Nerddom: A Study in Geeky Variety.”
It’s a variety show featuring some burlesque performers, two different bands (Three Quarter Ale and The Extraordinary Contraptions), some puppetry, a magician, and Write Club Atlanta, which is a very nifty thing which you should look into more. (Helpful link here.) Dani will be hosting the event/telling some nerd stories, and you can check out more about it on its Facebook page.
So, what does this all boil down to? Dani Herd is an amazing geeky comedian (and a woman, gasp!) who will be hosting a really neat event at the end of the month. Thus, anyone who’s planning on going to Dragon Con, be sure to check out the Shakespeare Tavern the Thursday night beforehand and you’ll get to see the intrepid Ms. Herd in person.
I highly recommend you check out her work on the interwebs. Any Dani fans in the audience? Anyone now flocking to her banner? Be sure to let me know in the comments below, on my Twitter at @ColinOBoyle, or on Dani’s @DaniTheDinosaur.