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Comedy Preview: Dan Cummins

Grant Walters Grant Walters Comedy Preview: Dan Cummins
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A fixture on late night television, the nationally renowned comedian and podcast host will be at the Columbus Funny Bone this weekend for a limited engagement

Relatability is a comedian’s ace, which is so much of what makes Dan Cummins’ stand-up a joy to watch.

I had just recently viewed a bit he recited on Conan in late 2015 about the unfortunate new discovery he’d made about his “side gut,” and how men of a certain age (read: my age) become disillusioned by the youth of their bodies — until they happen to see photographic evidence of the contrary.

“It turns out from the front,” he quips, “I look like a dude who lifts weights. From the side, I look like a dude who shouldn’t because it’s probably bad for the baby.”

Truth in comedy can hurt sometimes. It’s why I now wear cardigans over my shirts.

This weekend, Cummins will take the stage at the Columbus Funny Bone for a six-show engagement starting Thursday night.

A native of Riggins, Idaho, Cummins’ accessible stand-up has earned him spots on The Tonight Show (both Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno invited him over to the famously coveted seat on the couch after his spot), a Comedy Central half-hour and one-hour special, stand up appearances on The Late, Late Show, Conan, Comedy Central’s This is Not Happening, and on countless other late night and cable programs. He was a cast member for the the last three seasons of the continually re-airing World’s Dumbest on TruTv and has appeared on several other pop up commentary series, including VH1’s I Love the 2000’s.

He has also lent his talents behind the scenes on the small screen, producing shows like Town of the Living Dead for SyFy, Duck Dynasty for A&E, and Porter Ridge for Discovery. He also wrote two episodes for season one of the Family Channel sitcom Raising Expectations, starring Molly Ringwald and Jason Priestely. And, in 2015-2016 he hosted over 200 episodes of the hour-long televised variety program, The Playboy Morning Show.

Cummins recently released his fifth comedy album on Warner Brothers Records, Don’t Wake The Bear. He was the first comic chosen to be spotlighted by Pandora Internet Radio, where he is one of their most listened-to comedians with nearly 200,000 user stations created in his name. He also wrote a graphic novel in 2015, entitled Daddy Bear: Three Rabbits Meet the Real World, which is available in Kindle format on Amazon.

When he’s not touring nationally, Cummins can be heard on his acclaimed Timesuck podcast, which Split Sider recently called “a one-man history wrecking crew who will, even after the dust settles, leave you with some facts and tales that will help you look halfway smart at a lot of cocktail parties and bar hangouts.”

“Yeah, I tried to do more traditional-type podcasts a few years ago, and it just never really resonated with me,” he revealed during a phone conversation last week. “One was with another comic and a comedy writer just kind of talking about life, and inevitably talking about comedy a lot. And another one was just kind of ranting, probably overly influenced by Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast or something, you know, just kind of talking.

And then when I wanted to do another one…I didn’t want to do something unless I was really, really passionate about it. I was working at Playboy at the time, and that was a job that paid well, but it was kind of soul-killing. I didn’t want to get into stand-up just so I could have a steady paycheck. I wanted to do something meaningful to me artistically. So I just started thinking about what that was.”

The impetus for Timesuck came from Cummins’ penchant for knowledge. He’s a graduate of Gonzaga University, where he earned a B.A. in psychology.

“One of the things I really love doing is just learning about new things. My whole life I’ve loved to just read National Geographic, or look on the web or whatever and learn something new. And that’s kind of what I was doing anyway. When I was figuring out what kind of podcast to do…it was a procrastination thing, you know, when I was supposed to write a script or work on a pitch — instead, I would dick around for an hour in some wormhole on the internet.

So I just thought ‘why not turn that into a podcast? If I’m interested in this stuff, I bet I could get other people to be interested in it, too.’ From working in production and stuff, I just took some of my experience in terms of how to put together a script and segments and things, and apply that to my idea. And then I got lucky. It started to resonate with people, and I started getting emails. I don’t think I even asked for it initially — people just started writing and saying ‘you should do this next. Or you should do that next.’ And then I went from there to asking ‘hey! Do you have any suggestions? Let me know!’ And now, I don’t know, I probably have over a thousand [emails] now — I’d say 20, 30 topics are sent to me a day.”

The podcast, which premiered in September 2016, has grown to a point that Cummins can no longer manage its various moving parts on his own. Instead, he’s enlisted the help of his faithful audience to oversee different aspects.

“I’ve given up trying to get back to everybody — I have volunteers helping now. All [of them] are just listeners who maybe heard me say on an episode ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time to get back to all of you right now.’ So they started helping me. I may even be getting an intern here sometime soon. So now I’m doing internship paperwork, and I have other students helping out with social media. And the logo was designed by a listener. It’s really becoming a community. It’s a passion project, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I have an app being built by other members. I’m paying for that one, but they’re still giving me a deal. It’s just crazy — it just keeps growing. I don’t know where it’s going to lead exactly, but I just love doing it.”

Cummins believes that comedy can inspire learning, a foundation he employs on Timesuck, although he’s found that the comedy industry in general may not be there just yet. He thinks his format could also reshape what people might expect from an informative podcast.

“I guess what I’m trying to spread with it is an association between fun and education. I used to try and pitch TV shows that were in the ‘edutainment’ sector — funny but also with a purpose, and you get to learn about this or that — and it was always seen as a negative. I remember the production companies were, like, ‘hey, let’s not play up the education or takeaway angle. Play that down.’ This was a few years ago. And it might have changed, but it used to just bum me out that anything enlightening was seen as a detriment.

So I thought ‘well, maybe I could make this fun,’ because I feel like there are a lot of good educational podcasts out there, but a lot of them are pretty sterile. Or they’re not very irreverent. I feel like that does a disservice to a lot of people where if you’re not somebody who went to Princeton or something and consider yourself an intellectual, but you’re a very curious or intelligent person, then maybe my podcast is for you.”

Cummins opines that exploring new ideas and perspectives with a certain level of comedic accessibility could also help people think differently about the things they’ve clung to steadfastly throughout their lives.

“I think it’s good to be curious, you know? Since I’ve gotten older…people get settled into their opinions and then forget why they formed their opinions. Especially with the last election — both sides…people bitching about one side or the other. I felt like 90 percent of the time, neither knew what they were talking about. They just had this surface opinion they went with. And I realized I was kind of becoming that person, too. If you asked me more than two questions about any given opinion I had, I would just fall back to ‘well…’cause that’s what I think!’ And I’m, like, ‘God! I don’t wanna be like that!'”

Part of what makes Cummins’ delivery so intriguing is his talent for storytelling, a skill that requires him to employ a specific level of structure and thought as he writes material.

“After a while, it almost becomes second nature. What you’re really trying to do is figure out how quickly, in as few words as possible…how can you bring people into a memory of yours? You know, paint a scene. A new story I have is about my neighbor. We got into an altercation. First, I just set up who this guy is. And you are trying to get your audience on your side. ‘This guy is an annoying guy’…setting it up to get them to understand why I’m coming down hard on him later. Then you set up the nature of the confrontation.

Basically when I write out a story, the first time I don’t think about it as humor at all. I think in terms of structure, like if you were telling it almost as a police report. What happened? How are you conveying to people who weren’t there exactly what happened so they can see it like you did? And then once the structure’s there, you can add the humor. Even a simple joke like that silly little thing on Conan about my side gut. The structure behind that is just a sad revelation…and then you think ‘okay. So how do I make that funny?’ Then you just find the right verbiage and everything like that to add the humor to it. And that’s kind of been the way I’ve always approached it.”

For Cummins, finding what’s funny and translating that into a format that’s digestible for an audience, ironically, involves him being more reflective than outwardly humorous.

“Sometimes people think about comics as…and I guess some comics are clown types or the life of the party, but I’m more of a brooder. I’ve always had this sarcastic sense of humor, and I definitely like to joke around in moments. But I’m also just kind of in my head most of the time cranking things around.”

Dan Cummins will perform this week, Thursday, September 14 through Sunday, September 17, at the Columbus Funny Bone at Easton Town Center, 145 Easton Station. Tickets (21+ only) range from $9-14 (plus applicable taxes and service fees), and are available for purchase here. Dan’s podcast, Timesuck, is available via timesuckpodcast.com. More information and other merchandise can be found on Dan’s official website.

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