Paul Dinello. Photos by Alex M Smith.
Waiting in a bar to interview one of your favorite people can be a bit stressful, especially when said person is running an hour plus late. On his behalf, he kept in touch via the modern miracle of text message, so I knew I wasn’t being stood up, unless it was his idea of a hilarious practical joke, which did occur to me. After all, I would be interviewing Paul Dinello, one of the funniest people I know, so it seemed perfectly plausible that he might be up to some light (or dark) hearted hi-jinks, for example, having me wait nervously with two beers in front of me like some kind of schmoe, only to hop into frame with that giant grin, exclaiming, “Ha, ha! You didn’t think I was gonna come, did you?”
If you’ve ever seen Strangers With Candy, The Colbert Report, or read Amy Sedaris’s I Like You: Entertaining Under The Influence, you’re familiar with his handy work. Paul collaborates with Amy regularly on comedy projects and is currently a contributor on the Report. Paul also directs films and associates strongly with filmmaking as a medium.
I moved to NYC to get involved in comedy about ten years ago, and I call Strangers With Candy one of the most inspiring comedy vehicles I’ve never had the pleasure of riding in. It, no doubt, inspired some of the absurdity and silliness that we see in today’s popular comedy, such as “Wonder Showzen” (which Amy Sedaris guest appeared on) and Tim and Eric: Awesome Show Great Job, among other alternative comedic programs.
When Paul finally arrived, he was passionately apologetic about being late. We walked over to a quieter East Village bar where we talked about his music, comedy and a lot of earthy stuff, like his house upstate, his garden, composting, and his attempt at vegetarianism. So, is he a hippie in addition to being a comedy-writing machine? It’s hard to say what he is, as he doesn’t like labels. And who does? So, without further ado, here’s everything I know about Paul Dinello. What you want to call him is up to you.
Would you say you’re a filmmaker first and foremost?
PD: Labels are tough. I have a childish feeling about it. It allows people to challenge. If you say I’m this, they can go, oh yeah, prove it! I always feel like I am what I’m doing at the moment. So right now I’m writing and producing but I guess I like filmmaking the best. It uses everything that you can possibly do.
Do you like beer?
PD: I love beer. I like ones that have herbs in them.
I was really interested in the fact that you make music. I see how comedy and music are related in some ways and can come from the same place.
PD: Well certainly comedy has a rhythmic quality about it that’s similar to music. A lot of times I find myself working on the rhythm of something as much as the comedy of it. It’s not funny if the words don’t rhythmically go together.
You’re probably one of those people who says you can’t play guitar, but then you’re really good.
PD: I’m not going to admit to that. I’ve been playing guitar for like, 25 years.
So you’re probably pretty good.
PD: I can’t say.
Have you ever been in a band?
PD: I rehearsed with a band but we never played out, it was more for fun. But Second City was the biggest experience I had playing music before a large audience. I used to pull out my guitar for comedy nights. I’d always purposely write a song as an excuse to have my guitar just because I got such a kick out of it.
Did you ever think that there was a point that you would be a musician?
PD: No. I never thought I would be a comedian, I just kept failing upwards. But I never thought I’d quit and try to be a musician. With comedy, I took classes and started doing stand up and then people hired me and I did more stand up and then Second City hired me and then I came to NY and did a play and then HBO hired me and then one thing led to another, I never really actively made a choice to do comedy with my life.
Failing up – I think that’s the Peter Principle, right? Ever heard of that?
I don’t think it’s exactly right for you because you’re good at what you do. But it’s when someone’s not necessarily good at what they do, but there’s no one above them that’s better so they keep getting promoted and promoted, and it’s called the Peter Principle. I guess its cause it happens to a lot of people named Peter.
PD: Maybe that’s what happened to Saint Peter. Maybe he was the least of the apostles.
Where can I hear some Paul Dinello music? Can I buy your CD on CD Baby?
PD: I wrote all the original songs with the Strangers With Candy movie. Paul Schaeffer and I wrote them together. In the movie, there are three or four songs that I wrote.
Do you get on stage much these days?
PD: The problem is I don’t get done shooting [The Colbert Report] ‘til 830. A few years ago when we had more time, I used to do Stella. Stephen and I were at the first and at the last Stella. I used to try to do stuff as much as I can. I love that whole scene, the whole alternative comedy scene.
Are you a vegetarian?
PD: I claim to be. I don’t eat pork and I don’t eat beef. But I will have a free-range chicken.
Fuck the chickens.
PD: Fuck the chickens. I don’t eat anything that’s cuter than me. I only eat ugly meat. I’ll eat fish, I’ll eat chicken or a free range turkey. I won’t eat lamb, beef or pork.
Pigs are cute.
PD: Yeah, piglets are cute.
So you try not to eat cute meat. Do you have any other interests or causes?
PD: Do you think that’s a cause?
Save the handsome animals? I think it’s a tee shirt.
PD: I have a lot of causes but I don’t have any time. I’d like to try to fix everything. I’m trying to educate myself on this hydro-fracking issue.
Is that going to affect upstate?
PD: I guess it’s a little selfish. I live on a river, and that’s the water NYC drinks. I’m relatively protected. I don’t think anybody’s ever gonna give them a lease, because that’s a NY Watershed. Lucky that’s there or they’d already be drilling.
I think if there’s money to be had, they’ll find a way to get to it.
PD: Right, and that’s usually the case, but because NY has a lot of money and they want to protect their water, probably not.
And we have good water so they want to brag about it.
PD: Yeah, that’s most likely the only reason they keep the water clean, so they can brag about it. NYC doesn’t have a treatment plant, did you know that? It’s filtered, but it’s not treated. Most cities have a water treatment plant. Chicago does. I don’t know what they do to it. We’re essentially drinking spring water. The infrastructure is sort of faulty elsewhere, but here the water is perfect.
You said you have a garden and you don’t know how it happened. What do you grow?
PD: Onions, garlic, tomatoes. I grew up in the city in Chicago and then I moved downtown [NYC] in my 20s and then lived in Manhattan. Now I’m composting. Crazy.
Is composting hard?
PD: It’s a little hard to get the balance right. You want it to rot. I haven’t had it turn moldy, I must be doing something right.
Do you have an egg beater?
PD: No. I like to think I can beat eggs without the help of a machine. I have a chainsaw though. I bought it because a tree fell on my shed. I was going to pay someone to get rid of it, but I couldn’t get someone to come up there so I bought a chain saw. It’s a lot of power. And there’s a little bit of…I can take my own leg off. It’s very exciting.
The chainsaw makes me think of hunting for some reason. I don’t know why you’d go hunting with a chainsaw, but I guess you could. Did you ever go hunting?
PD: No, I don’t hunt and I don’t like hunting. And I don’t know a lot about hunting but I think one of the assets of hunting is the ability to be quiet, to get close enough, it seems that’d be number one on the list, so I think the chainsaw would make that difficult. They might hear you coming. You could probably kill really dumb animals with a chainsaw.
And you wouldn’t hunt because deer are really cute…
PD: Yes, they’re cute. I wouldn’t kill anything cuter than me.
Posted on July 11, 2011. More on: paul dinello