The Amazing Colossal Man: Life Lessons from Dave Hill

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We speak to the comic from Cleveland on the eve of his book release.

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Laura E. Marcus | May 22, 2012

Dave Hill

Photo by Alex M. Smith

Despite his successes in comedy, writing and music, Dave Hill isn’t as proactive as you would expect. Sure he’s starred in his own television show, The King of Miami, regularly appears on NPR’s This American Life, and has written for The New York Times, but Hill’s approach to his career is more Lebowski than Zuckerberg. “I think I was able to do well in comedy early on, because I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I was just having fun and not thinking about what came next. It always goes much better when I don’t care about it, so I think the key is to not care about anything. You just have to do stuff – that’s all you have to do. If you care about it, it’s all over. It’s like dating: if you’re looking, you’ll die alone.” Hill’s career is taking a decidedly adult turn today, when his first book of collected essays Tasteful Nudes… and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation (St. Martin’s Press) hits stands.

Originally from Ohio, Hill is a proud Midwesterner who readily admits he always expected to make the move to New York. “I had relatives on the East Coast with these thick Long Island accents, and I always thought they were cooler than us. My favorite uncle from Cleveland moved to New York so I thought I’d follow suit. But I never thought ‘Aw man, Cleveland sucks,’ I always thought it was awesome. Although being from Cleveland, you gotta have an inferiority complex about it.” Hill’s modesty is often concealed by his onstage persona, but under the bold suits and Mod shag of a self-proclaimed rock god is a pretty bashful guy. “I guess it’s a cliché, but in a lot of ways I’m a total introvert. I like performing but I was never in plays when I was a kid – I didn’t want to be on stage and sing or dance. I never planned to go into comedy as a performer. Even playing in bands I was never the singer, I was always the bassist or something – I just liked to rock out. I like performing when I’m in the moment, but I really hate the idea of it and the other things associated with it. I just get anxious. I’m looking forward to doing the readings for the book release, but the shows freak me out.”

Hill’s comedic style is a reflection of his insecurities, coupled with his fantasies. Instead of masking his anxieties about being on stage, he embraced them as a part of his persona. “I just made no effort to hide that I was really uncomfortable and anxious, so that became a part of it early on. I think my persona is just a magnification of all my best and worst qualities. Things that I wish I had, like confidence. I mean I’m confident when it counts in real life – it’s a little window and it’s when I get stuff done – the rest of the time I can barely leave the house,” he says with a laugh. “Part of my persona is to be moronically confident. I like to think I’m suave, but the reality is I hate the sight of myself.” Hill’s attitude harkens back to the old school comedians he admires. Like Kaufman, Murray, Martin and Cavett before him, he doesn’t try to relate to the audience. He says there’s a part of him that “will always be like I hate all of you! Sometimes when I’m on stage I just think, ‘Ahhhh! What a horrible situation. I’m standing in front of all these people and I’m uncomfortable. Part of me is happy, and part of me feels like antagonizing the audience.”

Whether or not Hill is interested in relating to his audience is irrelevant when it comes to his writing. The anecdotal style of Tasteful Nudes is both charming and repellent. His stories are at times disturbing, but what good comedy isn’t? It’s hard not to be seduced by his honesty and humor. Like a modern day lothario in tight pants, Hill hoped to re-imagine the comedic novel. “I wanted the book to be funny, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be something somebody wanted to read – I didn’t want it to just be a bunch of dick jokes. That’s the next book.”

Upcoming events:

Tasteful Nudes reading on May 23 at McNally Jackson with Ira Glass

Book release celebration on May 24 at The Bell House with Janeane Garofalo, John Hodgman, David Rakoff, TAB the Band, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Doug Gillard (of Guided by Voices)

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