Going Once, Going Twice… SOLD: An interview with comedian, writer, and actress Dana Goldberg
by Jed Ocot
Dana Goldberg has been making audiences laugh for the last 11 years, and her career seems to be hotter than ever. She’s received praise from the likes of The Advocate, Curve Magazine, and the LA Times. She’s just released a new album and is currently on tour. She’s even shared the stage with the likes of President Obama and Lady Gaga. This weekend, Goldberg brings the funny to Houston for a double treat.
Jed Ocot: You’ll be in Houston on April 4 performing at the Pearl Lounge and then on the following day, hosting the Houston Rights Campaign Gala Dinner. Is this your first trip to Houston or have you been here before?
Dana Goldberg: I have been to Houston a few times performing. I performed for The Lesbian Health Fund, which is no longer, for a comedy night four or five years ago. I also did a few fundraisers for Annise Parker when she was running for mayor.
Anything you look forward to seeing or doing while you’re in town?
I haven’t had enough time to explore Houston, so if there’s anything quintessentially Houstonian that I need to see while I am there, I am open to feedback. Someone tell me where to eat and tell me where to go.
You’ve hosted and performed at many HRC benefits. How did this come about?
In 2009 there was a live auctioneer that had cancelled the last minute on a San Francisco dinner. I had done a couple of things for HRC, so they had called me and said, ‘Hey, have you ever done a live auction?’ I said no, but how hard could it be?
And so I went out there, and I don’t know why I know how to do this so well, but I’m actually a good auctioneer. I think it’s because of the timing of my comedy. So I’m mixing comedy with the live auction, and it really gets people’s attention. Usually, that’s the time when people checkout, and they go to the bar and get a drink. It’s really nice when I’m in a room full of a 1,000 people that when I’m selling things, that it’s quiet in there. People are actually listening and paying attention.
And so that night the old president of the HRC, Joe Solmonese, happened to be in the audience and came up to me and said that it was the best auction he’s ever seen and wanted me in Washington DC. Since then I’ve been headlining some of their comedy events and doing their live auction events and dinners around the country. This will be my first Houston dinner, so I’m very excited about it.
Does performing get easier every time, or do you get nervous?
I get nervous before I perform every time. I think that’s actually a sign that I still care about what I’m doing. I think when I stop getting nervous I’m kind of going to be like, “why?” There’s something that drives me with those nerves—they’re positive nerves and I’m about to turn that into really exciting shows. I think if I went out there and went “meh, whatever,” I would have to question what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Usually, once I tell that first joke and hear that laughter, that’s when I kind of settle into it.
Do you have any pre-show rituals to get warmed up?
I do. I talk to myself in my mirror backstage and give myself a little pep talk. Without fail, someone will walk backstage while I’m doing that.
What do you normally talk to yourself about?
It’s kind of one of those things where they’re already here to see you, just do what you do best and be funny. For me, when I get too much in my head, that shows sound more rehearsed. I’ve learned through the 11 years I’ve been doing this, to just be in the moment, feel it, feel the audience and listen to what’s happening. Once I get into my groove, then everything kind of falls into place. Those are the best shows, when I’m not scripted.
Your new live comedy album and tour is named “Crossing the Line.” Where did you get the idea for the title?
I’ve been pushing the boundaries and being a little more edgier. I’ve always been edgy. My comedy is very edgy and intelligent. I push the boundaries a little more especially with politics. I say things that people think that they’re not allowed to think out loud. So every once in a while something comes out of my mouth where I’m like “yep, that just crossed the line, but that was hysterical.” There are no boundaries—we’ll talk about everything.
What else inspires your comedy?
Definitely relationships. My relationships past and present. My family is a big part of it as well, and also the fact that I’m Jewish, so I bring in jokes about the holiday and the differences between the religion. In the past, I dated a lot of Catholics, so [I talk about] the differences between the Jewish and the Catholics, when you’re dating a Catholic woman and having those experiences. It’s just general life, and every once in a while, I do some pop culture. But, for the most part it’s my own personal experiences that other people can relate to.
Tell me more about your involvement with the many humanitarian efforts and LGBT communities and organizations.
I think for me personally, giving back to the communities that support me, it’s kind of a pay-it-forward thing. I am lucky enough to have a voice and that I get to use it in front of the masses. If I can have a positive message within my comedy, that’s very important to me.
I also think that to continue the human rights in this country and the right for equality, you have to be able to have humor to break down barriers with people. I’ll have straight, conservative people at my shows, and they have a good time and they laugh because it’s almost a way to educate them by using humor, and if you can do that, you can break down barriers with people. If you try and shove it down their throat—no pun intended—in the sense of “listen to me, listen to us kind of thing,” it’s like who wants to talk about this? Let’s talk about it while I’m on stage and you’re listening.
If you think about it, relationships are relationships. Families are families. Everyone goes through the same things in life, it’s just with a different gender, you know? If you can show people that our experiences are human instead of based on our sexual orientation, that’s how you can get people to change their views on this.
It’s a great time to be a woman in comedy in film and television. Would you consider making the jump to the big screen or being on a sitcom?
Absolutely, that’s definitely on my list in 2014. I’ve been doing a ton of auditions. I’m just hoping for that one time when it’s like “that’s the girl we need, that’s the look we need, and that’s the voice we want.” I do want to do sitcoms. I’ve been auditioning for parts in movies and things like that, so that’s definitely on my list, and I think that I would be good at it. I seem to be good at the auditions. I think being on stage over the last 11 years has given me that comedic timing and that voice that I think would transfer very well into acting.
Who are some comedians you look up to?
A lot of them that I look up to are the ones that I’ve performed with, which I’m so lucky. One of my favorites is Erin Foley—she’s a good friend of mine, and I think she’s incredibly talented. Jessica Kirson, who is a New York-based comedian. A gentleman named Jason Dudey, who is a great comic. I worked with a guy named Ian Harvie, who is pretty much the world’s favorite trans comedian. He is fantastic. Back in the day though, I really studied people like Gilda Radnor, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams. When Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Whoopi Goldberg were doing The Comic Relief shows, I remember just being mesmerized with them. I realized back then that I was actually learning from them. I was learning timing and delivery. I was studying, and I didn’t even know that I wanted to be on stage when I was 17.
The Advocate named you one of the Top 3 Comics in their 2013 National Comedy Search, and CURVE magazine voted you one of the Top 5 Funniest Lesbians in America. Would you say you’ve officially made it?
Oh, no. I mean, those accolades mean so much to me. For one of those, the readers voted on that, so that made me feel great. I think they’re all just those pieces that continue to drive me to reach the goal, and I think that goal continues to move as I evolve as a comic. Have I made it? I have not made it yet, but I would like to think that I am on my way. I’m grateful to have the success I’ve had so far, and there’s so much more opportunity for growth. It’s nice to have those accolades, and it’s nice when I go to a city to have people go “Oh my god, we’ve seen Dana. She’s hilarious, yeah we’re gonna go.” It’s nice to get that and have people want pictures and have people want the autographs. It’s all still very surreal for me, so it’s all still incredibly fun.
What can we expect from your shows?
You can expect smart, edgy, funny material. I’m not a mean comic. They can probably expect a pair of jeans and a button-down shirt, and they can expect leaving there feeling better than they did when they got to the show.
Dana Goldberg performs live at The Pearl Lounge 4216 Washington on Friday, April 4. For ticket information visit http://dghouston.