A lot of comedians suck ass at playing music (Tenacious D), and a lot of musicians totally blow when it comes to being funny (most musicians on Twitter). Dave Hill excels in both. A New York funnyman and rock guitar-heat hero, Dave Hill has two great bands (Valley Lodge, Diamondsnake), plays guitar for the Walter Schreifels Band (that guy from Quicksand), has a regular gig at the UCB called The Dave Hill Explosion, and does all kinds of other shit too. His Black Metal Dialogues is the finest example of "Comedy Through Fucking With Someone" you will ever read. During his UCB show, he interviews legendary people like Dio and Dick Cavett, and he even took the show into the heart of Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The word around town is that he drove the ladies up there wild. So, basically, this guy is going to be huge. You know how I know that? Because he already thinks he is. And that's half the battle. I asked Dave some stupid questions and he gave some decent answers.
VICE: How did you start out? Didn't you write for TV or something? What made you start wearing such sweet clothes?
Dave: I was playing in bands and working as a freelance writer when I came to New York. I never planned to start doing comedy, but I think it made for a sort of natural combination of some of the stuff I like about writing and playing in bands—being on stage and saying stupid shit. Eventually I started screwing around with video stuff and then met a lot of people who did shows in bars downtown who encouraged me to try it. I started performing live comedy in 2004. The first thing I ever did was a show I called the "Dave Hill Show," where I would just interview whomever I could talk into it in the basement of the old Siberia bar. My cousin ran the place. I did that a handful of times before I started doing spots on other comedy shows around town and then it grew from there. Now I am a millionaire who smells great and has intercourse all the time, right now even.
I wrote for a few obscure basic cable television shows when I first moved to New York. That's how I ended up here. I was living in Cleveland and came to New York to visit friends in 2003. I ended up getting an offer to write for a TV show and never left. All I had was a duffel bag, my soft, soft skin, and the power of my dreams. I mailed the keys to my apartment in Cleveland to a friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend and he just took over the place. I finally went back and got my stuff a few years later, everything but the couch anyway. I don't know what the hell he did to that thing but it just wasn't the same. And when I asked him about it he wouldn't say shit. Not sure what that was about.
As for sweet clothes, I like entertainers and, generally speaking, entertainers wear sweet clothes. Just look at Liberace and Cher. I always dressed up when playing in bands, so when I started doing comedy I already had all the outfits.
Playing music on stage probably helped you with stand-up, but I imagine it's still pretty different. The first time I saw your act, it included you behaving a little nervously and picking your butt every couple of minutes. It was really great. Have you gotten more comfortable onstage over the past few years, or do you still get nervous?
I still get nervous every time to some extent, but I don't have that overwhelming feeling of dread every time like I did in the beginning. Music is pretty different from doing comedy in that way. With music, you can close your eyes, stare at your feet, or think about how you forgot to pick up your laundry or whatever while you're doing it and you can still make a show happen. With comedy, you have to be dealing directly with the audience every time. It's more of a mental challenge, whereas music is more of a physical thing in a way. Performance-wise, comedy is definitely harder. I love doing both though.
Any advice for people who want to do stand-up but are just being big pussies about it and are afraid to?
I would say to give it a shot if it's something you want to do. Even if it goes horribly, you'll learn from it in some way or another that will hopefully improve your life. When I started, I never thought past whatever show I was doing that night and I figured if nothing ever came of it, at least I'd be less nervous at dinner parties and things like that. It's kind of like speech class in high school in that way, only it usually leads to more drink tickets and sex.
"The Black Metal Dialogues" is one of the most hilarious pieces I've ever read. How did this happen exactly? Was there any communication between the two of you after this?
Thanks. I've always been into metal but got especially interested in black metal after reading Lords of Chaos, which is an awesome book on satanic metal. I used to carry it around with me and read passages to friends because some of the shit in there is so hilarious and nuts. My favorite thing was the record store in Olso called Helvete (Norwegian for hell), where Euronymous, the store owner and original guitarist for Mayhem, wanted customers to have to carry torches to see any of the merchandise. It's genius. He ended up not doing it though because he was afraid the vinyl would melt or something. I love the idea though. Everything is better by torchlight if you ask me.
I started e-mailing black metal bands just for my own amusement around that time in 2003. Back then, black metal had yet to become a phenomenon in pop culture the way it is now, so when I started e-mailing Norwegians I never expected it to be of any interest or amusement to anyone but me and my friends John Kimbrough and David Jafri, the only two guys I knew who were into Norwegian black metal. It was just something I did before I went to bed at night to entertain myself. I would forward John and David all my correspondence about once a week. Then they started sending it on to other friends. Eventually, a friend of David's asked to build the Black Metal Dialogues website. I wanted to wait until my e-mail exchanges with the Norwegian dude kind of petered out first because I wanted it to remain pure, you know, just like Norwegian black metal. The website, was mentioned on Gawker after it was up a day or two and it went nuts from there. It's cool because now my fake black metal band Witch Taint has fans all over the world even though we've only recorded one song. I sell a lot of t-shirts though. And there's a cartoon I won't mention that has stolen a line or two from the Black Metal Dialogues. I can't decide whether to be annoyed or flattered.
I didn't really communicate with Matthias, the guy from the main e-mail chain, after that. I did hear from the band I make fun of the whole time, Mysticum, though. They wrote to me through Myspace. I don't think they got the joke—they seemed to think they were writing to Lance, the teenager I pretended to be. It's funny—I've gotten a lot of e-mail from people about it. Fans of it seem to understand that I'm a grown man living in New York. All the hate mail, though, is directed toward Lance. People think he's real. I love it.
That's awesome. Among the many other things you do, you have a regular show at the UCB here in New York called The Dave Hill Explosion. It's a talk show. Or there's a talk show in it. It's pretty fucking original and always hilarious. I think I've told you this before but I kind of see your show as a Hegelian piece of theater. Insomuch as you first present yourself as this kind of subdued and shy guy for the monologue (the thesis), then you go into full-spaz mode for the "explosion" (the antithesis) and then you kind of land somewhere in the middle of those two guys as the interviewer for your guest (the synthesis). Was that on purpose or am I projecting? I'm probably projecting.
Thank you. It's kind of on purpose, though I didn't have Hegel in mind when putting it together (except for the outfits). There's a part of me that hates the idea of performing and is terrified of it, so when I started doing the Dave Hill Explosion in 2005, I wanted it to start off subdued and uncomfortable, because that's how a part of me really felt. I figure if I'm going to feel that way, I want the audience to feel that way too. But then the full-spaz mode is a way of shaking that off and going into that side of me that loves being on stage and wants attention. By the time the guest comes out I've kind of experienced a full range of emotions, so I'm ready for whatever happens next.
Stop saying "thank you" all the time. It makes you seem weak. Now, I am not a musician, but I am pretty sure you are fucking sweet on the guitar. I heard you think you can play "Eruption." Care to prove it?
You're right. I just gotta start owning this shit. As for the guitar, yeah, I'm sweet at it. I have a bunch of guitars and I sit around playing them all the time when I'm home, just constantly bringing the rock heat in its various forms. I try to land somewhere between George Lynch and J. Mascis on the shred scale—scorching and scrappy at the same time. And yes, I can play "Eruption" and am happy to prove it like a motherfucker.
You got to have Dio on your show before he passed away. What was that like?
It was awesome. A couple of my friends who were friends with him put me in touch with his wife and manager Wendy Dio. I couldn't believe he said yes. Up until that point in my life, I pretty much expected to live a Dio-free existence other than listening to his music and trying to dress like him. I was so nervous to have him on the show because I'm such a huge fan. I couldn't believe it when he walked into UCB in Los Angeles. You don't really expect Dio to just walk into somewhere like a mortal. He was such a super nice, smart, and awesome guy. After the show he hung out and signed my guitar and told me about how he was getting back together with the Black Sabbath guys. It hadn't been announced yet, so he told me I was one of the first to know, which made me feel cool. He asked me if I wanted to get Indian food next time I was in LA, but unfortunately it never happened as he was so busy with Heaven and Hell by the time I came back. And now he is sadly gone. Dio was and is the king. Every time I look at the guitar he signed, I freak out. It says "Dave Hil is magic- Ronnie James Dio." I ended up having Ira Glass sign the same guitar. I figured it sort of balanced out the universe that way.
I once heard that Jimmy Page's favorite guitar solo was from Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years." What's yours?
Probably the one from "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart. Or maybe "Burnin' for You" by Blue Oyster Cult. They both have everything. In the 80s though, Dio put together an all-metal tribute to benefit Africa called Hear 'n' Aid. The song they did, "Stars," has about 50 guitar solos in it that are mostly pretty great. Yngwie, George Lynch, Brad Gillis, Carlos Cavazo, and a ton of other dudes. It's awesome.
You took your stand-up act to Sing Sing Correctional Facility to perform for the prisoners. Is this a normal thing for comics to do? Do murderers and rapists laugh a lot?
Moms Mabley used to perform at Sing Sing every Christmas Eve in the 60s and 70s. I have a CD of a couple of the shows she did there. I don't know of many comics who perform in prison though. I know Mo'nique and Kathy Griffin did it, but they did women's prisons with full camera crews and entourages and all that. I'm the only person I know who has just rolled into prison with a couple of his friends, though I'm sure there are other people who have. I did the Dave Hill Explosion for about 300 inmates. It went great. Murderers and rapists "get" me. I'm going back in July.
Very Christ-like of you. So, not only are you attacking us musically and comically on stage, but you also kind of run shit with the tweets at @mrdavehill. What's it like to be Twitter-famous? Any perks to that? Secret parties? Offerings of sex?
I don't perform in prison because I think I'm doing a good deed. I just do it for fun. Nothing clears your anxiety better than getting up in front of 300 maximum security violent felons for an hour. It makes everything else seem pretty easy.
As for Twitter, I like it. It's fun and a good way to get errant thoughts out of my head and stuff while I'm trying to do other things. As for perks, it's actually been a great way to meet people, especially while traveling. I think Twitter is cool that way because you can get a sense of a person in little bursts. Almost everyone I've met through Twitter has been kind of like what I expected them to be like. And I mean that in a good way. I've made some nice friends through it. I wouldn't say that about any other Internet thing. As for offerings of sex, yeah, I get those a lot on Twitter and it's awesome. It really helps break up the day a bit.
Yeah, I didn't think you did it as a good deed on purpose, but it is a pretty cool thing to do for those guys. Just think, if you ever got sent there for a crime, you wouldn't have to worry about getting beat up or Frenched all the time. They already love you. What are you working on now?
Yeah, I'm glad to do it and happy that they would enjoy it. One thing that occurred to me while at Sing Sing and talking with a lot of the inmates is that most of these guys just fucked up really badly or maybe just lost their minds for a minute and pulled a trigger or whatever. A lot of us could have wound up in the same situation had our circumstances been different. I think people like Michael Vick who play a role in the torture of animals and other evil shit day after day are actually much harder to forgive or understand. As for what I'm working on now, I'm writing a book for St. Martin's Press, developing a TV show for BBC America, recording a new album with my band Valley Lodge, and then working on scripts and stuff like that. Those are the main projects at the moment.
This is most likely going to be your last pre-rapture interview. Since all of the Christians will be lifted up past the sky and into heaven tomorrow, what is the party going to be like down here once they are all gone?
I think there will be a lot of sales, kind of like just after the holidays only with much better deals on stuff. Also, Michael Jackson music will be blaring from everywhere, just like right after he died. There will be drink specials and chicks will be way less uptight about it if you walk up to them and ask if they want to make out. Also, open container and alternate side of the street parking laws will be suspended. Oh, and Kings of Leon are going to try to play a big free concert but as soon as they start the first song a giant monster truck is going to roll right over all four of them, killing them instantly. Then the original lineup of Guns n Roses will show up and play a full concert during which I get to come out and play like five solos or something. I am looking forward to it. Still not sure what I am going to wear though, if anything. It would be nice to get my hands on a Nudie suit maybe.
N.B. He never did play Eruption for us.
For more about Dave Hill, go to www.davehillonline.com
And this video is nuts.