“I’m sorry, I’m here because they have free wifi and I’m doing a video over Skype. Once it’s over I promise I’ll turn the volume down,” Dylan Brody told a frustrated customer at The Coffee Fix in Studio City. I watched his bushy eyebrows flutter over his glasses on the other end of the connection as he assuaged the coffee drinker’s fears of noise pollution and after, our interview began.
Dylan is a storyteller of the first degree. His new album, “A Twist of the Wit” is chock full of tales from his life, some even more mundane than even he would like to imagine. The closing track describes an instant at the check out line at a grocery store, and even though he takes several minutes to describe but a moment’s worth of time, every second is worth listening to. I, for one, was rapt.
Not everyone will like Brody’s style, though I would venture it’s worth a try if you’re looking for some stories to fill up your iPod with. Dylan told me after our interview that he was giving a CD to the coffee shop complainer for her troubles, a gesture that ultimately sums up his brand of self-deprecation. Tell him that he’s getting on your nerves, and you’ll get free shit.
What do you call yourself?
I go with former stand-up comic. I’m now a humorist and storyteller.
How did you get into storytelling?
I started doing stand-up when I was 17. I got into the Improv in New York when I was 18 then I was a road comic for years. Eventually, I stopped enjoying what I was doing on the road and I wanted to make a career as a writer. I found myself doing storytelling on the radio and finally I found I wanted to get back on stage and perform again. So I started taking the stories I developed for the radio and made them work on stage.
What separates storytelling from stand-up comedy?
I think the separation is narrower than we think. In the old days there were comics who did storytelling. Bob Newhart did long form stuff, Bill Cosby did. We’ve forgotten that that’s part of the humor scape because television and the comedy boom got us accustomed to that 15 second laugh interval.
I think one of the things that really determines the quality of stories is how much people are willing to self examine. I tell a lot of stories that reveal what a dork I am; the ways in which I embarrass and humiliate myself, the emotional distress that I go through on a daily basis over things that need not distress me, the ways in which I self sabotage… As long I’m talking about those things and really dealing with them in the moment, people will relate and they’ll go with me and be interested.
Your album is very dark and depressing.
You’re helping market it brilliantly. Thank you.
You tell these dark stories as if the audience is supposed to laugh at you.
The human experience is far richer than just jokes. I think jokes are at their most powerful when they explore something other than the simple ridiculing of another person or organization or group. What I’m trying to do with my stories is expose myself as much as I can in the hopes that people will see the basic humor of the human experience.
Let’s talk about Judaism.
I’m so completely an Atheist that when people tell me they believe in God, I don’t believe in them.
The idea that a grown up would believe in an invisible friend who knows everything about him is quite insufferable. I try to have the utmost respect for whatever superstitious crap people want to believe in, but I usually don’t succeed.
Why are Jews funny?
I think it was Steve Allen who said, “tragedy plus time equals comedy” although he may just have been quoting someone else. (My corollary to that is “comedy minus timing equals tragedy.”) Jews have certainly experienced a lot of tragedy over the years, but it’s more than that. Humor is inherently an intellectual process. It’s a thing that happens in the mind: playing with words, playing with ideas that creates humor in general.
Unlike Christianity which is all based in simple faith (you come to a place, we tell you what’s in the book, we interpret it for you and send you on your way), the Judaic tradition is really about study and learning. The Talmudic tradition is reading the Torah, reflecting on it, interpreting; critical thinking is a part of our tradition. As a direct result of critical thinking you end up seeing irony and contradiction. Out of that comes a natural sense of humor.
Boy, could that have been a more pompous answer for you?
You have to understand that I come from a family of intellectuals so I pretend to have that level of scholarship but really I just look rumpled all the time.
What’s coming up next?
Right now I’m promoting the CD, doing a bunch of shows. I’ve already got an idea for the next CD which should come out early next year. Probably some martial arts training because once I stop doing that I spiral into a depression.
I’m a fourth dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a master. Third dan in Hapkido and first dan in Ki Gum Do. I teach some and train. I’ve got to keep the skills sharp. As a bullied child, if I stop training then I just start screaming at people while I drive.
When people think of Dylan Brody, what do you want them to think of?
I want them to say, “Dylan Brody? Isn’t he the heterosexual David Sedaris?”
Are you worried you might run out of self-deprecation?
Oh God no. I humiliate myself in one way or another on a daily basis. As long as I keep noticing it I’ll be fine.