“People need to shut up more,” comedian Dan Soder tells me. “And that includes me.”
But Soder doesn’t shut up. Not on stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, or in his new HBO special, Son of a Gary. Not during the eight hours a week he spends talking on a mic with his friend and fellow comic Big Jay Oakerson for their Comedy Central SiriusXM show The Bonfire. And not during our freewheeling conversation on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast.
Of course, free-flowing conversation has become more and more fraught for comedians these days, as evidenced by the swift firing of Shane Gillis by Saturday Night Live after damning clips of him using racist and homophobic slurs surfaced online earlier this fall. Soder almost had his own SNL moment when he auditioned for the show a few years back. “It was one of those things where I didn’t think I wanted it, auditioned, got close, then didn’t get it, and then you’re like, ‘Why am I heartbroken now?’” he recalls.
Gillis was, and still is, a frequent guest on The Bonfire and a good friend of Soder, who was surprised SNL hired him in the first place given his deliberately controversial material. Soder also doesn’t think his friend is “racist against Asians,” as some listeners felt his Chinatown bit implied. “That’ll probably get me canceled,” he jokes.
At 36, Soder, who is best known by many for playing Mafee on the Showtime series Billions, is just starting to get his first taste of mainstream success and the “cancel culture” risks that come with it.
“I look at it like cancer,” he explains. “If I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it. I’m not smoking. But I use my cellphone a lot. I think that’s the way every comedian should look at it. And then if you get cancer, you fight it.”
On the ‘cottage industry’ of ‘outrage’
“Outrage is a cottage industry right now. There are journalists who are making money for outrage. There are people right now that are actively going after clowns when our planet is burning and there’s legitimate criminal activity in the government. And they’re worried about the clowns. The comedians that I love are the people that are like, ‘This is the only thing I can do. I’d get fired for talking this way.’ That’s what I think is so weird about cancel culture. You’re firing people that would get fired everywhere else for all of that. A lot of these people that are getting people fired, they don’t want to do comedy, they don’t want to put in the work. It’s a lonely life. I’m hyper-critical of myself. You deal with substance abuse, you deal with depression. And then it’s all of these couch warriors, these people on their laptops saying, ‘He shouldn’t do that!’ Do you want to go work the Albany Funny Bone in December? Then shut the fuck up.”
On his ‘good friend’ Shane Gillis
“He’s one of my good friends. I’ve known him for a long time. I think he’s one of the funniest people out there. He said some live shit and was trying to be funny and got buried. And then they found some old shit where he was just mad and talking into a microphone. I think Shane understands why he got fired. I can’t speak for Shane, but I’m friends with him. What happened with Shane is, people who never would have seen his comedy saw the worst parts of his comedy. Because he got a big job. I understand why people were upset about Shane. You hear that clip, you’re like what the fuck is that? He was doing a character voice of a guy who didn’t understand Chinatown. Should he have used that word? Absolutely not. But you’re going to punish him for a joke?”
On telling jokes about his dead father
“I’ve always joked around about it. So for me, it’s how do you make other people not be sensitive? And I think you can see that in the jokes. Because I try to explain, people with dead parents don’t mind making fun of it. Especially their own dead parents—whatever, they’re dead. It’s takes a little bit [of time], unless you’re a sociopath. But I was making fun of it pretty fast. Because I think a lot of comedians react like that. Instead of being sad, we’d rather be funny. I need to make fun of this, I need to break the tension. But it took me a while [to make it work] because those jokes would bomb. I would be like, ‘My dad drank himself to death’ and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, fuck.’”
On the ‘finance bro’ fans of ‘Billions’
“Something that I’ve really dealt with my whole life is being an only child and being raised by a single mom who worked all the time, and my dad didn’t want to be in my life, so I have this thing where I want people to like me. Because I felt like no one liked me when I was a kid. Now, in my 30s, I don’t need everyone to like me. In fact, it’s very dangerous to want that. When people come up to me and they know me from Billions, they don’t know me. The finance bros walk up to me and stick their sweatered-vest fingers in my face and say, ‘Mafee! Hey, Mafee! Billions!’ The show is so smart, how are these idiots watching such a smart show? But if someone walks up to me and says, ‘Hey, I listen to The Bonfire,’ you know me.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian Iliza Shlesinger, whose new special Unveiled is streaming on Netflix now.