My Backstory: The Early Stages of the Disease

Growing up in Los Angeles, California in the 1970s and 80s, comedy was always a light to which I was drawn.  And every new discovery only fueled my quest for more.  My earliest heroes in those formative years were Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx, which, in hindsight, informed not only my sense of humor, but my anti-authoritarian tendencies, as they were both anarchists.  (To my everlasting amazement, I would later come to be friends with the man behind the voice of that "wascally wabbit" and so many other Looney Tunes characters, Mel Blanc.)  

My comedy fixation and my unrelenting insomnia from an early age led to many all night, self-guided comedy festivals in my childhood home long before anyone used the term "binge-watching."  From classic to contemporary, from slapstick to subversive, I consumed it all.  If KTLA Movies Till Dawn had a Hope and Crosby "Road" movie marathon, I was there.  Same with the films of W.C. Fields, Danny Kaye, The Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis.  I never missed a new episode of Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, especially when there was a comedian on.  

And then there was the Dr. Demento Show.  On Sunday nights, from 6-10pm, my radio dial was locked to KMET 94.7FM.  Dr. Demento played everything weird and wonderful through the entire history of comedy and novelty records.  (There was a 2-hour nationally syndicated version of the show, but I was lucky enough to grow up with the live L.A. local broadcast!)  Dr. Demento was a teacher, a tour guide and a tastemaker.  And I was hooked.  I began swiping all of my parents' comedy albums and then, like a junkie, spent every nickel of my allowance building my comedy record collection, feeding that unrelenting habit.  

So, by 1980, I was an 11-year-old  with full blown Obsessive Comedy Disorder.  The next stage would be to become a carrier and begin to inflict it on others.

On set of the "Portlandia" pilot in Portland, OR in 2010 with Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen.

My Life In (and Around) Comedy: The Infection Spreads!

On May 18th, 1980, I attended a live remote broadcast of the Dr. Demento show at the landmark Tower Records on the Sunset Strip.  After meeting "the good doctor" and having him sign my vinyl copies of his LPs Dr. Demento's Delights and Dementia Royale, I was invited to appear on the air!  Irreversibly emboldened, I set out to make my first comedy record, a 45 RPM single, which was released later that year.  "Dan's Song" made it's debut on the Demento show on October 5th, 1980 and would even occasionally make its way onto the Demento Top 10, on and off, for the next couple of years.

By 1983, I started writing scripts and making films.  In 1984, along with my schoolmate David M. Latt (now the producer of the Sharknado franchise), I produced an hour-long video tribute to Jack Benny, featuring many of the late comedian's former cast members, writers and colleagues.  My growing understanding of writing and production led me to two summers as a studio intern at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.  Starting in 1985 as an irrepressible 16-year-old, I ran around that studio lot, meeting Eddie Murphy, John Candy, Richard Pryor, Michael Keaton, Ron Howard as well as the cast and crew of shows like Cheers and Family Ties.  I even got to work a few days as a production assistant on movies like Clue and Pretty in Pink

During my time at Paramount, I was introduced to the booming comedy club scene.  Ever precocious, I quickly insinuated myself into the community of comedians, first as a writer and eventually as a teenage stand up comic.  It was thrilling to have jokes I had written told by my clients on their late night TV spots and specials.  I was even hired for the NBC special Bob Hope Buys NBC and had the surreal experience of seeing my contributions come to life with Hope, Lucille Ball and then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff!

My stand-up writing and performing helped pay my way through the USC School of Cinema & TV.  I travelled the country, sharing time and stages with many of the premiere practitioners of the art form.  George Carlin.  Robert Klein.  Gabe Kaplan.  Jerry Seinfeld.  Sam Kinison.  Damon Wayans.  Garry Shandling.  Bill Hicks.  Robin Harris.  And even my schoolmate at USC and fellow OCD poster boy Judd Apatow.  Those were magical times.  But by the time I left school in 1991 (note that I didn't say "graduated'), I was ready to get serious and begin my career.  However my OCD would persist.

I scored my first TV development job in 1995 working for the legendary Fred Silverman as his VP of Network Programs.  During that time, my duties included covering the CBS series Diagnosis: Murder where I was fortunate to work with the brilliant Dick Van Dyke.   While at the Silverman Company, I met and befriended a local L.A. radio personality known as "Jimmy the Sports Guy."  I was so impressed with him that I declared, at the first opportunity, we would hire him.  We did and although our game show project didn't move forward, it did lead to Jimmy's first big break in television... co-hosting a Comedy Central game show, garnering him a Daytime Emmy Award.  And the rest, as they say, is history for Jimmy Kimmel.

From there I was off and running.  In 1997, I was hired as a VP at the American outpost of the British TV giant Granada, during which time I was recognized in the Hollywood Reporter's "Next Generation" of media execs under 35.  I was not yet 30.  For the next two decades, I held positions at Studios USA (now NBC/Universal), Carsey Werner, Turner Broadcasting, IFC and Big Beach TV.  I am truly grateful for the many highlights of these years, including my various roles on shows like Beggars and Choosers, Starved, The Maria Bamford Show, Derek and Simon, Bathing with Bierko, Whisker Wars, Comedy Bang Bang, Out There, The Spoils of Babylon, Debate Wars and especially Portlandia.  (If you're interested, below are a few links to view and read about some of these shows.) 

Beggars and Choosers review (Variety; 6/14/99)

The Maria Bamford Show (Super Deluxe, 2007-2008)

Bathing with Bierko in the NY Times (4/13/08)

Out There review (NY Times; 4/21/13)

Debate Wars review (NY Times; 9/22/16)

Portlandia: Put A Bird On It Oral History (Entertainment Weekly; 3/19/17)

While my years as programming executive, a writer and a producer were wonderful and satisfying in many ways, often times the itch of my OCD needed to be scratched via extracurricular activities.  In 1996, I helped launch a project for the TV Academy which is now called The Interviews.  This ambitious project is a remarkable compendium of first person accounts from a wide array of luminaries throughout the history of television.  I have been fortunate to conduct dozens of one-on-one interviews with many of my heroes.  Below are just a few links to some of my favorites.

Milton Berle (6/11/96)

Sid Caesar (3/14/97)

Bob Newhart (6/15/01)

Bernie Brillstein (11/14/01)

George Schlatter (3/6/02)

Jonathan Winters (10/11/02)

The interview with Jonathan Winters is especially important to me personally as it represented the beginning of a more than decade-long profoundly intimate friendship with one of the most significant characters in my life.  Here is a password protected link to the 42-minute tribute video I produced for Jon's memorial in 2013.  (It does not appear anywhere else online as it has never been seen publicly anywhere other than that private event.)

username: dan

password: jwin

And here's a fresh one, hot off the presses!

Billy Crystal (10/25/18)

In addition, through the years, I have also spoken on and moderated panels at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival, the New York TV Festival, Atlanta's Laughing Skull Festival, the New Jersey Webfest and at the grand opening of the National Comedy Center.  I have written about comedy for many publications and platforms such as Emmy Magazine, Vulture, Paste Magazine, Splitsider, the Huffington Post and McSweeney's.  And as of 2016, I have served as an adjunct professor, teaching multiple courses to 3rd year grad students at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

So whether it's honoring the history and the pioneers of comedy, being an advocate for what's new and next or just analyzing and celebrating the art form as it grows, shifts, morphs and evolves, my OCD has driven me for my entire life.  And it still does.

Via my Little Bear Bear Productions, I hosted, wrote and produced the SiriusXM audio documentary OCD: The 60-Year History of the Comedy Grammy Award featuring my conversations with Jim Gaffigan, D.L. Hughley, Sarah Silverman, Fred Armisen, "Weird Al" Yankovic and George Carlin's daughter Kelly Carlin.  It was recently the sole American nominee for Best Comedy Special amongst international competitors for the New York Festival's Radio Awards.  Wanna hear?  Click the link below!

The mission for all OCD projects is to tell the untold and mislaid stories throughout comedy's rich history.  It brings together my myriad relationships across the world of comedy, my never-ending curiosity, my expansive repository of knowledge and my dedication to compelling narrative storytelling.  I want to go deep or I don't want to go at all!  My Obsessive Comedy Disorder is persistent and undeniable... and I love it.  

Matt Bennett, Me, Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Dr. Demento in 2012

More Manifestations of My Malady: Links


The Nerdist Podcast with host Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and their guest Dr. Demento - 8/15/12

The David Feldman Show with host David Feldman, Paul Provenza and Paul Dooley - 12/21/13

The Carson Podcast with host Mark Malkoff and guest Buck Henry - 10/2/14

Comedy on Vinyl with host Jason Klamm discussing George Carlin's first solo LP "Take Offs and Put Ons" - 10/16/14

The Carson Podcast with host Mark Malkoff and guest Dick Cavett - 1/5/17


Remembering Richard Pryor - Huffington Post - 12/11/05

Meeting One Of Andy Kaufman's Earliest Mentors - Vulture - 3/14/17

Stan Freberg: Guerrilla Satirist - Vulture - 4/7/17

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Dialect Comedy - Paste Magazine - 4/19/17

The Return of Dr. Katz - Amazon Prime Insider - 7/13/17

Cross-Dressing at the Crossroads: A Brief History of Drag In Comedy - Paste Magazine - 12/7/17

Leave A Tip: Interviewing Billy Crystal - Television Academy - 10/8/19

Do You Or A Loved One Struggle With Obsessive Comedy Disorder? You're Not Alone!

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