While Boise was bathed in sunshine, gravelly voiced Dave Attell called from his hometown of New York while walking around on a gray, chilly day. The first thing he wanted to know was whether it was snowing in Boise. Then he got down to business. The veteran stand-up comic sounds like a guy who does what he wants. If he hadn't enjoyed playing Boise when he was here several years ago, he probably wouldn't be coming back for a show this weekend.
Attell has done stand-up in Boise a couple of times, but he especially enjoyed his visit here for a segment of his Comedy Central show Insomniac with Dave Attell. Insomniac (2001-2004) was a reality-ish TV show in which Attell and a camera crew traveled across the United States and the world, and hung out with the cities' nighttime denizens. He would talk to people in bars as they worked night shifts or were simply awake and on the streets between about 10 p.m. and dawn. Along with San Francisco, Miami, Amsterdam, Honolulu, Tijuana, Little Rock and Portland, Ore., to name but a few, Attell and his crew came to Boise one winter. While here, he chatted up the aforementioned drunk demographic, hit the hills at Bogus Basin, milked cows at a dairy farm, shot up (targets) at the Boise Gun Club and made a stop at the now defunct Locker Room on fetish night.
Insomniac is something most interviewers ask about, and Attell is OK with that.
"I don't mind talking about it," Attell said. "It's the thing most people know me from. I was like the Gilligan of drunks."
Attell stopped making Insomniac mainly for that reason. Not because he no longer wanted to be the misguided leader of imbibers, but because he had become so recognizable that the show lost its spontaneity. It was hard to maintain the show's vibe when people were swarming around him.
But long before, during and after Insomniac, Attell was doing what he does best: stand-up. Attell has been referred to as "the comics' comic." He's flattered but humbled by the moniker and said it's something that probably stems from the fact that he's always working. When he's not on the road, he plays New York's Comedy Cellar almost every night. It's a good thing Attell has a regular gig, because even though he loves what he does, being out on the road 25 weeks out of the year (it used to be 45) isn't as much fun as it used to be.
"You get to go to a different place, do an hour ... I get to try out all my jokes," Attell said. "I never get tired of that. But I used to bring merch and no one would ever buy any of it. I couldn't blame them. They were all drinking. They were thinking, 'I could get three more Jamesons or a T-shirt.' If you're a real drunk, booze comes before anything. But when you take a bunch of merch out on the road and then bring it all back through airport security, there's nothing more humbling."
Attell, who cut back on his own boozing, will have to get over that embarrassment and pay the airlines to let him take an extra suitcase. He is planning to release a new CD and DVD in February 2010, and he'll be taking it with him when he tours.
"Some guys do their act forever. I was never that kind of guy," Attell said. "It takes a long time for me to write because I do jokes. A joke only lasts like 45 seconds so I have to have a couple hundred."
Attell, now in his mid-40s, started doing comedy in the late '80s. If Don Rickles' recent appearance on Late Night with David Letterman is a good example, comedy isn't just a young man's game. Attell could be at this game for another 40 years. He worries about staying relevant.
"Relevance is one thing you never think about when you start. You're relevant when you're young, because you talk about whatever is going on, and you know what is going on," Attell said. "Every comic fears not being relevant, being over the hill. With comedy, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Guys like Jackie Mason and Don Rickles ... I don't know about their relevance, but they are really good at what they do. People go to see that and leave the whole topical world behind. I think about that a lot. Relevance. It might be more important sometimes than being funny."
From this side of the microphone, it's not something Attell should be concerned about. He does seem to know what's going on, even though he used one of the worst possible examples of what is current to prove it.
"I should have kept doing [Insomniac]," Attell said, half-joking. "If you watch reality TV, self-esteem is the only thing that holds it back. Jon and Kate, look at those two. That's the new thing to do; just have a family and turn it into a show."
Let's hope he doesn't have a joke about the balloon boy.
For more from Attell, visit Cobweb.