In late September, Mel Brooks told BBC Radio 4 modern political correctness was killing comedy. Between claiming today’s hyper-sensitive sensibilities would never have allowed for films like Blazing Saddles and insisting he had never (and never would) joke about the Holocaust, the famed comedian and filmmaker painted an inconsistent case for comedy against political correctness en masse. Comedians, critics, and Twitter trolls took notice of Brooks’ comments, thereby sending the internet into a viral tailspin.
One of the debate’s participants was Dana Gould, the former writer and producer for The Simpsons whose new stand-up album, Mr. Funny Man, drops today. “I agree with him,” the 53-year-old comic tells Uproxx. As problematic as this may seem at first glance, however, Gould’s honesty — by way of his explanation regarding his learning from, and adapting to, ever-changing trends in acceptable nomenclature and cultural commentary — provides some context.
No comedy album has ever made more envious of the audience who attended the recording than Mr. Funny Man. The bit about President John F. Kennedy and the monkey alone begs for the added visual.
Let me assure you of one thing: it was not what you would describe as “elegant.”
It’s just me cavorting around like a goddamn ape. Nothing attractive going on there. Trust me.
It almost sounds like something you would see during a cutaway scene or joke on The Simpsons. I can imagine the writers saying, “Maybe we can get away with this.”
Yeah. It’s funny. I had a very good and healthy stand-up career, and then I went and worked on The Simpsons for seven or eight years. That experience really changed my approach to stand-up. It really made me a much better stand-up, I think. It turned me into a much more specific writer, and it forced me into corners and cul-de-sacs I wouldn’t have gone into normally. And I only bring this up because I was talking about it last night with my girlfriend. Doing the show made stand-up really exciting again. Because when I started to go back on the road after I was no longer working for The Simpsons, I didn’t have a draw anymore. I had been off the road for seven years. People booked me because they knew me from the show, but I hadn’t been out there cultivating a draw. I was not selling out or making giant amounts of money, but to that end, it was very exciting. “Oh shit, this might not work.” It made me a better comedian.
What was your writing process before The Simpsons? Or, for that matter, did you write out any of your material in advance at all?
I sketched things out. Patton Oswalt got me into composition notebooks — the kind that you’d use in college. Those black and white speckle-covered books. He got me into those, whereas before that I would just write on anything I could find. Since then I’ve graduated to these weird hardcover journals made by Moleskin. That’s my current stationary fetish. So what happens is, nine times out of 10 I think up something in the car. You know, just the noodling on an idea. So I’ll record it while I’m just driving around, and then I’ll write it out. After that, whenever I’m on the road, improvising or trying new things, I’ll find those notes and play with them. Expand them. It is rarely, if ever, what you originally envisioned, but the kernel will grow if the laughter is good. That, or it won’t if the laughs just don’t come. What you write in a notebook is like a blueprint. What you do on stage is a building. The blueprint is just a two-dimensional drawing of what you think the building might be. The building is a living thing, and so it changes and evolves in that way — just as a script is a blueprint for a show or movie.
On Stan Against Evil, we’re always throwing away bits. “No, try it this way. Do it this way. Come in that way. Try this differently.” It’s just like trying out stuff on stage as a stand-up. The writer thinks that everything they write is precious and must be preserved. but I feel that gets pretty lifeless. It’s been my experience that the funniest things in this show, and most other shows, is something improvised in the moment by the writer, the actors, or someone else on the set.