Dana Gould On The Relationship Between Comedy And Horror, And His New IFC Show ‘Stan Against Evil’

You might not recognize Dana Gould right away, but you have probably laughed at his jokes — from his funny, informative podcast The Dana Gould Hour, to his stand-up (and stand-up specials), to his writing for The Simpsons, to his shockingly accurate (and shocking) impression of California’s Gold host/enthusiasm enthusiast Huell Howser. And after years of doing excellent, hilarious work on theater stages and in writing rooms and wherever it is that podcasts are recorded, Gould has finally created his own television show: the horror-comedy Stan Against Evil, which premieres tonight on IFC. The show nicely balances laughs and scares, recalling ‘70s horror shows like Kolchak: the Night Stalker and Night Gallery.

We spoke to Gould at Republic of Pie in North Hollywood to discuss Stan Against Evil, the smell of Halloween candy, and being mature enough to make the most of life-changing opportunities when life-changing opportunities are given.

Let’s start with a few fluff questions: what are you going as for Halloween?

I go for comfort on Halloween. A couple years ago my daughter wanted me to be a banana, so I got a banana suit and then she was horrified by it. She was four at the time. I have a skeleton jumpsuit that I normally wear just to go out with the kids. But my cosplay indulgence is I have one of the astronaut suits from Planet of the Apes, the Charlton Heston astronaut suit. Now that I have a beard I’ll probably do that. [Channeling Heston] “They look more or less human, but I think they’re mute.”

I know you’re an expert in haunted houses…

Not an expert, an enthusiast.

What would you say is the best one in LA?

Oh, in terms of spook houses that get put on? I thought you meant real haunted houses, like real apparitions. I would have to say right now, the Haunted Hayride [in Griffith Park]…Boney Island in the valley, it’s a guy who does his front yard and his house up like Coney Island but with all skeletons. It’s phenomenal and it’s open to everybody. And it’s very kid friendly. It’s all sweet. He’s done it for years; it’s really beautiful. Boney Island is the reason I love living in Los Angeles. That’s a perfect example of why I love being in Los Angeles.

Universal is good, but it’s so big and commercial. My favorite one is gone now, was the haunted corn maze at Pierce College. And they sold the land, but that was my favorite one. It had sort of a small-town, low-rent kind of quality to it that I really liked. They had mazes and stuff but it wasn’t too slick. I like where you can see the seams.

Best Halloween candy?

There’s nothing better than the smell of the bag. Just sticking your head in the bag, and the amalgamation of the wrappers and the candy. That’s the greatest. A Baby Ruth–a partially melted Baby Ruth–because it tastes delicious but it looks horrifying. Let’s be honest, it looks horrifying.

You started doing stand-up when you were 16, right?

17. Now people say that I was a prodigy, which I didn’t realize at the time was a very negative thing […] I can’t call myself a prodigy. I liken my career…I can only make musical analogies…I wanted to be Bruce Springsteen, but I’m Elvis Costello. I never sold out the enormo-dome, but I have a dedicated fan base, and I think I’ve continued to reinvent myself and continued to stay relevant. I think that’s what Elvis does. And at a certain point, and I’m getting close to that point, you just get credit for not going away.

Now, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of pilots…

[Laughs.] Yeah.

But is Stan Against Evil the first one that’s gone [to series]?

Rob Cohen and I created a series in the late 90’s called Super Adventure Team, which was Team America before Team AmericaTeam America two years before Team America. But [Stan Against Evil] is the first series that actually really went.

I’m just curious what it’s like, after all these years, to finally have a project of yours come together like this?

It’s perfect for me. I’m 52, but I’m a very immature 52. What I like about this is I’ve had enough experience and I’ve been on enough shows that I can fully appreciate and enjoy the opportunity and I can also, I think, effectively handle the authority of when I have to be the boss. Which is a really important thing to me. I’ve been on a lot of series where a comedian gets a show and it’s new to them and they get a little bit of authority and they go fucking bananas, and they self-immolate, and it’s over immediately. I’ve been close witness to that on more than one occasion.

When I went to The Simpsons, I was astounded by how easily Mike Scully carried the mantle of authority. He was the boss. If you had to go to the dentist, you had to go to Mike and ask. But he was also, and continues to be, super hilarious, and a super great guy, and the priority was always the show, and it wasn’t his authority, and it wasn’t being in charge.

I think TV productions are like anything else, the fish rots from the head down, and I’m very proud of the fact that we had a really good set [on Stan Against Evil], and we had a really good post, and everybody is really happy, nobody walked away from the experience going, “Oh, that was a nightmare.” […] That’s a benefit to getting this opportunity at a time in my life when I could appreciate it and effectively handle it […] We had that great [premiere party] at the cemetery the other night. I’m glad that happened at a time in my life when I’m wise enough to know that’s not about me.

Could you tell me the story of the creation of Stan Against Evil?

Oh, it’s a really good story, but this is neither the time nor the place. [Laughs.]

I come from a very big family. I have four older brothers, and a younger sister, and they’re all big hunters and athletes. My dad was scouted to play minor league baseball in the’50s, scouted to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, took part in the Korean War instead [Laughs]. The decision was made for him. My oldest brother was an all-state baseball catcher. And I, for whatever reason…I think by the time my mother made her fifth boy, maybe her body was depleted of the testosterone that was available. I have no interest in sports, I have no interest in hunting. And I loved horror movies and monster movies as a child. I discovered Famous Monsters magazine when I was like nine-years-old, and that was it for me. I wanted to be an actor, to act in horror movies specifically. I wanted to be Peter Cushing when I was a kid, when I was 10, 11 years old I wanted to be Peter Cushing. And then I started to get funny.

Everybody in my family is really, really funny. I had stand up bits from when I was in the second grade. And so I kinda went that route, but the goal was always like, I’ll become a comedian, and then I’ll become a movie star, and then I can create my own movies, and they’ll be horror movies, and I can be in them.

And the whole thing was all about being in horror movies […] Even when I became a comedian, when I thought I was going to be a movie star, earlier in my career, when people with much better cars than I had were telling me I would be a star, so I had no reason to doubt them. My theory was, I will become a giant star, and then I can write my own movies and be in them. So my way to become a writer was to become a big star, and then become a writer. It’s sort of like, “I want to be a pastry chef. If I’m elected president they’ll have to let me bake anything I want.” There’s a much easier way to go about doing this.

And I assumed I was going to be a big movie star, and then I met Ben Stiller. We were both at the same place in our careers when we met in 1990, 1989, but I spent about an hour with him, and I was like, “Oh fuck this, I can’t compete with this guy. He’s a machine. No, you be a movie star, I’ll just goof off.”

I have a small role in [Stan Against Evil]…

I was hoping to see you in the first two episodes…

I had to cut myself out of the first episode But when I am in [the show], it is the perfect role for me. In a way it’s the pinnacle of my career. Because I actually finally did what I thought I would do when I was nine. I created a horror movie and I put myself in it. So I’m in a horror movie.

When I was a kid, I loved Dracula, but I loved Renfield. I loved Frankenstein, but I liked Igor. I always liked those weird kind of peripheral characters who are human beings but have to deal with the monster on a social level. So I play the caretaker of the cemetery, who quite literally knows where all the bodies are buried. But he’s just a regular guy. He’s this local town weirdo.

I was really impressed with how you blended the comedy and the horror in Stan Against Evil

That’s not attributable to any particular talent. It is quite literally the only thing I know how to do. That thing that other people [think is] so difficult, to me is effortless. But I can’t master Snapchat. You know, my daughter has explained Snapchat to me 12 times. My brain won’t go there. I can’t do it. But that stuff [blending comedy and horror] I know exactly how to do it.

I think the horror in Stan Against Evil is scary, but going back to what you said about haunted houses before, about seeing the stitches.

Again, it goes to the comedy, horror thing. And this just might be me. But to me…this is attributed to Roger Ebert: it’s the difference between CGI and stop-motion animation. Stop-motion looks fake, but it feels real. CG looks real, but it feels fake. And I needed it to feel real, so you’d believe it, so then the humor works. Because humor only works against reality. And when you see a guy turn into a stained glass window, your eye knows that’s not going to happen. And so comedy doesn’t play […] We had all practical effects [on Stan Against Evil]…we did CG cleanup, but all of the monsters are practical [effects], big puppets, guys in suits, and make-up. And so your eye looks at it, and it says, “Yeah, that’s real, that’s really happening.”

A lot of horror movies from the 70’s [that influence Stan Against Evil] are pretty unintentionally funny. And it seems like it would have been easy to make Stan Against Evil lean into that, to make it an intentionally unintentional comedy.

There’s two aspects to that, and one is really, really inside baseball. The temptation is to always let the monster do something stupid. And that kills it. That is pissing in the soup. Comedy and horror are related, laughing and screaming are cousins, they do the same thing, they’re involuntary reflexes that relieve tension, and they both require separate but equal suspensions of disbelief. But the trick is separate.

Horror requires a separate suspension of disbelief than comedy does, and when you start to push into each other’s worlds that’s when all the air goes out of it. And the template I use is An American Werewolf in London. Which is…the horror is in a horror movie, and is not aware that people are being funny, and its motives are genuine and it’s straight as a heart attack. The comedy [occurs because] people are behaving in a very normal, a hyper-normal way, and not in a stylized horror movie way. They’re arguing about whether or not Starsky and Hutch are gay, not gobbledygook, supernatural hocus-pocus. By keeping those separate, that’s how the show works. You have to be really, really, really disciplined.

Stan Against Evil starring John C. McGinley, Janet Varney, and Deborah Baker Jr. premieres on IFC tonight, with new episodes Wednesdays at 10 P.M. You can watch the first episode for free here.