BY BEN LEHMAN Breakout comedian Dan Soder recently talked with Phawker about his upcoming series Billions which stars legendary actor Paul Giamatti and having his own special on Comedy Central. Soder gave his thoughts on political correctness in comedy and how to make light of a difficult past. His resume already boasts a talk show on Comedy Central Radio with Big Jay Oakerson, along with appearances on MTV’s Guy Code and Conan. Dan Soder certainly is making his way up in the world of comedy. Philadelphia fans can catch Dan at the Trocadero on December 3rd when he films his next Comedy Central special.
PHAWKER: So you are a member of new Showtime series Billions with the mighty Paul Giamatti, debuting in January, can you tell me about the show and what it’s like to work with an actor like Paul Giamatti? Intimidating, I would imagine. Is he the kind of actor who stays in character the whole time?
DAN SODER: Oh man I am going to disappoint you with my answer. Most of my scenes are recorded in St. Louis so I don’t do a lot of scenes with Paul. We’re not in the same vicinity but I’ll tell you from table reads he’s a super nice guy and is great at what he does. But yeah I work mostly with Damian Lewis.
PHAWKER: How is that?
DAN SODER: It’s great. He’s a super nice guy, awesome at what he does, intimidating to be in a scene with him but also a really good dude who’s just really good at his job.
PHAWKER: Can you tell me about the show, what’s the premise?
DAN SODER: I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, it’s essentially about a hedge fund owner and the New York state district attorneys.
PHAWKER: What made you want to become a professional comedian? Did you have an a-ha moment where you decided that?
DAN SODER: I was horrifically, physically abused and the only way I could deal with it was comedy. My mom used to lock me in the cellar and beat me without mercy with a belt. I’m just kidding. I like comedy. That question is like kryptonite for every comedian. I was just the asshole in class, I was the funny asshole at work so I figured why not try to be the funny asshole for money.
PHAWKER: A lot of comedians are damaged people who use humor to laugh away the pain but I guess you don’t fit that mold.
DAN SODER: Oh no, I do. I mean I had a lot of death around me as a kid. I was just joking around with the question because I think a lot of comedians I think we’re asked that so much that it’s kind of fun to mess with a little bit. But no I definitely went through my fair share of trauma. I don’t know I just always wanted to be a comic. I always enjoyed watching it. Never really thought to do it as a profession but I jumped into open mics and started doing it.
PHAWKER: Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock refuse to play college campuses because, they say, students are so easily offended these days. Agree or disagree?
DAN SODER: I think you have to take people’s opinions into consideration. To dismiss it as one thing I think is foolish. I think you need to kind of always be accountable for what you’re saying but at the same time there is a limit where people start pushing their agendas and their viewpoints onto jokes that have nothing to do with that, so that’s where it gets sticky. I think there are jokes that push the boundaries that in some ways, ask comedians, sometimes we get a little angry for having to be, I don’t know how to phrase this, the accountability of what you say sometimes is a very powerful thing, but I also think as long as you’re trying to be funny, if humor is the intent then I think you can joke about anything.
PHAWKER: So you don’t think it’s limiting free speech or anything like that?
DAN SODER: No, I don’t think it’s limiting free speech, you can just get around it. I mean, you look at the way they used to write TV back in the ’50s and ’60s and the creative ways they used to make sexual innuendos I think pushed comedy to make it a little bit better. I think that’s an argument you could make today. Is it too filthy? Is it filled with curse words? But I think if it intends to be funny I don’t think it’s a problem.
PHAWKER: If you could somehow bring back from the dead any famous comedian and have a conversation with him or her, who would it be and what would you want to ask?
DAN SODER: Definitely Richard Pryor. I’d probably just ask him how difficult it was for him to go into his personal life, especially with the trauma of his childhood and turning it into some of the best bits he ever had. So I’d probably just want to know about that. I know I fucked with you in the beginning about abuse but I think every comedian goes through some real dark shit that makes you want to do this for a living.
PHAWKER: Do you think going through those dark things makes you a better comedian?
DAN SODER: One hundred percent without a doubt because it shows you have the ability to make light out of dark. I think that’s the key. I think that’s the most important thing about stand up. Second to being funny truly is a way to make something really awful really funny.
DAN SODER: Yeah I’m filming an hour-long special December 3rd at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. It’s for Comedy Central. It’s gonna be a fun night, two good shows and a chance to do the act I’ve been working on for the past couple years, finally put it all in one place and put it out there.
PHAWKER: Did you pick the Trocadero or was that picked for you?
DAN SODER: I picked it. I think it’s a really awesome rock venue that I wanted to perform at. It’s right in the heart of Philly and I love the audiences in Philly. I’ve always had great shows in Philadelphia.
PHAWKER: Really? Because people kind of talk shit about Philadelphia audiences.
DAN SODER: No I think it’s one of the best comedy audiences in the country. I think their ability they keep you on your toes and I like that.