By now you’ve probably realized we’re just interviewing our friends. Today’s interview is no different. Today we interview yet another writer from the land of our former home, Cracked.com, the great Daniel O’Brien.
Dan’s been steadily pumping great articles week after week with his column Dan Dan Revolution since 2007. He took his comedy game to new territory last year when he starred alongside Michael Swaim in the Cracked webseries Agents of Cracked and After Hours.
We chatted with Dan about writing, comedy, writing comedy, and, of course, as usual, we tossed in a few completely stupid questions.
You can find Dan on twitter at @DOB_INC.
HT: When did you first realize you were funny? Was there a single moment when it all clicked in your head and you thought “Maybe I should make people laugh for a living?”
Dan: I never actively thought “Hey, I’m funny,” but I do remember the moment I made a room full of people laugh. In sixth grade, I came to class late on the first day and gave some rambling excuse that turned into some kind of bit. I don’t remember if it was intentional or not, but it definitely ended with a punchline, and the rest of the kids and teachers laughed. It was the best sound ever, and I made them do it somehow. And it’s an addicting feeling, so I’ve just been chasing it down, trying to make people laugh ever since.
HT: How do you see internet comedy evolving over the next few years?
Dan: It’ll either be someplace incredible or someplace terrible, (my answer changes depending on how I feel on a given day). When I’m feeling hopeful, I see the internet as a destination for comedians, writers and filmmakers, not a stepping stone. Not just a place for people to get noticed, or for people to parlay followers/fans into a book deal, or for people to slowly develop their own voice and style, but a place where people can produce high-quality content of varying lengths without studio intervention.
Or it’ll be someplace terrible, full of videos that get shorter and shorter and jokes that get more and more alienating and esoteric, until memes are the only form of “content.” Every website just runs some variation of a cat-farting-on-rick-astley gif.
HT: Zombies Have Taken Over The Land, You Have To Arm Yourself. What Zombie-killing Weapons Do Carry With You as You Roam the Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands? (Note: your answer will determine whether or not we allow you in to our Walking Dead-esque post-apocalyptic survival troop).
Dan: A tank that runs on urine and poop and makes a sound that only zombies can hear and, like, they hate it, so they run away when they hear it. (Running out of fuel and not having enough places to poop comfortably are two issues that will be important to me in the zombie apocalypse. This solves both of those things.)
HT: Over the past year or so we’ve noticed you’ve written a fair share of articles about food and cooking, which is something we’ve noticed we do as well. What is it about food that makes it so rife with comedic potential?
Dan: That’s a really good question, and I wish I had a better answer. Food is funny? Food is relatable, because everyone eats or knows someone who eats? Personally, I like making fake cookbooks because, when I get sort of burnt out on just writing and editing straight articles, I need to use a different formatting device, some kind of specific framework with new constraints, just to shake things up for myself. So I’ll do fake screenplays, or fake book proposals, or fake cookbooks, because you can have a lot of fun if you play with that format.
HT: On Agents of Cracked and After Hours you’re working with, presumably, very small production budgets. What kind of films or shows do you think you would make if you were given Hollywood blockbuster style budgets? Would you branch out from comedy and in to other genres?
Dan: If I had basically an unlimited budget, which is what I think you’re talking about, I’d like to think that I’d maintain the same comedic/story sensibilities that I have now. Everything would look nicer, and a lot of effects/location/talent doors would be open, but the heart of the show or movie wouldn’t change- the budget wouldn’t be the focus. Coming from a world with very slim budgets, you sort of train yourself to rely on the writing and the characters to keep people interested in your show. We’re not going to get celebrities, and we’re not going to get complex CGI or helicopter shots or titties or extravagant sets or helicopter titties; Agents of Cracked was initially based on the idea of “What can we do if our show is just two guys talking to each other in an office?” That conditioned us to make sure the writing was there, and the jokes were strong, and the relationship between the characters was defined, because that was all we had. And that’s an important lesson, because once we learned that we COULD hire Abe Epperson as our Director/Cinematographer, we could add more exciting tricks, and make the show more visually dynamic, but we still had the writing/jokes at the core. I hope that, even if I’m given a huge, Hollywood budget someday, I still lead with the writing and the characters. Let a big budget enhance a story, not dictate it.
That said, I would also very much like to make a huge, shitty, Spider-man movie one day.
HT: You’ve written quite a few fantastic articles, but are there any unpublished DOB articles floating around on your hard drive that are so terrible they’ll never see the light of day? If not, are there any articles that you had to stop writing half-way through and go back to the drawing board to rethink?
Dan: I pitched two articles to Cracked as a freelancer, long before I was hired. One of them was about Die Hard, and it ran as my first article for the site. The other was called “The William H. Macy Institute of Hard-Fucking,” which I still have and would one day love to do as a sketch, (but ONLY if we can get Macy). It is, hands down, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever written, and was absolutely not right for Cracked, (and still probably isn’t). It’s a fake commercial for, (in case this wasn’t a clear), an institute for hard-fucking, creating by William H. Macy, (the sketch assume Macy is skilled at hard-fucking). Jay, the editor at the time, said “This Die Hard thing sounds great, I’d love to read more,” and neither of us ever mentioned William H. Macy’s Institute of Hard-Fucking, ever again.
HT: What’s a non-traditional super power you would most like to have? (Nothing like flight, laser eyes, invincibility, etc.).
Dan: Soren Bowie had the best answer when we were talking about this, so I’m just going to steal his. For a non-traditional, incredibly useful, heightened ability, Soren chose the ability to be incredibly well-rested, all the time. At every moment of your life, you feel energized and awake and alive, you never need sleep, you’re never burnt out. I’d love that. You could just get so much done, all the time.
HT: Let’s say one day you lose your creative spark in a tragic plumbing accident. What do you do with your life from there?
Dan: Go somewhere and learn something new, as soon as possible. Whether that means going back to school or getting an apprenticeship or internship somewhere, I would absolutely need to get training in something, because this is the only thing I know how to do. I’d start bartending again while I figured out some other way to make money. Hit man, maybe?
HT: What do you spend your time on aside from your work on Cracked?
Dan: I really love my job at Cracked, and my own comedic tastes line up with the site so much that whenever I have an idea for something, I first try to think “Well, is there a way to make that a ‘Cracked thing?’” I may have an idea for a pilot I’d like to write, but why bother sending a pilot/portfolio around to agents and networks when I could just pitch it as a new Cracked show and have creative control? So to begin with, I have very little time outside of Cracked, and when I do get time, it’s tough for me to work on something creative. After spending 12 hours a day writing or editing or filming, it’s really easy to be seduced by food, and a couch and some mindless TV, it’s just hard to turn off my work computer when it’s quitting time and then boot up my home computer and start writing again. So while non-Cracked stuff is happening, it’s happening slowly. Lately I’ve been working on stage stuff- one really weird ten-minute play that would never work for Cracked, and one longer, slightly more ambitious musical with my old brother that’ll probably take several years to complete.
HT: If you were a Victorian era huckster trying to sell people elixirs, tonics and various wondermajigs that you claim can cure any ailment, what would be the name of your marquee product and what would it do?
Dan: DOB’s Good Ole’ Fashioned, Family Time, Heart Juice: It Makes Your Dick Bigger