Interview with Dana Davidson
Dana Davidson is a Stand Up Comedian, Actress, On Camera Host and Horror/SciFi Author of “Carnival Of Dementia” available on Amazon & Barnes & Noble. She has worked as Horror/SciFi/Comic Press for over 6 years for various outlets.
Growing up in Los Angeles, CA has given Dana Davidson an interesting perspective on life. With 25+ years of theater and dance training, Dana has been performing for the majority of her existence, with a few year stint as a street performer traveling across the country. Currently Dana is a single parent existing in the world. It was upon the anniversary of the death of her fiance that Dana decided to professionally pursue Stand Up Comedy. Dana has performed at The Comedy Store in the Main Room, Belly Room, and the Original Room, The Comedy Store in La Jolla, CA on the ‘Best of San Diego Show,’ at Flappers in Burbank, CA, has ran shows at both Westwood Brewing Company and Redrock Bar & Grill, as well as performed at nearly every bar, hookah lounge, and coffee shop in the Los Angeles area.
Dana Davidson teamed up with fellow female comedians to win Battle of The Sexes at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, CA 7/15/2011
Dana, it is a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us how you transitioned into comedy?
To be honest I got to a point where I felt like my life had become complete shit, so I needed to make a positive, out of many negative experiences. I’ve had a significant other die, one of my brothers died, my father died, many of my friends have died, my mother has Multiple Sclerosis. I am a single parent, which is honestly both joyous and difficult. I’ve had many difficult relationships. I’ve lived on the streets. I’ve been a punk rock squatter. I graduated high school in under 2 years, I finished 8th grade in 3 months after getting kicked out of school for having a mowhalwk… Actually, I wasn’t technically kicked out of 8th grade… At 12 was when I negotiated my first business deal, they didn’t expel me, they let me walk off campus that morning, and go back to being a squatter where I took independent study courses. However, all of the negatives balances out with the amazing people and experiences that I am grateful to have in my life.
The short answer is that i’ve always been a trouble maker, a peace maker, and a hard ass. After my significant other died I visited my friend, and fellow comedian, Don Jamieson in New York, you may also know him from his television show “That Metal Show.” Anyway, by the end of my trip he turned to me and said, “Dana you HAVE to do stand up comedy.” I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe that this person who I admired so much as a friend believed in me so much that for the next 6 months he kept telling me the same thing. “Dana, if anyone has the strength to do stand up, it’s you.” Under a year later I finally got pissed off enough that I did my first open mic and have been addicted ever since.
Growing up I would listen to George Carlin and Richard Pryor, I would watch Rosanne (the TV show) and I would think, wow, if only I had a voice. If only I could do that some day. I really wanted to be either a politician, or a creative executive, but I could never get past the fact that I am a writer through and through. I am also a performer. I HAVE to do both. However, it never really crossed my mind that I would ever be allowed to stand on a stage and talk about what I think is funny in life to anyone. So, about a year after the death of my significant other I decided, to hell with it. I was so upset at the trials of life in general, I was grieving very badly, I had tried to move on to other relationships that I, simply put, wasn’t ready for… that I got on stage and let it out. I’ve been completely addicted to doing stand up comedy ever since.
I have read some of your interviews and reviews and seen some of your on-camera interviews (especially ones done for the Scream Awards) and you always inject humor into the situation. Does it feel natural to you to improv that way?
I love improv. Some of my best nights in my brain are when I have no material. I love crowd work. In interviewing people, half the time I have no idea who is walking down the carpet. Many of the Scream Awards were before it was easy to google people on my phone. So, if the person working the PR on the carpet was unable to give me a background on who I am talking to then, the entire interview is improvised… and I figure out who these people are along the way. Red carpets are a mad house, often times you have to be the loudest person on the line to get the talents attention, then keeping their attention is a whole other story. I’ve seen people simply walk away mid interview before, they’ve never walked away from me. Also to note is that sometimes we do these interviews and instead of putting them up, we sell the information to other outlets. So there is a lot of my work that I didn’t get credit for, but I did get money.
How did you get started in the movie business?
I grew up in Los Angeles. My friends were on television. I went to audtitions with them. My mother wouldn’t let me be a part of it. So, while I have always been around it… I come from a different perspective than many. I think that everyone is equal, some of us just have really cool jobs. But by the time I was 14, and a punk squatter, I was already doing music videos and writing for punk zines. From there I’ve done PSA’s, shorts, features, television spots. Eventually, when I was 18 I went to school to became a certified makeup artist, the funniest part was that prior to that I had never worn makeup in my life. From there I worked on some movies in the art department, as well as makeup. Then I went to esthetician school to become licensed so I could make more money. That’s when we decided to get pregnant.
While I was pregnant with my child I decided I didn’t want to do makeup or esthetics anymore, so I finished school, took the esthetician licencing test, passed, then transferred to a university on a dance degree. All the while chasing agents and acting in shitty movies, where I realized that there was no point in getting a degree in dance. I already had 10+ years of dance training, which meant I could just go teach. I remember acting on the most horrible set ever and looking around and something clicked. I realized I could write and do these specific peoples jobs better than they could so why the fuck didn’t I? That is when I petitioned to get into the film program, they accepted me. I ended up getting the Claire A. Vane scholarship for most likely to succeed in television and film, and I produced, directed, and acted in many shorts, worked on various productions in pre-production, production, and post.
I was even fortunate enough to work on the television show Ugly Betty while I was still in film school. Eventually I graduated. My son was at my graduation, it was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. Some how I had taken this tremendously difficult life and turned it into the best I could hope for. This is a lesson I try to remember every day… mainly because I am a perfectionist.
You appeared in a number of lower budget horror films like “Bloodsucking Babes from Burbank” and “Killer: Dead or Alive”. I understand due to budget and time constraints they are a lot of work. Did you enjoy these experiences?
HA! I am just going to be straight forward and honest, I’m not going to take the political route. Here is why, too many actors don’t understand when to leave a train wreck, or otherwise uncomfortable situation. I walked off the set of Bloodsucking Babes from Burbank, however I was not the only one to do so. I think it is important for people to know when to let something go.
On the other hand, working with Scott Shaw on “Killer: Dead or Alive” was a really wonderful experience. He is very good at guerilla filmmaking, and I learned and grew a great deal by being involved with his productions.
Since then I have had the joy of helping out on the soon to be released horror feature, “Mega Spider,” and a couple months ago I had a nice little role in Director Jason Miller’s (currently in production) horror movie, “Unidentified.”
Were you always a fan of the horror genre?
Yes. I have been a fan ever since “Gremlins,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Thing,” “The Fog,” “Poltergeist,” “Excorcist,” “Texas Chain Saw Massacre…” The list goes on. Key point is that all of these movies I saw at a very young age, so they really scared the crap out of me. When we were about 10 a friend of mine had a mother who would let us have sleep overs, and do what ever we wanted. So, we would go to the local video store and rent out all of the naughty horror movies that we werent supposed to see. That, and this particular friend had cable, which wasn’t allowed in my house. Time at her place was party time for a 10 year old.
You have a great deal of education and experience in the productions side of movies as well. At one point you had your own production company and created a number of shorts including “The Editors” and “I Am Yours”. Can you tell us about these two pieces?
They are both experimental works. I was fascinated at one point with creating things from mediums that don’t really go together. I was completely ennamored by making people feel anything through the experimental short medium.
I Am Yours” was inspired by a man who I was dating at the time. I was madly in love with him, though I was warned against such a thing. He went away on a business trip, and I missed him, so I wrote this poem and texted it to him:
I’d send you my leg
I’d send you my arm
I’d send you it all
but then I wouldn’t have the charm.
He thought is was cute. That spiraled into creating an experiment with green screen, found footage, found audio, some other mediums… My son is actually the voice in that particular piece. Putting it all together to create something that triggers people was totally cathartic for me. Personally that particular piece was a very strange love letter about my misgivings on marriage, relationships, passion, and the world. I was exploring something in myself through that particular piece. I remember it screened at a few festivals, and some people got it, others were incredibly offended. I enjoyed both reactions. What I can say is that at least it was memorable and it helped inspire some fellow filmmakers to explore the experimental short genre.
The editors was an homage to silent films and a look at the frustrations of film making. I shot it on 8mm then, projected onto a screen where I captured it by DV cam. Which cut costs. Then I threw it into aftereffects and final cut and went to town.
Both shorts have been in a few festivals. Actually, all of my shorts have been in festivals.
You have a very creative streak. You write, produce and act. Do you have any future plans to create more of your own content?
Absolutely. Currently I am focusing on stand up comedy, writing, acting, and producing. As a show runner at The Comedy Store I produce, book, host, and work out my sets on my own shows in the Belly Room. I have begun working closely with a former PR executive at Warner Brothers to develop monthly comedy shows at various venues where the revenue is dedicated to specific charities, the comedians donate their time, and we can not only raise awareness but give back to those in need. We are still working out the business logistics of it all. I believe that it is important to give back to the community.
As a comedian I am constantly working on being better than I was the last time. I am constantly thinking about my existing material, new material, and how it can all be molded and shaped.
I have a few comedy pilots I am currently shopping around. One that is about to go into production. I also have many horror and comedy feature scripts. The thing is, film making is a collaborative process and at some point one needs more than just themselves to make projects worth seeing. So, without going into detail the answer is yes.
I was recently in attendance at Cannes 2012. It was an experience that I can never forget and my first time out of the US, because Tijuana didn’t count. Cannes 2012 was a huge milestone in my life. However, until deals are signed and, even then, until anything goes into production I’d prefer to not go into detail as I was there on business and press business. However, I do want to give a shout out to the people who helped me immensely while over there when some things went down, Director/Producer Chee Keong Cheung, Producer Rob Weston, Director Louis Paltnoi, Garry Ellis (Former Festival Coordinator for BIFF aka The Brisbane International Film Festival who is now working on bringing a film festival to Abu Dhabi), Daniel Palisa, and everyone at Epic Pictures group. All of you helped to show me that there are still wonderful people across the world, and I can’t thank any of you enough. I would encourage anyone reading this to look them up. They all have some interesting projects coming up. I still owe Chee some pens. (Inside joke)
I have also finished my first novel, “Carnival of Dementia,” which is available on Amazon.com and I am working on my second novel series which is a psychological thriller with a strong female lead.
Though I have started my campaign to help get “Carnival of Dementia” properly edited and into print so that I can take it to conventions. I think it is incredibly important to maintain tactile printed work and remain independent in the process. To learn more about “Carnival of Dementia” please go here: http://www.indiegogo.com/CarnivalOfDementia
When performing your comedy routines what process do you use to come up with new and fresh content?
Life. My life. The same can be said for all of my writing. I draw from my own experiences.
My personal process all depends. Sometimes I go to a mic and tape my rambling and venting for however many minutes that mike allows, then go back and listen to see what works. Lately, due to lack of time I observe life, write it down, make a phone call and test out my material on my friends. Test out my material at business lunches, and business dinners, thankfully I have people in my life who are patient. But I am constantly working and reworking new things and old things. That’s the thing about life, there is so much that we can talk about. So, due to time constraints on my part, I do all of the above. Then on my show that I produce at The Comedy Store in Hollywood I take what I am working on, and hope to have time to get it out while running, booking, hosting, coordinating talent, working with management etc. on my own show. Record that audio and start that process again. I also try to listen to the advice of my comedy elders who have been doing it for many years. They are the beacons of useful information to which I am grateful for.
How do you interact with the audience and how hard is it to think on your feet in a live comedy club?
Because of my background as a street performer, writer, producer, being a parent, and psychology training, plus growing up with boys, thinking on my feet comes naturally to me. Interacting with the audience is very easy for me, so I’ve been working on just doing material and getting that aspect of comedy down. I prefer to do a little of both. All I can really say is that comedy is an ongoing, often painful, learning and growing process.
Tell us a little about your act.
Wow, it really varies. I have kid material, parenting material, dating material, politics, most of the time they intertwine because of the nature of life. I have things that I recently wrote about my trip to Cannes and all of the cultures that I encountered. I have stuff about sex, sexual politics… I work things out constantly, my brain is on a 24 hour cycle, I have difficulties sleeping.
Are there comedians, filmmakers or others that inspire you or you would like to work with in the future?
There are so many. I don’t even know where to begin on that one. So I will just answer everyone. I have been fortunate to have worked on the same stage, the same carpets, the same movie sets, with some of the best in the business. I feel like it would be a jinx or disservice to name any names, especially since I will unintentionally leave people out. But a few comedians that I would like to say that I am fortunate to have worked with, and or, gotten great advice from, include Ian Edwards, Byron Bowers, Don Jamieson, Chris Delia, Neil Brennan, Jeff Scott (who has worked at The Comedy Store for a number of years and continues to remain kind and supportive to me), and I know that I will get shit the moment this goes live that I haven’t mentioned certain people.
Also, I would love to work with James Wan because I respect his journey. He is a person who has given me valuable advice over the years and continues to support my endeavors, despite his hectic work schedule. I would like to work with James Gunn because he is a genius, and I really enjoyed “Super” and “Slither.” And I can’t forget Dean Devlin, who gave me a shot at writing for him a number of years ago. Dean is one of the most loyal and kind mentors a person could ever hope for. Others off the top of my head are Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Tammi Sutton, The Cohen Brothers, The China Brothers, Tina Fey… the list is too long. And I think Louis CK is a genius.
When you won the Battle of The Sexes at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank were you surprised? How did you feel?
I was totally surprised. I thought the men were going to win. But it turned out that as a team effort the women won. It was a fun night. I think we were all happy about that.
Do you have an interesting projects coming up in the future you could tell us about?
Yes. I really need people to help support independent publishing. My horror novel “Carnival of Dementia” needs funding so that I can get it edited properly and printed into a tactile book. Anyone who would like to donate and be a patron of a dying art form should check out my http://www.indiegogo.com/CarnivalOfDementia page.
The comedy pilot that I can’t go into detail right now.
It would be awesome if people came out to my next two shows in The Belly Room at The Comedy Store which are on June 9th and July 21st both shows begin at 11pm. You can find info on http://www.laughstub.com/basicSearchShows.cfm or on www.TheComedyStore.com website under the Belly Room Calendar.
I know you are a single mom and probably do not have much time to yourself but what do you like to do in your free time?
Sleep. Watch movies with my friends. KARAOKE. Watch my son grow into an amazing human. I really like being alone, but at the same time there is someone who I try to make time for at least once a month, because that person matters to me and we are both very busy. I am fortunate that most of my friends are also colleagues, and the ones who aren’t I try to make time for as often as I can, even if it is just for a quick bite to eat, an email, or phone call. So long as the people that I care about know that I care, I am happy. A true friend is one who I don’t have to talk to every day, where time can go by, and even if it’s been a year we pick up right where we left off. I am lucky to have many of those people. As i’ve gotten older I try to make time to visit with my mother a few times a month. She is a strong woman who raised 5 children on her own. I owe my strength, integrity, character and courage to overcome obstacles, and ability face the world head on to her.
Where can we go to keep udated on you and your projects?
http://www.indiegogo.com/CarnivalOfDementia Please help me support this campaign, even $1 makes a difference, and if you can’t afford to contribute, I would really appreciate if you could help me spread the word.
I freelance write for www.planetfury.com
Unfortunatley my websites aren’t up yet but at some point there is also:
www.danaRDavidson.com (will be going up soon)