I’m not going to lie: there was a time when I wanted to see Dave Hill naked. Well, not exactly, but sort of. I admit it: I had an irrational pseudo-celebrity crush on Dave Hill for kind of a long time, maybe like eight months or so. It all started in 2009, when I was the overlord of a tiny but reputable neighborhood newspaper, and sent myself on an assignment to cover Dave Hill’s legendary Smiths speed dating night at the Black Rabbit bar in Greenpoint. From then on, I’d sneakily follow Hill around to his comedy gigs throughout the city, sitting alone in dark corners and silently swooning, before dashing out of the club without being seen. It’s weird, I know, and unfortunately, it’s also true. So when I heard that Hill was releasing a book called Tasteful Nudes, I jumped at the chance to get back in touch with the former secret object of my affection for a sexy interview.
You knew from a pretty young age that you wanted to be a rock n’ roll legend, and a professional hockey player. Ever think you’d write a book? What made you want to write one?
I never really thought about writing a book while growing up because, yeah, I was pretty focused on rocking people and and/or honoring my 1/4 Canadian roots by becoming a pro hockey player. Also, as far as books go, I thought you had to write the The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises or something or not even bother. I was a journalist before I went into show business, writing for newspapers and magazines and stuff, so I think I was on the path toward possibly writing a book. A couple years ago, it occurred to me that if I didn’t get around to writing a book soon, they might stop actually making books before I got around to writing one. Or at least they might stop making the kind of book I wanted to write. For whatever reason, I really wanted to write a book that would come out in hardcover with a nice dustjacket and everything — something tangible, something I could show my dad, something that would hurt if you hit someone in the head with it, and something not so easily deleted. If you want to get rid of my book, you pretty much have to set it on fire. But even then, the cover is mostly blue, which, in my experience, looks pretty cool while bursting into flames. Not that I recommend burning my book. I want people to read it. And then maybe level a table with it or something. It’s good for that too. I checked.
Out of what seems like a lifetime of embarrassing and uncomfortable moments (no offense), how did you pick these particular experiences — a nude cruise, a Maureen McGovern concert with a priest, having a crackhead steal 300 pounds of beef on your watch — for fodder for your memoir?
Generally speaking, I picked the stories that stuck out in my mind and had a lot to with how I became the man (or lack thereof) I am today. It occurs to me, though, that the three stories you mention were all radio pieces before becoming essays. The priest and crackhead stories were both This American Life pieces and the nude cruise story was originally something I covered on a show called Fair Game. So those stories specifically I had already spent some time with, which made them both easier and harder to translate “to the page” (a writerly phrase I learned over the course of this whole “author” thing). But the majority of my book is all stuff I wrote specifically for the book, usually while sitting around my apartment in my underwear, muttering to myself, and trying to avoid stepping on any of that broken glass.
What was the biggest challenge you faced putting this collection together? How is the process of writing a book different than making an album, or doing comedy?
For this book, I sort of had to relearn to write. It’s weird — my dad just moved out of the house I grew up in, so in cleaning up a bit, I found some things I had written as a teenager and in a way they sounded more focused and direct, not better, but easier to understand maybe. I almost think the book would have been easier to write had I done it before I started performing live comedy. The more I did comedy, the more I started developing more of a stage persona and gearing my writing more toward performing and just trying to get a laugh or at least some sort of reaction from the audience. With live comedy, I’m more interested in absurdity and entertaining myself first and foremost and also hoping that no one throws anything at my head while I’m on stage. But with the book, I kind of had to go back and remember what it was like to write something that was intended to be just read and not performed, something that didn’t rely at all on delivery or facial expressions or even my incredible hair or outfits. I realize that people who are into what I do as a performer will likely/hopefully read the book, but I wanted it to be a book that would be enjoyable to someone who didn’t know anything about me at all. I’m not super well-known as a performer anyway, so it’s not like I could rely on my reputation like Larry the Cable Guy or whoever might to make the book work anyway. It would have been arrogant and delusional to think I could. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m plenty arrogant and delusional — I just knew I had to actually sit down and write this thing.
As far as how writing compares to making an album, it’s pretty much the opposite. With writing and comedy, it’s the act of doing it that I enjoy most. What happens after that is more about other people. But with music, I tend to approach it as a fan, like I’m recording an album by a fictional band or something. I think in terms of trying to make the music I wish existed and I might later be into cranking around my apartment or listening to when I borrow my dad’s car. In that way, I’m still really only interested in entertaining myself, but I like to stick around a bit more for the outcome. I guess it’s kind of like making brownies or something. With writing and comedy, I just like to bake the brownies. That’s the fun part for me- I’m not that concerned with eating them. If other people want to eat them, cool. If not, whatever. With music though, it’s kind of like I’m baking the brownies because I totally want to stuff my face with them later- I want to stick around for the final outcome. I’m not sure if that makes any sense. I’m swear I’m totally sober right now. I am on tons of pills, though, so that could be the problem.
What is your favorite story in here, and why?
After spending so long writing and rewriting the book, they all pretty much make me cringe at this point. I guess if I had to choose though, I’d say maybe the last chapter about the death of my mother, “Bunny”. It was definitely the hardest to write. Without even realizing it until after the fact, I didn’t write anything for about two weeks after finishing that one. I guess it took it out of me a little bit. But with that one, I think I was more focused on figuring out how I really felt about her dying and my feelings on losing her rather than mostly just telling a story. That essay kind of ended up making sense of the book for me in the end. Aside from hopefully being entertaining and stuff, I think the book ended up being about my becoming a man and becoming comfortable with who I am and not being anyone’s kid anymore, just being me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still my father’s son, but he keeps making me pay for dinner, so in the end I feel like we’re more like two men hanging out, not a man and a boy. Instead, we’re like two men, one older than the other and suddenly way cheaper than I ever remembered.
As the title suggests, there are a few stories that deal with nakedness — yours, hippie nudists, hot girl on the Internet. For someone who takes clothes so seriously: what’s the deal?
You raise a good point. But sometimes I think the reason I’ve gotten so into clothes is that I hate the sight of myself most of the time and want to cover up as much as possible. And even with my favorite suits or outfits, I’ll look in the mirror and think “Wow — that’s a great outfit. It doesn’t look good on me, but I’m sure somebody else would look awesome in it.” As far as getting naked goes, I tend to avoid it as much as possible. By the time any woman has ever seen me naked, it’s just been too late for her to turn back — you know, it’s 4am, she’s walked up all those flights of stairs, the cold medicine has kicked in or whatever. At some point, it’s just easier to just power through it rather than run screaming into the night.
My own nakedness aside, I still maintain a healthy curiosity about other people getting naked. But even then, it’s usually a letdown. I think the two essays about nakedness in my book are mostly about crossing that line from fantasy into harsh reality and — ultimately — boner-wilting disappointment. Also, most people look way, way better with clothes on. That said, the hot girl from the Internet in my book is an exception. She was completely gorgeous with and without clothes on.
Your hair is pretty short these days. When is the last time you were mistaken for a woman?
My hair is shorter than it’s been but it still is about the same length as a middle-aged suburban housewife. I think between that, my delicate features, and my penchant for coating myself in lotions for Bath and Body Works, people can’t help but mistake me for a not particularly attractive woman every once in a while. Unless I forgot to shave, I still get mistaken for a women at least every couple months, which — any way you slice it — is a lot for a grown man with hair covering most of his body.
What’s the best reading you’ve done and why? What’s the worst? Any amazing stories from the road? Give me a glimpse into your new life as a successful and world-renowned author.
So far the readings for this book have all been pretty scary to me. I stumble over my own words and am somehow convinced that everyone in attendance must have shown up by accident or because they thought their was going to free rigatoni afterward or something. But in the end, they’re fun and I sign and sell a bunch of book and no one throws anything at my head for the most part. I did one reading in LA where the guy in charge that night didn’t seem to know I was coming. And then, once I convinced him that no, really, I was supposed to do a reading, he just showed me to the back patio, pointed at the P.A. system, and told me to go for it. It seemed like it might be disastrous but end up being a super blast, one of my favorite readings so far. It was my birthday that day and afterward, a bunch of friends and some other folks from the reading and I went to a French restaurant and drank all the stuff they had there.
Last weekend in Cleveland, I did a reading at my friends’ bar, which is a great place, but was already packed with people hanging out drinking and eating tater tots in addition to all the people who showed up for my reading. I got to do my reading in front of a packed house, but half the people there were watching various sporting events on muted TVs while occasionally glancing over and contemplating pelting me with tater tots, I’m guessing. But even then, I had a super blast.
What is your favorite writing outfit? Please describe.
I have a couple of onesies that get the job done really nicely. Before I wrote the book, I used to spend a large chunk of my day just hanging out at home in my underwear. But with the book I had to sit there with my computer on my lap for large chunks of time every day. Before long, one layer of breathable cotton between my computer and my goods just wasn’t safe, at least not if I ever intend to pass on this gene pool. I eventually bought some health insurance with my book advance money, but before that I was racking so many emergency bills I just couldn’t risk it anymore. I really don’t know how Hemingway did it.