Living, Dying and the Importance of Christmas Lights – The Dave Ross Interview

It’s been a crazy, exciting and challenging year for comedian Dave Ross. He’s spent half of 2014 on the road, touring and doing festivals, away from his home in L.A. He’s juggling a new relationship, stand-up, storytelling, a role in the sketch group WOMEN, the Nerdist podcast Terrified and most notably, his own fucked up thoughts. I talked to a road-weary Ross shortly after he returned home from his second long tour of the year and discussed being on stage, on the road and in your own head.

Isaac Kozell: You just recorded an EP in Denver, right?
Dave Ross: Yeah, it’s a 7-inch for AST Records.

IK: How did it go?
DR: Well, this second tour was so exhausting. I left on October 10th, was in the Midwest for like, six days, flew back to L.A., flew back to Chicago and was taking buses and other people’s cars and … I don’t know, maybe it was because I wasn’t the one driving or something but holy hell, I felt terrible. Maybe I had been drinking more. Anyway, I show up to Denver and I was just done, man. I’m out. Fuck this. Tour over. I want to kill myself. But then the comics there, Chris Charpentier and Nathan Lund, such great guys, took me to the open mic at Comedy Works the night before my recording. There were like, 150 audience members there. I did five minutes and that rejuvenated me a bit but I still wanted to die. The following night I did a storytelling show called The Narrators that was super fun but I was still tired. Then, I went to my recording at 10. I was tired. I keep saying I was tired but I guess what I’m trying to do is emphasize how great Denver is. Before the recording I was like, “I really don’t know about this.” But that show, Too Much Fun, run by The Fine Gentleman’s Club, is an amazing show that runs every Wednesday. There’s a reason I asked to record there and I couldn’t have been more right. The crowd is just so into it. They pack in all these young, hot people … and they are young and they are hot. So, if you’re in Denver and you want sex, go to Too Much Fun.

Oh, here’s something that happened during the recording: Somebody audibly, loudly farted while I was recording. So, I’m thinking that there will be a fart on my record, which I’m especially excited for.

IK: How much of your year was spent on the road?
DR: About six months.

IK: Has this been your biggest year for touring?
DR: It’s kind of been my only year for touring. I had dipped my toe in in previous years but this year, like many things in my life, if I was going to do it, I was going to go way overboard. “I’m going to tour. This is my life now.” It’s been so fun and I can feel how much better of a comic I am. But 50% of the time is too much for me. I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot of these two and three month long things anymore. I mean, I like it. It’s epic as fuck. But two in a year is too much.

IK: When comparing your two tours this year, you’ve said that you liked the first tour more because you drove your own car the whole time, which put you in control. Do you think that need for control stems from being an only child?
DR: Oh, that’s interesting. It very well may. I mean, I’m an incredibly social person and I like being with people. But I react in an almost opposite way to most people who I talk to about touring. Most people say the driving is what kills them and that the dream is being with your friends on tour. When I’m on tour I want to drive and I want to be alone. I don’t know why that is. There might be people who I’ve toured with who will read this and say, “Oh, nuts.” I love my friends. I want to be around them. But there’s something about the road, touring, where it has to be just me. Maybe it’s because I was an only child. Maybe it’s because I was a Navy kid and we moved around every three years. It also might be because I’m a depressive person. There’s a really nice peace that comes with being alone on the road. Every person needs to be alone sometimes. I need that even more on the road. We’re all looking for freedom. Being on the road, by yourself, is freeing.

IK: That’s a romantic notion.
DR: I romanticize everything that can be romanticized. I love Christmas lights. Christmas lights are my spirit animal. If you put them in a tree on a random street, it can go from being a slum to like, “Wow, I should buy a hot chocolate and walk down the street with my family.”

IK: The theme for this issue is Death and Destruction. We thought you would be a good fit because of your Terrified podcast. What sparked your interest in creating a podcast on people’s worst fears about themselves?
DR: My interest in the subject has been around for a while. I have a degree in Psychology. I graduated college and began working at a radio station in Fresno. While I was there, from 22-24, my social anxiety and depression were … it was becoming clear that it was me … my problem. I had a bunch of great friends but was always questioning my friendship with them. So I wrote a book. It will never see the light of day. Well, there are 50 people who have a copy. It was kind of a memoir. Each chapter was less than a page long. The idea was to write out all of these instances of my own fear, or anxiety, or depression and how they hurt my interactions with other people. I self-published 100 copies of it and handed it out to people I knew. The response was amazing. I thought people were going to read it and say, “Aw, Dave, you’re a little pussy.” But they accepted it without even questioning the idea of me having these problems. That was the beginning of me wanting to talk more about this stuff. I realized that people aren’t going to de-friend you because you have mental health issues.

IK: In one episode, you traded seats and had Jake Weisman interview you. You told him that your fear is that you’re right about yourself, in that you think that you’re a piece of shit. I think anybody that is honest with themselves might come across that same feeling from time to time. Do you have a method for dealing with that negative self image?
DR: I just keep trying. I’ve talked about being self-analytical. Another way of saying that is that I’m self-obsessed. I’m not saying that it’s a good or bad thing. But if you look at it through that lens, you will see that I’m thinking that I’m a piece of shit a lot of the time. That’s what’s going on in my brain. It’s bad in every way. It’s bad because it’s narcissistic. It’s bad because I’m inflicting pain upon myself. The way I deal with it is to push myself out of it. I go to therapy and I’ve learned that my brain can go, “Fuck me!” immediately. I will take an event that happens, or some interaction with a person and turn that into, “That person doesn’t like me. I’m garbage.” I had to learn to tell myself, “Stop. Don’t think that way.” That’s really the best thing I can do. This last tour was really taxing on me emotionally. I got home and was hanging out with my girlfriend. We had just slept together and I started thinking, “This girl doesn’t enjoy having sex with me.” Our sex life is great. But I caught myself doing it and then I realized, I had been doing it everywhere. In New Orleans, at Hell Yes Fest, in Denver too … those are like second comedy homes to me … but the entire time I felt like, “These people hate me. I keep fucking up. I’m saying stupid shit.” I was doing really well before I left for tour but it took a lot out of me.

IK: Are you afraid of death?
DR: Definitely. When I turned 30, that birthday was a big reminder that I’m going to die, I guess because it represented another whole decade. I thought about how I was going to die all day, every day. The thought I won’t exist – no trace, no semblance – is crazy to me. I don’t want to not be. I want to be. How do you accept that at some point you’re not going to be able to think, feel, talk, do an interview, do standup, whatever? And everything you do is contributing to a stack of memories that will no longer exist. That’s the reason I want to make stuff. There’s a part of me that thinks that my personal memories are worthless. They’re only mine and they’ll go with me when I die.

IK: What do you think of the approaching possibility of uploading your thoughts and memories – basically, your entire consciousness – to some sort of digital storage where it can exist for eternity after you die, to be accessed by family, friends, or whoever? Would that make you feel better about your mortality, if you knew that your brain could live on?
DR: No. The idea that all of my thoughts, my consciousness, could go into a cloud and be accessed by people freaks me out for several reasons. One, does that mean I’m dead or not? Does my consciousness exist as a bodiless being that is trapped somewhere? That’s horrifying. I want to be alive. I want to be me, not in a computer. That sounds terrifying.

IK: Knowing that you have to die, how would you choose to go?
DR: I don’t know. Most people say they want it to be painless. I guess I would want that. But no matter what happens, I’m going to be dead right after anyway.

IK: I’ve thought the same thing. My wife and I had this conversation recently. She said she would want to go peacefully in her bed. I said I would want something really epic, like a Thelma and Louise ending, where I’m aware that something big is happening. If I was terminal, I would skydive without a parachute. What I don’t want to do is have a slow death in a bed where I’m being visited by an endless parade of people while I’m being fed through a straw.
DR: Yeah, I don’t want to die wasting away in a hospital bed. But if was going to die in a hospital bed, I would want to stay alive as long as possible because hopefully, something would save me. If I knew for a fact that I was never going to survive and would only become a burden on my family and friends, then yeah, maybe the skydiving thing. But even then, I don’t know if I would want an epic death. I don’t get my thrills in life by riding rollercoasters or getting in knife fights. My thrills come from working hard and trying to be better. I want to be a better me, a better comedian, a better friend, a better family member. I just want to die doing that. If you told me that I was going to die in a week, I would just do that stuff, only a million times harder. As long as I was trying, I think that would be a fine death for me.

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About Isaac Kozell

Isaac Kozell is a New Orleans based Writer and Standup Comedian. He spends his spare time skateboarding, gardening, and reminiscing about that one time back in '99 when he was invited onstage to perform with the band Sugar Ray.

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