Dan Soder Talks What Is and Isn’t Off-Limits in Comedy Today

Dan Soder 3
Scott McDermott/HBO

You may have seen Dan Soder before, on a little show known as Billions on Showtime or on standup specials with Comedy Central and Netflix.

Now, the comedian is taking his talents to HBO with an hour-long special, Dan Soder: Son of a Gary. Filmed at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City in front of a live sold-out audience, Soder opens up about his life onstage, touching on topics that include drug-sniffing dogs at airports, customer service, having fake fights in the shower, and what it’s like to have a fun alcoholic dad.

We chatted with Soder about the special, what he deems off limits or not for a set, his material inspiration and more.

How did this special come together? Did HBO reach out to you?

Dan Soder: I did The Standups on Netflix, and we filmed that in March of 2017 and I was just on the road real heavy — almost every weekend. And then around the end of 2018 I was like, “I think I have something.” I didn’t have an hour, but [it was] going to be ready soon, and HBO had told my agent, “Hey, we like Dan, what’s Dan up to?” [They came and saw me] at the Comedy Cellar and I was lucky enough that they were like, “Let’s do a special.”

Considering this is your first collaboration with HBO on a special, what was the experience like? Is that the comedy goal?

I think that’s the crown jewel. I got the offer and told HBO that I wanted some time to make sure that I could really make this into a good hour, but I would just be sitting there like… “F**kin HBO.”

And what I love is that you can go to HBO Go and just pick standup and see everything they’ve ever done. And so to put my hour special in there with the greats is like… I don’t want to mess this up.

(Credit: Scott McDermott/HBO)

The old HBO logo makes an appearance ahead of your set — did you ask for that?

Yeah, I asked for that specifically. I was born in 1983 and that’s the 1983 intro. So I was like, “Let’s do it,” and they let me do the whole thing.

Is the material in your set unique to the special, or could fans have seen any of it before?

If you’ve watched a lot of my standup, you realize it’s continuations of bits and ideas. If you watch my Comedy Central half hour, I talk about being an only child raised by a single mom just to set it up. There’s a lot of jokes, but more jokes about what it feels like to be an only child, what it feels like to be raised by a single mom. And then you watch my Netflix half hour and it’s like, I like wrestling and I’ve had ex-girlfriends not like that I like wrestling. This [special] is everything all flushed out.

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The comedian helms his first HBO special on November 23.

Now you know that me talking about my mom or my grandmother is done… there’s nowhere to go with that. And being able to bring up my dad, which is something that I’ve never been able to talk about. I’ve always thought it was too dark or too sad to be in standup and as you go on in comedy, you learn how to do more heavy lifting.

I was sitting behind your mom in the audience — does having her at the event help or hinder your performance?

I think it used to hinder because I respect my mom and I love her a lot and I want her to be very proud. But also you don’t talk the same around your friends as you do around your mom. You pull punches and s**t. This hour I was like, let’s f**king let it rip. And my mom really enjoyed it. We have an agreement when I do shows in Denver. She won’t tell me what show she’s coming to because she wants to see the real version of me.

(Credit: Scott McDermott/HBO)

So did she tell you which taping she went to for this show?

She was at both, stayed for both. And I knew exactly where… If you watch the very end of the special, you’ll see me point.

You say in this special that nothing is off limits. Is that true, or is there something you don’t include for that reason?

I haven’t talked about my sister’s death. My sister was killed in a car accident when I was 16 years old and I haven’t found a way to process that yet. I think I’ve worked so hard in therapy on dealing with the death of my father and dealing with how I grew up that there was a lot of stuff, but I definitely don’t think it’s off limits. I’ve joked around about it on podcasts. I made some very dark jokes about it on podcasts, but that’s how you get there.

(Credit: Scott McDermott/HBO)

Would you say personal stories make for the best standup material?

I can’t speak for other people, but for me, absolutely. And then if they make the audience laugh, then this has to be in the joke. Making people laugh about my dad drinking himself to death isn’t necessarily an easy thing, but there’s people out there that love the joke because they’re like, dude, I don’t have a dead dad, but I know alcoholics.

What can you tell us about the upcoming season of Billions? Is there anything you can tease?

We’re filming season five right now, and it’s great. And it’s a script. We have new cast members that are really cool. There’s some cool people that have joined the show, but more importantly… Axe has a new nemesis. That’s what I’ll say. And that’s pretty fun.

Dan Soder: Son of a Gary, Saturday, December 7, 10/9c, HBO