Dying & Killing
Three Rounds with Daniel Carroll, the Hardest-Working Prick in Local Comedy
If you haven't heard, Seattle is flirting with having a full-fledged, homegrown indie comedy scene, thanks to a dozen or so driven local comics and their small but devoted audience, whose appetite for the idiosyncratic hallmarks of "alternative comedy"—surreal storytelling, goofy musical bits, unfunny jokes followed by self-denigrating asides—is regularly sated at a variety of local venues. Between the established clubs (the Comedy Underground, the tragically named Giggles) and the rotating comedy nights at such places as Capitol Hill Arts Center and Mr. Spots Chai House in Ballard, there's a selection of live comedy every night of the week.
My first experience came late last spring when the comedy scene landed at the Sunset Tavern for the mockingly named "Ballard Follies," where a collection of local comics performed five-minute sets in succession. By this time, I'd read enough about the "hot new comedy scene!" to get my hopes up, but only one of the night's comics inspired me to take notes—a scraggly, rocker-looking dude with a Strokes hairdo and seemingly lackadaisical jokes that bristled with venom; if I remember correctly, he devoted the majority of his set to mocking the lonely. Cocky Strokes–looking motherfucker, I scrawled on an index card. Total asshole, knows what he's doing.
A month later, I saw him again at Capitol Hill Arts Center's monthly comedy night, Laff Hole. This time he wasn't the only one worth noting—a number of his compatriots popped off good jokes about their ferocious beards and stupid personal habits. Still, the Strokes-looking motherfucker remained one of the best, and after he cracked me up a second time—a key bit praised passing STDs for sport—I wrote down his name: Daniel Carroll.
"Onstage, I'm just a jackass," Carroll tells me over drinks at the Twilight Exit. He's 23, a Northwest native—a graduate of O'Dea High School—who pays the bills with a day job as a warehouse manager. As Carroll tells it, he first got a sense of his own hilariousness when he was 8, and his Pee-wee Herman impersonations drove his mom and her friends into hysterics. But the key to his comedic development came a few years later, with his parents' divorce.
"When I was 10 or 11, my mom moved in with a guy in Federal Way who had cable, so every other weekend I had access to Viacom." Through the magic of cable, young Daniel was exposed to the standup-comedy specials of George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Anthony Clark, and Ellen DeGeneres—and knew he wanted to do what they did. "I remember quoting Ellen jokes to my friends," says Carroll, who clearly incorporates a bit of DeGeneres's sweet-natured subversion into his own shtick, alongside all the rape and cancer jokes.
When he turned 21—after a stunted college career and a stint working promotions for radio station KBSG ("Oldies 97.3")—Carroll decided to try standup. With the guidance of local comedian Kevin Hyder, founding member of People's Republic of Komedy, Carroll spent a week writing jokes, then signed up for the Comedy Underground's open-mic night. "That first night, I wasn't as nervous as I'd feared, and got some good laughs," says Carroll, who never looked back. "As soon as I found the venue, all this stuff I'd been thinking about for years—I finally had a place to put it." Carroll immersed himself in the local comedy scene, performing everywhere and anywhere he could, a practice that continues to this day. "Sometimes I'll do comedy every night of the week," Carroll tells me. "The only place I don't go is Giggles, because the owner's a douche."
I take his word for it, as Carroll is a veritable doucheologist, having built his comedic persona on the archetypal attributes of the asshole; he's not just cocky, he's a prick. "I'm pretty much the funniest son of a bitch you'll ever meet," Carroll writes in his online bio. "See how I said pretty much? That's called modesty, asshole." It's a surprisingly rich conceit, affording Carroll a sly inroad into social critique; he packs his persona with loathsome characteristics, then mocks humanity for loving him so much.
Still, for some, the shtick works almost too well. "I hated Daniel at first," says Emmett Montgomery, another mainstay of the local comedy scene and Carroll's colleague in Laff Hole, whom I meet the following night at the Mirabeau Room. "He was offensive, and cocky without reason. It took me a while to warm to him, but eventually I realized that he's a lovable asshole." Almost as renowned as Daniel's dickishness is his drive: "He'll truck down to Tacoma to do two shows in one night," says Montgomery. "In one month, he'll get more stage time than some get in a year."
At the Mirabeau Room in early June, Carroll is clocking his stage time as part of ComedyNight, the mock live broadcast of "America's Favorite Network Comedy Show," conceived and curated by Seattle comedian Peter Greyy. Aside from the nominal framing device, ComedyNight is your standard parade of alterna-comics—the vast majority of them nice-looking young white men with penchants for klutzy self-awareness, self-aware klutziness, and jokes about the homeless—and I'm eager to watch Daniel tear it up in his natural habitat.
It doesn't happen. Maybe it's the mood of the night, or the size of the crowd (20 at most); but for whatever reason, Carroll all but bombs. There aren't boos, or crickets, just polite guffaws and the silent grinding of a comic off his game. "A friend gave me passes to the Space Needle," says Carroll with a lazy sneer. "I gave 'em to a homeless guy. Why give them money when you can give them memories?" It's not funny, but it's fascinating, as jokes that killed in the past—celebrations of spousal abuse and tormenting the handicapped—now land with a splat.
"I think the pressure got to Dan," whispers Greyy as Carroll leaves the stage. Still, from what I see after the show, Carroll is fine. "Even the bad ones are fun," he'd told me the night before. "It's almost as much fun to die as to kill." If he's bummed about bombing, he doesn't show it. Such equanimity is not shared by his peers. (Hint for other comics at the Mirabeau Room that night: If you're ever tempted to ask a journalist or anyone else, "So, what did you think when I said _______?"—don't.)
The next Wednesday I return to ComedyNight and find Carroll in much sharper form. The Mirabeau Room is nearly full, and Carroll slouches around the stage, delivering his asshole jive in his sing-songy voice to explosions of laughter. He's not the only one raking in the love: A number of comics deliver sharp sets—Scott Moran administers a hilarious love quiz, Andrew Sleighter riffs on Al Qaeda's stature as "the MacGyvers of the Middle East"—and even the lesser offerings are met with raucous applause. Between the packed house and the communal good vibe, the notion of a viable Seattle comedy scene seems a foregone conclusion.
Then I remember something Carroll said during our initial conversation, about the fate of the Seattle comedian: "If you really want to make it as a comic, you have to leave." In the next year or so, Carroll and his cohorts in Laff Hole—Kevin Hyder, Emmett Montgomery, Scott Moran—are planning a move to New York City. "I don't want to leave," Carroll tells me. "It's so great here. But I want to do comedy for a living... if I have to move, I'm coming back."
Unfortunately for readers, the majority of Carroll's funniest bits look absolutely horrifying in print, a fact that's reiterated when I ask Carroll the question I put to every comedian I meet: What's the funniest thing in the world? For the first time, I see Carroll's asshole persona waver; he almost blushes. "Okay," he finally says. "You know in Lifetime movies, where a woman's been raped, and she's in the shower, washing and sobbing about how she can't get clean? The funniest thing in the world to me, at least right now, is that scene, only instead of a woman, it's a man."
For more information on the Seattle comedy scene and Carroll's upcoming gigs, see www.seattlecomedy.net.