Queermedian Dana Goldberg brings her sassy shtick to Sue’s
JONANNA WIDNER | Contributing Writer
Comedian Dana Goldberg’s latest album, Crossing the Line, recorded this past year in Seattle, kicks off with the rumble of an unusually rowdy crowd that sounds pretty fearless about making its presence known. It sounds a bit like an audience about to spiral out of control, but Goldberg nips the situation in the bud, and, in fact, turns it around. The issue is a chatty couple, most likely a bit under the influence, one of whom challenges Goldberg with a slurry “I got jokes!”
Woman: “She’s my Allstate agent!”
Goldberg: “Best name for a lesbian insurance agent ever!”
The improvised line is a hit, and Goldberg uses the interaction as way to connect with her audience. She continues to reel them back in, and after that, they are putty in her hands.
And that’s when a comedy routine becomes a show.
“I was a bartender for 11 years,” Goldberg says during a phone interview, “so when people have had a little bit too much to drink and they yell something out sometimes, they pitch the softball — sorry about the lesbian term — and I hit it out of the park. So I don’t mind it.”
Goldberg hits it out of the park a lot. She’s the Miguel Cabrera of lesbo comedy, and her handling of the Seattle situation is very much emblematic of her comedy: There’s a definite edge there, to be sure, but it’s smart and not mean-spirited. It is — and this is an odd term to describe standup comedy — compassionate.
That’s pretty much what patrons can expect from her show at Sue Ellen’s Friday. “My comedy is edgy, but it’s smart so it’s for that kind of crowd that doesn’t go for drug and dick jokes,” Goldberg says. “I mean, there are times when I definitely cross a line, when people say, ‘Did she just say that shit?’ I get up there I don’t worry about what people are going to think of me. There’s some political, some relationship stuff. But it’s smart.”
Goldberg started telling jokes at a young age, but it took some time for the comedy bug to fully sink its fangs in. It all began in that place that’s so welcoming to comics: high school.
“I won a high school talent contest,” says Goldberg, who grew up in Albuquerque. “For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to do a standup comedy routine. I was telling jokes about my ex-boyfriends and why things didn’t work out, and I was wearing a button-down shirt, jeans and a tie! Years later, I took the tape [of the show] to get digitized, and the guy there said, ‘Yeah, you couldn’t have been gayer unless you were wearing a softball glove and a jersey.”
After that, several years passed, during which Goldberg took up the aforementioned bartending stint, simultaneously “getting my degree in physical education, because it’s the [lesbian] law.”
But it was when Goldberg was asked to participate in a charity event called Funny Lesbians for Change that things coalesced for her.
“I went and auditioned, and they gave me a seven-minute set. And it was in front of 650 in a sold-out theater,” she says. “I could see my heart beating through my shirt, and I didn’t even touch the microphone, my hands were shaking so bad. And then I hit my first joke and heard the most deafening noise, like laughter I had never heard before, and I was like, ‘OK, this is it.’”
Five years later, she had worked her way up the comedy ladder, and she found herself as the auctioneer at the Human Rights Campaign gala’s live auction … performing just minutes after then president-elect Obama had spoken, and just before Lady Gaga topped off the night with a performance. When I mention that in essence, President Obama opened for her, Goldberg laughs.
“Now you sound like my mom,” she jokes. “She says Obama opened for me, and that I opened for Lady Gaga. That was a very surreal night.”
No more surreal, probably, than fending off loud Allstate agents. But that brings us back to the almost gentleness with which Goldberg approaches, paradoxically, her edginess. It’s noticeable that she infuses her routine with some political themes, but eschews being didactic about it.
“One of the ways that you can break down barriers between people is through laughter,” she says. “If you can find a way to relate to another human being and they can see themselves in your comedy, that’s why they laugh. I don’t know how many staunch Republicans are going to come to my shows. Maybe they buy a Groupon or something and don’t know what they’re coming to. And I may say something that makes them think.”
Even if they don’t think, they definitely will laugh. Goldberg is one of the top comics in the country right now, and she’s also — if you’ll excuse the pun — a standup person.
“I get to bring joy to people. Maybe everything’s shitty or they had a bad day or they are dealing with an illness, and for an hour or two they get to stop thinking about it,” she says. “They get to laugh and feel joy, and they may actually feel better leaving my show than when they came in. That’s why I do what I do. And I love it.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 21, 2014.