Dana Goldberg killed it at Black Tie. But the lesbian comedian feels her big break is still ahead of her
Dana Goldberg is what you might call the comedian next door. She’s wickedly funny, enviably charming and has the kind of bio that young comedians dream of. The notches on her bedpost include performances at the San Francisco International Comedy Competition, The Comedy Festival produced by TBS and HBO, and the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Advocate.com even named her among the nation’s top LGBT comedians.
In just the past five years, Goldberg has shared the stage with the likes of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Lopez, John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Jennifer Hudson and Sir Elton John. On the local front, last November she hosted and served as auctioneer for Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner.
She’ll be back here in Dallas on June 5 for HRC Dallas’ 25th Annual Fairway to Equality Golf Weekend. Before she tees up that event, though, we sat down with the queermedian to find out a little more about what makes this funny girl so damn funny.
— Jenny Block
Dallas Voice: What is your first memory of realizing that you might be funny? Goldberg: When I was 5, my kindergarten teacher told my mother I was the funniest 5-year-old she had ever met. I’m not sure who my competition was, but I’ll take it. I’ve always used humor to get through uncomfortable situations in my life, so being the youngest child in a single-parent household in which two out of three kids are gay … those situations came early and often.
Do you remember your first comedy gig? Technically my first ever comedy gig was my high school talent show when I was 17. I decided to do a 10-minute stand-up routine, and I won. [But] I didn’t touch a stage after that until I was 26.
There was a show that was produced in Albuquerque called Funny Lesbians For A Change. It was a variety show that raised higher education scholarships for lesbians in the community. I went and auditioned and they gave me a seven-minute set. Mind you, this was in front of 650 people in a sold-out theater. Before I went on stage, I could see my heart beating through my shirt. I didn’t dare touch the microphone for fear I would turn it into an amplifying vibrator of sorts. I hit my first big joke and heard the most deafening laughter I had ever heard … and that was it, I was hooked.
What was your biggest bomb? Oy. My biggest bomb, in my opinion, was at Caroline’s on Broadway seven months into my career. I was flown out there to perform for their annual comedy benefit for the Ms. Foundation. I was honored [but] definitely not ready for this. Gloria Steinem was literally two feet from me when I was on stage. Before I went on, I remember saying to myself, “I don’t belong up there with these women yet.” And lo and behold, the universe answered … and not with laughter. It was a very hard night for me, but also a very growing night. I know it sounds cheesy, but I learned what the power of manifesting our thoughts was that night and it’s really helped me to create different thoughts and hopefully the Universe will meet me half way on my positivity.
What would you consider your big break? I’ll be honest: I’m not sure I’ve had my big break yet. I’ve had a lot of little breaks that have created a really fun and successful career so far, but not sure about a big break. I have an upcoming gig where I will be hosting the Humanitas Prize Awards at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles. This is basically the awards ceremony for all of the show runners and creators like Jason Katims [Friday Night Lights, Parenthood], Shonda Rhimes [Scandal], Glen Mazzara [The Walking Dead], and so forth. I’ll be hosting the show in front of every big writer, producer and show runner in Hollywood, not to mention some big agents and managers.
Have you ever been heckled? I’ve definitely been heckled a time or two. I remember earlier in my career I was asked to perform at a Republican country club. Crazy, right? I was a bartender at the time and had some regulars that belonged to the club, so they invited me in. I remember after one of my Jewish jokes some drunk guy stood up and said “You look Jewish to me! It must be your nose!” My response was just basically, “Well sir, I actually have a small nose, and from here you look like a pretty attractive guy so there must be something wrong with the lighting.” I guess he wasn’t very liked by most people in the room, so I got a good applause break out of that and was invited to have some drinks and champagne with the guests after.
In what way is comedy important? In every way! Comedy allows us to escape our everyday lives for even an hour or two. It allows us to laugh at the things we don’t give ourselves permission to laugh at otherwise. Comedy bridges gaps between gay and straight, old and young, male and female by allowing us to see the common human experience we all go through and the absurdities that lie within those. Laughter truly is healing and comedy provides that. Basically I’m a doctor. Which makes me realize, I don’t get paid nearly enough.
How is comedy important specifically in the lesbian community? I think comedy is sometimes more vital for the comedians, as opposed to the audience. There are some incredibly funny women out there, and sometimes I think we use comedy to work out our shit publicly. It gives us an outlet to find humor to deal with the craziness that exists in our community. And let me tell you, there is some craziness. The lesbian community is an incredibly supportive audience, though, and I’m grateful they make up a good portion of my fan base.
You hosted BTD this year, and in my opinion killed it; what was that experience like? The Black Tie Dinner was an incredible experience for me. I had a blast that night, made the over 3,500 attendees roar with laughter, and raised more than $140,000 in the live auction. I say it was one helluva successful night. I look forward to the possibility of hosting again in the future.
Speaking of, do you cater your performance to specific audiences? I definitely try and read my audience to deliver material they can relate to. That’s why we laugh. We laugh when we can see ourselves in someone else’s material. We share common experiences and funny is funny. I have over [90 minutes] of strong material so I can move around according to what’s landing with the audience. I have never done a show where I didn’t come out at some point. My sexual orientation is a big part of my life and my comedy, and it’s also part of some of my funniest jokes.
I just did a gig down in Memphis for Harley-Davidson. It was a room full of older, straight, very conservative people. I learned a bit about their organization and led with those jokes so they knew I did some research, but I did the same set I would do anywhere. Half of the room loved it, half of the room was terrified at one point or another, but I can honestly say, at some point during the night, I had everyone in that room laughing. It’s good to be challenged in our beliefs from time to time. I definitely can do that. I had a women come up to me and say, “I bet your mom is so proud of you. I know if I was your mom, I’d be proud of you.” That right there is a successful show.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 16, 2015.