Dave Attell is a ‘Comedian’s Comedian’

He ad­mit­ted that his ori­gin­al mo­tiv­a­tion to per­form stand-up com­edy was at­trib­uted to his in­de­cis­ive­ness as to what he should do after col­lege. Gradu­at­ing from New York Uni­versity with a de­gree in film and tele­vi­sion, Dave At­tell said he real­ized he’d prob­ably nev­er go on to be­come an act­or or a dir­ect­or.

“And so that’s when I star­ted hanging around com­edy clubs in New York dur­ing open-mic nights, al­though I nev­er thought I’d ac­tu­ally be­come a com­ic either,” said At­tell, 47, who did be­come a per­former and will ap­pear at the He­li­um Com­edy Club on Sansom Street in Cen­ter City this Fri­day and Sat­urday.

Dur­ing the late 1980s, At­tell worked at meni­al jobs dur­ing the day and at com­edy clubs on nights and week­ends.

“I was a kind of a loner, a shy kind of kid who could make his in­ner circle of friends laugh,” he re­called. “So that’s what sort of kept me go­ing. At home, I loved listen­ing to the re­cords of com­ics like George Carlin, and I couldn’t stop laugh­ing my­self. I loved to laugh, but it took a long time to con­vince people I was a com­ic.”

After years of hon­ing his craft, and “totally bomb­ing of­ten,” he even­tu­ally found him­self be­ing de­scribed as a “comedi­an’s comedi­an.” And while audi­ence mem­bers didn’t al­ways fol­low his de­liv­ery, fel­low comedi­ans were re­freshed by his ori­gin­al­ity.

One of his biggest breaks came in 1993 when he made his first ap­pear­ance on The Late Show with Dav­id Let­ter­man. That ap­pear­ance was seen by Sat­urday Night Live cre­at­or Lorne Mi­chaels, who re­cruited At­tell to be a writer and oc­ca­sion­al per­former. He gladly ac­cep­ted, and two years later found him­self fea­tured on two HBO spe­cials, with a half-hour com­edy spe­cial all his own in 1997.

But per­haps he is best known as the host of his own show titled In­som­ni­ac with Dave At­tell, which ran from 2001 to ’04 on Com­edy Cent­ral. For that show, At­tell went to a par­tic­u­lar city at night, start­ing out with a minute or so of his per­form­ance at a com­edy club, and then to vari­ous bars, land­marks, clubs and so on. The thrill of the show re­volved around the bizarre den­iz­ens of the night that he en­countered, mostly while wan­der­ing cit­ies in Amer­ica and abroad.

Dur­ing most in­ter­views, At­tell said he is asked about that part of his life, but nev­er gets tired of talk­ing about it.

“To be hon­est,” he said, “it was such an easy show to do, that there’s not much to talk about. But I do talk about it over and over and over again. It’s kind of my Abu Ghraib pris­on.

“The point is,” he ad­ded, “that I came up with the idea for the show, which ori­gin­ally was just sup­posed to be a fun travel show. It was totally un­scrip­ted, with the whole idea be­hind it be­ing that no one sleeps.”

In 2008, At­tell began host­ing an­oth­er show, The Gong Show with Dave At­tell for Com­edy Cent­ral. Like the 1970s ver­sion, the show had a ro­tat­ing pan­el of celebrity judges grad­ing un­usu­al people and their acts — something that At­tell was more than fa­mil­i­ar with.

Today, At­tell is the cre­at­or and host of Dave’s Old Porn on Show­time, fea­tur­ing le­gends of the adult in­dustry, along with such tal­ents as Chelsea Hand­ler, Adam Car­olla and Daniel Tosh, who dis­cuss the flicks. The second sea­son will be­gin air­ing this fall.

Still, he ad­mit­ted, he loves do­ing stand-up and ap­pear­ing at com­edy clubs around the coun­try.

“Over the years, I’ve been in four films, but I’m not an act­or, and I’m not a very good sit­com guy — as pro­du­cers come to find out,” he said. “Of course, if something came along, I’d jump on it, but I love just be­ing out there, be­ing funny and en­ter­tain­ing people. For me, that’s the best.”

For show times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-496-9001.

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