“What I like about Vegas is it’s a 24-hour town and I’m a late guy,” says Dave Attell. Fans of the prolific 52-year-old comedian, who’s headlining the Crapshoot Comedy Festival with a set at Zappos Chambers on May 18, know that “late guy” is a bit of an understatement. Ever since the 2001 debut of his Comedy Central show, Insomniac With Dave Attell, the hardworking club comic (read: not a movie star, and he literally played the homeless guy in Trainwreck) has been known as much for his after-hours carousing as for his dark and dirty, perfectly timed jokes.
Attell doesn’t drink anymore, but he’s still an insomniac. He just spends the wee hours of the morning a little differently these days. “I used to come to Vegas for the party, then it was for the gambling and strip clubs,” he says. “Now it’s really for the food.” The infamously gutter-brained and utterly beloved Attell sounded off for Vegas Seven on the unexpected joys of bombing a set, the camaraderie of the comedy world and why he won’t get political.
What made you say yes to Crapshoot? Vegas has never had its own major comedy festival before.
You never want to pass up a trip to Vegas, especially if someone else is paying. During the Rat Pack days—legendary shows with Sammy Davis and Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra—everybody looks back like, “Yeah, man, [those were] the glory days of Vegas, when it was dirty and not so family-friendly.” That’s why Vegas is a cool place for a fest.
You’ve performed all over the country. What’s different about a Vegas crowd?
If you can get the locals to come see you, you’re really doing something great. I don’t live in Vegas, so going to see a magician is a big deal. But [for locals], they live right next to one, you know? Or a lion tamer. Those are the kinds of things they deal with day to day. To be honest, they usually have a great sense of humor. They’re a little raucous and rambunctious, and I’m pretty good with that kind of crowd. They usually like [entertainment] a little bit more dark, a little bit more real, than the fantastical stuff. I’m no Cirque du Soleil.
Have you hung out with any other Crapshoot comics?
I know Brad Williams is on the [lineup] with me, and I love Brad. He’s a great guy and a great comic. There are very few comics who are both cool onstage and off, and he definitely is one. When you’re a headliner, you’re on the road all the time alone, usually, so it’s cool when you get to work with other comics and watch them go on. I’m the name there, the old-hat comic, but I want the newer comics to definitely rock it out and make this a recurring festival.
You often get described as a “comedian’s comedian.” Do you like that description? It seems like a huge compliment.
That’s nice to say. I don’t particularly think I’m that good—that I’m any better than most of the people out there. But I do take it to the next level in terms of bombing. I know that whenever I’m really doing a rough [set], there are always a bunch of comics in the back of the room enjoying the flame-out, as we call it.
You rarely do political jokes. Do you think that will change during this presidential administration?
Whatever I say, I try [to] make it funny. If it is political, it has to be way funnier. It’s almost like when you do a really terrible dirty joke, it has to still be funnier so people go, “Oh, that was horrible, but it was hilarious.” I think there are a lot of comics who are good at [political comedy] and other ones who are hit-and-miss. At the end of the day, it’s cool that they’re up there, fighting and speaking their personal truth and all that kind of stuff. But for me, I really do think that unless I can make it into a joke, I’m not gonna talk about it.
What’s next for you?
I’m actually thinking of moving to Vegas. I’m old enough now that I can handle it. When I was younger I probably couldn’t have handled all the temptation. Now, I think I can get my Hoveround chair and just go out and find a slot machine I like and let it happen.
Crapshoot Comedy Festival
May 18–20, times and prices vary, Downtown Las Vegas, crapshootcomedyfestival.com