There are probably few trials by comedic fire as harrowing as being the host of a New York City tour bus. You have to entertain crowds from around the world in a high-pressure environment with a limited time-frame. It’s a challenge unlike any other, and Tim Dillon has taken it on for years.
The New York based comic who Rolling Stone tapped as a “Comic To Know” is also a Polo-shirted Tourist Whisperer. Hosting bus tours around NYC has imbued Dillon with a spirit (and a skill-set) that no one else in the comedy scene has, especially when he’s on tour around the US. The results are hard to argue with: a podcast, late night sets, and an episode of Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup, with each one bringing him closer to the big times. You’ll finally catch his longform material in his new Comedy Central half-hour that premieres on Oct. 19.
We sat down with Dillon to discuss British baking shows, angry internet folks, and the general maelstrom of nonsense that is 2018.
Paste: How do you survive on the road?
Tim Dillon: I call my friends a lot. They’ll tell me where to eat. I try to speak to as many people as possible.
Paste: You just filmed a pilot for Comedy Central. What did you learn about comedy from being The Double Decker Bus tour guy?
Dillon: The similarity between being a comedian and being a tour guide is that you have to perform for people who have come from all over the world. And you’re going to have to… make them happy, or you’re going to have to deal with them if they’re not. That’s part of the experience. Having a very diverse audience every day on that bus got me ready, not only for comedy in New York City, but just for doing shows in big cities all over the country.
Paste: So you’ve filmed a pilot for your new show, and it’s a Willy Wonka-esque tour bus adventure. I assume this will involve you traveling around the country, or at least outside of New York City?
Paste: In your comedy, you’ve described your tours as about 15% true—
Dillon: It’s maybe 50% facts but it’s 85% editorializing on top of those facts.
Paste: So is filming a tour bus adventure just another day at the office for you?
Dillon: I wouldn’t say just another day at the office. Anytime you are doing something, you have a vested interest in turning out. You are taking certain precautions. I think there was a lot of similarities because, you know, you’re essentially giving a tour to people. And I don’t want to say too much because I don’t know how closely I can describe the show right now. But you bullshit somewhat, and you use that to get people into what you’re doing. This is an unscripted show and I’m dealing with people on the bus. So there’s plenty of overlap.
Paste: You and I both have very strong feelings about The Great British Baking Show. Does any of the positivity of that show bleed into your stand-up?
Dillon: Positivity, you know, translated. My outlook is somewhat cynical and dark. But this show feels like medicine when you’re watching it. You can’t make it the American reality show version, because you can’t put ominous music under people whipping egg-whites. You just can’t quite grasp it. The American version is people beating each other with rolling pins. In the American version, this is their one chance or else they have to go back to prostitution or selling heroin or whatever. They have to win or they’ll go back to selling body parts. No one on this show is a Nazi or talking about Hitler. The worst thing that happens here is that the guy’s ice cream cake melts.
Paste: You’re right. Where’s The Great Richard Spencer Bake-Off?
Dillon: That’s the American version of the show. It’s a race riot.
Paste: You talk about a fair amount of TV in your set. Early in my career, someone told me not to do that because it wasn’t real life, or something. But that was years ago and long before we all reached a point where we watch Netflix with our free time instead of going out. Are we at a cultural point where Netflix stuff is a more shared experience than—
Dillon: These shows are not a small thing. They dictate how people see the world, day to day, and what they will tolerate. These shows dictate what becomes the new normal. And that bleeds into what you see people doing in public; how people are willing to treat their friends and family but also strangers. It’s kind of fascinating because a lot of this seems unthinkable a few years ago. Look at that and then ask yourself where Donald Trump comes from. Why do people take pleasure in seeing a stranger get fired? Even my parents have become part of this Colosseum atmosphere. And I’m not above it. But why do we watch it and what appeals to us? What media diet have we been on for the last few years?
Paste: I’ve interviewed a number of comics, for better and for worse, about the effect that touring the country right now has had upon their material. In our highly charged times, what has that effect been upon you?
Dillon: I do not have a political act. But I do mention things that are going on, and talk to the audience, especially about where I am. My sensibility has never been political. The things I find funny are generally apolitical. My job is not to tell you what to believe or think; and if you see me on a Friday or Saturday night, I’m certainly not there to teach you a lesson. In New York, I find my material to be broad because I’m there to make people laugh, even if they aren’t from my background. The media is at a fever pitch all the time but most people are just trying to pay their bills and are just trying to get by. The have ideas and fears, but everywhere else it looks like we’re on the brink of civil war. When you see the actual people out there, it isn’t nearly that bad. There are universal fears. When there is tension, finding a way to release that in a funny way is what comedy is about. I’ve always been about trying to find what an audience reacts to without being beholden to what that audience wants to talk about. My job is supposed to be about making whatever I’m talking about funny.
Paste: There are few comedians in our age range that I would willing define themselves as “broad.” That feels like something our generation of comedy tries to avoid but you’re wearing it like a badge of courage. Why so?
Dillon: There’s a lot of people out there that just want to make only New York and LA laugh. They want to make the back of the room laugh or other comedians laugh, but that’s not what I got into comedy to do. I want to make everyone laugh. And those audiences should be from all over the world. I look to Joan Rivers and Chris Rock and think: okay, you should be able to put them into any room anywhere in the world and make people laugh. It depends on what you value. What I value is being able to make a living at doing comedy. Your parents and friends are pretty open about how you won’t be able to do this as a career, and so being able to do it now and make a career out of it feels good.
Paste: We’re on the verge of your Comedy Central half-hour coming out. How do you feel about that material?
Dillon: I hope some people that saw the Netflix special will come over to watch this. And I’m pro-jokes. I’m here to make people laugh. I don’t believe in a rulebook and I think everyone deserves jokes, no matter their place on the social ladder. Here’s the thing: you’re supposed to punch up, right? Well, if all of my jokes punch up, I’m just doing jokes about straight white men all night. And who wants to put them on a pedestal? And who wants to talk about nothing but their bullshit? I think everyone should get made fun of. People who eat different brands of ice cream, of course.
Paste: I have some jumping-off points but I think you have—
Dillon: Yeah, I’m 33. I have beliefs and maybe you want to challenge those. But I’ll never apologize for my joke about anything. Comedians don’t have to be correct or point to a universal truth. Some of what I do should rub people the wrong way, and I don’t know why—look, people in the media seem to come from a place where they wanted to be comedians but then they couldn’t become comedians. But we’re in the post-comedy era. And that makes a mess of things. Because no human being has ever said “Hey, let’s go see some comedy tonight, but I don’t want want it to be funny.”
Dillon: You can live under the radar now. It will always be the easier, quicker route to find a way to enrage people, but that’s not me. I mean, in two weeks I might have a YouTube green screen channel where I say “CHILDREN SHOULD BE KILLED” but that’s not where I’m at. But I do have a spoof-style series of videos like that on Instagram. I’m just in this to make people laugh.
Paste: So you’ll never do a Clap If You Agree style special?
Dillon: I do not limit what comedy is. But, whatever you do in comedy, whether it is about being weird or about informing people or whatever: comedy should be in the spirit of making people laugh.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.