A childhood love of musicals and performing lead comedian, Dava Krause, to seek the stage. She shares with us the brutality and beauty of making people laugh.
How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Philadelphia and as a kid my family went to London a lot because we have cousins there, and my parents are big theatre and musical lovers. So we just saw a tonne of shows, and I loved it.
At school I did a lot of plays and musicals, I was the president of my drama club … you know, all the nerdy stuff.
I went to Northwestern University wanting to do musical theater, because they are known for that. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college I actually lived in New York with my best friend. We stayed in the NYU dorms in Union Square. We spent all summer sleeping on the street for Rent tickets, and we saw it about 7 times. It was the original cast!
Then I went back to Northwestern, and nobody told me that I wasn’t an ingenue. As a funny character person I didn’t know where I fit into the musical world. There weren’t any roles for me at that age. Somebody said to me, "You should wait until you’re 35 and you’ll have a tonne of roles that will be available to you." I got really depressed because I didn’t get into any of the plays that the drama department did. So I started looking at theaters downtown and I discovered Second City, and I saw Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch on stage …
A golden time!
I fell in love with comedy and I started taking classes down there. I did improv at Second City the whole time I was in Chicago. I realized that a lot of the stuff I was writing for my theatre group were monologues. I found out that writing improv wasn’t really my thing. So I thought, I’m going to do stand up … and I would become a famous comedian and then I would just ‘be asked’ to do musicals.
So that hasn’t happened yet …
I’m so jealous of Lena Hall in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It’s amazing, I’ve seen it twice. Being in New York has actually re-invigorated my love of theatre and music.
And before New York?
After Northwestern I ended up moving to LA, and basically did stand up there for about 10 years.
When I first moved to LA I immediately went to The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd, and worked there as a waitress. The Comedy Store is famous because the doormen and valet guys are all comedian wannabes. They would get to go on the open mic Sunday and Monday nights. If the owner liked you he’d bump you up to regular gigs. But the policy there was not to let the waitresses perform. The owner at the time didn’t want any of the cocktail waitresses to become comedians. The head waitress was Eleanor Kerrigan, who has since become a well-known comedian, told me not to tell anyone I was a comedian.
Because the owner would have fired me. It was crazy! So I did comedy elsewhere in LA, a lot of open mics. I saw and met a lot of great comedians at the time like Stephen Rannazzisi who is now on The League.
Oh my god, I love The League! He’s performing at Caroline's soon, I love that show so much it’s not even funny.
We were kind of doing comedy at the same time, but eventually I left The Comedy Store. You can get stuck at a certain club as a comic and get comfortable. I wanted to get out on the road and be able to do more than 5-6 minutes of stand-up at a time. So I just started driving to one-nighters, which are random comedy nights in bars. You’re fighting the crowd telling jokes, but you’ll get paid about $100, whereas in town they won’t pay you anything. Maybe here in New York, Caroline's Comedy Club does, but not enough to live off. It’s a gesture more than anything. In New York you can’t make a living out of doing comedy clubs, you have to go on the road. So I put myself on the road basically, doing guest spots. And then I started doing hosting spots, then middle spots …
Was that terrifying?
Not really. I don’t know, I guess it was scary. I think my anxiety has gotten a lot worse as I’ve gotten older, I was just so determined I really didn’t think about it too much. I was blindly forging ahead, and putting everything on credit cards. But now, while I don’t have anxiety about performing, I do experience a huge amount sitting down to write. It’s a hundred times worse than starting out on stage.
In the beginning were you doing this completely on your own?
Yes. The road work I did by myself but there were a couple of lady comedians I hung around with. Three out of the four of us are still doing stand up, the other one is now a writer.
Just going back to on the road, do you remember any horrible hecklers?
Yes! Although heckling isn’t the worst. You know a kid acts out because they want attention, so heckling isn’t as bad as being completely ignored. When you’re in a bar and people literally ignore you and talk amongst themselves. That’s way worse. At least hecklers are engaging.
I was opening at a gig in Florida at a comedy club at Universal Studios and I was playing my guitar, and I remember a guy yelling out, "You suck!" He made me burst into tears and I ran off stage. It was horrible.
But the worst part of road-work was the traveling and accommodation. This is why a lot of women don’t go on the road. You stay in some sketchy, disgusting places. Even if you’re in a comedy condo, where they put comedians up, it’s still a jizz stained factory.
One time when I was already dating Mike (my husband), I was doing a run in Montana. I flew up to eastern Washington, rented a car and I drove for about eight hours a day going to different Montana towns. There was a headliner who was working with me but he had his wife with him, so he did not want to hang out with me. There was two feet of snow, and I’m driving through Montana. Actually western Montana is pretty cool, it has a college town feel. Then there’s eastern Montana, where it’s just flat, cowboy country.
I went to this place called Malta, which is about 40 miles from the Canadian border, and I was literally performing in a cage, like in the Blues Brothers. A cage around the stage! I was sitting at the bar there having lunch, and this guy came up to me and told me a racist joke using the N-word, he was like, "Are you the comedian tonight, let me tell you a joke." I was thinking, "Oh God, my hairy Jewish jokes aren’t going to go over well here." They were not well received. They didn’t know what was happening in front of them. That was pretty brutal.
I feel like it takes a lot of balls to do stand-up.
I don’t know, there are far scarier things in the world to me.
How do you come up with material?
I’m not as good as I used to be. I used to be able to sit down, write jokes and have topics. Where as a lot of my writing these days is going to scripts. Now I’ll have a premise, and I’ll go on stage, talk through it and record it. Then listen back and think, "Well, that’s funny," and I’ll keep that. It’s probably not the best way to go about things.
How do people feel about you talking about them in your act?
My act is 80% about my husband and my marriage. I don’t think he likes it, but he doesn’t have a choice at this point. He doesn’t come to my shows. I don’t think he’s seen me perform in six years.
Is that because it’s so personal?
That’s part of it, and the other part is that it’s my job. I’ll be like, "Do you want to come with me to this gig tonight?" And he’ll be like, "Want to come to work with me tomorrow?"
It’s better, I do my thing. I hang out with my colleagues and then I come home.
I had a miscarriage recently and I have a couple of jokes in my act about it now. My husband is not cool with it, but that’s how I’m processing. Plus it’s some really funny stuff!
Tragedy plus time equals comedy. I connect with comedians who talk about their stories and their lives.
What are you doing now in New York?
I have a sketch show that I’m writing with two other women. We’re putting it up at The Treehouse Theatre. Right now we’re filming some stuff for that. It’s called “28 Rulz of the Internet”. I also just finished a web series with my writing partner, called Ghost Shrink.
I’m also working as a spin instructor. That’s what I do for money. That’s my slave job. It’s fun, it’s flexible and it makes me work out so I don’t explode.
Are you a fitness freak?
Do I look like a fitness freak? I do spin several times a week, and yet I look like this. It’s fascinating to me! I like to eat … a lot. I basically work out to eat more.
That’s the only reason I ever go to the gym.
There’s a gym I auditioned for in Manhattan, and everyone there was like, "We LOVE fitness, we’re really into fitness." And I was like, "I’m really into chocolate chip cookies." No one laughed. Needless to say I did not get a job at that gym. Now I teach in Brooklyn, they are more accepting.
Moving back to comedy, who are your favorite comedians now?
I love Broad City, it’s so funny! It’s so stupid funny, it’s not fair. It makes me mad it’s so funny. I like Amy Schumer, Maria Bamford, Louis C.K.
What is your long term goal?
I want to write for scripted television. I would love to be someone like Ike Barinholtz, he’s a writer for The Mindy Project, and he also acts on it. I would love to be Mindy Kaling as well. To have my own show and be on it, that’s the ultimate goal. But I would also be happy to be staffed on a show.
What’s the path you have to take to get there?
Well, I wrote this spec script that got into the Austin Film Festival.
What is a spec script?
You write an episode of an existing show. I wrote an episode of Mike and Molly that got placed in the festival. It’s a very funny show on CBS. But you also have to have an original script. So the path to get there is to just write your balls off and hope a manager likes you, and hands your script to someone and you become either a writing assistant, or somehow get staffed.
My spec was a finalist at the festival. I was in the top 10%, which was cool. They invite you down to Austin, and you get to attend all sorts of panels with all sorts of people who give you advice. You take workshops. Then at night you can see films, but I have gigs that I’ve lined up so I’ll be doing those. It’s going to be fun!
Going back to your personal life, do you have any siblings?
I grew up as an only child, I was kind of a miracle baby because my mom didn’t think she could get pregnant, but here I am. My parents had always talked about adopting but it had never really come to be. Then in 1999, my parents went to China on vacation and learned about all the little girls in orphanages over there because of the one-child policy. Two years later my parents ended up adopting my sister, Sophie, who was born the exact same month and year that they were in China. So it’s a little cosmic. She was two at the time and we all went over there to get her. Since then my mom passed away, and my dad was raising her for a while which was semi-disastrous. I was in LA at that time. I use a lot of that in my material. Basically there was no supervision, lots of inappropriate TV, and internet all day long. I have no idea what she’s seen, probably some seriously disturbing shit. Fortunately we were in a place where I could convince him to hire someone to help him. He didn’t know how to take care of himself, let alone a child. My sister was like, "If I have to eat cereal for another meal, I’m going to call child protective services." But he finally got someone to help take care of her. Now she is a teenager and only communicates with me via text message.
Are you similar at all?
I think we both have a really great sense of humor and sarcasm, we got that from my mom.
I went bikini shopping with her over the summer …
Oh no, you don’t want to do that with a teenage girl …
I just wanted to stab myself.
Were you surprised when they adopted her?
Not really, like I said they had always talked about it. To be honest I always wanted a sibling, always a sister. I was beyond thrilled.
She must think you’re the coolest.
I seriously doubt that. Often I’ll text her and she won’t text me back!
How do you like living in Park Slope?
I really like it. I finally feel like I live here after a year. I feel like the first year I was here I was always like, "Well, in LA it’s like this..." I would compare it. Now I kind of forget what living in LA was like, this is my new reality. There are definitely things that I miss, I think that we’ll end up living back there one day because I really love California. But if I had to live anywhere else in the world it would be New York.
Do you have any favorite places to go and see comedy?
My favorite comedy club in New York is The Stand, it’s a great vibe and good food. I also love to go to The Pit, and UCB where they have really great sketch and improv shows.
What do you think of when you think of New York?
I think of this time of year (fall), just walking down the street having a cup of coffee and looking at buildings, wearing a jacket and some boots. That’s perfect.
With Patrick (the dog) …