Stand-up comedian and actor Dan Soder has been on your screen more times than you've probably realized. He's been featured on Comedy Central's The Standups, Inside Amy Schumer, and MTV's Guy Code. Alongside comedian Big Jay Oakerson, Soder co-hosts a daily radio show on SiriusXM called The Bonfire where they talk about all things sports, entertainment and comedy. He also has a recurring role as Mafee on the Showtime drama Billions, which depicts the power politics in the world of high finance in New York City.
In a conversation with NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, Soder talked about his most recent comedy special on HBO, Son Of A Gary, what it's like growing up as an only child, and how working in a cannery in Alaska convinced him to try stand-up.
Inspired by his lifelong love of professional wrestling, for his Ask Me Another challenge, Soder faces-off against actor Kal Penn in a game about the history of wrestling.
Dan Soder, on how he decided to get into comedy
Soder says that after his aunt who lived in Soldotna, Alaska got cancer, he decided to spend the summer living with her, and ended up working at a cannery.
"She was my dad's sister and kind of like my second mom... And I was like 'Cool, I'm either gonna work at Applebee's in Aurora, Colorado, or I can move up to Alaska and live with my aunt for a summer.' And I did that, and ended up working on the docks. And then I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for three months.
"And then I ended up making all these weathered humans laugh. And I was like 'I think I'm gonna do stand-up. Because I always wanted to do it, but I was like 'You're not funny enough to do stand-up.'... I'm making these guys laugh who are missing fingers! You know, I moved back to Tuscon, and that's when I started doing open mics."
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Our final round to determine the ultimate grand champion big winner of all time is coming up. But right now, let's bring out our next special guest. He's a comedian whose new HBO special is called "Son Of A Gary," and you can see him in the Showtime series "Billions." Please welcome Dan Soder.
DAN SODER: Yeah.
EISENBERG: How are you?
SODER: Oh, my God. What's up? We've known each other for so long.
EISENBERG: It's true.
SODER: This is the weirdest way to see each other.
EISENBERG: I know. Hey, so congratulations on your HBO comedy special.
SODER: Thank you very much.
EISENBERG: It's called "Son Of A Gary," and, you know, so you set up right in the beginning that you were guaranteed to become a weirdo because you're an only child.
SODER: Yes, which is something I've addressed on other specials, but I don't think only children hear it enough. It's not your fault.
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Thank you.
SODER: Someone just goes, thank you. Yeah. You don't have a sounding board. And then you get out in the world, and they're like, why are you weird? And you're like, because I grew up without rules. You're like Nell. You're, like, feral, you know?
SODER: You just decide - you make up your own language. Dude, only children are the weirdest people on the planet. And it's fine, but I think - like, I talk to myself, and people are like, that's weird. And you're like, I was alone.
EISENBERG: Like, this is what I have to do.
SODER: Yeah. I think you're scarier if you just sit around in silence by yourself...
EISENBERG: That is...
SODER: ...Just breathing heavy through your nose. It's like, I only talk when mother talks to me.
EISENBERG: I love that you decided to be a comedian. You were working at a cannery in Alaska.
EISENBERG: A summer job in college.
SODER: Yeah. My aunt lived in Soldotna. And she was my dad's sister, and she was kind of like my second mom. And she was like, hey, I got cancer. And I was like, cool. I'm either going to work at Applebee's in Aurora, Colo., or I could move up to Alaska and live with my aunt for a summer. And so I did that. And then I ended up just working on the docks. And then I worked, like, 16...
SODER: ...Hours a day, seven days a week for three months. And then I ended up, like, making all these weathered humans laugh. And I was like, I think I'm going to do stand-up, 'cause I always wanted to do it. But I was like, you're not funny enough to do stand-up.
SODER: When you're raised by a single mom that doesn't have a lot of time on her hands, you don't get a lot of compliments.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Right.
SODER: And so I grew up being like, I'm probably wrong. And I was like, I want to do stand-up, but I'm probably not funny enough. And then I'm making these guys laugh who were missing fingers.
SODER: Like, for real, like, miss - like, they came back from a halibut run and they were like (screaming).
SODER: You know, I moved back to Tucson, and that's when I started doing open mics.
EISENBERG: You were the funniest guy at the cannery.
EISENBERG: That's rare. That is a rare thing. OK. Dan, are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
SODER: Yeah, let's do it.
EISENBERG: OK. Dan, you're a huge wrestling fan.
SODER: Die-hard - going to go home tonight and watch "Monday Night Raw."
EISENBERG: Always been a wrestling fan?
SODER: Since - my mom and my dad went out one night and dropped me off at their friend's house to babysit me. I was 2 years old, and "WrestleMania I" was on.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.
SODER: And I came home, and my mom was like, you were a wrestling fan since. And I love it.
EISENBERG: All right. Well, we have a great opponent for you for this game.
SODER: Oh, yeah?
EISENBERG: Yeah. Please welcome back to the stage Kal Penn, everybody.
KAL PENN: What's up?
SODER: Let's get into it.
EISENBERG: Kal, Dan; Dan, Kal.
PENN: Yeah. If I had properly prepared, I could have come out and, like, clotheslined you.
SODER: I should have been like, (imitating wrestler) I know Kal Penn. I've been watching Kal Penn for years.
SODER: (Imitating wrestler) Let me tell you something, Ophira.
SODER: (Imitating wrestler) You come to Brooklyn, you're going to get a whole bunch of nerd knowledge.
EISENBERG: All right, Dan, Kal, you're going to face off in a quiz about the history of wrestling.
SODER: Oh, yeah.
EISENBERG: You're going to ring in to answer.
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: (Laughter).
EISENBERG: OK, here we go. According to Smithsonian magazine, we all know the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. But did you know that Plato is actually the nickname his wrestling coach gave him? Yes.
EISENBERG: What does Plato mean? Does it mean, A - broad shoulders, B - pinning king or C - big glutes?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
PENN: Pinning king.
EISENBERG: I'm sorry, Kal, that is incorrect. Dan, can you steal?
SODER: Broad shoulders, A.
EISENBERG: Broad shoulders is correct.
SODER: Woo. It's the thing you need the most in wrestling, baby - also weird to know about Plato.
EISENBERG: Isn't that weird?
SODER: You're going to read his philosophy, and you're like, whatever, broad shoulders.
EISENBERG: That's right. It takes a whole different feeling on it.
SODER: Yeah. He's just a meathead. That's weird.
EISENBERG: He was just a meathead.
SODER: Plato's just a meathead.
PENN: Or was he not at all and it was just, like, trying to be nice about it.
SODER: (Laughter) Or they're just mocking him. They go, here goes broad shoulders. He goes, shut up.
SODER: They're going to remember me. No one's going to remember you.
EISENBERG: According to the A&E documentary "The History Of Wrestling," archaeologists found ancient Egyptian murals depicting wrestling and hieroglyphics that translated into what piece of trash talk? A - I'm going to make you faint right in front of Pharaoh, B - when I win, your prized cat will be ashamed of you...
EISENBERG: ...Or C - I farted in your dad's sarcophagus?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SODER: I feel like cat shame.
EISENBERG: I wish it were. That is incorrect. Kal, can you steal?
PENN: As much as I would love for it to be the farting one, I think it's the first one.
EISENBERG: Yeah. I'm going to make you faint right in front of Pharaoh.
EISENBERG: That's right. That was trash talk.
SODER: That's pretty great.
EISENBERG: This is your last clue. The 2006 Jack Black film "Nacho Libre" is loosely based on the true story of a Mexican priest who became a masked wrestler to raise money for an orphanage. What was his lucha libre persona? A - Fray Tormenta or Friar Storm, Santa Bofetada (ph) or Holy Smackdown, or C - El Diablo Caritativo (ph) or the Charitable Devil?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
PENN: The Charitable Devil.
EISENBERG: If only.
EISENBERG: What do you think, Dan? Is it Friar Storm or the Holy Smackdown?
SODER: Just because, as a wrestling fan, it's such a badass name...
SODER: ...Friar Storm.
EISENBERG: Friar Storm is correct. Yeah.
SODER: Listen, people. It's mostly marketing.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION SONG, "VERY RARE")
EISENBERG: Well, you guys did amazing.
SODER: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Well done.
PENN: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Dan, congratulations. You won.
EISENBERG: And you won an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube. Thank you so much to Kal Penn.
PENN: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Dan Soder co-hosts the SiriusXM show "The Bonfire," and his new HBO comedy special "Son Of A Gary" is available now. Dan Soder, everyone.
(CHEERING, APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.