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Dave Hill Discusses ‘Tasteful Nudes,’ Death and Chumbawamba [INTERVIEW]

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Who is Dave Hill? Good question. Such a good question that it’s the first question answered in his bio on his own website.

“I am the new Hollywood ‘It’ girl, the next Leo, America’s fresh-faced boy next door, and your new best friend all rolled into one. I am a poet, a dancer, and- perhaps most of all- a thief. Soon I am to steal your heart.”

Now that nothing has been cleared up, let’s give the real answer — Dave Hill is a writer, performer, stand-up, musician and actor who has appeared everywhere from HBO and Comedy Central to the printed pages of the New York Times, Salon, and Blender. He is a contributor to ‘This American Life’ and his first book, ‘Tasteful Nudes‘ is receiving rave reviews from anyone that can read. Especially the inmates of Sing Sing. That’s not a joke.

Dave hopped on the phone to discuss his book, his visits to prison and his proposal to the tourism board of Cleveland.

We Googled your name and you’re not the first Dave Hill to pop up. The first Dave Hill is actually a photographer. Is there any heat or beef with him?

I don’t know how that works because I feel like I’m the predominant Dave Hill. I feel like, you know, I’m the people’s Dave Hill so I’m not going to worry about it.

After that, we googled ‘Dave Hill Tasteful Nudes,’ which is your book, and he popped up again but for a whole different reason.

Oh, so, you found the boner shots?

So we can stop looking you up, can you explain a little bit about the book and how you came up with the name?

I actually had a different title for it and I wasn’t crazy about it.  My friend Meredith Scardino, who’s a writer for ‘The Colbert Report,’ we were just hanging out and she asked what it was called and I just blurted out ‘Tasteful Nudes’ as a joke. So I just started telling people that that’s what it was called and then the name just kinda started to make sense.

What was the original title?

It was horrible, something like ‘Things Were Supposed To Be Different’ or a variation on that. I used to write it in tweets.

Does it get frustrating to write a book as apposed to doing stand-up? Stand-up you can tweak jokes each time you tell them, whereas with a book, it’s out there in print and there’s really nothing you can do about it anymore.

I read it like seven thousand times during the editing phase and by the time I was done with it, and turned it in, it just felt like an unsalvageable piece of crap. I mean by the time I was done I was like ‘uhh there’s nothing I could do to not have this be a big piece of shit.’ And then you get some distance from it, go back, and realize its not as bad as you thought.

There are also a couple chapters that are much more serious. There is one where I talk about depression and anxiety. I was hesitant to write about that because, I thought like, ‘oh another privileged white guy in creative endeavors who has garden variety mental illness.’ It’s like ‘who cares?’ But I wanted to see if I could figure out a way to talk about it from a different perspective, based on my own experiences. It’s also odd going from a chapter about prostitues to a chapter about my mother dying.

We’ll assume you spent much more time on the chapter about your mom then you did on the chapter about prostitutes.

It’s funny, I finished the first draft of the chapter about my mom and I started writing about the prostitutes. I got about 5 minutes into it and realized I couldn’t do it at that moment. It was a jarring transition for me.

You’re originally from Cleveland. Would you care to defend it? I think Cleveland sometimes gets a bad rap.

It does. It’s a great city. The bad rep goes back like 40 years to the stuff like the burning river. Most people have never been there. People think Ohio and they assume it’s going to be cornfields and then this shitty desolate downtown and…well… that’s kind of true.

No, Cleveland’s great. The only bad thing I would have to say about it is that you don’t realize it until you leave but the weather is really bad. Not just like cold in the winter but its gray and rainy a lot. And then when you leave, then you’re like oh my god there is sunlight in most other places.  Cleveland is sort of like London in a way in that the weather is about the same – it’s grim and in both places it wears on a person after a while. I spend a fair amount of time in both places now, in London and Cleveland, and I think the need to drink is about the same.

Cleveland is not New York or Chicago but I can say it’s definitely better than Detroit. That’s a good slogan. ‘Better than Detroit.’ Either that or ‘It’s the Paris of Ohio.’

The Amazon description of the book has a personal note from you and you make mention that the book would be great to read while in prison. Would you ever consider doing a book signing in a prison?

Yeah, I’m actually working on it now. There’s a chapter in the book about doing shows in Sing Sing. I’ve done a few. It’s one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had. I’m trying to set up a reading at Rikers Island.

They’re obviously a captive audience. Pun slightly intended.

Exactly. And I’d be curious of the dynamic. At Sing Sing you’ve got guys that are there for short stints but on Rikers is more like a jail. So, it’s guys that are gonna be in prison forever who will be transferred to someplace like Sing Sing. There are guys who are just waiting for their court date and they’re like there, time served. I’d imagine it’s a much different dynamic.

We’ve heard Rikers is actually ‘The Paris of Prisons.’

Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean it sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Rikers Island. It’s an island getaway. There is paddle boarding and nice showers and amenities. Prisons always have the best real estate. Sing Sing is right on the Hudson. It’s a beautiful view.

You play guitar in a few groups so you’re obviously a fan of music. How have you been handling the news that Chumbawamba broke up?

What? Are you serious?

They broke up a few weeks ago. It was actually kind-of news.

Wow. Well at least I’m in a safe place and I’m hearing about it. I’m shocked! You know. I don’t know. I think it’s fine. They hit it out of the park with that one song. So I feel like their work is done and you know if they want to call it a day, they’ve made their contribution. That song’s going to come on fifty years from now. Let’s give them credit.

While we’re talking about that, let’s put it in the context of your book — Would you rather have that one thing where you knocked it out of the park which everyone will remember or would you rather have the consistent, steady career. Which one do you think is more fulfilling?

I don’t know, it would be interesting to just have that one thing. As long as it was a huge contribution to society. Like ‘Catcher in the Rye’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ type big.

But if you were Andrew Dice Clay or someone, where it’s these huge nursery rhymes that were the biggest things in the world and in comedy and then the rest of your career is kind of cheapening that. If it’s one thing then it would have to be one serious contribution.  Like Chumbawamba, they had that song that’s gonna line their pockets for a long time.

That’s probably why they broke up. They’ll never replicate that song or that success.

No, and like you know they’re going to practice like ‘what if we did this thing’ and its like every song is just a bad version of – what’s it called? Tub something?

Tubthumping. Is it possible to have a bad version of Tubthumping? Isn’t Tubthumping the bad version?

It’s impossible to top that song. Every part of that song it is the best part of the song. Like when it comes on you’re like ‘oh here’s the best part’ and the next part comes on and you’re like ‘no, that’s the best part of the song!’ It’s a relentlessly great song I think. It keeps giving.

NEXT: Comedian Steve Byrne Talks 'Sullivan and Son'

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