Dan Telfer
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Dan Telfer

Los Angeles, California, United States | INDIE

Los Angeles, California, United States | INDIE
Band Comedy Spoken Word


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"Who are Chicago's Cultural Curators?"

They may or may not have had Da Mare on speed dial, but these cultural curators, bookers, influencers are all either highly respected in their fields, up-and-comers to watch or perennially influential. In light of this past week’s cover story on Lois Weisberg and the future of Chicago’s free summer festivals, it seemed a nice opportunity to take a quick, less-than-scientific who’s-who inventory of Chicago’s cultural curators. This is by no means a Cultural clout issue—but, quite honestly, I find it useful to take a quick look at who's-who in the cultural scene especially outside my usual areas-of-interest. So, here's a quick snapshot of Chicago's cultural curators.

Dan Telfer at Chicago Underground Comedy - TimeOut Magazine

"The 10 Best Comedians of 2010"

In his “Best Dinosaur” bit, Telfer challenges a crowd to name, you guessed it, the best dinosaur, and then viciously shoots down every suggestion with a mix of knowledge and “complete bullshit.” For the 31-year-old comedian—who’s been doing improv, writing plays and refining his act since he was 18—it was the perfect opportunity to flex some nerd skills and interact with his audience. He’s since garnered a few comedy-club bookings, released an EP and is continuing to build momentum as he prepares for his first full-length album. - Paste Magazine

"Best of What's Next: Comedian Dan Telfer"

ALBUM: Fossil Record EP
FOR FANS OF: Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, science

A year and a half ago, Dan Telfer did a weird, confrontational bit of stand-up comedy now known online as The Best Dinosaur at the Beat Kitchen Rock Club in Chicago. He had no idea that it would eventually become a viral-video sensation, racking up more than 230,000 views on YouTube, and that strangers would recognize him in public based solely on the five-and-a-half minute clip.

“The weekend after it broke big, my wife and I went to see a play and I had three different people recognize me,” he says. “Three different people I had never seen before who were also going to see the play. It was super creepy—more for my wife than me. They knew my name. It was a nerdy play, so that helped. It was Neverwhere, an adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman’s novels. He’s a big comic book/science fiction/fantasy guy, so that explains why we would have a bit of a crossover.”

In “The Best Dinosaur” bit, Telfer challenges the Beat Kitchen crowd to name the best dinosaur and then viciously shoots down every suggestion with a mix of knowledge and “complete bullshit.” For the 31-year-old comedian—who’s been doing improv, writing plays and refining his act since he was 18—it was the perfect opportunity to flex some nerd skills and interact with his audience. In addition to the occasional ego boost during a night on the town, he’s since garnered a few comedy-club bookings, and he’s happy to keep up the momentum as he prepares for his first full-length album. But if folks think of him as a one-hit wonder, no worries.

“That sounds fine to me,” Telfer says. “I’ve always been pretty picky about what clips of mine I let on the Internet. I don’t try to post entire sets, or all my material online. … I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by being the internet-comedy clip guy, so if I get one that gets a shitload of traffic, it’s like, ‘Oh, cool. Great.’ I have zero plans to release another viral video of my stand-up comedy on the internet.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Telfer is co-writing artist Dyna Moe’s Mad Men: The Illustrated World, to be released by Penguin Publishing in October. “[She] did MadMenYourself.com and the cover of my EP,” he says. “Beyond that I’m booking clubs and colleges and putting material together for a full-length album.” - Paste Magazine

"The Best Comedy Albums of 2010"

The high point here, though, is getting an introduction to Chicago comic Dan Telfer via Fossil Record (a recording of his opening set from the aforementioned Tompkins show). Sure, a grown man yapping compulsively about dinosaurs onstage will always be funny on some level, but Telfer turns this into a deft comic exercise, smacking down audience suggestions for “the best dinosaur” with encyclopedic dino-facts off the top of his head: “Triceratops? What about Styracosaurus? It had nine horns on its little shield, and even then it totally was just a bag of meat in the back. You could totally unfurl those entrails...” Ever expansive in his nerdiness, Telfer brings his set to a peak with “Voltron,” an encounter with “an assemblage of venereal diseases allowed to walk Golem-like from sports bar to train car.” - The Onion AV Club

"Brainy Meets Zany: Talking with Dan Telfer"

Dan Telfer’s comedy is a feat of improv, stand-up and lightning fast synapses. Videos of his routines go viral on the internet. Especially addictive is “Best Dinosaur,” where Telfer challenges the audience to name the best beast, refuting each suggestion with a wit and speed that makes the most expert paleontologist look like Fred Flintstone.

Laid end to end, Telfer’s awards and accolades would circle Pangea. The Onion called his “Fossil Record” one of the best comedy albums of 2010, Time Out Chicago named him one of the city's “Comedy Curators,” and Paste Magazine proclaimed him one of the “Best Comedians of 2010” alongside Zack Galifianakis and Louis C.K. Maria Bamford and Patton Oswalt have requested him as their opening act. Second City tapped him to teach stand-up . He is a host of the Onion A.V. Club’s web series, “Pop Pilgrims.” You might think Telfer is a classic case of class clown makes good. But growing up, he was the introverted brainy kid.

Telfer will headline the Wilmette Theatre’s "Comedy at the Mette" on June 11. Following his performance, the audience is invited to stay for a free screening of the B-movie horror flick, “Rise of the Dead” (there is a connection to Telfer’s stand-up). Telfer, along with beloved Chicago comedian Adam Burke and the Onion A.V. Club’s Keith Phipps will provide Mystery Science Theater-style commentary.

TribLocal spoke with Telfer to learn how quiet, smart kids rocket to comedy success.

Q: How did you first get into comedy?

A: I was in a lot of plays in high school, mostly to impress girls because the girls I wanted to impress were either theater people or quirky people who hung out with theater people. Then in the late nineties during college, I got an internship at Improv Olympic (now IO). I found out that interning was not just getting to hang out at the theater, it also paid for classes. The improv started tying itself together with the theater I was studying in college. I started doing one-man shows and experimenting with everything at that point.

Q: What about stand-up attracted you?

A: The creative freedom. A lot of sketch and improv people I was hanging out with were also doing stand-up and I was realizing myself how alternative comedy was becoming more popular. For much of my youth, up into my early and mid twenties, I was very snobbish, very evil and condescending towards things I didn’t like. It took seeing introverts and snobs succeeding at comedy, despite the garbage in mainstream culture, for me to call myself out and be like, you know what, I have always loved stand-up, I grew up on stand-up, I’ve done solo performance, I’ve done sketch comedy, there’s so much here I could be playing around with.

And once I did it, it went so much better than I could have hoped. Even when nobody was laughing, I thought, “This is perfect.” I was very addicted very fast. And of all the kinds of comedy performance, it is the easiest to find a venue, to find someone who’ll let you get you get up and try it.

Q: What does your comedy say about you?

A: I’ve always had a hard time dealing with what other people think of me and so I’m hoping I just look like a self-actualized person when I am funny because who knows what I look like socially. I am one of the most socially awkward people I know. When I’m talking about comedy or talking about something I care about, I can really ramp up my confidence and be articulate. But when I’m walking around and caught unawares, I am the most awkward, slouchy, quiet, lost-in-my-own-world person.

And honestly, you know what I hope? I hope that they think, when this guy is left to his own thoughts and does weird research for his comedy, it pays off.

Q: Does being introverted make comedy easier or harder?

A: It definitely makes it harder to perform. All my first improv characters were yelling and it wasn’t because I thought yelling was funny. It was because it was the only way I knew how to express myself in front of strangers. I remember when I was in a children’s play in high school, my character’s lines had all these inflections and then when I got on stage, I would go ballistic and scream everything because I didn’t know how to cope with everybody looking at me.

What introverts have as an advantage is that they’re interesting. They’ve spent time cultivating their interests. They’ve spent time looking at what makes the world tick, what would make the world better, what’s lovely about the planet. When they talk to people, it means more to them.

Also, you can get by a lot on confidence. With enough practice and focus, an introvert can fake just enough confidence and what that will do is showcase a point of view that people will not expect at all. If anything, that’s a strength.

Q: Maybe somebody reading this dreams of getting onstage, but being introverted gets in the way. What do you advise?

A: Fake it. Absolutely fake it. If it feels inauthentic, know that what you’re doing is not supposed to be a final product. You’re doing a rough draft of how you’re going to end up performing. You’re not going to fix yourself because there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not going to make yourself an extrovert. So you have to get practice talking to other people. Fake it until you find a way to make it more your own, until you find a happy balance. What you’ll end up finding is stuff like passion and interest can float a lot more confidence than you thought.

Q: What is your favorite memory of studying at IO with Del Close?

A: One of my favorite Del Close quotes is to fail gloriously. Take risks that you doubt even while you’re taking them. That’s how you learn.

When I had him as a teacher, it was his second to last class ever. He was very old and very sick. He was wheezing constantly. He would go to the bathroom to puke up phlegm in the middle of people’s scenes and come back, wait patiently for them to finish and say, “Sorry about that, but you know, I’ve seen that scene before. It wasn’t anything special.” He was very blunt and a lot of people had stories that painted him as this impish terror, but I got to appreciate just how clearly he saw improv as a vehicle for comedy. Near the end he was putting up with [expletive] from nobody about anything. You learned some great stuff watching somebody with so little shyness.

Q: As an instructor now yourself, would you say being funny is something you’re born with or can it be taught?

A: I don’t think nature-nurture is an argument you can make with comedy. Comedy is when you know something is funny and you get other people to agree with you. If that’s a hard journey for you to go on, then sure, it’s going to be tough to teach you. You have to be self aware. The main thing you need is to be able to step outside yourself and acknowledge whether or not other people find the same things funny.

Q: What was your craziest onstage experience?

A: Once in Los Angeles, I was doing a show really late at night. The theater management told me, “This show starts at 11 p.m., so you better have a lot of energy because the audience is going to be sleepy.” And sure enough, as I was about to get onstage, I see this famous comedy blogger in the back row snoring. So I’m like, okay, what am I going to do?

On the back wall of the stage, there was a wooden window frame pressed up against a brick wall. You couldn’t actually go through the window because it was literally bricks instead of glass. I thought, that’s silly, they framed the brick. So I decided I would do a sketch at the top of my set as a character who tries to commit suicide without looking at the window he was jumping from and then I would bounce off the bricks and have to deal with the reality of botching a suicide attempt.

I did a full run and a cannonball into the brick. I discovered the brick was fake. It was particle board tacked onto the window. I went flying through it, knocking it off the wall and into about three feet of empty space, leaving screws and bolts behind me. And this huge cloud of sawdust just exploded through the back wall of the stage. Everyone in the audience thought that (a) it was intentional and (b) that I had just destroyed this theater. I then had to spend the next twelve minutes explaining to the audience what had happened.

Then I rebuilt the wall. I re-attached the particle board with the bricks on it and I ended up trapping myself in back of it with the microphone so I was literally invisible to the audience with a little mic chord leading into the wall. That was really fun. I love when things go wrong and you can maintain just enough control to create something out of it.

Q: If you could spend ten minutes with any comedian, who would it be?

A: If I could pick anyone I haven’t already met, I’ll just aim high and say John Cleese. I grew up on Monty Python and that man is amazing, both as a writer and as a performer. So prolific. I would kill to spend ten minutes listening to him talk.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

A: I will tell you very plainly and it is the only piece of comedy advice that’s ever really helped me. It’s what Steve Martin co-opted/wrote in his book: be so good that they can’t ignore you. Don’t worry about gossip and bull-[expletive]. Just work on your material and get up as often as you can and get better. Improve by your own standards. I definitely had some help from the Lakeshore Theater and from Chris Ritter who owned it. But I know I wouldn’t have been in such a good place if I didn’t bust my own balls and ignore the crushing social expectations around me.

Q: Anything unexpected about you to share?

A: I once wrote a very long love letter to Amy Poehler when I was sixteen years old.

Q: Did you send it?

A: Absolutely not. I did have it posted on the internet for a while, but then I took it down. I realized that other people went on the internet. I was an early adopter to the internet.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Just that I’m not afraid of being vulgar. But hopefully, the fact that I’m enthusiastic and positive will counter that.

"Comedy At The Mette" is at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 11 at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave. Tickets are $12. The show is hosted by Adam Burke and features Cameron Esposito. There will be a bonus post-show FREE screening of "Rise of the Dead" featuring Live Comedian Commentary. This is a 21 and over event. For more information or for tickets, call 847-251-7424 or visit http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/
- Chicago Tribune

"Staff Pick"

"Dan Telfer is the Nelson Mandela of nerds." - RooftopComedy.com

"Bumping Chicago Comedy's Glass Ceiling with Dan Telfer"

For a city that has a storied history with comedy, Chicago offers a surprisingly limited number of opportunities for stand-up comedians. Sketch and improv—represented by local institutions Second City, iO, and the Annoyance—get the majority of the attention, and stand-ups quickly find it difficult to grind out a living here. It puts a rising local comedian like Dan Telfer in an awkward position. In only three years, Telfer has begun to hit the ceiling of what a stand-up can do in Chicago. Ahead of his headlining shows this weekend at the Lincoln Lodge and Wilmette Theatre (moved there after the closing of the Lakeshore) and the release of his three-way split comedy EP with Paul F. Tompkins and Greg Proops on ASpecialThing Records, The A.V. Club checked in with Telfer about what comes next for a successful stand-up in Chicago. We also talked to Chicago native Kyle Kinane about taking that next step—Kinane made a successful move to L.A. in 2003, with his fantastic new debut album, Death Of The Party, to show for it.

The A.V. Club: How did you move from an acting background to one-man shows to comedy?

Dan Telfer: When I took acting classes at Columbia [College], this woman named Stephanie Shaw, who’s a former Neo-Futurist—you know, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind—she taught these solo performance classes and they were, right along with the sword-fighting classes, my favorite classes in theater school. She actually told me something that I took really personally at the time, in a bad way. She was like, “You’re meant to be doing this thing where you write material for yourself. You’ve got to stop auditioning for these Shakespeare plays. Just focus on writing for yourself as a solo performer.” I was so frustrated that there was only this one festival at the Live Bait that I was like, “That’s not a career. I’m not going to be some stupid, like, stand-up. This is bull,” and took it super personally. But then right around 2005 I started going, “I’m only getting cast in one or two plays every couple years because I’m tall, I’m gangly, basically a character actor.” Being able to take control of the art, so to speak, for myself was inspired by that thing that Stephanie Shaw told me all those years ago, like in 1999 or something.

AVC: Because you were doing one-man shows, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard to jump into stand-up.

DT: No, not at all. The big thing of course is that I’m trying to make people laugh, as opposed to just telling my story. When I was doing one-man shows, I was listening to a lot of This American Life and aspiring to that kind of storytelling. Then I heard enough storytelling comedians where I was like, “If my jokes have to be shorter, I can’t tell these 15-minute stories.” It made me feel like I was writing my one-man show stuff better. I was making it more concise. Now, coming out the other end, if I want to do a one-man show, I’m so much less sloppy. I can tie together a bunch of short stories. I can whittle them down to their most important points, and I’ve accumulated enough storytelling jokes that I’m much more self-aware of the parts of my life that the audience will find interesting.

AVC: So what parts of your life does the audience find interesting now?

DT: They really seem to like when I look like a complete jerk. I’m a total introvert, and I do lash out sometimes because I’m so frustrated with the world. It’s usually stories where I think I’m a normal person and I fail that people enjoy the most. My whole stage persona is almost exactly like my actual personality, but I do have to ramp it up a little bit, being an introvert, to where I‘ve some stage presence. If I do any observational humor, I look kind of pompous. And there are a lot of stories like that from when I was a teenager. But it happens fairly often to me now, too.

AVC: You have that bit about being on the Red Line and having a drunk girl point to you and say something like, “They make nerds out of fags now!”

DT: Yeah. I have this thing I’ll say to transition between stories where I’ve been called a “faggot” like once a week even though I’m in my 30s. Almost everybody thinks that’s a lie. I have so many stories. I’ve been telling a joke about being called a fag in this sort of blue-collar area and had people literally try to shout me off the stage by calling me a faggot. It just happened. I’ll call myself nerdy onstage, and people will be like, “Yeah, you are a nerd!” really viciously. If we get too political, there’s a fight against science and knowledge and being smart makes you gay and all that stuff. By laying my point of view out like that and not being at all famous yet, I get to experience that quite often. I’m still finding my fan base.

AVC: You lost your job last July. Did it seem like a good chance to focus more on comedy?

DT: Not really. I was at this weird point, where I was getting taken on the road with Maria Bamford on a semi-regular basis. Not often, but like, I had already done it twice that year. So like, I wasn’t confident enough to put myself out like, “I’m going to go out on the road all the time,” but I was starting to take time off work to do stand-up for like, four days in a row. But I didn’t want to lose my job. I wasn’t really at that point and then when it happened, I was not really seeing it coming, and I was pretty upset about it. I was, “Oh God, I’m not in a good place for this,” but my wife was really cool and she was like, “You’re going on the road a lot. You’ve opened for some really cool people. I bet you could really be focusing on stand-up more.” She encouraged me to go for it. I got over my crippling self-doubt, and I went for it and to an extent, it got really good, really fast.
Who knows, at any point, I might go back and get a day job to save money, because, as I said, my style is really specific, and I can only cater to the blue-collar style of most of this nation’s clubs so much. I’m not in my element, and I don’t want to ruin my own reputation by forcing myself into that situation.
My goal has always been I want to make everyone laugh. It’s not like I want to make the hipsters laugh. I don’t do material where I think I’m playing to a certain niche at all. I’m really just trying to do stuff I find interesting and that I hope other people can get on board with, but sometimes people just hear you say the word “science” and go, “Boo!’ And there’s not a lot you can do about that.

AVC: There’s something about comedy that makes it very open to participatory criticism, more so than even bands.

DT: Well, if you’re in a band, you can play through a heckler. Sure, they might throw a cup of beer at you or something worse, but they can get put in jail for that. Whereas with comedy, especially if you’re trying to be subtle, you leave these huge open silences, sometimes longer than a couple of sentences, and people, they can sense that nothing is stopping them from being a part of the show. Maybe they showed up with this idea that all comedy is audience-interactive and you’re kind of cheating them, and so they’re like, “All right, I’ve got to turn this show around. That’s my job.” And alcohol does that magical thing where they forget they’re in a place where they’re supposed to have manners.

AVC: You’ve said at your shows and on your blog that the Lakeshore has been a great venue for you as a comedian. How has its closing affected you?

DT: Well, we still have good clubs, but the clubs that are still around can only put so much energy into booking local acts that have a personality that meshes with the headliner. I mean, almost all comedy clubs, I mean like 90 percent are just like, “Well, I got these features I can call and I got these headliners I can call. I’m just going to go off of availability, because I got too many people to juggle.” And the Lakeshore was all about [booking local acts]. They would put up people like James Fritz with Doug Stanhope,which was the absolute best marriage of a local comedian opening for a big headlining act. They were doing that for me all the frickin’ time. I don’t have a problem with the other local clubs, but there’s nobody going to that point. When I talk about the comedians who do inspire me and who made me want to make a leap to stand-up, it just so happens they were the style of Lakeshore. Those were comedians who weren’t previously coming to Chicago at all. So, kind of a bummer.

AVC: You’ve been looking for work in L.A., right?

DT: I’ve been trying for about two and a half years. Since I started stand-up, I’m like, “Oh, this is perfect. Perfect transition.” But I’ve done showcases, where people have taken my kit and my kit’s got my spec scripts in it. “Here’s just some of the spec scripts I’ve written. I’ve also got a pilot. I’m working on a screenplay. I’ve got novel manuscripts. I’ve got all this stuff.” And nobody—if you don’t live in L.A., they don’t care. They really don’t care. They’re like, “All right, well, when are you moving out here?” So that’s a hitch. It used to be that Improv Olympic would have showcases for Saturday Night Live and they still do, but pretty much Charna Halpern at iO is the only person pimping out Chicago people to the coasts. Like, we had the showcase show at the Lincoln Lodge last December. That was exciting, because the booker for The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien was there, as well as a guy from 3 Arts out in L.A. I had just auditioned for Conan, so this is like my second audition for Conan in a week. I was like, “Oh, here we go. Here we go.” But those guys don’t call you back. [Laughs.] They’ll talk to you after the show and be like, “Oh my God, man, I love you. Can I have your kit? I’m going to read your spec. Let’s talk.” And then they’ll e-mail you and be like, “Yeah, so when are you moving out here?” And if you say you’re doing exploratory trips until you can find a job, that’s the end of the conversation. They don’t even say “Sorry.” They’ll delete your correspondence.

AVC: Kyle Kinane said you eventually hit a ceiling in terms of how much you can do here, before moving to L.A. Do you feel the same?

DT: He’s 100-percent correct. I feel like that headlining weekend I had at the Lakeshore was a millimeter below that ceiling and whether or not I’ve hit it, I don’t know, but I’ve definitely can smell the streaks on the glass of the people who’ve slammed up against it before me. - The Onion AV Club


"Fossil Record"- AST Records
"Doug Loves Movies"- Podcast
"The Benson Interruption"- Podcast
"The Best Dinosaur"- Viral Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vSY_rB928c



Dan Telfer has been writing and performing comedy in Chicago since 1996. He's toured as an opener for Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn, and Patton Oswalt. His debut CD EP "Fossil Record" was released in 2010 on AST Records as a split release with Greg Proops and Paul F. Tompkins. Fossil Record was an iTunes Bestseller and was named by The Onion AV Club as one of the Best Comedy Albums of 2010 and Paste Magazine called Telfer "The Best of What's Next." He was named "Best of the Fest" in the 2011 Chicago Just For Laughs Festival and "Talk of the Fest" at Montreal Just For Laughs.You can now see him as host of The Onion AV Club's new pop culture travel web series, Pop Pilgrims.