While comedian Dan Alten attended IU, he didn't get his start in comedy until after graduation. Alten will perform stand up comedy at 8 p.m. Thursday night at Uel Zing Coffee.
Alten spoke with the Indiana Daily Student about his style of comedy, his DIY comedy label Laff Fest and how he came to co-hold the Guinness World Record for performing on the Longest Stand-up Comedy Show.
Indiana Daily Student: How did you get into comedy? Did you start when you were a student at IU?
Alten: I knew that I wanted to do it when I was a senior at IU and Bloomington always had a really good comedy scene, but I knew that when I started comedy, I would be really bad at it. So I figured I would rather start out not surrounded by a bunch of my friends, so that their last memory wouldn't be me being bad at comedy. So I would write when I was in Bloomington, and then as soon as I got to Louisville, I moved there after graduation, I started doing open mics and it took off from there.
IDS: You’ve performed at the Comedy Attic here in Bloomington before; have you ever performed at Uel Zing?
Alten: Yeah, I’ve been there one time in the past. Actually, I’ve been there a few times. It’s a really great room. I like it a lot. Bloomington has this weird mix of people that make it perfect for comedy.
You have like young college kids who want to experience new things, you have like the older hippies, you have just older regular folk, who are always down for a good time, so you have this nice mix of people who go out and just want to enjoy comedy.
Uel Zing is really cool. I like small rooms. I like small, intimate rooms, and it’s like the perfect size, really nice people. It’s a really cool-looking room, the coffee shop itself is beautiful. I like it a lot.
IDS: Can you talk about Laff Fest, the DIY comedy label you started?
Alten: It was more of like putting on group shows, like we’ll bring in touring comics like people who have been on Conan or whatnot. A lot of times people who are at the Comedy Attic will come to our shows sometimes.
So we run different shows around Louisville and because the venues are always changing, these venues were closed or we would do special house shows or special events at like art galleries, we figured it would be easier if we just made a name that we could put all the shows under, like one group banner.
There’s a lot of comedy festivals that are often very silly and questionable, so we kind of figured, why not? And kind of poke fun at the name. So it’s a festival, but it’s just constant shows all the time.
Then we also put out two split CDs, so one is me and then another fellow, the guy who hosted the first open mic that I did, actually. So it’s each of us doing a half hour.
IDS: What are the benefits of smaller venues?
Alten: When you do a lot of comedy, you kind of tailor to the people who are there in the room in some regard. You can’t really go off on weird tangents and everyone in the room doesn’t understand the weird tangent you’re talking about.
With the more people in the room, it just makes it that much harder to please that many people, so you end up with a very mainstream situation. Whereas if there’s 20 or 30 people, you can take those 20 to 30 people on a very particular, weird journey that it’s harder to get if you have 200 people in the room.
IDS: How would you describe your comedic style?
Alten: Very surreal and absurd, but intelligent at the same time. Like dumb comedy for intelligent people, basically. Like a hipster Steve Martin.
IDS: You co-hold the Guinness World Record for performing on the Longest Stand-up Comedy Show. How long was the show?
Alten: It’s like eight days. They do it in Nashville. The past five years they’ve done it, and they break their own record every year. I’ve participated in it the past two years, no, the past three years. So it’s eight days, is where it currently is right now, so it’s eight continuous days of around the clock stand up comedy.
So someone’s always onstage telling jokes. There have to be at least 10 people in the crowd. You go down there, then you go up onstage, then every five hours or so you go back onstage. So it’ll be nice, you’ll be up at like 6 a.m. and then you’ll go up again at noon, then you’ll go up again at 7 and at midnight.
It’s very interesting. It’s a very weird, surreal experience. It’s kind of like a comedy boot camp I guess. Everyone who participates gets one. There’s a selection process to prove that you’re a comedian. So you have to jump through some hoops basically, so you can take four-hour naps and perform a bunch that week.
IDS: When you're performing do you take a lot of cues from the audience?
Alten: I’m really weird onstage, so a lot of my cues from the audience are just like not so much figuring out what they like and don’t like, but just making sure they understand what’s going on.
Because then if they understand it, then I can take them on a weird journey. If they don’t understand, then it’s very difficult to keep going in that regard. So more so than tailoring it to what I think they’ll find funny, I just try to make sure we’re all on the same page and hope that they like what I do.
IDS: Anything else you want to add?
Alten: It’s going to be a good time, there’s going to be a lot of positive energy, Oh! Oh my goodness, actually there will be some comics from Louisville also on the show coming up. The comics coming up are all really different.
Jordan Goodwin, who is my favorite comedian, he is the most original comedian I’ve ever seen. He’s like a happy Andy Kaufman. He’s great. So it’s a really nice mix of performers on the show. A lot of different styles and a lot of different people who are just going to try and make you laugh.