An Interview with Comedian Dave Hill

“In a high performance world, creates innovative designs built to last 7 years. Braun profiles 15 innovative guys in an intimate look at their life passions and the unique objects of design and durability that power their life.”

When Variety names you one of the top 10 “Comics to Watch,” things get busy in your life. Just ask Dave Hill, once a program aide at a homeless shelter and now a successful touring comic. Hill hosts the Dave Hill Explosion stage show for the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade, a show that Hill has even taken to New York City’s viagra instructions for use online pharmacy. Pulling from his personal life experience, Hill is standalone figure on and off stage.

We team up with to talk to Dave Hill about his favorite Built to Perform possession: his Yamaha acoustic guitar.

Photography by James Ryang

1) You define yourself as a writer, performer, musician, actor, comedy-type person and artist. In the past, you’ve had jobs including pedicab driver and program aide for a homeless shelter. Which job do you think has been the greatest source of material? What kind of job have you always wanted to try?

Working at the homeless shelter was a pretty endless source of material. I did everything from basic stuff like serving meals and doing bed checks to less pleasant tasks. It was still probably the most fun non-creative job I’ve ever had. I liked hanging out and talking with the residents and I got free meals, which was great because I was just out of college and totally broke.

I’ve always wanted to try being a doctor, but mostly just for the outfits. Also, I like charts.

2) You frequently explore themes of “manliness” and “growing up” in your work. How do you think men’s roles have changed? How have you and your work changed over the years?

I don’t know if men’s roles have changed that much in recent years other than I’d like to think there is increasingly more equality between men and women. I will say though that less men today, especially younger men, seem to know what it means to have someone’s back. They don’t look out for those around them—they look out for themselves first. I think wuss might be the word I’m looking for.

I’ve changed over the years mostly in terms of being more comfortable and confident pursuing the things I like to do. Most of the things I do—comedy, writing, music—aren’t the safest, most stable paths. When I was younger, I would occasionally dream that I might wake up with an overwhelming desire to become an accountant or something more conventional and easier for my parents to explain at dinner parties. But I’m glad I was stubborn and stuck with doing the things I love. Now, I’m usually excited about what’s next as opposed to worrying that absolutely nothing is next and I will have to go back to painting houses or something.

3) You’re an Ohio transplant to New York. What is one of your best NYC newbie stories?

I first came to New York to attend Fordham University. One night, I was wandering around the Bronx with a few friends when a bunch of guys started chasing us for seemingly no reason. As we made our escape, I got shot in the leg by something. I felt fine but was still convinced I was probably going to die soon.  When we got back to my apartment, I felt my leg and it was covered in what looked like blood.  Upon closer inspection, though, it turned out I had been shot by a red paint gun. Crisis averted. The stain never did come out of those pants though.

4) What has been your greatest professional experience so far?

My favorite experiences are the ones where I find myself checking in with the 15-year-old me and thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening!” I’ve done a number of shows and interviews with Dick Cavett, and those times come to mind the most right now. Dick Cavett is a big hero of mine. I can’t believe I actually know him. I even have his phone number but I’ve only dared to call it once, just to see if he would really pick up. And he did! I almost had a seizure.

5) Your Built to Perform prized possession is a guitar. What is the model/type? Where were you when you first bought it and how long have you had it for? Why is it your Built to Perform Possession?

It’s an inexpensive Yamaha acoustic guitar. I bought it in Cleveland around 1995.   I’ve had it most of my adult life and it’s the one guitar I have that’s been a big part of both my music and comedy career. I hammer out ideas with it in my underwear at home and I use it on stage all the time, too. A few years ago, I had Ronnie James Dio sign it after he was a guest on my Dave Hill Explosion show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. A while later I had Ira Glass sign it to balance things out a bit. I love both those guys and I figured a heavy metal god and a public radio show host are kind of the yin and yang of what I’m all about.

6) Have you named your guitar like some men name their cars? 

I have about 20 guitars, so I worry if I started naming them I’d feel like I was cheating on them with each other and the guilt would consume me. If anything, I call it my Ronnie James Dio/Ira Glass guitar, but most of the time I just look at it and say, “Come to me.”

7) In one sentence, tell us why you couldn’t live without your Built to Perform possession. 

Ronnie James Dio gave my guitar magic powers and Ira Glass sealed them in.

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