Behind the sleepy voice and laid-back demeanor is a metal master — in training. Guitar-shredding standup comic Dave Hill co-stars alongside fire-throated metal vocalist Phil Anselmo in the Karate Kid-inspired Metal Grasshopper, in which weenie-turned-metalhead Hill endures Anselmo's constant berating and ridiculous feats of metal strength.
"Headbanging, screaming, I lit a pentagram on fire on his front lawn, we rented a goat — all sorts of ridiculous stuff going on," Hill says. "In shooting this series, we thought initially it would be me being a complete goofball, and him trying to keep up with me being an idiot. But it ended up being the other way around. He was such an over-the-top goofball, I pretty much come off as the straight man."
Hill and Supagroup's Chris Lee created the web series, which will be released later this year. Hill performs and the trio previews the series at One Eyed Jacks on July 23. New Orleans comics Andrew Polk, Molly Ruben-Long and Fayard Lindsey open, and a Q&A follows.
Hill's previous metal-as-comedy stunts include "The Black Metal Dialogues," in which Hill (as "Lance, the King of Black Metal" from Gary, Indiana, with the email address MrLouRawls@aol.com) had long email conversations with actual black metal musicians. Hill also is the author of 2012's Tasteful Nudes: ... And Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation and is the host and brain behind frequent Upright Citizens Brigade variety show The Dave Hill Explosion as well as WFMU's The Goddam Dave Hill Show. Hill's band, the power-pop outfit Valley Lodge, provides the theme ("Go") for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on HBO.
Hill says he came into comedy as "an accidental career." Onstage, Hill straps on a guitar and records loops to soundtrack his jokes, frequently punctuated with gratuitous solos.
"I almost just use it as an excuse to play guitar solos in a comedy show," he says. "I was just thinking this morning — I'm not really into jam bands or anything — but I was like, 'I wish there was some band that needs me to play guitar solos for 20 minutes at a time.'"
Hill recently joined Anselmo's band Down at a gig in Hill's hometown, Cleveland, and he played a guitar solo. ("I ended up playing shirtless at the end of the show," he says.)
"I met [Anselmo] years ago, which I wouldn't expect him to remember, and he didn't remember — he would've been at the peak of 'having a lot of fun' — but years ago I was backstage in Cleveland with him, and I was under the impression that most people are terrified of him," Hill says. "Even though he was very friendly and laughing, he's this guy who onstage screams his balls off."
Hill speaks with a low-key inflection, and his humor is subtle and offbeat. Aside from standup and writing gigs for television, Hill also was a journalist, and he has played in several moderately successful rock bands (including the glammy hard rock band Diamondsnake, with Moby). When he was a kid, he watched comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait make the press rounds before a gig in Cleveland, Hill's first-ever comedy show.
"He did an interview with the local paper and said some joke, then he did an interview with the 5 o'clock news and told the same joke, then when I saw him he did the same joke again. I was like, 'Is this all an act?'" Hill says, laughing. "I always liked guys like that, and Pee-wee Herman and Chris Elliott — guys who seemed crazy, even though I realized they were doing an act, it seemed like you were getting a glimpse of them going about their day. ... The sense that when they walked off stage, they just kept going along with the insanity. When I was younger I didn't understand you would try to have a career in comedy. I thought it was guys being silly, walking out and improvising. I don't know why I was that stupid."
Hill says he prefers finding humor in the uncomfortable, at-times alienating space that those comics have pioneered by "doing something that hasn't been done a million times."
"There are so many 'white guys talking about stuff," he says. "For me to talk about whatever, dating, so many people have that covered. I'd rather see what comes out naturally, which is not to say I'm the most mind-blowing performer. I hate when people are trying to get the audience to like them, like, 'Hey, how's everyone doing? What's everyone drinking?' like a camp counselor.
"I realize someone can be like, 'Well, Dave, you're boring and sucky.'"