Three Great Things: Dana Gould

The comedian, writer and actor, whose show Hanging with Doctor Z just premiered its second season, on what brings him joy in life.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In this latest column, comedian Dana Gould – who recently launched the second season of his 1970s-style talk show Hanging with Doctor Z, featuring guests such as “Weird Al” Yankovic, Maria Bamford and Bobcat Goldthwait – shares some of the things that he loves most in life. — N.D.

Taking My Kids to the Drive-In
Drive-in movies were hugely popular in America in the late ’40s, had their bloom in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s, and died out with the advent of home videotape. (VCRs rang the death knell for drive-ins, because the types of movies that played there found their way to VHS releases.) I have a deep emotional connection to drive-ins, because when I was in high school in Massachusetts, I worked at one that has been going ever since the ’50s, taking tickets and working the snack bar.

There’s a drive-in theater near where I live in Los Angeles – Mission Tiki in Montclair, California – which has been around for a long time. I used to go with my friends in the ’90s, when it was rundown and sketch, but it was renovated in the early aughts and now has four screens, shows first run movies and has a giant tiki-themed snack bar (it’s very Southern California). I started taking my three kids there around 2010, and it’s one of my great pleasures. We just saw Spider-Man: No Way Home there. One of the happiest feelings I have is sitting at the drive-in with my kids, because not only does it connect to fond memories from my childhood but I also know that I’m making memories for my children. And it’s just a very American, very beautiful thing.

Mission Tiki, as photographed by Dana Gould in August 2020. (Photo via Instagram.)

My roots with drive-ins go back to when I was about six and I made my parents take me to see Escape from the Planet of the Apes at the drive-in. I still remember it clearly, and it’s what started my fixation with the Planet of the Apes movie series, which I still have to this day. It’s a very fun memory. Years later, I took my kids to the drive-in to see the new versions of the Planet of the Apes movies, and it was nice to complete the circle like that.

Driving on Mulholland
I grew up in a little mill town in Massachusetts, and all the TV shows that I watched as a kid, like The Brady Bunch and Adam-12, seemed like they were shot in Southern California. So, from a very young age, I wanted to live in Southern California. At the time, that was a pretty unattainable goal, like wanting to live on the Moon. But eventually, I made it out here and now I live up off Mulholland Drive. I drive along Mulholland every day, and I see the city splayed out below me, which is an iconic view from every L.A movie and TV show. And I have to say, every single time I take the corner and I see that view, it’s not lost on me that, “Oh my God, I live here. This is amazing!” Because it really is. As a kid, my parents never took us to Disneyland or anything like, so to be here – to live in Los Angeles and to call it home – is something that has never lost its power for me. And when I watch reruns of Adam-12, I’ll think things like, “Oh, that bank used to be a furniture store!”

“From my house, I can see the Valley, which I think is the preferable view …” (Photo via Instagram.)

If you live right on the crest of Mulholland in certain places (e.g., if you’re Jack Nicholson), you can see both L.A. and the Valley. From my house, I can see the Valley, which I think is the preferable view, because it’s just a beautiful grid. If you remember the ending of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when the mothership comes down, that’s the view of the Valley from Mulholland, turned upside down. It may not be anything to some other people, but for somebody who grew up in the middle of Massachusetts, it’s pretty inspiring.

Horror Movie Culture
I love old horror movie culture. When I was young, other kids were interested in baseball, but I was obsessed with monster movies and horror movies from the ’40s to the ’70s. Before the internet, there was a magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland that you would get, and the headline would be something like “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” and it would tell you all about that. There was a whole culture around those movies, but when I was growing up in Massachusetts, I didn’t know anybody that was into this stuff. When I moved out here to L.A., though, I started to meet other people who loved it as much as I do. It was amazing when I would meet somebody else who knew about War of the Gargantua! Or they would mention Forrest J. Ackerman, and it was like a secret handshake: “Oh great, we can talk for 17 hours now!”

Dana Gould reading Famous Monsters of Filmland in September 2021. (Photo by Andrew Max Levy.)

A lot of my L.A. friends who aren’t other comedians are people I know from the world of monster movies and horror movies. There was a store in Burbank called Creature Features, a monster movie store, and in the early aughts, I would go there every Saturday. There were a bunch of other professional “monster kids” who would hang out there with me, like Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, and Greg Nicotero from The Walking Dead. Creature Features was like our bar where we’d meet up every week for an hour and a half.

Creature Features is closed now (though it still exists as an online business), but I’m still friends with the owner and there’s a strip in Burbank called “Horror Row” that has a bunch of similar stores. There’s Halloween Town, which is what it sounds like; Mystic Museum, which sells occult and horror movie stuff; Blast from the Past, a vintage toy store; and Dark Delicacies, a mystery, horror and sci-fi bookstore. Everybody goes there still, except Guillermo del Toro, because he’s too famous. But I know everybody in all the stores by name and my girlfriend knows if I’m not home, that’s usually where I am. It’s like macaroni and cheese to me: emotional comfort food. Sometimes if I’m working really hard and get really stressed out, I’ll just go to Horror Row because what I need is to touch nerd stuff. If I can see a Creature from the Black Lagoon salt-and-pepper shaker set, then I’ll feel better and be happy.

Featured image of Dana Gould by Andrew Max Levy.

Dana Gould has six solo stand-up comedy specials to his credit, has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Conan and Maron, and as an actor has had memorable turns on Seinfeld and Parks and Recreation and is one of the few actors to play his live-action self on Family Guy and The Simpsons. Dana was a writer/performer on the original Ben Stiller Show, co-created MTV’s late, lamented Super Adventure Team with Rob Cohen, and is the creator and executive producer of the IFC horror-comedy Stan Against Evil, starring John C. McGinley. He was also a co-executive producer at The Simpsons and a producer on Parks and Rec. Dana adapted Rod Serling’s original draft of the screenplay for Planet of the Apes as a graphic novel for Boom! Comics, and is currently portraying Doctor Z in his original comedy talk-show series Hanging with Doctor Z, in which his 1970s-era movie star simian interviews current celebrities. Season 2 of the show premiered online on February 14. (Photo by Andrew Max Levy.)