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The King of New York

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Dave Hill Doesnt Live Here Anymore

This weekend I finished my first book of the self-quarantine era: Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. To help explain the book, it might help by explaining a little bit about who Dave Hill is:

“Dave Hill is comedian, writer, and musician originally from Cleveland but now living in New York City. He has written for The New York Times, The Paris Review, Salon, GQ, McSweeney’s, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the New York Daily News, and Guitar World, among other publications. He is a regular contributor to public radio’s This American Life and hosts his own radio show, The Goddamn Dave Hill Show, on WFMU in Jersey City, New Jersey. Dave has starred in his own TV series, The King of Miami, on the MOJO Network. He has also appeared on Comedy Central, BBC America, MTV, and Adult Swim, among others, and is a regular host on HBO and Cinemax. Dave performs live comedy in theaters and basements all over the world. He also plays guitar and sings in his own rock band, Valley Lodge, whose song “Go” is the theme song for HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is his second collection of nonfiction essays. Tasteful Nudes: … and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation is his first.”

First picking up and digging into the book several weeks back, I wrapped it over the past two days. Dave’s writing style isn’t unlike his performance style: He’s well adept at understated humor and has a world-class ability for injecting the mundane with some aggressive self-confidence to spice things up a bit. Dave is a genius at leaning into obviousness to a point of farce while also being a master of the over-sell. He does it all.

I don’t remember exactly how I was first introduced to Dave’s videos, but it must have been somewhere around 2005, when I was a senior in college. YouTube wasn’t exactly YouTube back then, so a lot of videos online were still available via RealPlayer streams or QuickTime video downloads; that’s how I seem to recall watching some of my early favorites of Dave’s including his “Pug Luggage” vignette.

Add to it that I can’t remember why I first emailed Dave, but when I did I recall it was to his AOL email address, which was something like MrLouRawls@aol.com. I figured “Dave Hill” was his stage name, so when I emailed him I addressed him accordingly. My hunch is Dave emailed me back for no other reason than to confirm if I’d truly never heard of Lou Rawls. It was a silly oversight on my part, but also: Dave was increasingly kind in the emails that followed, which helped me feel like I wasn’t as big of an idiot as I thought I was. It’s no surprise that he’s of Canadian lineage… which might have also been one of the points about myself that endeared me to him.

The next year I joined a school trip to New York City, and as part of the entertainment portion of the tour we were scheduled to hit a theatrical performance of Chicago, starring Huey Lewis. I wasn’t particularly interested in the show, and when I learned that it fell on the same night, at the same time, as an event Dave was performing at I knew I had to figure my way out of the situation. The night of, I joined my classmates until intermission then bolted, picking up a cab to try to get to the show on time, but I still missed the whole thing. I did meet Dave and one of his friends at a bar in Alphabet City after though. All I really remember from the conversation was pulling out a $5 bill for a beer and initially being a few bucks short. “You’re in New York,” he said… or something like that. Point taken, Mr. Rawls.

The next year, I returned to New York for a personal trip and met with Dave for breakfast, to pick his brain as someone who was making it as a writer (among the many other things he was doing) in a city I was kinda-maybe thinking I’d like to move to. A couple days later I finally caught a show of his at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and met up for drinks with him and some of his friends after. I recall lugging around several issues of Vice magazine that I’d picked up when I visited someone I knew who worked there, all the while wearing a black blazer with jeans because I was a young, hip, and single guy in the big city.

I had so much fun that night. Dave introduced me to Kristen Schaal and Reggie Watts, who I’d seen perform a night or two earlier when he performed at a small East Village club Rififi. I remember later seeing Schaal on Flight of the Conchords (and later hearing her voice Louise on Bob’s Burgers) and feeling like I’d somehow tasted a bit of the inner circle the night I got to hang out with them. I saw Reggie Watts a few years later when he performed here at Third Man Records, and I have a vague recollection of an email I wrote him after, reflecting on our brief encounter a few years prior and gushing about his set. (The reality of what I actually wrote was probably far more embarrassing and regrettable than what I remember.)

One of the things I appreciate most about Dave’s writing is his consistency. He’s incredibly talented and hard working, which has helped him piece together a dream job of orbiting the broader world of show business, occasionally touching down to release a new book, or play in a metal band with Moby, or sit in with his buddy Malcolm Gladwell for a hell of a podcast. (Dave’s helmed several podcasts, himself.)

Which brings me back to the book. That night after seeing Dave perform, I remember people being incredibly encouraging of me moving to New York, to just try to make a go of things. I was scared to death of that. They were all funny and making their lives work, and at the time I was an assistant department manager of a hardware store. For a brief moment, locked in that space, I thought maybe I could mix it up as something of a humorist… the only thing standing in my way being that I’m not particularly funny. (I mean, I can be witty and charming in person, but that doesn’t seem to translate with any consistency to the written word.) But the point is, they all got on stage and tried, and Dave was right there with them. The book captures his stories about how he got to where he was, and recalls the adventures that helped pave the road he’s travelled along the way.

I finished Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore while sitting on the back patio of a house I’ve lived in for nearly three years in a city I honestly couldn’t pinpoint on a map ten years ago. I had a chance to pick up a job in New York a few years after I first moved to Nashville, but opted instead for something “easier,” instead. My hunch is, given where I was at in my life at that time, had it worked out for me to actually move east, doing so wouldn’t have ended well. Now, sitting out back, I felt a little envious; envious of the stories in the book as much as the intelligent and humorous manner with which they were written. But at the same time, there’s a story still happening right here, and it felt good to recognize how much opportunity there is moving forward to welcome new adventures and create new memories, myself. Being faced with isolation from much of the world outside my house has already created a different view from which to look forward with.