Dan Cummins is a successful American stand-up comedian. He has performed on television shows like Conan.
Dan also hosts a great podcast named Timesuck, in which he deals with subjects ranging from UFOs to true crime to strange historical incidents.
Thanks Dan for taking the time to talk to Books, Bullets and Bad Omens!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Dan Cummins and I am a married father of a two kids, an eleven year old son and a nine year old daughter. I’ve been a standup comic for over 17 years and recently moved from Los Angeles back to Idaho, my home state. I live in Coeur d’Alene and I love it. I’ve performed on late night television, on Comedy Central, and have worked as both a sitcom writer and a reality television producer. And for the last year, my main focus has been a podcast, called Timesuck. And it’s keeping me busier than I have ever been before.
As the audience, we only see the performances, but tell us a bit about what goes into preparing a stand-up “gig”?
Material preparation is different for every comic I guess. For me, I’m perpetually at some point in the process of coming with a new hour’s worth of ideas for material, refining that material, performing it over and over until I don’t have to think about it anymore and it feels “done” and then recording it. And then I start all over again. When the material feels “done”, preparation is minimal. You just go up on stage and do the material you already know works. The only think you fight is boredom with performing it. Building new material is what is really hard. It’s always a grind. It gets easier the longer you’re a comic but I never really know if a story is going to work or not until I tell it onstage. And when it doesn’t work and no one laughs, or laughs very much, it’s painful. And then you have to edit it, rearrange it, restructure it, et cetera, and try it again and hope it works that time. I spend a lot of time on my laptop writing out stories I hope will work on stage. And even the good stories generally take months to really work consistently.
Is there a specific theme or area of knowledge you like to talk about in your shows?
I usually talk about my family for around 1/3 of the show and then use the other 2/3s to just share either personal stories of something that’s happened to me I think is funny or share observations about the world around me. Some of my stuff is autobiographical and some is social observation. I think my next hour maybe more social critique than it’s been in the past and less personal stories. I change things up.
You hosted the Playboy Morning Show. Tell us a bit about this job.
Ha. That was such a random job. I went out for an audition like I had done for a hundred other shows and that’s just the one that happened to say yes. It paid well, it was easy, and it allowed me to keep doing standup. And I worked with nude Playboy models, so, not a bad gig! It feels very surreal now. I’m glad I wasn’t single when I worked there. I would’ve probably gotten myself in a lot of trouble. I did have a lot of fun. The production staff I worked with and the models themselves were a fun group of people. And I loved working in an office where almost nothing was taboo. I feel like a lot of people I worked with at Playboy have a much healthier outlook on the world than people I worked with on other shows. It’s just sex.
How did your interest in true crime and mysteries develop?
I’ve always been very curious about the world around me and who doesn’t love a good mystery? I think almost everyone is interested in true crime. There’s such a strong element of “Why did they do that?” and “How did they get away with that?” Most of us follow the rules in life, partially because we’re afraid of the consequences of not following the rules. So it’s natural for us to be curious about the people who just break the rules left and right. And break the most taboo of all rules, like murder.
Do you have a “favorite” case in true crime, one that keeps you up at night?
Hmmm. The DeFeo Family murders in the Amityville house on Long Island, NY in the 1970s really bothers me. An entire family murdered in their beds – parents and siblings on different floors of the house – and no one seemed to wake up enough to get out of their beds! It just doesn’t make sense. And they were shot. Six family members shot with a loud rifle and no one runs out of the house? And autopsy toxicology reports found no drugs in their systems? And the shooter had to reload in the middle of the killing spree! That one bothers me because I just can’t wrap my head around how that could happen.
Do you have a favorite genre in paranormal stories?
Hmm. Ghost stories might be favorite followed closely by UFOs with cryptozoology a distant third. I like ghosts and aliens because even as a skeptic, I think they’re possible. We just can’t know what we don’t know about the universe. Just because science hasn’t “discovered” another dimension of reality outside our own doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. And, alien life might exist because we don’t know what’s out there. There’s so much in space we haven’t discovered. However, I highly doubt Bigfoot is real. We have explored almost every inch of this planet. If those giant hairy bipeds were walking amongst us – we’d have proof by now.
Have you yourself ever experienced anything supernatural?
I have not. Nothing conclusive. I’ve felt spooked or felt like I was being watched before, but I’ve never seen anything I couldn’t explain. I hope I do experience the supernatural in my lifetime. I’d love to know for sure there are worlds and realities beyond ours.
You host a great podcast named Timesuck that deals with crimes, mysteries and historical events. How did this podcast come about?
Timesuck came about very organically. I wanted to launch a new podcast but wanted to make sure it would be something I would enjoy. And I’ve always enjoyed learning about new and fascinating subjects. I was already researching various tales on the web for my own amusement – why not share that research with others and spread a little knowledge? And, I wanted to create a positive association with education. So many people view learning something as a chore. It reminds them of unpleasant school or parental experiences. It only has negative connotations. And that’s crazy. There is nothing more fun than learning about something fascinating that you didn’t know about before. And the more you learn, the better equipped you are to be successful in life. You could read something about ancient Egypt and realize a lesson someone learned centuries ago is totally applicable to something you’re dealing with now. I learned so much about a highly decorated Marine last week, Chesty Puller. A man who never quit. Was never to tired to do his job. He always keep fighting. And now, when I’m exhausted and want to quit, I think, “What would Chesty do right now?” And I know he wouldn’t quit – he wouldn’t even complain. And I shut my mouth and get back to work!
I like the variety in the topics you cover on Timesuck: from the Deep Web to the assassination of JFK to Nigerian email scams… How do you research the episodes?
All topics begin with listener suggestions(s). I pay attention to what topics listeners write in about and the more suggestions I get about a particular topic, the more likely I am to pick it for an episode. However, sometimes it will just be the right suggestion at the right time and I’ll change my mind and go with a topic only one person has asked for when it really intrigues me. Chikatilo was one of those. I also try and keep variety. If I do a serial killer one week I won’t do one for the next few weeks. If I do ten guys in a row I try and make sure to add a female subject. I try to make sure not all my subjects are white or American. I also try and keep historical variety. I’ve been doing a lot of modern topics recently. As I right this I’m thinking I need to get back into the Middle Ages or earlier. And maybe not Europe this time. Maybe Genghis Kahn or someone like that. Or maybe not go as far back but stay in Asia. Maybe Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge? There’s too much to explore!!!!
A lot of podcasts feature one or more hosts, who discuss the case and bounce theories off of each other. You host Timesuck on your own. Do you write a script for each episode or do you improvise? How do you record an episode?
I write a script. I will improvise away from it here and there but Timesuck is so information heavy that if I riff too much I make mistakes and lose credibility. I want you to laugh but I also want you to trust that the information I’m giving with you, information you may share with others, is correct. I can’t do that if I’m improvising. I record in one sitting and then edit it when I’m done. I don’t edit out content but sometimes I question something I’ve written and stop for a moment to look up a date, name, et cetera to reconfirm it’s accurate. And I still make mistakes! I make sure to point out those mistakes in later episodes.
What can we expect from future episodes?
More interesting subjects! So much more. Serial killers, conspiracy theories, important historical figures, interesting current debates, et cetera. Chief Crazy Horse – a noted 19th century Lakota warrior is this coming week’s topic. I’m learning so much about American Indian culture!
Where can people keep up with your work, and see if you’re coming to their town for a stand-up show?
People can find tout dates at www.dancummins.tv. And they can follow me on social media for various updates. Instagram is my favorite – follow me at either @dancumminscomedy or @timesuckpodcast
Any plans to tour in Europe?
I would LOVE too! I’m really focusing on making Timesuck better and better and then trying to tour where I have the most listeners. Spread the word in Finland! If enough people listen, I’ll figure out how to get there.
And finally, my standard questions for all my interviewees.
Your top 3 films?
1) Tombstone. God I love this movie!2) The Big Lebowski. So funny. So many good quotes.3) This is Spinal Tap. Best mockumentary ever.
1) The Stand – Stephen King. One of the few books I’ve read twice.2) Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Changed my mindset about working as an artist.3) To Kill A Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
Haha! That’s hilarious. I have an iPhone 6s and I can’t wait to get rid of it! I’ll be getting an iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X soon.