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“This Industry is Crumbling Like a Nature Valley Bar”: Dan Licata on For the Boys

A white man with a large mustache performs stand-up comedy under a spotlight.Dan Licata in For the Boys

in Interviews
on Jun 24, 2024

Dan Licata has come a long way since high school, where he shattered both of his legs by jumping off the roof of a Buffalo church. A ferociously funny comedian, he has written for Saturday Night Live and Joe Pera Talks with You and recently performed stand-up on Late Night with Seth Meyers. His chaotically brilliant new stand-up special For the Boys (available on YouTube) was shot at his high school alma mater in front of a crowd of 15-year-old boys, the perfect audience for his arrested pubescent persona—a blustery Jackass-fueled manchild who desperately wants to connect with the youth but whose cultural references are woefully out of date (he gifts one sullen teen a DVD of Jarhead). It is a harrowingly funny exploration of millenial male insecurity that utilizes both highbrow conceptual pranks and lowbrow dick jokes.  

Filmmaker: How long ago did you record the special?

Dan Licata: I recorded it last August. We had it edited and were trying to shop it around to certain places, but this industry is crumbling like a Nature Valley bar, and it was just impossible to sell. Everything happens for a reason. I’m actually very happy it landed on YouTube, because I think way more people are gonna be able to see it now.

Filmmaker: You shot this at Amherst Central High School, where I graduated in 1999. My sister went there. My cousin was in your same graduating class. So, I when I saw that you had done this, I was amazed. Could you talk about how you approached the school—how did you even get them to let you do this?

Licata: We found the principal’s email online and sent them a cold email. I had to be like, “Look, I’ve written on SNL” and explain who I was. Thankfully, it was a new principal. It wasn’t the same principal from when I went there; I feel like that might have been an automatic no.

Filmmaker: Who was the principal when you were there?

Licata: Joe Podgorski. Joe Pod was my freshman year. I think that was his last year before he retired, then it was Joanne Bayless the next couple years.

Filmmaker: I got kicked off morning announcements because of Mr. Podgorski. I made bowling team announcements with my friends and we would always talk about how terrible we were. And then I said, “Let’s kick it back to Joe Pod” and he responded, “Excuse me?” The bowling coach got really mad at me.

Licata: Yeah, there wasn’t much of a vetting process for making morning announcements. My friend and I realized we could go on for an announcement for some bullshit club or something. I remember making a fake announcement and I think people were amused enough by it that I didn’t get in any trouble. The current principal, his name is Mr. Pigeon, which I feel like those kids must torment him with bird calls all the time. Nice guy though. I think we kind of—it’s not that we withheld information, but you know my style of comedy, I think, is…

Filmmaker: Not exactly something the school would want to associate itself with. Have they seen it? Did they require approval over anything? 

Licata: I mean, I know they didn’t ask for any transcript or anything. Ss long as we were willing to pay the rental fee, they were like, “Do what you want.” 

Filmmaker: In terms of getting the kids in the crowd, how did you cast them?

Licata: That was the toughest part. Initially we just put out a normal casting call—“If you’re 15 and live within driving distance of Buffalo and like comedy, come check out a show”—and got zero bites on that. So, we went through this casting agency, and this guy found all of the audience members for us. I think we ended up with about 60 kids. They all have an interest in acting. I don’t think that any of them have any real experience. It’s not like these are theater kids with stage parents or whatever, just normal kids in Buffalo. I think they gave very honest reactions and were very genuine the whole time.

Filmmaker: Yeah, some of my favorite parts are just the reaction shots of kids not getting the joke because you’re talking about stuff way over their head.

Licata: Yeah, some of them were giving really golden reactions. There’s one kid who I think was actually 12. I thought, “I don’t know man, he might be a little young,” but the casting director said, “Look, him and his brother are a package deal.” He is the little kid in the white polo shirt and was just making some of the funniest faces.

Filmmaker: And how much time did you have to shoot it?

Licata: Not a lot. The first day, we shot me doing it with no audience to get clean audio on all the jokes. Second day, I did in front of the kids, which admittedly there’s maybe about six-ish minutes of the set that I had to cut when performing for the kids, because this may be too obscene to say in front of them. Anything about jerking off or whatever I was like, “Let’s not do that today.” From 10:30 to 12:30 we shot in the auditorium, then took a break for lunch, then basically from 1:30 to 5 p.m. we shot all of those interstitial segments—the thing with the PTA and stuff with all the kids, that montage. So, it was really run and gun, because we had 30 minutes to get each one of those segments, and that includes set up and breakdown—run to this part of the school, get maybe three takes of it and then on to the next. It was pretty stressful.

Filmmaker: How did you find the actors who played the head of the PTA and the woman who plays the principal?

Licata: The head of the PTA is my mom. Forced her to be in it to avoid paying someone [laughs]. I didn’t tell her what I was gonna say beforehand. That was just her keeping a straight face—she was very impressive. I think she’s just desensitized from being my mom for 34 years. The woman who played the principal is Lisa Ludwig. She’s an actor in Buffalo, but she also directed all the plays at Amherst, and that’s how I knew her. The guy that tells me to fuck off was my actual choir teacher. He happened to be the guy that was unlocking the building for us both days and I was like, “Hey man, you want to be in this?” He was so touched and honored to be a part of it. 

Filmmaker: You bring in the community and tie them in to the pivotal story from your youth—jumping off the roof of the church and breaking both of your legs. So that really happened?

Licata: Yeah, it was Christ the King church. Do you remember where that was? 

Filmmaker: Yeah, but I was a Saint Benedict’s kid.

Licata: Oh, sorry. Yeah, they had beef! I remember at the end of the day, if you went to the CCD there were the Saint Ben’s buses and Christ the King buses and it was like the Sharks and the Jets. But yeah, it was Christ the King church. My friend lived right next door to it. I still remember that so vividly and it sends a shiver down my spine sometimes. I scaled the building, which was surprisingly easy because there was this six foot ledge that you could get up on top of, then there was a window where, if you got your foot in the window, you could grab up and hoist yourself onto the roof. There were a ton of tennis balls on the roof, I remember. It was really crazy when I hit the ground, because the EMTs were called and I remember them asking me all these questions and I was still being the class clown. Like they would ask “Do you have any allergies [referring to medicine]”? And I said, “Yeah, cats.”

Filmmaker: I can’t believe you were still conscious. That must have been so painful. 

Licata: Oh, the worst pain I have ever felt. They didn’t believe that I was sober either. I remember they’re like “you have to tell us what drugs you’re on.” I’m like, “I’m not” and they’re like “No, you have to tell us because you’re going to surgery.” No, I’m just an idiot.

Filmmaker: Was Jackass the main inspiration for your stunts?

Licata: Absolutely. I was watching all that stuff like Viva La Bam, Wild Boys, Jackass. There was a UK equivalent called Dirty Sanchez that I was also obsessed with. There was The Dudesons from Finland who essentially do similar stuff. Anything like that I was soaking up every possible second of, downloading full episodes off of Kazaa or whatever.

Filmmaker: Any Tom Green? 

Licata: Definitely.

Filmmaker: Your injury reminded me the scene from Freddy Got Fingered where the guy breaks his leg and there is a gratuitous shot of a bone sticking out of his leg for no reason at all.

Licata: It was on the Criterion Channel recently.

Filmmaker: How frustrating was the processs of pitching the show to streamers?

Licata: They’re less willing to take risks on people that are relatively unknown, regardless of how good the product is. Unless you have 300,000 Instagram followers or you’re already a household name like Jim Gaffigan, Netflix is not gonna give you the time of day. So, we were talking to Peacock pretty much the entire time we were shooting and editing. Then, we finally had a rough cut, sent it to Peacock and didn’t hear anything for a week. We followed up and didn’t hear anything for a week. So, I hit up some other guy I know that worked there and he goes. “Oh, yeah, she was fired two weeks ago.” The day we sent it to her, she got fired. They were offering peanuts in comparison to what other streamers were offering but you know, I felt like I’ve had friends that have put out specials on Peacock and feel like I’m sort of in their comedic family. I just wanted to make a teeny bit of money on this thing. That would have been nice, but I guess it’s the long game that you play where you’re like, “I took a huge hit on this financially, but I think a lot of people will discover it now, then hopefully those people come out to see me when I perform in their city or buy a t-shirt or something.”

Filmmaker: Your recent appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers should help as well. Was that booked before the special came out?

Licata: Yeah, I was booked before the special came out, a couple months ago. But he had watched it and was very psyched about it, very complimentary, which was cool. I’ve got a few random DMs. Like Tim Heidecker, who is a very big comedic influence on me as well, is obsessed with it. Ryan Phillippe, you know the actor, he was like “Dude. This is excellent.” 

Filmmaker: MacGruber’s Ryan Phillipe!

Licata: He’s a fan.

Filmmaker: What was the comedy scene like when you were growing up in Buffalo? It seems so disconnected from the entertainment world.

Licata: I didn’t really start stand-up until I moved to New York City. My buddy Joe Pera and I did a couple open mics in Buffalo at Nietzsche’s.

Filmmaker: My brother was in a ska band called Mexican Cession and played at Nietzsche’s and all those places.

Licata: Yeah, in Allentown. I only did a couple open mics there when I was like 18, 19, 20 years old, then moved to New York when I was 21 and that was kind of an awakening because it was…I’m not saying the bar for laughs is lower in Buffalo, but New York is a tough comedy scene and everyone’s operating at the highest level. It really forces you to develop quicker and figure out a way to stand out amongst the pack.

Filmmaker: When you were in Buffalo, were you thinking of becoming a stand up?

Licata: I think since I was 13, 14, 15, I wanted to do stand up and there really was no backup plan or anything else that interested me. Joe and I became good friends and we have different comedic sensibilities. It’s an odd couple dynamic; we’ve hosted a comedy show together for 12 years at this point and we’re the same genus, different species.

I remember he and I both went to the first open mic at Nietzsche’s. I was an 18-year-old freshman in college trying comedy for the first time. You sign up on the sheet and I remember I was supposed to go, then Joe was supposed to go and the host is saying “All right, this guy says he’s never done this before but let’s give him a go—Joe Pera.” So, they skipped me and I was like, “Hey, I was supposed to be next” and she goes, “Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I’ll have to put you at the very end of the show,” which doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know why I just agreed to that. So, the second-to-last comic is on stage and he’s running late, going long. And then he starts yelling at the host. She goes, “There’s one more comic.” And he goes “Who is it? Who’s this other comic? I know everyone who does comedy in this city!” And I had to go up after that. 18 years old, doing an impression of Terri Schiavo at TGI Fridays or something. Obviously, it bombs so hard. That was a rude awakening.

Filmmaker: Had you been workshopping this stuff and think it’s gonna kill? 

Licata: I had it all written out and memorized. I guess I had run it by a friend of mine who thought it was funny.

Filmmaker: And how did Joe do?

Licata: A lot better than I did, and has continued to do so. It was cool being on Seth yesterday, because I remember being there when he did his first late night set and it being this sort of seismic shift for him career wise. And this is so weird, but my dad…I’ve never seen my dad cry. Even at my grandmother’s funeral he didn’t cry, but my dad was crying on Tuesday night after my set on Seth Meyers. I finally got his ass after all.

Filmmaker: Parents only care about SNL and talk shows. And you worked for SNL! He didn’t cry when you got that job?

Licata: Yeah, to our parents’ generation they are the only stuff that matters. I’ve done all this other cool shit. I’ve written for an Adult Swim show that a lot of people seem to like [Joe Pera Talks with You] that has a cult following. I’m so proud of those episodes that I wrote. You tell boomers about that and they don’t give a shit. But then it’s like, “I’m writing for SNL” and they are all, “Oh my god, that’s so cool!” and I’m like, “It actually sucks.”

Filmmaker: So, what was your experience like on SNL?

Licata: It was rough, and it wasn’t like a dream job of mine or anything either. The casting directors saw me perform at a comedy festival and brought me in to audition for the show. I just did five minutes of stand-up on that stage where the host does the monologue and they hired me as a writer off of that set and I was just like, “Alright, I guess I’m doing this now.” I kind of compare it to high school: I was the class clown in high school and just wanted to make the kids laugh, but it doesn’t matter if you make the other kids laugh—you have to make the teachers and the principal laugh, and the principal is this famously crotchety 79-year-old man who doesn’t really have his finger on the pulse. So, I would write stuff that I thought was funny and it would destroy at the table reads every week, and they would never pick it. I think I got one or two sketches on the entire two years that I wrote there.

Filmmaker: When you’re talking about how you work together with Joe—yeah, your styles are so different, but you make it work. You seem more aligned stylistically with Connor O’Malley, who’s also had a special on YouTube recently, Stand Up Solutions, which is really wild and amazing.

Licata: The guy that directed Connor’s special produced mine. We’re all kind of in the same comedy family. We work with a lot of the same people and Connor wrote for Joe’s show as well. Which is so funny, the two of us writing for that show. Jo Firestone was there as well. I get annoyed when sometimes people will say that the show is almost not a comedy, that there’s not really a lot of jokes. I’m like, “I gotta differ on that.” I guess when you make art and put it out into the world, people say things about it that you vehemently disagree with and you’re just like, “I guess that’s criticism.”

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