It’s almost a shame that stand up lent Dana Gould to The Simpsons for seven years. The 49-year-old is a one-of-a-kind comic who masterfully blends impeccable histrionics with equally astute writing to create a truly unique performance. And in his newest special, I Know It’s Wrong, Gould shows that he hasn’t yet lost a step, delivering one of the most inventive and consistently entertaining hours of comedy of the year.
Sporting a jacket, tie and vest, and performing on a barebones set, Gould opens by remarking that he was born nine months after the Kennedy assassination, “which tells you all you need to know about how my father processes grief.” When watching the footage, Gould observes, “If he misses, I wouldn’t be here.” Gould then explains that he will tell an AIDS joke, a rape joke and a 9/11 joke, which he uses to segue into a bit about his father: “Archie Bunker without the elegance and sophistication.”
It’s worth noting how structured Gould’s performances are, and it’s in his segues that he’s able to conjure and preserve his unyielding momentum. Rarely, if ever, does Gould pause between bits to change course and bring up an entirely new topic. Instead, out of a bit he pulls a thread that he’s able to weave into the next, a maneuver he continues throughout the hour. And within those bits, Gould paints stellar portraits of people, events and stories, with which he’s able to immerse the listener deeper and deeper into the performance. When meeting Bob Hope, for example, Gould says the USO entertainer’s “old man arm” felt like “a sweater full of light bulbs,” and that his eyes “didn’t look like eyes,” but rather “soup with eyes in it.”
Moreover, throughout the performance Gould plays with his voice, wildly gesticulates and makes faces in service of enhancing the joke. Yet he’s not an over-performer. Gould strikes the perfect balance between writing and theatricality so as not to drown the jokes in distracting behavior, but instead elevate them via remarkable synergy.
Gould’s also not afraid to test his audience—to go extended stretches without delivering a laugh. He enjoys playing with the tone of the performance, shifting into a sullen, downbeat tenor to create extraordinary tension, which he then expertly snaps with just a few words. “My favorite part of that bit,” Gould says after such a tactic, “is about halfway through when you guys start going, ‘What’s happening? What’s going on? Is it his mother? Is he having a stroke?’”
And while Gould is certainly at home talking about himself, he’s more than willing to construct bizarre and outrageous scenarios, like John Lennon sleeping with a cicada who has ulterior motives, or two KKK members debating the power of Dracula. Even the comparatively frivolous material, though, is all in service of the greater joke—of the themes and messages that are so expertly woven throughout the hour.
Gould is without question one of the preeminent comics of his era. And I Know It’s Wrong is further evidence why.