Fighting for change and progress is ever important, but right now in Pittsburgh we could all benefit from a little laughter. Thank your lucky stars; comedian Jeff Dye is coming to the Pittsburgh Improv this weekend and I spoke with him before his visit.
You may recognize Dye from numerous television appearances on shows like Girl Code, The Tonight Show, or Better Late Than Never, but nowhere is he more comfortable than performing in standup comedy clubs. For years, Dye has toured the country convincing audiences that they can relax with him for an evening of laughs. As he puts it, “I like to make it feel casual, like were all hanging out and having a good time. I tell the crowd, ‘I have a beer, you guys should have a beer too.'”
That environment helps him establish that he isn’t trying to make you change your opinion on geopolitics– he just wants laughs. “All I care about is making people laugh. There’s no agenda, I’m not going to teach you anything, nothing like that. I’m literally going for the laugh on everything.” And if you feel that Dye’s show has taken a turn for the serious, be weary that he may be setting up a ruse.
While standup is his bread and butter, Dye has made a name for himself as an expert prankster. After discussing YouTube pranksters that steal strangers’ cell phones and then use the presence of a hidden camera as a punchline, I asked Jeff what makes a good prank. “I will say I enjoy that kind of prank even though it’s not my style. I enjoy it because those guys usually get their ass kicked and I like that they’re willing to go there.” However, it seems that Dye’s ideal prank is silly but also says something about society.
Dye explains that when people go out into society they put on masks and act guarded and conservative. Sometimes, he said, the funniest part of a prank is pushing people to the limit of what they will tolerate from others. Jeff has found that you get the best reactions in small towns because in big cities, you can be exceptionally weird and most people will, also hilariously, allow it. He recounted a bit from the show Money from Strangers saying, “In New York City people will put up with so much because there are so many psychopathic people there. So you can get away with anything! Once a guy was standing on a checkout counter at a grocery store throwing cartons of milk on the ground and people were just like, ‘Hey, it’s New York, man. Don’t say anything. He might stab you!'”
Dye starred alongside William Shatner, George Foreman, Henry Winkler, and Terry Bradshaw on NBC’s Better Late Than Never, and became known for incessantly joking with his co-stars even in seemingly inappropriate environments. Once, in South Korea, he convinced the cast that they had traveled to North Korea. In reality they were in a studio twenty minutes outside of Seoul. “The crew kept emphasizing that this is a place you do not mess around, and I kept messing around. When we left [his costars] were terrified, telling me, ‘Jeff, why are you messing around??’ When we revealed it they were like, ‘You piece of shit!'”
Dye says that he got along splendidly with everyone on Better Late Than Never, including his buddy, Terry Bradshaw. I explained that Bradshaw is a polarizing figure in Pittsburgh and Dye had to set the record straight. “People say [Terry Bradshaw] doesn’t like Pittsburgh. That’s not true. He loves Pittsburgh. He’s a Steeler through and through. He’s doing the same thing someone from Pittsburgh would do — make jokes about how the weather isn’t always great or about how it’s boring. Those are jokes!”
Dye says jokes are always important, especially in trying and tumultuous times. “They say comedy is the best medicine. Medicine treats something that is bad. We need humor to treat the thing that is bad. It has to have some stakes… Nobody is joking about red balloons because we don’t need jokes about red balloons. We need jokes about hard-hitting issues so we can say, ‘Good, this takes some of the gravity out of this issue'”.
Thurs., July 5-Sun., July 8. Pittsburgh Improv, 166 E. Bridge St., The Waterfront, West Homestead. $20. 412-462-5233 or pittsburgh.improv.com