Comedian and radio talk show host, Pete Dominick, was in town last week as the country was tuned into see how Pennsylvania would vote in the Democratic primaries. After getting to catch a bit of two of his shows (which aired live from the Platt Arts Performing Center at UPenn), I was able to chat with the comedian before he went on air about comedy, politics, the issues and why college students have such a bad rep when it comes to voting.
Campus Philly: First off, why you don’t tell me how you got involved with the radio station [Sirius Radio]?
Pete Dominick: Well, I’m a stand-up comedian, first and foremost. They wanted someone to come in and host a show called “Comedy by Request.” It was a show on the Raw Dog channel and I auditioned, with a bunch of other comedians. I got the job. Was doing that for about a year but was always antsy—wanted to do something more. This new channel got launched, called Indie Talk, and I knew I wanted to live on this channel, somehow, some way. I pitched my idea for a show, did a demo and auditioned and they bought it. That was about two months ago when we came on the air.
CP: Tell me more about the show [“Pete’s Big Mouth”]. What was your original idea for it?
PD: Well, I didn’t want it to be…every political talk show I hear just seems like…all they ever do is demonize a person or a political party or an ideology. Liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats…those are just false labels. I wanted to do something on this channel that focused on issues and that I could put my personality into. I’m a comedian, so I wanted to make political talk more entertaining, more fun and less, uh, more real, more the truth, without some kind of ideology behind it. I don’t think you can pin me down to one ideology. I’m just a real curious, real passionate guy. I’m no genius by any means on this stuff, but I wanted to do something about politics, current events and life. Just life. We’ll go from talking about snoring to talking about abortion, the abortion issue, gay marriage, race and then we’ll talk about…what’s another example [asks his brother, Brian, who is featured on his show]? My drive to work. Road rage. It doesn’t matter.
It’s like stand-up in that it’s easier than stand-up. Talk radio is easier than stand-up, because with stand-up you have to have a point and then you have to have a punch line or a laugh every few seconds. With talk radio…the thing that they share is both have to appeal to a broad mass of people. People have to relate to it. Who can’t relate to snoring? Who can’t relate to road rage? We can do those topics because people relate to ‘em. Yesterday, we talked about Catholicism in America and people know about that. Or have a feeling about that. We have a really broad mandate and with satellite, we’re uncensored, so it’s really cool and really exciting with everyone involved, I think.
CP: I was at Tuesday’s show and I noticed you had a general talk session, but then [at the end] I noticed you had an a cappella group [Pennsylvania Six-5000] come on…are you’re shows always that different?
PD: You know, we like to do a fun segment. I think, it seems like we like to do it at the end, near the 4 o’clock hour, but we like to do a fun segment. We like to wrap up a show that may be really serious, you know, talking about race or religion—something people get really passionate about…its fun to wrap up with an a cappella group singing. I wasn’t sure how that segment was going to go, but my producer thought it’d be a great idea…I try not to put my opinion on it, but from my point of view sometimes, things are bad when they’re good. But everyone loved it.
Today, we’ve got Ben Franklin coming on, so there’s always something you can take away from it. The bottom line is: it’s talk radio. It is a form of entertainment. I like to think that a lot of times, it’s a form of information or a platform for people to discuss different issues, which is great, but it’s still a form of information… It’s hard to believe some of these guys. I believe what I’m saying. I may be wrong a lot, but I believe what I’m saying. People can call and be like, “you’re wrong,” and I’ll be like, “oh.” And that’s what’s funny. I think what people like about the show is that I admit when I’m wrong all the time and that’s what I want in a politician…and that doesn’t happen.
CP: Considering you’ve talked about a variety of the issues at stake, what would you say are the main ones that are affecting people who call into your show?
PD: The ones that they’re calling into the show about—I decide the issues we talk about on the show. The question isn’t really fair to the listeners. I have a blog that my brother maintains for me, where people throw out ideas and we’re going to try to make a way for people to have some controls on what we talk about. Generally, it’s what I want to talk about. I guess I could answer the question, “What are people getting most passionate about?” I think that the Iraq War, for me—I’m very passionate about my opinions and what’s going on. How we got in. What are we going to do? The phones always light up for that. People always have an opinion on that. It’s a really interesting thing and it’s the thing that people are least apathetic about. People think there’s a connection between 9/11 and Iraq and people…know more about that than they do other issues…One thing I like to push and talk about is the dumbing down of America. It’s something I like to bring up a lot. Reality shows. Video games. Just the fact that we’re being passed by so many other countries and cultures right now focusing on education and we’re sitting there watching “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol,” which while it’s entertaining, it’s mindless. So I drive that home a lot.
I’m a father; I have two kids, so…the future, you know? Education, social security, national security and any social issue you want to talk about. I also rail against religion a lot, which get people fired up about obviously and I’m totally in a minority there, I think, in terms of being an atheist…so we talk about that a lot… those are the things that come up a lot that people are really interested in and care about.
CP: Now I know that you do the warm-ups for “The Colbert Report” Is there any reason you were here in Philadelphia the same week Colbert was or was it just luck that it happened like that?
PD: No, no. They’re completely connected. When “The Colbert Report” announced that they were going to go to Philadelphia, I knew I had a dilemma. I wanted to have a solution because I have to do my radio show. I’m under contract there. I’m not under contract with Colbert, but they do pay me a lot of money and I’m committed. I’m a part of that family there, as well. There’s really two jobs. I said to my bosses at Siruis, “How about we go to Philadelphia? It ties in with everything we talk about” and the reason why Colbert came is the same reason…there’s overlap there with my show. It’s politics. It talks about the news. So the primary is next week, here in Pennsylvania, so it’s a perfect way…Plus we’ve been wanting to take the show on the road and give it a run and see how it goes. Obviously, UPenn—an ivy league school, smart students, smart professors. They bought it right away. I was like, “Can we go to UPenn? It will be easy.” As soon as I’m done with the radio show, I run over to “The Colbert Report” for about an hour and warm up that audience.
CP: Have you noticed that that audience has been any different than the New York audiences?
PD: Yes. It’s the first time that “The Colbert Report” has ever been out of the studio. It’s 900 people. The New York audience is 100. And they’re fired up. I mean they love it. It’s big guests: Michelle Obama, John Edwards. I mean it’s a big thing. It’s a big production. It’s a big audience. The energy coming from Stephen and the audience and coming from the staff is all different. We had the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Mayor of Philadelphia, so it’s a different show almost in a way. Yea, everything about it is different. It’s going to be tough to go back to the 100-seaters.
CP: Now you said you wanted a talk show that wasn’t as “hard-hitting.” You can still have fun with it, in a sense. You can still bring your comedic background in.
PD: I’m finding myself being mostly serious. But you know, “John McCain” calls in. And we do a very funny call with the fake “John McCain.” I want to do more bits that correspond with things that we’re talking about, but it’s three hours. When you listen to a talk show, a lot of times it puts you in a bad mood. You disagree with the host. It’s depressing. A lot of stuff we talk about gets pretty depressing…
CP: Bringing that stuff [comedy] in, along the lines of what Jon Stewart and Colbert are doing—bringing the comedy in, but still incorporating the issues—do you think there’s a main reason that college students or people between the ages of 18 and 30 are attracted to that instead of more hard-hitting shows?
PD: That’s a great question. I think they’re more attracted to it, because the truth—some of it, the journalism aspect of it, of “The Daily Show,” specifically—they can find a clip of a politician—they will find it. You get away with it more because you have that “it’s on Comedy Central” so you don’t have to have the journalistic integrity. No ones going to hold you to that. But they actually do a lot of the times and they show a senator saying one thing five years ago and then tonight he said the complete opposite, where the night leaders aren’t putting that on. CNN isn’t putting it on. There’s a lot of legitimacy to it and through comedy, you get away with…you know, Katie Couric can’t go on CBS Broadcast at night or Wolf Blizter or Anderson Cooper or any of these quote on quote journalists who are supposed to have journalist integrity—they can’t joke about race or religion. Jon can do that. Stephen can do that and drive home a point with sarcasm. I think with my show…the difference with my radio show is when I’m interviewing someone, I make the interview fun, but when I’m funny, I’m actually funny. When all these other guys, all these other talk show hosts, aside from maybe Al Franken, very few of them have a very genuine sense of humor. It’s like it comes from training of years and years in comedy. So when they try to be funny, it’s never as funny as I’m going to be…been doing comedy for years. It’s real. It’s different. And the same thing obviously with Jon and Stephen. While a lot of times they’re being funny, they’re driving home a pretty important point about something very serious.
CP: Speaking of your background, you said you’ve been doing it for years. How has the comedic factor helped you with your radio show?
PD: It’s just being quick on my feet. That’s the type of comedian I am. I’m not a prolific writer. I don’t write great material. I come up with a lot of my ideas while I’m working them out on stage. I’m not like a Jerry Seinfeld or a Jim Gaffigan. I’m more like a Jon Stewart or a Bill Maur. Jon Stewart was never known for his stand-up act as much as his wit and personality. I can always talk…I can easily fill up three hours. I think that helps me. And I care a lot about a lot of things. And I know a little about a lot of things and I think that helps me. The reason I know a little about a lot of things because as a comedian, you want to be able to do jokes about a lot of things. Some guys are only known for one thing, but I’ve always wanted to cover as much as I could…from my personal life to the news and anything observational.
CP: Our audience is college students in the area. College students generally have a bad reputation when it comes to voting. People think that college students just don’t care or that they have no worries about what’s going on outside of college. Any advice to college students who might be on the fence about actually going out and voting?
PD: I think that was more accurate in the last election. I don’t think that’s true now. I think the college students are going to make up a huge percentage of voters this year because people really think that the stakes are a lot different. I think the apathy among college students, certainly that I had when I was a college student, is a lot less. You certainly have those students who could care less…about having a voice or opinion. I understand that. I’ve performed at over 300 colleges and I went to college a little bit. I wouldn’t say there’s no advice. I think they’re stepping up this year. It seems that they’re voting more in the primaries and I would say my only advice is to try to register or do you part to register voters. It’s an easy thing to do to get your friends registered…have it be part of your social life and it’s something to put on your resume, too. I helped register voters, you know, I helped work on this campaign. Or more importantly than campaigns, specific issues. As my brother taught me, you can change a lot about the way people think when you can focus in on one or many issues rather than a candidate. It seems like it’s hard to believe in a candidate. They don’t really…they don’t seem real at some point. After a certain point, it’s like “that’s not even a real person with their own ideas anymore.” It’s cut and paste.
CP: Do you think that can affect students’ voting?
PD: Their campaigns are drastically different…one is very successful, one is a failure. As far as the issues, yea, they’re not that far off with the issues. When it comes to issues, let’s talk about the issues—that’s one thing. When it comes to delivering a message, that’s one of the most important things a political leader can do. Delivering a message, in my opinion, is sometimes more important than anything else…it’s more about the body that the message comes in. How it’s going to get done. That’s where the difference between Obama and Hillary is really…I think that’s the main difference…I’m not even saying who’s better or who’s worse.
CP: Finally, what’s next for you and your show?
PD: We’ve learned a lot here this week at UPenn. It’s hard. There’s a lot that goes into it, a lot of logistics that go into it. There’s booking guests and the fun things we can do and so on…taking advantage of the place that we’re in. The actual space that we use, like I decided I don’t like the space we use because there’s not a lot of traffic. I want to get out there and get the publicity. We’re in a basement of a building. There’s no windows or stuff. A lot of people don’t know we’re there, no matter how hard my producer, Sean, has tried. He’s handing out fliers and putting out signs and stuff. I’ve performed at colleges doing my stand-up and no matter how they promote it, the fact that people don’t know who I am, they’re not showing up, which is the sad thing, too, about college students. That’s disappointing that because I’m not Dane Cook, they’re not coming to the show because they haven’t heard of me. When in fact, aside from me, the comedians that I know that you probably have never heard of are much better than the comedians that you’ve heard of. The equation is obvious. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re still starving; they’re still trying to be better. A lot of these guys, once they get to the top, kind of peak or they stop, they have to hire someone to write their stuff…you want people to come and take advantage. When I was in college, I didn’t miss a beat. I didn’t miss an event. I wanted so much. I was so curious, so curious about everything. Everything. Sexuality. Race. Religion. Politics. Government. Economy. Sports. You name it, I wanted to learn about it. It seems like college students get stuck, I think, in their social groups, in their cliques or their likes and their dislikes and in a larger sense, Americans…we have all this diversity here and we don’t take advantage of it, I think, because we’re scared of it. You’re scared of anything that’s different. But when you learn, when you meet someone who’s different from you, it’s the great feeling in the world. To me, it’s just logical…Be curious. Keep asking questions. Be open to having your opinions be completely turned around, because I’ve had that happen to me and it is really enlightening and refreshing. And get a Sirius satellite radio subscription.
To learn more about Pete Dominick, check out his official website at http://www.petesbigmouth.com.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of Campus Philly.
You can contact Brittany Sturges at firstname.lastname@example.org.