Spark Networks’ president Greg Liberman chats with comedian Gary Gulman, one of the stars of “Dane Cook’s Tourgasm” on HBO. Gary discusses his start in stand-up, who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Jews and, of course, the “SUperFInger.”
GREG LIBERMAN: Tell us about your HBO series, “Tourgasm” and how you came to be a part of it.
GARY GULMAN: The roots start in 1994 or 1995 when I started doing comedy, and soon thereafter, met Dane Cook. I was hosting a show, and we met and became closer as the years went by. Of course, Dane became Dane Cook, as every comedy fan knows him now. And he decided to put together a tour of the country and do colleges and bring some friends and film it. He funded the whole thing – the buses, equipment and cameras — and organized everything. Later, after he had all the film, edited it down and released a CD that sold half a million copies, he had a lot more capital. So he went to HBO, and they wanted to turn it into a series. So that’s how it came to be.
GREG: So “Tourgasm” was filmed a while ago, then?
GARY: “Tourgasm” was filmed in April of 2005. I guess you can’t really tell unless you’re really, really observant. But yes, it’s over a year old. The eighth and ninth episodes are more recent. We taped most of that stuff in the past couple of months.
GREG: I’ve read that your favorite month is July. How’s this month been so far? My mother said that Jews don’t camp and we don’t hunt, so I’ve never done either of those things.
GARY: I’m having a great July. I mean, the weather’s always good, which means it’s not cold or snowy. I really like the heat. I’m staying in New York most of the month, but I’m in Los Angeles now. So I’ve gotten to be in two of my favorite cities. My birthday is July 17th, which, I don’t know, maybe it’ll change as I get older, but I have always enjoyed my birthday and the liberty it allows me. No matter what I do, I can say, “Well, it’s my birthday. It’s my birthday.” It’s sort of like diplomatic immunity with my family. I could get away with not doing chores or picking up after myself on my birthday, and currently with my girlfriend, I don’t have to do chores or pick up after myself. I’m not exempt from capital murder or anything like that, but for the most part, I can get away with a lot on my birthday. So July is a great month.
GREG: I try to extend mine into as many days as possible to take advantage of that birthday immunity.
GARY: This year is going to be fantastic because I can’t be in Massachusetts for my birthday, which is where my family is from. So when I get there on July 18th, the day after, it’s an expansion of my birthday to a second day. Sort of like President’s Day, where Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays have been combined into one day so we get the Monday off. You know how their birthday doesn’t always fall on a Monday? My birthday doesn’t always fall when I’m in Massachusetts, so I get to celebrate twice.
GREG: What’s it like performing in your hometown, with all your family and friends showing up? Is it different than when you’re on the road?
GARY: Boston is where I did 99 percent of my stand-up in my first six years of doing comedy, so there are a lot of unique, Boston inside jokes that only people from Boston get. It’s really fun to do that because the people are really appreciative. Mostly, they see comedians who really don’t address their city – they don’t know it well enough. But sometimes I’ve done benefits for, say, my high school and for the local YMCA in my actual hometown of Peabody, Massachusetts. That’s really great because I can make fun of specific teachers and schools and shops at the mall. I think that’s how a comedian grows – being funny about specific local things and then expanding to universal things to entertain the masses. It’s interesting to take that reverse trip back to the origins of my humor.
GREG: When my wife and I first saw you, the Jewish-related humor really resonated with us.
GARY: I’ve started doing a lot more material about being Jewish and about the history of Jews. On my website, they have my “Tonight Show” spot, which was from right around Chanukah. It was perfect because I got to talk about Chanukah versus Christmas as well as the many contributions of the Jews to modern society — like Dr. Jonas Salk and the inventor of the pill, Dr. Gregory Pincus. More recently, I’ve expanded to further inventions, like color television, the remote control and having Saturdays off.
GREG: How much of a role does Judaism play in your life?
GARY: I think it’s an enormous role. It’s a great contributor to my identity. It’s common ground I share with many of my friends and a lot of the people I work with, partially by osmosis — being around people with certain values which my family shares, Jewish values and Jewish culture — as well as going to Hebrew school and reading and learning more about Judaism… going to Israel. A great deal of my personality, outlook and values are traditionally Jewish. I find myself not doing things because, somewhere along the line, my mother told me that Jews don’t do those things. For instance, camping — my mother said that Jews don’t camp and we don’t hunt, so I’ve never done either of those things. It affects just about every area of my life, not just affects, but informs or contributes to.
GREG: From watching the show, it appears that perhaps your mother said Jews don’t horseback ride either.
GARY: I never did it growing up, and that was definitely one of the excuses my mom would give. A lot of the things she said not to do were not so much against our religion as they were bad for the carpet. My mom would prohibit us from using Play-doh clay and finger paints, but she’d say it was because Jews didn’t use those items.
GREG: Seeing as you played football at Boston College, who’s your favorite Jewish athlete? The fact that he [Sandy Koufax] took Yom Kippur off during the World Series will put him right there in the Mount Rushmore of Jews along with Moses and at least a Beastie Boy.
GARY: My favorite Jewish athlete is Sandy Koufax. Although [Red Sox first baseman] Kevin Youkilis is giving him a run for his money. But Sandy Koufax… the fact that he took Yom Kippur off during the World Series will put him right there in the Mount Rushmore of Jews along with Moses and at least a Beastie Boy. He was such a great athlete and seemed like a very decent human being and was one of the few athletes to get out while they were still on top. I think his mind really transcended sports, and his influence certainly did. That was always my complaint growing up. They didn’t give us enough information about the Jews we could really look up to. The main ones we were told about were Koufax, Harry Houdini and Salk. Those were the main three, but there are hundreds. I’ve always said that had I known Fonzie was a Jew, I would have grown up a lot cooler.
GREG: After college, you became an accountant? Then substitute teaching?
GARY: Yes, there were a lot of jobs in between. I worked at Coopers & Lybrand, which is now Price Waterhouse Coopers. I got a job waiting tables. I got a job as a doorman at a bar. I worked at Starbucks, and then I was a substitute teacher at my old high school.
GREG: Were you doing open-mike nights at the same time?
GARY: Yes, I was doing open mikes and getting paid paltry sums here and there to do the shows. But it took me at least four years to make a living as a comedian.
GREG: By the time you were on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” were you doing comedy full-time?
GARY: I was doing comedy full-time, but most of my revenue was coming from studios that paid me to produce pilots or television series based on my stand-up comedy. So it was a combination of shows on the road and writing or co-writing pilots that paid the bills, until “Last Comic Standing.”
GREG: I’ve seen your stand-up routine – you talk a lot about food, ranging from Figgy Pudding to sugar cookies to grapefruit and the all-mighty grape. What’s your favorite Jewish food?
GARY: I don’t know that the Reuben is considered Jewish food because it’s not kosher, but I love a Reuben. It was invented by a Jew, and it’s deli food, so I think by proxy it’s Jewish. But it’s definitely not kosher because of the cheese. If we’re talking strict kosher food, I would say that matzoh ball soup can bring a smile to my face no matter how bad things are.
GREG: Both the Reuben and matzoh ball soup appear on the menu at Nate ‘n Al’s, which, I think, technically makes it a thoroughly Jewish food. So, your profile on MySpace says that you’re 100 years old.
GARY: Yes, I’m definitely lying about my age. I lied up, while most people lie down. But I’m in my 30’s, so I’ll leave the rest to imagination.
GREG: And you have over 10,000 friends on your MySpace profile.
GARY: And I hang out with them constantly. In fact, 9,000 of them are over here right now. I’ve always said that had I known Fonzie was a Jew, I would have grown up a lot cooler.
GREG: For all of our single JDaters, what’s your current relationship status?
GARY: I’m living in sin with my girlfriend.
GREG: Is she a nice Jewish girl?
GARY: She’s Jew-ish – Jewish-ish, but not Jewish. Though I think there are conversion possibilities there.
GREG: Excellent. So, when Dane goes on stage, he has his “SUperFInger” hand signal. Does he use it when experiencing road rage or times like those?
GARY: I don’t remember Dane ever doing it besides to give a shout-out to his fans or to take a picture with one of them. I don’t think the SU-FI is ever used for anger or rage. It’s normally used for good.
GREG: Do you have a similar calling card?
GARY: I occasionally give a thumbs-up, but that’s only to pay homage to one of the all-time Jews, Fonzie.
GREG: Well, thanks a lot, Gary. We really do appreciate your time.
GARY: Oh, thank you. I appreciate JDate. I know a few people who have gotten married after meeting on JDate. So that’s quite a contribution!