For some time, stand up comedians were usually put into the box that can be stand up. Go on stage, tell some jokes, get off stage. In between gigs, Tweet short bits in order to stay relevant. Repeat.
Jeff Dye is stepping off the stage for a role that will change his approach to acting. In the new film 1/2 New Year, Dye plays a clueless drug dealer — a far reach from his normal role as comedian or host. In an email exchange, Dye spoke with me about working on the movie as well as his stand up.
This is your first acting role where you’re not playing yourself. As your career continues to develop beyond standup and into movies, what kind of roles do you think you’d enjoy getting into?
Dye: In this project, the character I play is a drug dealer who is clearly confused culturally. I’ve never sold drugs and [I’m] often reminded of my identity as a straight white male. So, this was a fun role to play with. I think in the future I’d love to play roles that let me show my heart. It’s easy to be the clown everyone laughs at, it’s difficult to be the clown anyone respects.
Last time we spoke, you were in the midst of appearing on several broadcast and cable shows. Are you trying to stick to more grounded characters or are you excited to stretch your legs in a more liberating, free role?
Dye: I’m happy to do all the things I’m doing. Every opportunity to show that I am an actor and not stuck in the box of comedian or host is an opportunity I embrace.
What was it like working on an indie comedy like ½ New Year that wasn’t reliant on notes unlike a bigger studio comedy?
Dye: There was a lot more freedom on this set, but I don’t think it was because it was “indie” as much as each production and team is different and this group was really fun and open to letting me try things and run with ideas.
Scripted work is very different from stand up. What was it like when it came time to memorize lines? What did your “process” look like?
Dye: Memorization is not as big of a deal as so many people think. In my experience, if you are even remotely worried about the memorization of a script, you’re a lifetime’s journey away from scratching the surface of becoming a character. Worrying about memorization is like Tom Brady worrying about his commute to the Stadium.
Did the director, Tom Morash, allow you to play around with your role a bit? Did you have a chance to improvise or develop the weird?
Dye: Yeah, Tom was very very accommodating to my choices. I really enjoyed how much he trusted the actors. With some of my choices even I was wondering how they’d be received and he was so supportive.
Are you working on a follow up to your 2017 album Live from Madison?
Dye: Yeah! I’m very excited for my next album Dumb Is Gooder. It’ll be on 800-Pound Gorilla Records and I really believe it’s my best work yet.
Better Late Than Never was unjustly cancelled. However, you got paid to hang out with legends of comedy and sports.
Dye: Yeah. It was an awesome experience and show and it should come back.
Did all the traveling awaken in you the want to build an international fan base and do some international touring?
Dye: Yeah, that’s always been something I’d love to do. It’s a big world and lots of people out there I haven’t got to make smile yet.