The Real World – Theater Edition: An Interview with Wonder Dave

Barbara Jwanouskos interviews Wonder Dave, “a modern day vaudeville act”.

“…I want to leave a performance with more than a sore butt from sitting in a metal chair for too long.”

This week I got connected to Wonder Dave, a writer and performer, through fellow Theater Pub blogger, Anthony Miller. I’m excited to branch out beyond playwrights and other types of folks making play-plays and into other types of performance-art and theatrical performances. The more spoken-word and stand-up comedy influence that Wonder Dave draws from in his acts, absolutely build on the creativity of an audience-driven medium and storytelling to present something interesting, engaging, and entertaining.

Below, Wonder Dave gives his take on his creative process, influences, theater pet peeves and dreams. Check him out in Oakland at Club BNB, the Oakland Metro, and the National Poetry Slam coming up next week.

Barbara: Tell me about your performances. What’s your style and what might an audience member expect/receive?

Wonder Dave: I’m all over the place as far as performances go. I regularly host burlesque, variety shows, spoken word and literary events as well as performing in all those genres. I am for the most part a comedic performer and writer. My written work involves a lot of storytelling. I aim to communicate clearly in everything.

My current monthly gigs are as the stage manager/co-host of the Oakland Variety Show, Tourettes Without Regrets and host of the monthly burlesque variety show Seduction Féroce. My job at TWR includes playing the foil to host, Jamie DeWolf, and buying pig hearts to play baseball with. As host at Seduction Féroce, I fill a role somewhere between gameshow host, stand-up comic and burlesque act. While TWR is a true variety show, Seduction Féroce has a burlesque slant – but does feature a variety of comics, musicians, circus and other non-traditional burlesque. Both shows are very audience interaction driven.

Wonder Dave, Photo: Katelyn Lucas.

Wonder Dave, Photo: Katelyn Lucas.

Barbara: What’s your background? How did you get into this type of theater?

Wonder Dave: I was an improviser and sketch comic that also competed in poetry slams. I had a few pieces where I said funny things about sex and some burlesque performers had seen them and invited me to do their show. I became a part of a troop in Minnesota called Stilettos and Straps and I sort of just kept diversifying the type of stuff I performed at. When a comedy show asked me to come and do funny poems I said yes, when a storytelling show asked me to come tell stories I said yes again, it all just kind of snowballed into me being this modern day vaudeville act.

Barbara: Who or what are your influences as a theater artist and performer? Anyone we should look up?

Wonder Dave: The first person I remember seeing perform on TV as a kid and thinking that was something I wanted to do was George Carlin. The idea that you could, as a job, talk about the world around you was fascinating. More recent influences in my life include writer performers like Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Carol Connolly (who as it happens is the poet Laureate of St. Paul MN), and my friend Thadra Sheridan who early on encouraged me in the world of spoken word. Recently, Thadra and I were in a short film together centered around her experiences as a waitress.

Barbara: What are you working on now? How do you keep what you do fresh and interesting for yourself?

Wonder Dave: I’m working on putting together a new show called Literary Pop which focuses on literary work with pop culture themes. I put together the first show back in April for national poetry month and now I’m looking to expand the show beyond poetry. You can follow @LiteraryPop on twitter if you want more info on that in the coming months. I push myself by trying new art forms and really just saying yes to things that sound interesting. I hadn’t done much storytelling prior to moving to the Bay Area and now it’s a regular part of my repertoire.

Barbara: Anything that you’d like to write/develop but haven’t gotten a chance to yet?

Wonder Dave: I have a manuscript of poems sitting on my computer waiting for a second round of edits.

Barbara: In terms of Bay Area theater (or maybe just theater in general), what do you love? What do you wish you could change?

Wonder Dave: I love serious work with comedic elements or comedic work that touches on serious topics. Life has both those elements and they are so constantly right next to each other. I love work that reflects that.

I don’t like forced audience silence. I love it when something is so amazing that an audience goes silent, but if I’m at something and the expectation is that the audience quietly watch and then the performers don’t deliver, then I go stir crazy. I also don’t like duration based performance art. If the only point is to see how long you can make an audience endure something why not just stay at home and perform for your cat? I’m not saying stuff has to be fun, but I want to leave a performance with more than a sore butt from sitting in a metal chair for too long. It just isn’t my thing.

Barbara: Any upcoming shows for us to check you out in?

Wonder Dave: Check out Seduction Féroce every 3rd Friday at Club BNB in Oakland and Tourettes Without Regrets every 1st Thursday at the Oakland Metro. You can also head over to for a full show listing. Stay updated and be entertained online at,, @teamwonderdave on twitter,

Barbara: What are your thoughts or words of wisdom for someone interested in doing something similar?

Wonder Dave: Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be nice. Being a good person makes people want to work with you. Being friendly and helpful is, perhaps, the most devious and underutilized way to get ahead as a performer. Promote your shows and yourself. Ask people to come as individuals not just through facebook invites. Also if you’re putting together line up shows, pay the artists. Even if you know the show isn’t going to be a big money maker, budget to make sure the artists are covering their costs to get the show and back and can grab a bite to eat.

Art by Megan Rosalarian gedris

Art by Megan Rosalarian gedris

You can check out Wonder Dave hosting shows at the National Poetry Slam from August 10-15 in Jack London Square/ Downtown Oakland, including the Legends Showcase. Visit for details.

Everything Is Already Something Week 22: An Artiste’s Guide to Swearing

Allison Page knows this can only end in tears.

Sorry, mom.

Ya know how when you’re a kid and you swear it’s a really big deal? You’re 12, you just came in from playing outside. You still have a lot of energy and you’re running around a little too much. Mom is dusting her collection of trinkets shaped like elephants. Suddenly you stub your toe on the coffee table and yell “SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!” and it’s all over for you. Mom drops the feather duster like it’s 1880 and you’ve just shown your ankles. She gasps in horror. “WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT WORD?!” she shrieks. You don’t give an answer; you know the answer doesn’t matter. You’re gonna get it, my friend. SWEARING IS OFF LIMITS.

That'll take care of those nasty thoughts!

That’ll take care of those nasty thoughts!

Cut to 7 years later. You’re swearing all the time. You’re a regular sailor stereotype. You can do whatever you want. You’re edgy. You’re cool. You and your friends have had some Bacardi, like the rebels you are. You’re young and carefree. No one gives a shit if you say “shit”, stubbed toe or not. SWEARING IS ON, BABY.

Cut to 13 years later. That’s 32 years old, for the non-mathletes. You’re an adult. You’re upwardly mobile. You’re sophisticated. Maybe you wear a tie. Maybe you wear a pantsuit. You can’t swear; you work for The Man. HR says The Man doesn’t like that sort of talk. For shame, young professional…for shame. SWEARING IS OFF LIMITS.

Cut to 47 years later. You’re 79 and you don’t give a fuck. SWEARING IS ON because you’re too old for anyone to tell you what to do.

For most of your life, there are people you can’t use those words around. So those words hold some mysterious meaning for you. They mean you’re throwing caution to the wind. They’re likely to grab someone’s attention. They’re reserved for sudden injury or rage or drunken jokes. But some of us…some of us fucking love to swear. I swear when I’m me, I swear when I’m improvising or acting, I swear in my writing – I swear. If I’m writing a piece of dialogue in a play, and someone is swearing, it can be for any number of reasons. But I’ve never had a character swear because they’re stupid.

Recently a string of comments was filled with people whose opinion is that if you swear, you’re unintelligent. (I’ll mention that the best part of this is that some of their explanations were so poorly spelled and lacked all available rules of grammar that I laughed really, really hard.) One woman even said that people who swear should “Go back to school.” – HA!

To me, swearing is a creative choice. I was in a comedy duo for a couple of years, specifically formulated as a throwback to performance duos of yesteryear, like Nichols and May. (I’m obsessed with Nichols and May – this is important.) We did not swear at all.

Wegent & Page in the glory days. Photo by Irwin Tran.

Wegent & Page in the glory days. Photo by Irwin Tran.

It was an aesthetic choice. We purposely kept ourselves from swearing. We also dressed in snappy 60’s-ish formal attire. It was pretty fabulous. At the same time that Wegent & Page was performing, I was also in an improv troupe called Clean Sanchez. I’m sure you can guess that we didn’t hold back, not with that name. Lots of swearing and general mayhem. They were both wonderful in completely different ways. Neither of them being the last definitive word on my intelligence or lack thereof. And I’ve never viewed characters I’ve played who swear a lot as stupid. That seems…well, stupid. David Mamet’s plays are famously littered with swearing, so much so that he is the user of something called the Cluster F-Bomb. It’s basically just a lot of “fucks”; an entire sentence composed of words with “fuck” shoved in the middle of them. Naturally, Glengarry Glen Ross is not being performed at children’s theaters worldwide.

More like Glengarry Glen Fuck, amiright?

More like Glengarry Glen Fuck, amiright?

But what is it with our desire to shut the words out? George Carlin famously said this about the “7 Words You Can Never Say on Television” –

“Those are the heavy 7. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war. Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits. Wow. And tits doesn’t even belong on the list, ya know? It’s such a friendly sounding word. It sounds like a nickname!”

Can we all just take a second to admit that George Carlin was not stupid? He just wasn’t. He was an intelligent dude. And the fact that he pointed all of that out and freely said those words thereafter doesn’t mean he was unintelligent. That’s pretty absurd. I love comedy for a million reasons, but one of them is that it’s there to point out the eccentricities of humankind; the absurdity of it all. There’s a cool little book called “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing” with incredibly interesting tidbits on people’s hang-ups about words over time. It says the ancient Romans laid the groundwork for modern day F-bombs. And in the Middle Ages people thought certain words would actually injure the ascended body of Christ – but those were only phrases like “by God’s bones” or “by God’s nails”, they didn’t give a shit about the actual obscene words, like sexual or “excremental” words. And people in the rising middle class use less profanity in an attempt to class themselves up a notch, even though the people on the top of the ladder (aristocrats and the like) say whatever they want because they have a secure position in society. It’s all a sort of self-imposed issue, of course.

I like the art of swearing. I use it in my dialogue and am happy with it. It also leads to more creativity on my part when I can combine things to make up a new word. My favorite example is “giggityfuck”, which I wrote into a monologue a few months ago. It was used in this sentence: “What the giggityfuck am I going to do with a boat, anyway?” Naturally, it got a pretty big laugh. That’s a silly word. But the real issue, to me, is that I don’t like to limit my ideas.

This is a real cross-stitched piece of genius made for me by Tonya Narvaez. It now sits on my writing desk as inspiration.

This is a real cross-stitched piece of genius made for me by Tonya Narvaez. It now sits on my writing desk as inspiration.

That’s not to say that everything I write is obscene, sometimes it isn’t at all, but I like to make that decision myself. I like to have every word in the world available to me and then pick and choose what to use and what’s appropriate for that particular piece of work. In my real life, I don’t like to swear in order to hurt people. When I have a conflict with someone, I stop swearing. It has a tendency to spark emotions, and when there’s a conflict I like to lean on the side of logic. But that’s exactly it – it DOES spark emotions. That’s why swearing works its way into dialogue – because it sparks emotions. Both negative and positive. Swear words have history behind them. They have cultural and historical stigma. They have feeling and gusto. They’re used by smart people and by people who might not be so smart. They’re common. They’re blue collar and white collar. They’re not to be over-used, either. It’s not like using “the” too many times in a play will ever get noticed. But drop a lot of F-bombs and people will remember. You have to use them like you use salt – to get the flavor you want. Don’t overdo it, unless you’re trying to get the feeling that delivers. Sometimes I don’t want a lot of salt, and sometimes I want my theatrical stew to be really damned salty. Swearing is fucking awesome sometimes…but you still don’t get to do it when you’re 12. Sorry, kid.

You can catch Allison next with Killing My Lobster in Sketchfest February 3rd. There will probably be swearing.