Dan Potacke takes a vacation—to Madison!
Alan Talaga's variety show marks its fifth anniversary, then takes a break.
When Alan Talaga started his comedy-variety-interview show The Dan Potacke Show in 2009, he was building on some sketches he'd done about a pathetic, serial entrepreneur who'd never left southern Wisconsin and who tried to sell vacation packages to places like Middleton and Janesville. Next Thursday, he's putting on the show's fifth-anniversary special at The Frequency, and then taking a break. He says show might go away, or it might come back in altered form after Talaga has had a chance to think it over.
What's endured about the show is not necessarily its fictional host—in fact, at recent shows it seems that "Dan Potacke" has mostly faded to reveal Talaga's own mild-mannered stand-up persona. But he's still using Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Sun" as the show's intro music, writing brief and surprisingly clever sketches with fellow comedians like Sean Moore and Ben Taylor, and giving away incredibly crappy prizes in his game-show segment, the Wheel of Fantasticness. (Over the years I have won, and thoughtlessly lost, a box of Trivial Pursuit cards and a blank set of recipe cards.) Over the course of the show, Talaga has also scored interviews with a host of Madison figures, from local bands to then-Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Talaga also co-authors Isthmus' weekly editorial cartoon, and recently began writing columns for Isthmus' website. (And unlike other regular columnists in local media, he hasn't yet used his column to settle old political scores, chronicle his colonoscopy, or give readers that "what the fuck is Chris Rickert even trying to do?" feeling.) In other words, he's evolved from being a comedian to being a well-rounded, thoughtful voice in the community, someone who gets Madison but isn't self-important or provincial about it. I sat down with Talaga this week to discuss how he and his show have changed over the past five years.
Why are you taking a break with the show?
There will be some form of show that will be similar in ways to the current show. Will those similarities be superficial, will they be many? It really is time to take a step back and think, what's working, what's not, and what kind of changes need to be made? It's not me trying to do this as some sort of publicity thing—though it's gotten the show more publicity than it's had in two and a half years—but it's meant to be sort of an "I don't know what's going to happen."
The Dan Potacke Show, when I started it, was the only thing I had going on in my life, literally. I was unemployed, I really had just started doing stand-up, but there was nothing in my days. For a while, I worked on it a good 30, 40 hours a week. Even with all the [new] stuff, it's still my favorite thing I do.
It's really hard to build an audience, especially when you're basically just doing something on your own steam.
And particularly to sustain an audience. One of the things that always makes Madison a challenge is, there's a lot of people who do set down roots here but there's also a lot of transients. When I first announced that the show was going to be on hiatus, maybe not coming back, the messages I all got of regret, 9 out of 10 were from people who no longer live in Madison. I'm like, "Well, if you're wondering why I need to go retool this thing, part of it's your fault for moving."
Maybe you could move the show to a luxury student apartment building?
I was thinking, that's what the show has been lacking, is granite countertops.
What do you think has changed the most about the show?
At the beginning of the show, the character of Dan Potacke and his traits were a source of much more of the material, and that shifted. That's a major reason why I'm tempted to retool. Is Dan Potacke still necessary for the show, other than the fact that I really love playing "Soak Up The Sun" at the top?
It's impressive that you've kept using that song for the entirety of the show.
The character started in a sketch in my old sketch group, Public Drunkards. You're probably the only person still living in Madison who's ever been to a Public Drunkards show. I just needed to pick a really silly song to introduce the character, and I picked that one. I gotta say, in this town where it can be really hard to fire up audiences sometimes, there's nothing like just blaring that song on the speakers and running around the audience yelling "Yay!" The energy level instantly jumps up in a way that I don't know how to do with any other comedy show.
I have a weird relationship with that song now, because I definitely hate that song, but there's kind of a place in my heart for it because of your show.
Yeah, and as any show that goes on a while happens, over-forumula-zation can be an issue,but this show has also really taught me to appreciate those elements of formula. I have Jon Lyons say the same thing for every intro, I have the same music. Formula can grow those connections in a way I'd been resistant to before working on this show.
And in five years of using that song, you've never received a cease-and-desist letter or anything?
Well, there's one more show to go. Perhaps I get a visit from Sheryl Crow's lawyer in the last show.
What would you like to try in comedy that you haven't yet?
I'd like to do something a little bit longer than a six-minute sketch. I don't know exactly what that is yet. It would be fun to write a play or even an e-book, something that would be a little longer. A lot of the stuff I do is very much making the sausage--making the cartoon, putting up the Tweets, writing the sketches. The content I generate is a lot of times disposable. I often get jealous of people who are in bands…. when you're creating an album, there's something that at least has the aim towards posterity, unless it's a Baha Men novelty record, which would be fantastic to work on. Just in case you're interested, Baha Mens.
It seems like you're trying to keep the details of next week's show a surprise.
I think we're going to have some fun guest appearances by a variety of people, both live and via video. And then, I think it's just going to be funny, weird, probably overly meta, probably more emotional than I was thinking even a week ago. I think there's a 50 to 60 percent chance I cry. Which is fun, because over the last five years, I have cried as the character Dan Potacke about 40 times. This would actually be real tears, though.
You should put that in the Facebook event.
Odds of crying?
Tweet updates on the odds of crying in the days leading up to the show.
I could have people bet on it. And then maybe I could finally make some money on this show.