Just make a choice.
Dan Bakkedahl has made his mark on Chicago’s comedy scene. Coming up in the late 90s and early 2000s, Dan spent a lot of time at iO and Second City. Since his departure, you may have seen him on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Community, Veep, Legit or a number of other television appearances. He was also in The Heat with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy last year. Dan will be joined by Chicago comedy legend, Ed Furman, on The Second City’s e.t.c. stage Tuesday, April 1st as Trainwreck for the second night of The Chicago Improv Festival. Dan was kind enough to speak with me and here’s what he has to say about the show and his time performing in Chicago.
In your words, what are the origins of Trainwreck and how long have you and Ed performed together?
Well, I was his understudy at Second City’s Mainstage. That’s kind of where our relationship started, he “mentored” me in a way by teaching me how to take on his role. We also did a little bit of work together with Second City BizCo and one night we were talking and said, “We should do a show together.” We met up at Corcoran’s across from Second City and he said he didn’t like to do edits, so he suggested doing just one long scene. He suggested no framing devices, so we would just figure out who we were in the scene. Then he suggested we come out to “Children Of The Grave” by Black Sabbath and I did not oppose. He asked what we should call it, and I had nothing, so he suggested “Trainwreck” and that was that.
So, it was kind of a brainchild of Ed’s that he fueled and you got to jump onboard?
Yeah, the creation of show was improvised itself. When you perform with someone you really respect, someone that you never would have thought you’d be playing with, you jump on that chance. But I had learned enough to know that once we got on stage, it was still my responsibility to contribute 50%, so I made sure to do that.
Do you have any favorite memories of the two of you in Trainwreck?
Yeah. Early on, the first four or five shows took place in a bathroom – not intentionally. But I was a cleaning guy and he owned the bar and he asked if I was putting ice in the urinals. When I asked, “Why?” and he said, “because it helps decalcify the deposits left behind by the urine” and it was this moment where I was just blown away by how smart he was. Afterwards, I asked him if it was true and he said, “Fuck, I don’t know.” That’s how he is though. That’s just a good example of how he says things so convincingly onstage it’s easy to buy into. We were back about a month ago at e.t.c. for a show and there was this moment where he said something that got me laughing and I had to find something to do upstage so I didn’t laugh in the audience’s face. He always gets me.
I think that’s fun for the audience too – watching seasoned improvisers catch each other off guard.
So you and Ed performed for about a year in 2003 and then didn’t perform together again until last month. After a while, everyone tends to fall into their own style – how would you describe the differences between your style and Ed’s style of improvisation? What is it that works so well, outside of the mutual respect for one another?
That’s a good question. But, the answer would have been different ten years ago than it is now. I think back then I would have said I had more of an “iO style” with “yes and” and focusing on support. Ed had a much more “Annoyance style,” which was to take care of number one and do your thing and if your scene partner is paying attention, then they can come with you. But by playing with him, I realized I could really use what he was using. We could end up having a 25 minute argument but by holding on so tightly to a strong character point of view and opinion, we were able to keep momentum. Over all of these years, I think I’ve drawn closer and closer to what I would have deemed “Ed’s style” because it worked better for me. I found it to be closer to how people are in real life. As long as both performers are ok with the idea of agreeing to disagree, then it can be really fun.
Interesting. That’s definitely a new perspective. Now, if you could sum up this show in three words or less, how would you describe this show?
Hilarious. Patient. Dirty.
Alright, I’ll take that. How has your Chicago comedy training prepared you for your successes of today?
I don’t know if I can measure it. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily due to any one training center or anything like that, but it was really the stage time. The stage time I got in Chicago helped me find my voice as a performer. It helped me discover what I enjoy and what I enjoyed giving to the audience and how to read an audience. Prior to Mainstage at Second City, I spent six nights a week performing, teaching and coaching at iO for five solid years. I watched and performed countless hours of improvisation. It was comedy grad school for me. So today, I can walk into any situation and almost immediately have ideas as to what choices I want to make.
Then I did Second City Mainstage for one year – eights shows, six nights a week. I learned a lot more about myself as a performer in that one year at Mainstage that I did in the previous years. But in the previous years, I had the opportunity to watch more, so I learned more about the craft and how to build that strong foundation and then Mainstage gave me the opportunity to really find how it pertained to me specifically.
A lot of people will say that stage time is the greatest teacher. Would you say that the things you learned through observation were up to par with the things you learned on stage?
It depends. Watching some of the great improv groups, you have these moments where you’re convinced this is the greatest group that ever existed. But then there’s other nights where you see some really bad improv. When the Del Awards came around at iO, there were very few times that I didn’t know every single thing that was listed because I was there all of the time. I was always just proud that I was there enough to witness these amazing things happen and have the opportunity to be inspired by them.
Bringing it back to Chicago – what is your favorite place to eat when you’re in town?
Giordano’s. I know there’s the fight between the different pizza places, but it’s Giordano’s for me. I love the big Chicago style pepperoni.
My last question for you is, what is the greatest insight you’ve discovered about life and comedy?
You can’t control it. You have to go with the flow – that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. If you’re on stage and you try to force it to go somewhere, you look like an asshole and the other person looks lost and it’s your fault they look lost. The same thing happens in life. However, going back to what I learned from Ed – just make a choice. And then see what happens and you make another choice. It doesn’t matter how bad one individual choice is, provided you pay attention to how someone reacts to your choice, you can always right the ship.
The thing I always say to people is, the only way to know exactly what you’re going to get out of this thing is by quitting. Then you know exactly what you’re going to get, which is nothing – ever again. But if you keep going, you never know what will happen. We have friends who have reached amazing heights and we have friends who have stuck around and are still doing some great things and are brilliant guys. So the only way you’ll know what you’re going to get is by quitting.
That might be my favorite answer to that question. That’s a good one, I appreciate that.
Do you have any final comments you’d like to include?
If people are trying to figure out what shows to see at CIF, I think they’d do themselves a great disservice if they don’t take the opportunity to see a guy like Ed perform. There was a time, where Eddie was the king of town – in my opinion. Nobody can make you laugh the way Eddie can make you laugh. I think people might find a new favorite improviser.
Oh, that’s so kind. Well I look forward to seeing you both perform next week!
Trainwreck is playing at The Second City’s e.t.c stage on Tuesday, April 1st at 8pm. You can purchase tickets here.