Working w Lil Dicky on DAVE, Dropping Outta College, and How To Not Doubt Yourself Like Even A Little
An interview with Niles Abston, the comedian and staff writer on Season 3 of FX's Dave
What's up everyone to a real special edition of Both Are True! Today we've got an interview with Niles Abston, a stand up comedian on Vulture’s Comedians You Should And Will Know 2022 list, a staff writer on Season 3 of the hit FX show DAVE, a great filmmaker, and all around great human being. Niles and I became friends on Twitter and I had to mute him for a while because I was so jealous of him and all of his success and how funny he was, but then I matured and realized there's enough space on the boat for us all and unmuted him because I am, at least sometimes, an Adult.
Some background: This interview was originally for my podcast HELP WANTED, the show where we give bad therapy to good friends. The show is not out yet - we’re releasing early next year, but I realized the Q&A would work really well as an interview, so here ya go. The format for Help Wanted is: a guest comes on and chats with me and cohost Hillary Dick Snickers and then asks for help with something they need help with.
Niles didn't need any therapy help because he's strangely already fully actualized, does not doubt himself, etc (more on this in the interview), so instead he asked for help selling out his upcoming Nov 7th show at the New York Comedy Festival. I promised him we'd run the episode before the 7th and help him get people out so IF YOU LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY, GO SEE NILES' SHOW!!!!!!
And now, without the adoos, let’s kick it w Niles.
👂🎤😄You can listen to the ENTIRE unedited 70 min interview with Niles and get a Help Wanted sneak peak by playing the audio piece of this post!!! 👂🎤😄
How’s it been writing for Dave?
Niles: It’s my first TV writing job, and it’s a crazy first job to be on, cuz not many shows have the star of the show (Lil Dicky) in the writer’s room with you every single day – he really writes all the episodes like that, he’s always there.
The first day was crazy, I was high as fuck and I was like, ‘dog, that's Lil Dicky on the couch. What the fuck?’ I told him like, “I'm gonna need a couple days to get used to just working with you cuz like, you're a meme, bro.”
He was a really cool, sweet guy too. He's exactly like he is on the show, and him and Gata are the sweetest guys and they’re really friends like that.
The show is very slice of life, Dave always says “I wanna make a show that's funny, but I wanna make it very, very real.” They wanted all of us to pull things from our actual lives, so we just sat around and sorta told stories from our lives - that’s how we started writing the season. I was able to throw in a lot of stuff about performing, cuz Lil Dickie is a rapper and I’m a comedian, so there’s a lot of crossover about performing live and having an audience.
What was the process to get hired for the show?
Before getting hired on Dave, I’d probably interviewed for like 30 shows, just me talking to a bunch of old white people – I didn’t get any of those jobs. Dave was the first show where the person who interviewed me wasn’t an old white person and…uh I got it.
It wasn’t a long hard process - that's the thing, when people ask for advice on how to get a writing job, I don’t know what to tell them cuz this is not how most writing jobs happen. My agency submitted me so I’m just on this list of people that they wanted to talk to, so during the meeting Jeff Schaffer and Lil Dicky, the creators of the show, they said they’d watched my special Girls Don’t Twerk To Jokes and were bringing up some of the jokes, and then they said I was the guy.
I met with Lil Dicky on Zoom, on Passover actually, which was super funny. I was actually celebrating Passover, at a friend’s house for a Seder and he interrupted my Passover dinner and I was like, “You’re the Jewish one, you should be doing this shit right now why are you interviewing me??”
I’m amazed at how little you doubt yourself – how is that possible?
Fuck it, man. Just do it. I don't know, like people be dying every day. Life is short. If you wanna do some shit, just go do it. Somebody else has already done what you wanna do, so just go and see how they did it and try to do it better.
Everything I've wanted to do, I've done it. I've toured, I've made a special, I've made a movie. I've put on two festivals, I've done all this shit just cuz it's not on Netflix or doesn’t have a bunch of money behind it, but I still did it.
How’d you start doing standup?
Someone read something funny that I wrote and they were like “Yo, you should try stand up. You could say a lot of this stuff.” And I didn't know you could do stand up. I was a huge Kat Williams fan, and I just thought he was up there saying that shit, I didn't know you practiced or went on tour and did shows, I didn't know you could just go to a coffee shop and sign up for an open mic and talk for five minutes. So I started at 21, a year after I dropped out of college in 2015, when I was old enough to get into bars and I just haven't stopped since. Hopefully I'll be able to stop soon though, I'm tired of this shit. As soon as someone says ‘you’re not funny,’ I’ll be like ok good, I can finally stop.
Why’d you drop out?
I just didn't wanna do that shit no more, to be honest. I was an athlete. I ran track and I had hip problems, so I had to get hip surgery, and I never recovered from it, I couldn't run as fast as I used to, so I was like, well, I can't do this anymore, and I don't like just going to class. That's lame. So I just quit.
Ok so see that is incredible, like how did you just decide to quit and not doubt yourself about it?
Why do anything you don't want to do? The only time I do stuff I don't wanna do is when it's for another person who I care about, like sure I'll pick you up from LAX, I'll help you move. But if it's like, yo, come to this thing or go to this class, no, I don't. If I don't want to go, I'm just not going to.
A few years ago, I just stopped asking myself , ‘What if this doesn't work out?’ and started asking myself, ‘Well, what if it does work out?’ Cause if it does, then some cool shit could happen. It wasn’t easy - I'm from the South raised in a super religious bubble where every decision you make is based on what your parents indoctrinated you with or what the community is gonna think, but then when I was like 22, I realized that they’re not out here in LA.
I'll never forget, man, my parents came out to LA – 2018 – and that’s right when I got funny too, like after two and a half years of standup it finally started to clicking, I was doing well, and my parents were out in California to visit some of my family and they wanted to come to a show. So the jokes I was telling at the time, I was like, ‘Damn, I don't think I could say that in front of my parents,’ So I switched up all my shit that night and bombed my ass off. I was trash, I was not funny. It was so bad.
And my parents were in the audience and I remember how embarrassed I felt, how shitty I felt. I was like, I'm never doing that shit again.
To the point to where my mom saw that OnlyFans joke on the Comedy Central set and was like ‘well, I mean it was funny. It made me feel weird, but it was funny.’ So I told her, “I can't tell jokes to you because I gotta fill up Madison Square Garden--I need 20,000 people to like this shit, and I don't have 20,000 moms.” So if she’s the one person that don't like this shit, then boohoo, she’s still my mom at the end of the day, but I gotta do me, I gotta do my thing. So it's just like at some point you just gotta fuck all that.
How are your parents in general about this stuff, are they supportive?
Um, they are now, cause I made money doing it. They hated this shit when I dropped outta college. They didn't wanna talk to me. My mom cried. She was so upset. And then like every, every, every, phone call was trying to give me other options and trying to get me to go back to school to where I’d get on the phone and have to say, ‘hey, if y'all gonna try to talk to me outta doing some shit, then we can talk about something else. Or I can just hang up cuz I'm not gonna do that.’
Are you now getting booked at the clubs here in LA?
Nah, none of the clubs book me outta here. Of course I would love to perform in those places, I wanna perform everywhere, but my thing is I like going where I'm celebrated and, and I like doing my own shit. I just threw a sold out three night festival on my own with my friends, and if that's what I gotta do, then I'll just do that.
That’s really what my friends and I are focused on right now, cause I think the New York comedy scene does a really good job of this - having community, but LA is just kind of lackluster. If you're not really in a comedy club, then what real community or foundation do you have? So yeah, we’re trying to create that. At baseline I just try to be a good person within the comedy space, you know, plant trees you'll never sit under. So if I make this shit easier for somebody that does comedy in 20 years from now, then that’s great.
Do you believe in god?
Uh, I did drugs.
You move to LA and you go to these cities and you meet people from all over the world, and you're just like, So I'm supposed to be the only one that’s right? And all of y’all are wrong? Get the fuck outta here. Like, that's a crazy way to think. I'm more on the agnostic tip, like something's out there, maybe, but I don't really care. It doesn’t really affect me much, I don't really need to spend time thinking about it. Psychedelics made me realize that everything was kind of up to me, what I wanted to do, So I just need to do it.
Any advice for people starting out in comedy?
Just start doing it. And if you suck, stick with it. Like a year at least. Cause I was really bad. I couldn't tell a joke. After a year though you'll find out if you like it or not, and if you suck or not.
Also: a lot of times you might be in the wrong spaces. I was talking to a friend who's trans and she does comedy in Chicago and was only getting to do five minute, seven minute sets. So she wasn't getting to do that many jokes because, if you're a trans person doing comedy, there's a certain amount of educating you have to do to the audience for people to get a joke.
Whereas any straight dude can just get up there and talk about something and you're like, ‘Oh yeah, I know about that’ and you can just listen. Somebody from a different lived experience has to do all this educating and setting up just to get people to listen and laugh. And I was like, ‘damn that’s so much to do - not only do you have to be good at comedy, you have to be so good at communicating as well?’ So be aware of what sort of frequency you have to operate from when performing, and don’t just compare yourself to white guys who are out there on easy mode.
So Niles, what do you need help with?
I got a show in the New York Comedy Festival on November 7th, New York Comedy Club (BUY TICKETS AT THE LINK!!), and I need to sell that shit out, man. I need help, we gotta fill it up – 100 seats, cause it's a big deal to be a part of the festival and we're on the first night, so I gotta sell it out.
I'm trying to impress these people, bro. Like usually it’s just me having to make stuff happen on my own, but they hit up my reps and asked me if I wanted to do something?? I've never performed at a New York Comedy Club before, it's a whole new space and a new thing, I'm just I'm excited, but I wanna pack it out and sell it out.
So what is the show itself gonna be like?
So the show is called Y'all Had To Be Here - it’s four of us: me and my friends Johnny, Marcus, and Arthur. We all do standup back to back to back at the beginning, then we do some improvised stuff, all four of us, and then we play some games with the audience, we bring audience members on stage and fuck with them, do trivia, whatever.
The audience is key because, well it’s funny that people actually come to this shit, so we wanna see who's actually out there, meet these people, you're not a bot in the comments, you're a real person that bought a ticket, so I wanna actually have an experience with you.
Final question – is a hot dog a sandwich?
No, if it was, it'd be a sandwich.
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And that’s the interview!
And there ya have it folks, the great Niles Abston with the best answer we’ve ever had to that question. I genuinely love and admire Niles' whole 'I'm gonna do what I want and I don't care if the industry accepts me because my friends love it' approach to the industry’. And clearly it's working. SO GO SEE HIS SHOW IN NEW YORK I CANNOT MAKE THAT ANY CLEARER.
Besides attending the NY show, here’s how you can check out Niles and his work: