(Stand-up Comic, Voice Actor, and Writer, Veep, Bob's Burgers, Son of Zorn)
By Daniel Gale-Rosen AB '10
When he was growing up in Alaska, Dan Mintz AB ‘02 had a number of pretty unrealistic ambitions. He thought he might like to be a spy, or a professional athlete, or any number of other careers that seemed totally unmatched to what he felt was his personality. Being in Hollywood was, to him, the same kind of unrealistic ambition, but now, as a writer, voice actor, and stand-up comic, he’s certainly proved his younger self wrong. Although he’s probably best known for being the voice of Tina in the animated series Bob’s Burgers (“that’s the only thing it’ll say in my obituary,” he jokes), he’s been a writer on many television shows, from his first official gig on Crank Yankers to, most recently, the latest seasons of Veep. And he’s been doing stand-up comedy since his sophomore year at Harvard, which he credits with giving him his break into the industry.
While he was at Harvard, he focused on two main activities outside of the classroom: stand-up and the Lampoon. Both of these were stressful at first (especially when comping the Lampoon), but Mintz found them easy enough as he went forward, because he could choose how much time he wanted to commit—or not commit. But, he notes, both were a great way to move towards the plan he had of what he wanted to do—succeed as a writer and performer in the entertainment industry. The Lampoon gave him something nice to put on his resume and, while the alumni network didn’t necessarily give him any immediate job opportunities, it did give him the “false confidence” of thinking that it would be really easy to get a job. He wasn’t a huge risk taker, Mintz says, and so if he’d had a clearer idea of how hard it would actually be to make it in Hollywood, he might have not ever taken the leap.
Stand-up gave Mintz his first opportunity. He was lucky enough to have had the time and energy to treat it like a hobby in college, rather than a job, although he did think it was a bit more stressful when the alternative was to “get a terrible day job or, you know, starve to death.” Having practiced for almost three years in Boston, Mintz stood out in a crowd of people trying new material with a polished five-minute act. He performed at some open mics, and managed to get in on the ground floor of the next “high-profile alt comedy room” that industry people frequented and comics hung out at. A booker for Jimmy Kimmel was in the audience and got Mintz his first set on Kimmel’s late night show. Shortly after, Mintz was invited to submit to Crank Yankers (also produced by Kimmel) and, while it didn’t guarantee him a spot, his stand-up connection brought his packet up to the top of the pile, and he was hired.
Crank Yankers didn’t have a writer’s room per se, so Mintz's first experience in that environment was a little while later, at Lucky Louie. And, to be honest, he found it somewhat intimidating.
He says, “Sometimes people are surprised that a shy person would do stand-up but it’s actually very easy because you write it all in advance and then you’re just reciting. In a writer’s room, you have to think of a joke on the spot, question if it’s funny enough to pitch, and then actually pitch it. You have to be ready to tell a joke you’ve only had a second to think of."
Mintz has learned coping mechanisms over the years, grown more confident with his experience, and he’s also learned about himself and where he works best. Recently, he was on a show where he felt incredibly comfortable. Then, two more writers were hired and he became nervous again. He realized that it was about the number of people—his limit, Mintz discovered, was about six people. Any more, and he starts feeling like he doesn’t have a chance to speak. This kind of self-knowledge really helps in developing a career, whether you’re a writer, an actor, or anything else—and he encourages people to find out more about themselves.
Writing and stand-up have always been part of Mintz's plan, what he really wanted to do. Voice over, however, was more of a chance occurrence, but a welcome one. Mintz had thought about doing it when he first arrived on the West Coast, but never really was able to find auditions. Then, one year, when working on Important Things with Demetri Martin, his co-writer and friend H. Jon Benjamin said, essentially, “Hey, do you want to come record this weird cartoon thing?” Figuring it would be just a few hours of work and an easy paycheck, Mintz agreed. A few months later, he was called back in to re-record a few more pieces. He and Benjamin didn’t hear anything for quite some time, and then “all of a sudden it was picked up and it was a show.” Ten seasons later, it’s so funny to Mintz that it’s the last thing he ever pictured doing with his life, and yet it’s one of the most significant things people know about him. He loves that he’s lucky enough to have a balance between writing and performing in his life, and is excited to see where he goes next.
Mintz’s path to where he is today was not a direct one. He had a lot of dreams, a lot of interests, and a lot of activities, but he thinks this is part of why he succeeded. “Everything is so fragmented these days—there are a lot of possible paths, and each one has a smaller chance of working out, so you want to try doing as many things at once as you can. If you’re doing different things, like stand-up, writing, or different sides of the industry, they can feed into each other.” Mintz notes that this still happens, even for him. Although he says his voice is naturally soft, people in writer’s rooms, if they’ve seen Bob’s Burgers, recognize his voice and can key in better to it and make sure they hear what he’s saying. It’s a little thing, but every little bit helps, especially, Mintz notes, when you’re just starting out.
And if you’re interested in comedy? Try stand-up, whether you’re in college, high school, or even younger. It’s not emotionally easy, but it’s logistically pretty easy, depending on where you are.
“A lot of times people don’t know if they’re going to be good or bad at it at first," Mintz says, "so you can just spend a couple years doing it. If after that you’re still not good at it, you’re probably not going to be good at it, but you might as well try because otherwise you’ll never know.” Stand-up was one of Mintz’s passions and led him down the many paths he took to get to where he is today. Who knows where it could lead you.