We live in perhaps the golden age of Comedy Central. Shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and Nathan for You have brought a new level of energy and excitement to a network that has, quite frankly, always been pretty high on energy and excitement. Now toss in Broad City, @midnight, and endless reruns of It’s Always Sunny and you have a pretty long list of can’t-miss shows. However, there’s one thing wrong with all these shows: None of them star comedian Dave Attell.
OK, honestly, maybe that’s for the best. Attell has admitted, and no one stood up to argue, that he’s not the best actor. Time after time, people attempted to create shows for the comedy veteran and nothing clicked. Until the fall of 2001 with the debut of the late-night freak show known as Insomniac with Dave Attell. Soon after, the world would change.
What? No, I’m not implying Dave Attell was behind 9/11, you sick fuck. I’ll leave that to the rest of the internet. What I am suggesting is that he created one of the most innovative, groundbreaking reality shows ever on TV. It’s basically the model for every semi-decent show on every third-tier cable network right now, except, of course, all those shows forget to be entertaining.
A travel guide through the late-night hours of cities across America, Insomniac let the everyman stay up way past his bedtime and explore the seedy underbelly of great American cities like New York, Tijuana, Anchorage, New York, Kansas City, and then New York two more times. The formula: Wrap up a stand-up set, get a beer, grab a bite, maybe hit up a hotspot, and then visit with someone working the graveyard shift. All the while talking to the locals, who were less freaks and more, well, you guys. Not a bad way to see a city if you ask me.
It’s hard to believe we’re nearly 10 years removed from the show’s four-season run. Rewatching a lot of it for this writeup, the show feels surprisingly current, most of the jokes haven’t dated themselves even one iota, and, OMG as I’m typing this I’m realizing what a good idea Travel Channel: After Dark would be. Can someone please give Dave Attell $10 million dollars and turn him into a bald, chain-smoking of version of Anthony Bourdain or something. THIS HAS TO HAPPEN.
Until then, however, let’s just appreciate what we already have and take a walk down good ol’ memory lane, spending a late night with an old friend and paying an honest, heartfelt, but ultimately Unnecessary Tribute to Insomniac with Dave Attell.
After a circus-tinted theme song and a quick set at the local Chucklehut, Dave would set out to explore whatever city he was in. Armed only with a disposable camera, and one could assume five to ten crew members, Attell would quickly slam down a beer or three, chat with a few locals, and then head off to grab a quick bite to eat, so as to stave off some of the effects of that booze. He has a long night ahead of him, you know.
In this first clip, Dave visits Chicago’s famous Weiner’s Circle to grab a hot dog and a tongue lashing from its foul-mouthed workers. A similar visit years later would earn Triumph the Insult Comic Dog his own show. Without even knowing it, he was already a decade ahead of the curve.
DID SOMEONE SAY REALITY TV?
Is anyone else sick of those guys from Pawn Stars yet? I see a lot of hands up. Guys, these questions are rhetorical, no need to actually respond.
Anyhow, here’s a clip of Dave visiting their eventually titular “pawn” shop in Las Vegas, long before a TV show was an even option for them. Come to think of it, I’m still confused why a TV show was ever an option for them.
ATTACK THE BLOCK
Late nights aren’t all prostitutes and cheeseburgers. No, believe it or not, actual, normal(?) people are out and about doing actual, normal(?) things at these ungodly hours. And Attell was down to explore it all. Even if that meant taking a beating. Either via a hangover the next day, or by literally getting his ass kicked.
DAVE ATTELL: ORIGINATOR OF THE SELFIE
I’ll just leave these here. But yeah, DISPOSABLE CAMERA, SON!
My favorite moment I stumbled across while revisiting this show was this very short clip from the Tijuana episode.
When you think Tijuana, you think what? Clubs? Burritos? The acquisition of large quantities of pharmaceutical medicine? Sure, it’s all here. But there’s just something about a grown man trying on hats that tops it all. Honestly, I could watch it for hours. And honestly, that’s exactly what I did.
HEY, DUDE, ALCOHOL IS, LIKE, BAD FOR YOU OR WHATEVER
Lest ye begin to think this show was merely an excuse for an otherwise civilized man to go about frolicking night after night, I encourage you to watch this next clip. It shows a well-cultured travel host exploring the world with nary a drink in sight. And while yes, it is indeed past the witching a hour … IT’S 4:20 SOMEWHERE, MAN!
A NIGHT AT THE TRACK
This next clip is a true rollercoaster of emotions. In it, Attell visits a greyhound race track and chats it up with the man whose job it is to call the races all night long. And while you’re riding high one second, watching a child-like Dave push the starting horn, you’re just as quickly brought down to earth as the delightful announcer explains how a life spent pursuing your dreams might be the saddest life of all. Seriously, I haven’t slept all week thinking about it. I’m starting to think this is why they called the show Insomniac.
NIGHTTIME, WHERE DID YOU GO?
Don’t freak out! All that weed from a couple of clips back isn’t kicking in. No, what you’re about to see in this clip is actually just the Alaskan summer solstice. Dave ventures out on the longest day of the year and explores the night in broad daylight.
What’s even weirder? He goes fishing. Fishing is an activity previously assumed by me to be done only from, like, 10–12 on a Saturday morning, but I guess I’m just remembering the one time I went. Look, never mind that aside. Watch the clip. It’s a great example of what the show is at its best. Attell poking fun, but never making fun of normal people.
I just can’t get over how much it looks like a Sunday-morning show on ESPN. Just remember, it’s actually 11:30 at night and everyone is probably drunk as fuck. OK, cool.
Well, “HAT’S” all, folks. We hope you enjoyed this little walk of shame through memory lane. And remember, before Chappelle, before Tosh, before endless Scrubs reruns, there was Insomniac.
Now if you’re looking for something to help you never sleep again, here’s a terrible musical remix of comedy bits from the Insomniac Tour, which, oh yeah, I guess I never said, but was definitely a thing.
Sleep tight, everyone!
And don’t forget you can see Dave Attell at select dates of Funny Or Die’s Oddball Fest starting August 8th and continuing through September.
Previously on Unncessary Tributes: 10 Episodes of Cribs That Enlightened a Generation