Once a month, Dale Radio makes a little magic at Union Hall. The podcast, taped in front of a live audience, features the musicians, comedians, performers, and filmmakers that make Brooklyn so dynamic and intriguing. Dale Seever, the host, is an intriguing character himself. The alter-ego of the podcast’s creator James Bewley, Dale has a quirky sincerity and enthusiasm that stands out to both his listeners and his guests. The next show will be taped at Union Hall tonight and will feature Adira Amram, Drew Grant, Keisha Zollar, and Allen Katz. James Bewley spoke to us about where Dale came from, what makes the Gowanus so lovable, and the importance of showcasing emerging artists.
How would you explain Dale Radio in a few words?
A podcast that rewards curiosity. It has interesting people from all different walks of life, hosted by a friendly older fella who enjoys the drink. I’m always so bad at boiling it down. It comes from a lot of different places, so I’m always coming up with exactly what it is I’m doing. It’s a basement talk show hosted by a fictitious person.
So, where did Dale begin? What’s his life story?
I started actually performing the character 11 years ago, but I think I was probably born with it, if it’s not too weird to picture, like, a symbiotic 55-year-old entertainer twin being born with a child. Dale’s a combination of people I grew up with and comedian hosts that I’ve looked at or have always been influenced by. There’s a good foundation of storytelling and a lot of humor in my own family, and this is a way of sort of honoring that and of channeling a lot of that. I started performing him in San Francisco, when I was part of a sketch comedy group there and hosting cabaret nights. It’s like a second skin for me to be him; it came out fully realized. There was no hunting for the character.
Dale always lived!
He was always there, just waiting for me to release him. And of course, you find a good $13 suit and a dollar pair of sunglasses, give yourself a combover, you’ve got a character. I had done theater and that kind of stuff growing up, and I was always cast as an older character, so at some point I kind of remember saying, “I just want to be a great character actor when I’m 55,” which is kind of a terrible career plan. You would just be an obscure 55-year-old person, which is ok, but it wasn’t like, “I’m gonna be rich and famous when I’m 20!” Some people do that, and good for them, but I set this other kind of weird goal to do and I said, “Well, I might as well just be this guy now and see what that trajectory leads me to.” I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun to do Dale when I’m 55. Did that answer it?
There is a complicated backstory for him, and I just came from the Whitney Museum to see their Rituals of Rented Island exhibition that they have up. It’s all performance artists and things from the 70s and 80s and making work in New York. That is my touchstone: performance art, and theater and visual performance is my background. So it was kind of nice to touch base. I did that today, and this whole Dale thing is my artistic practice. It’s connected to that world, and I’m not trying to get a tight five minutes, obviously. In 130 episodes, I haven’t had a tight five minutes ever, or even a tight hour. I don’t do the same jokes over and over again, I’m not working on material, I’m really trying to craft this character and make a story for him that’s evolved over the last 11 years. As I’ve done it more, I just incorporate my own stories for him. I just give voice to the things that have happened to me through the lens of Dale.
When you’re talking to other creative people for your web series or for your radio show, do you stay Dale the entire time, even when you first meet them?
I don’t show up in the costume when I do the one-on-one interviews and things, so I go as me. I say hello and kind of introduce them, but I don’t like to talk too much beforehand because I’m really awkward in that moment; I’m kind of between characters and I have something I want to get into. So as soon as we turn on the mic, it’s an hour of just me doing Dale and then I stop and then it’s, “Thank you very much and have a good day!” Then I might never see that person again—it’s weird, I’m not gonna say it’s not weird. And many times I’ve been having a conversation with somebody as Dale and think, “Why am I not just having this conversation as myself? Why this level of artifice?” But I don’t know, I can’t break it now! [Laughs] I’m very comfortable as him, he allows me to do things and say things and go on tangents that would for whatever reason be inhibited in my everyday life.
Why did you choose Gowanus?
Or did the Gowanus choose me? I moved a few blocks from there. When I moved from LA to New York, we moved to Carroll Gardens and lived very close to the Gowanus and there’s a literal stink in there, but there was also a little bit of a buzz and things were happening. I knew some people that were getting involved in art collectives and art projects that were happening around there. So it was just like, here’s this horrible, ugly, forgotten child kind of a thing that is just rank and filthy and disgusting, yet it’s also one of these places where investment is coming in, and you can see that creative class wave trying to make something happen and push it forward. It just seemed like this is the right time to, in a way, document some of the creative people that are making work around there. So, a lot of the early seasons were talking to people that were making work around the Gowanus or running businesses down there and I still try to have that aspect of the show. With Gowanus, I keep having this theory that if you just pick the thing that was the least cool 10 years ago or five years ago, that’s the thing that’s going to make it back. Like mom jeans and big glasses and scrunchies, or whatever it is, you can bet on that. Whatever is the most uncool thing now, buy a bunch of it. Put it in your closet.
Those are words of wisdom.
Thank you. People should listen! Yeah, with the Gowanus it was like, “Ok, let’s see what happens with this place.” And now there’s condos going up and it’s a moment of transition. My professional life has been supporting emerging artists, emerging practices, and that kind of stuff, so there is a consistency with my outside-of-Dale life. I was like, ok, let’s support, let’s identify, let’s acknowledge that there’s really great creative things happening.