Discover more from Beyond with Jane Ratcliffe
A Cat Named Therapy, Loud Complaining, and Inching Forward
The Body, Brain, & Books: Eleven Questions with Sci-fi Comedian Dennard Dayle
What are you reading now?
I just wrapped up Negrophobia by Darius James. My copy’s from high school, but I was busy doing nothing at the time. Now I’m trying to catch up on books before the first Mars colony collapses. Literature can’t compete with Jamestown II. Until then, Negrophobia’s inspiring as a satirist. It also offends willfully and intelligently. If my next email ends my career, you’ll know why.
Last week, I enjoyed Fleischmann is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Much better than I expected—I’m used to artless, joyless navel-gazing from this lane, and found artful, joyful navel-gazing. Think navel-gazing on a tightrope, walking on your hands.
I also returned to Blood on the Tracks, an uplifting family comedy. Check it out for a feel-good summer boost. You’ll even appreciate your parents more, after the nightmares.
Now I’m early in Carrier Wave by Robert Brockway. I write for Robert, so every word is perfect. The font is a glimpse of heaven. Jokes aside, it’s fantastic so far. An intelligent rendering of the end of the world. Call it high-definition doom.
What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
Comics drove my early reading. I adored Transmetropolitan’s mordant sci-fi chaos, along with Nextwave. Then I became a full-time Catch-22 cultist, which I’ve discussed more than my own book. That wrinkle in my brain reaches the other side. Finally, Snow Crash guaranteed I’ll talk about robots until people stop listening.
But that’s teenage me, with fixed genre obsessions. Let’s go earlier. In elementary school, I devoured comic strip anthologies. Everything between The Far Side and Garfield on the quality scale, without discrimination. Along with Redwall books. Those were like Pringles. Pringles have talking badgers beheading rat warlords, right? My teachers worried about Pringles.
In middle school, I picked up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and never recovered. I also became obsessed with The Onion anthologies. Finally—and here’s how I learned about disappointment—I loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game-adjacent work. Googling him later was a rookie mistake.
I never hid books from my parents, thanks to mutual cluelessness. The Subtle Knife was off their radar, and I slept through church. Neither side wanted to do the research. Games, however, were a full smuggling operation. I traded installments of Mortal Kombat like pieces of a dirty bomb.
The Screwtape Letters fit our spiritual gap. That’s a slick Christian satire, so Mom and I both engaged. We discussed it more than anything else ever published. Including the Bible. I’m still a heathen, but C.S. Lewis saved me from becoming another Hitchens clone. You know the type.
I’m back to fine-tuning my reading, style, and workflow. There’s plenty to fix, and I’m lucky to have the chance.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
I return to Slaughterhouse Five a lot. Another WW2 satire, so there’s a clear formula for five stars from me. I’ll try ripping it off someday.
As for light in the dark? When I need Novocain for human life, I go to Discworld. Terry Pratchett never ignored life’s dark side, he simply perfected coping. He’s a fantastic reminder of how flexible tones and approaches to satire can be. Which hopefully keeps me from getting too one-note. I’d say I’m two-note at worst, and aspire to four.
My favorite entry is Night Watch, which shares a title with a vampire thriller. Pratchett’s version lacks vampires, aside from counter-revolutionaries. I read it before reading or watching Les Misérables, which Night Watch directly parodies. Still loved it. It’s even better now that I’m literate.
Satire speaks to people when the world’s melting, and these books give me something to aspire to. I’d like to provide relief for the Anthropocene. Writing that says “If you stay sane, you might get to see the singularity.”
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
I collect snapbacks to fill my stereotype quota. My only recent photo without one is from a wedding, and I’d have worn one if they let me.
My standout hat’s a collage of old-school Iron Man panels. He was my favorite superhero in high school, despite Civil War’sCIA-level hit job. I bought it a bit later, around freshman orientation. You know that stock joke about a girl complimenting a shirt, and a guy keeping it forever? That happened. I pay taxes now, and it hangs next to four knockoffs and a spare.
At 31, I’m tiptoeing toward my fashion sense’s demise. The Dayle Look Book samples bboy jams and Meshuggah concerts, and that has an expiration date. I should adapt, but I’m hoping the world blinks first.
What’s the best piece of wisdom you've encountered recently?
Recently, I let my inner student wither a bit. In my head, it was showtime. Only showtime. Training wasted time for finding new stages. After all, what was there to fix? The rehearsal decades were finally over.
Then I hit Jason Pargin’s recent essays on factors entirely beyond our control defining us—including our sense of drive. That can be a relief or horrifying, depending on spin. In my case, I lost some ego around work habits. “Hamster wheel brain” is harder to praise yourself for than “elite focus.” You have to do something with it.
That drop of humility’s helped. I’m back to fine-tuning my reading, style, and workflow. There’s plenty to fix, and I’m lucky to have the chance. That’s a given if you’re balanced, but I’m a slow learner.
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
After Mom passed, I watched my sister’s cat for about a year. Imagine a living alarm clock. At 5 AM, a time forbidden to early risers and night owls alike, he pawed me awake for food. Lightly, at first. Sharper if I resisted. Always in the face.
His moodiness made sense. My sister bought him after a breakup, and named him Therapy. That name’s not easily forgiven. Therapy clawed through a world determined to take his dignity. I let the ambushes slide, since I was moodier. Everything that breathed or moved annoyed me back then, for some mysterious reason. We matched.
There were days I didn’t plan on leaving bed. Therapy didn’t care. He wanted fake anchovies, and forced me into the world.
I’ve made him sound delinquent, but Therapy mostly observed. He lounged under the furniture through mourning, two jobs, a green card divorce, and a full Dark Souls 3 run. He’d fit a great American novel attempt. A small, orange Nick Carraway. If I ever cash out and write one, I'll use a cat’s perspective.
After eleven months, I assumed the situation was permanent. As an olive branch, I soft-piloted new names for Therapy. He rejected Starscream, Soundwave, and Dennard II. After years tolerating the indignity of Therapy, he’d reclaimed it. Aspirational, really.
My sister took him back on Thanksgiving. By Christmas, he’d forgotten me. You know cats.
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
I never expected 1-900-HOTDOG or The New Yorker to notice that I existed. Each appearance makes my career choice feel saner. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself, “Assassinate the guy from The Apprentice your brother loves, the guy from Tesla Reddit loves, and the guy from Facebook no one loves. No questions.” After that, I’d say, “Writing works out. A few people care what you have to say. You even make enough to live indoors.”
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
The kitchen. “Indoor flip” is my most likely cause of death.
Dancing’s one of my pastimes. Specifically, spinning on my head. I love big, potentially injurious movements. Breakdancing, tricking, skateboarding, etc. If it fills emergency rooms, I’m in.
That’s another tragedy of aging. I’m fine losing my hair, grasp of pop culture, and ability to attend conventions with dignity. But the timer above half my hobbies is disconcerting. Sure, you’re never too old to learn a new trick. But your wrists might be.
What are your hopes for yourself?
Broadly, I’m trying to inch forward. Get a little faster. Be a little nicer. Forget a little more of Milf Manor. That approach helps me improve without driving myself mad. Outside of writing, I try not to get hung up on specific end goals.
As for writing? Less zen. More madman, egoist, or anime protagonist. I haven’t admitted this in public, but I’ll try honesty here.
I want to be the best. The name you drop on a date to sound smarter. The book you stick in a syllabus when you’re short on time. The threepeat feature of Ten Books About Robots, Top Four Wasteland Comedians, and Five Black Writers to Dull the Guilt. Mount Rushmore’s diversity head.
To be clear, I know I’m not there. I may never get close. But that’s why I titrate energy drinks at 4 AM, editing one joke thirty times for two syllables. I’ve lost my mind.
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
My mother gave up everything that makes life pleasant, fulfilling, or long. I think about that during quiet moments. And loud moments. And movie marathons, dates, teeth cleanings, podcast appearances, flash kicks, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Arbor Day, newsletter interviews, and doomed attempts at REM sleep.
It owns my brain. And drove my drift from “writing is fun, and I like fun” to “I must become king of the nerds.” When life feels stolen, you want it to count.
What’s a guiding force in your life?
Here’s a fresh line for a sci-fi comedian: Don’t Panic.
Plenty is wrong, and you should complain loudly. With rocks. I’m referring to your state of mind. Internally, the closer you can get to stillness, the better your responses to chaos will be.
You’ll even be safer. Predators, from bad dates to presidential candidates, exploit panic. It’s an old script. [Loneliness/hackers/black people] are coming for you, unless you do exactly what I say. We scoff at Satanic Panic. But there’s a version of Satanic Panic waiting for your region, demographic, values, and anxieties. Stay centered, or you’ll end up explaining yourself to a Vice employee.
If that’s hard, here’s a tip. There’s a monster behind you. If you panic, it will eat your skin. Slowly. The pain will be beyond the Devil’s imagination. You must never panic again.
Hopefully that helps.
Dennard Dayle might not exist. The Brooklyn-based superpredator writes satire, conducts pranks, and analyzes propaganda. If the author of Everything Abridged is fictional, it’s the perfect career capstone. The newsletter Extra Evil could be the best prank so far.
The truth seems more mundane. Witnesses claim Dennard Dayle attended Princeton and Columbia, speaking often and learning little. Dennard Dayle matches bylines at 1-900-HOTDOG, The New Yorker, Clarkesworld, The Baffler, and various less impressive outlets. Columbia archives contain several classes by Dennard, with topics including humor, satire, and humorous satire. Finally, NYPD records describe a May 2022 graffiti arrest as “uppity.”
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To the comment section
Have you ever tried an “indoor flip” in your kitchen? How close are you to “inner stillness”? What do you do when you realize you’ve let your inner student wither for too long? How are you improving today? Are you nearing your fashion sense’s demise?
Tell me all about it.