Since he left Boston for San Francisco in 1986, Dana Gould has carved out what most comedians would consider a dream career. He was a chief innovator at the inception of alternative comedy, wrote for the landmark sketch show “The Ben Stiller Show,” and wrote and produced for “The Simpsons.” He has a new Showtime special on the way and a role in the upcoming TNT drama “Mob City.”
After a very long absence, he returns to Boston Friday to co-headline a show with Matt Braunger at Great Scott in Allston.
It takes a minute for Gould, 49, to remember the last time he played his hometown. He figures it was sometime around 1995, and he’s not sure why his return has taken so long. “I have no good excuse,” he says. “They said if I did a good job last time they’d have me right back.”
But he vividly remembers his first time onstage. It was June 1982; Gould was 17 and fresh out of high school. His former school librarian from Hopedale and her husband brought him to the open mike at the legendary Ding Ho club. He remembers seeing Lenny Clarke and Don Gavin perform — and the smell of lo mein in the room. He says he probably could still do half his set from that night. “I was as smooth and sophisticated as any 17-year-old,” he says, laughing. “It was horrifying.”
Gould calls Boston an “amazingly beautiful” place to learn comedy. “You really developed chops.”
‘I was very lucky that I came up in Boston when I did because I had the skill set of a good club comedian. . . . I could go and experiment in front of a crowd that normally wouldn’t tolerate it because I had the chops to hold them.’
The Hub’s sometimes rough-and-tumble crowds made it far from idyllic, but that came in handy later on, as Gould’s comedy evolved into a more offbeat style that would help define the “alternative” genre. “I was very lucky that I came up in Boston when I did because I had the skill set of a good club comedian that gave me the ability to go and experiment more,” he says. “I could go and experiment in front of a crowd that normally wouldn’t tolerate it because I had the chops to hold them.”
Gould traces the beginning of alternative comedy to a show at a Los Angeles bookstore in 1989, where he and Janeane Garofalo wanted to try out new, possibly shaky material without fear that a TV network scout would see them fail. Gould and Garofalo had also seen Elvis Costello in Los Angeles; it occurred to them that there was a potential audience of thousands of like-minded people who had never set foot in comedy clubs. “We wanted to perform for our peers,” he says. “That’s all it really boiled down to. And the reason I think it was called alternative was because it was the people who at the time liked alternative music.”
Gould wound up writing and performing on “The Ben Stiller Show” with some of those peers, including Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, and Andy Dick. That eventually led to a seven-year stint writing and producing for “The Simpsons.” It was a stable job, and allowed him to “grow up,” as he says. He started a family and bought a home. But eventually, he started to get the itch to perform again. “It’s just a very naked, egotistical thing — like, no, I want to be out there,” says Gould. “I want to be saying the joke.”
He has been back on the road in recent years and just taped his second hourlong special since leaving “The Simpsons,” called “I Know It’s Wrong,” which debuts on Showtime Nov. 3, about a month before “Mob City” debuts on Dec. 8. He’s hoping to expand the tour with Braunger, whose first hourlong special was released by Comedy Central last year. “The great thing with Matt is, we share a demographic,” says Gould. “My fans will see Matt, Matt’s fans will see me.”
Gould is going through what he describes as “the world’s most amicable divorce,” and has three young children — he was about to head out for school supplies after speaking with the Globe. It’s a time of transition, but one that Gould welcomes. “I’d like to think I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done onstage now,” he says. “False modesty aside. There’s a lot going on in my life that I think will come out onstage. This is a really exciting time.”
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.