Comedy vs. the State
Dave Smith is a New York–based stand-up comedian, radio personality, and political commentator. Dave can be seen regularly on The Greg Gutfeld Show and Red Eye on Fox News, as well as Kennedy on Fox Business Network. In 2013 Dave was featured as one of the “New Faces” at the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. He was also a featured performer on the New York Comedy Festival’s “New York’s Funniest” showcase in 2014 and 2015. Dave’s outlet for his social commentary is his podcast, Part of the Problem, which is available on iTunes. His one-hour special Libertas is available online at gasdigitalnetwork.com.
JEFF DEIST: Dave, for starters you share a pedigree with Walter Block and Bernie Sanders. All three of you were born in Brooklyn, New York.
DAVE SMITH: Yes, that’s right. I’m happy to share a pedigree with one of those two people.
JD: Tell us a bit about your childhood. Did you attend public schools?
DS: I went to both public and private school in Brooklyn. I went to PS107 and then to the Berkeley Carroll School for middle school and high school. I remember reading Rothbard, about his experiences going first to public school and then private school. I didn’t like my private school much either, but it was much, much better than the public school. The public school was just a disaster. I still have a vivid memory of my third grade teacher giving the entire class all of the answers for standardized tests, citywide tests at the time. There were abusive teachers. It was really a horrible environment. I learned nothing while I was there. For all of the problems that my private school had, it was not nearly as bad. I feel about private school teachers the way Donald Trump feels about Mexicans coming into our country. Some I’m sure are good people, but they’re not sending their best.
JD: Tell us more about your home environment. Do you have siblings?
DS: I have a brother and a sister, but my brother is much younger. He’s thirteen years younger, from my mother’s second marriage. I grew up with a single mother and my older sister. We were lower middle class, and then moved into middle class. We moved a lot. I lived in probably nine or ten different apartments throughout my life. I was born in 1983 and grew up in what is now old Brooklyn and what I guess is now old America. I feel like I was the last generation where you would go outside unattended and that was just what children did. If someone threatened to beat you up and you told an adult, they would probably tell you to punch him in his nose. It was a different world with no internet and no wokeism, the pre-9/11 America.
JD: Was your mother political?
DS: My mother was a liberal. She was a left liberal, but in the true sense of liberal. None of the woke stuff, but she was a Democrat and pretty much bought the Democratic party line. She’s changed a bit in the last few years, or perhaps she’s stayed the same and the Democrats have changed. But she was interested in politics. My mother and my stepfather would watch Crossfire back with Pat Buchanan and the guy on the left. That was on in the background.
JD: Michael Kinsley. And they were on five nights a week!
DS: Yes, Kinsley. She always read the New York Times. A pretty standard run-of-the-mill liberal Democrat.
JD: I’ve heard you allude to going away for college in a much smaller town. I suspect that was a culture shock for you.
DS: Oh, yeah. I went to Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. A tiny little town, brutal winters. Winter starts in October and goes until April, and I just did not like it at all. It was boring and I missed the city. That college experience was not for me.
JD: Unlike Brooklyn, the only food you could find late at night was maybe Domino’s pizza.
DS: Yes! I remember Domino’s closed at midnight and if you didn’t catch them before they closed, that was it. There was nothing to eat—my New York City brain could not understand. I remember when I first went up there I thought: Okay, well what else is there? And no, there’s nothing else. And it was actually the first time, at college, I confronted wokeism—what’s now taken over the entire national discourse. It was very left-wing. I had a history professor who said, and this had nothing to do with history, but he insisted there were basically no differences between men and women. We’ve been socialized to believe this. I remember arguing with him. I argued, are you suggesting if women were raised differently they could compete in the NFL with men? And he said yes, very seriously. Yes, if we just raised little girls differently, they could be middle linebackers in the National Football League. And I remember thinking the whole thing was just really stupid. None of it was interesting to me, and I didn’t like living in the small town. I just wanted to get out of there.
JD: At this point, it looked like you were not destined to be a grad school academic type.
DS: No, I hated school. I was a very poor student throughout. Teachers always thought of me as that kid who wasted potential because I was bright but just didn’t care about schoolwork. I always did the bare minimum to pass. My big concern was not getting kicked off the basketball team, and I think you had to have a C average to play. I always managed to just get by, but I didn’t care about school, it didn’t interest me. I also didn’t like the whole system. When I went to Berkeley Carroll it was this wannabe elitist Park Slope private school, and I hated the whole culture. I had a few teachers I liked very much, but for the most part they were fake. It was probably a 90 percent white school at the time if I had to guess. But when you’d come in the entrance, there were pictures of the few black students so they could brag about their diversity. I immediately saw right through it.
JD: As an aside, though, I bet your old-school liberal mom really cared about you going to a decent school.
DS: Yes. She did. She very much did. My mother was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and this had a big, big impact on her. She always identified with the downtrodden or whatever group she thought was oppressed. But she also had normal cultural values and thought things like families were very good.
JD: You began your career in New York City, which is the epicenter of comedy clubs. You’ve lived in Manhattan a long time, after Brooklyn. But with all the craziness of 2020, you’ve considered leaving. Isn’t that awfully tough for someone who is both culturally and professionally a longtime New Yorker?
DS: Yes, it’s very tough for me. I’m truly heartbroken over what’s happened to New York City. To me, it’s nothing short of a tragedy. I think New York City is an amazing city. I know a lot of libertarians and small government types think of it as this hellhole, but I love the people and I love the culture. I love the museums and the restaurants and the theater and everything. I think it’s a great place. But I have a two-year-old daughter and I don’t want to raise her around heroin addicts. For her I need a nice house with a nice backyard in a good neighborhood. So I’m fond of a lot of aspects of New York City, but it’s time for me to get out.
JD: You describe your younger self as having standard boilerplate left-wing perspectives. Like all good Brooklynites, you disliked George W. Bush, who was president when you became politically aware in the 2000s. Maybe you disliked him for the wrong reasons, I don’t know.
DS: No, actually I disliked George W. Bush for the right reasons! I was a standard left-leaning guy. I didn’t know much about politics, but obviously we should tax rich people and give the money to not-so-rich people. Who wouldn’t want to do that? We should have a higher minimum wage—don’t you care about poor people? I wasn’t really thinking these things through, and coming to what seemed obvious left-liberal perspectives. But George W. Bush was a different story. I was eighteen on 9/11, and it had a big effect on me. I stood on Flatbush Avenue and watched people covered in debris who had walked over the Brooklyn Bridge because the subways were shut down. And I thought, oh man, maybe they’re going to bring back the draft! Maybe we’re going to be in crazy wars. Bush came to New York City a week later and said his famous line: “I hear you, Washington hears you, and soon enough the people who knocked down this tower are going to hear from you.” I was all in. I didn’t know anything about the history of US conflicts in the Middle East, but I thought, These bastards picked on the wrong enemy and they’re going to pay for this. But as the years went on I saw George W. Bush really didn’t care about who had attacked us on 9/11. He was using it as his excuse to invade Iraq and shred the Bill of Rights. When he finally said that he really didn’t care about getting Osama bin Laden—a few years later some reporter asked him about it, and he said, “I don’t really think about it that much”—I was furious. I was furious about that. He came to us in our moment of panic and lied to us. I could see through Dick Cheney and Bush. Being a left liberal it was easy to see through them, but I hated the Patriot Act; I hated the war in Iraq; I hated everything about those guys. I thought George W. Bush was unimpressive, kind of dumb, this elitist child w
Article from Mises Wire