Episode 6: Actor and Comic Dan White

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Actor and stand-up comedian Dan White talks about how grade school performances get him jobs now, transitioning from a student to a professional, and how he stays ready every day.

52 Sketches episode 6 — Dan White


Rob Head 0:02 The 52 Sketches podcast, Episode Six screen and stage actor Dan white.

Jennifer Head 0:12 Welcome to 52 Sketches, a podcast about creativity and creative practices. here’s your host, Rob Head.

Rob Head 0:21 Welcome to the 52 Sketches Podcast. I am your host Rob Head. Today I’m excited to have on the show Dan White. Dan White is a writer, performer, actor, singer and comic living in Los Angeles. He starred in showtimes barbershop the series and has appeared on numerous shows including The Young and the Restless hit the floor, Shawn saves the world. Here’s the chasing life. Dan has appeared in national commercial campaigns for companies such as McDonald’s Hardee’s, Hewlett Packard and Taco Bell. On stage he appears in productions such as pulp Shakespeare, Henry the fifth and three sisters. Finally, he voices characters in video games, including games in The Walking Dead aliens, Far Cry and God of War series. Dan can also currently be heard as the principal on Cartoon Network’s Clarence Dan also performs his stand up comedy nationwide. So welcome, Dan.

Dan White 1:15 Thank you so much, Rob. I really appreciate that. Great to be here.

Rob Head 1:19 Welcome. Yeah, yeah. So is all of that true? Or am I giving you credit for the work of other Dan whites?

Dan White 1:25 You know, all of that is actually

Rob Head 1:28 excellent. I enjoy it.

Dan White 1:30 It’s a trip to hear it out sometimes. Oh, yeah. That’s right.

I did that.

Rob Head 1:35 I did that. Yeah. Yeah. Any other any work of any other Dan whites you want to take credit for maybe the magician, you know, the other actor, you

Dan White 1:42 know, there’s there’s a dude, is it a bunch of westerns?

Rob Head 1:47 Okay. I NDB must, must have a real hard time with you. Yeah, so thank you so much for taking the time. I’ll start with a bit of a risky question. Um, how are you and yours? You know, faring during this crazy year? It’s been weird.

Dan White 2:09 It is, it has been an interesting time. Well, you know, as far as far as, just personally, of course, it’s been, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to spend time with my family. Uh, you know, my mother taught my daughter how to rollerblade how to ride a bicycle. You know, despite the social distancing, and everything like that, so, you know, that has been certainly a silver lining to the cloud, um, professionally, professionally, um, video games are through the roof. So like that, that is that has been that is certainly picked up in a lot of ways and as as as have on camera opportunities. You just have to become a master of lighting, makeup. hair.

Rob Head 3:02 Everybody do it all at home now. Yeah,

Dan White 3:04 exactly. Exactly. So from an IT from, from the entertainment industry perspective. Just had to adjust, you know what I mean? And make our opportunities which, which is largely what we’ve done anyway. You know what I mean? Yeah, that

Rob Head 3:21 Yeah. Well, well, I’m glad to hear that you, your family’s? You know, doing doing well. Let’s back up. Let’s go back to the beginning. And allow me to ask about your your youth, you know, like, what kind of artsy stuff Did you participate in as a kid were you into like theater music writing? You know, were you always a we the class clown, you know, like, how did you get to, to this? That’s so funny. As a kid like what we do?

Dan White 3:49 Yeah, like, evidently, when I was four years old, I still have my, my regular line into play. And I told everybody, I wanted to be an actor and go to Hollywood. I don’t remember that. But that’s what I’m told. Right? So, uh, yeah, so, you know, but I was, um,

Rob Head 4:10 I was this Where did you grow up?

Dan White 4:12 That was Well, that was I’ve grown up in largely three places. Jackson, Mississippi, Washington, DC, and Hampton, Virginia, which is like the Tidewater area, closer like Virginia Beach, Norfolk and the water. It was it was I’d say that each place had a pretty significant impact on development. As well, just both as a as a boy to a man as well as a performer of I was, I had one year that made me shy I went to school and like, I’m not even this is going to sound like I’m singing a theme song but it was literally in West Philadelphia. Um, while I was either born or raised, but on the on the playground, I got stabbed I got hit in the face with a metal lunchbox. I got jumped and I got in fistfights This was in first grade.

Rob Head 5:08 First grade. I’m gonna love you.

Dan White 5:11 Yes, yes. My mom. Yeah. My mom. My mom was in a was doing a residency at Thomas Jefferson hospital. I don’t want that. I won’t name the schools and I don’t want to like, like, sure I want the bad. But, like, that made me very, that made me very shy and reserved. Um, okay. And acting is what brought me out of that, I think.

Rob Head 5:34 Yeah, so I think the safe place to be your full self on

Dan White 5:38 day actly. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. The the coming out show was was as Audrey too. And Little Shop of Horrors.

Rob Head 5:47 Oh, nice. Did you? Yeah, go ahead.

Dan White 5:52 Now saying we’re the voice. The voice that I kind of used in in that play? continues continues to get me gainfully employed to this day.

Rob Head 6:05 Sir, sounds fantastic.

Dan White 6:07 Yeah,

Rob Head 6:08 yeah. did so. Did you have important, you know, events or models or mentors in those early days, say in, you know, high school or those days?

Dan White 6:18 Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, and what’s what’s been wonderful as I’ve been able to keep in touch with them, largely to this day, I’m from my, from my second and third grade teacher who was so an incredible teacher to want to hit and she would, she’s super charismatic. And I just remember, I remember her talking about being an organ donor, and making it sound. I want to be an organ donor, not knowing what that entails. But I read Joy, joy, joy infects passion. And that was like, I saw this teacher be so passionate about what she did that it gave us gave us joy to listen and to be informed by her. And I think that that largely that translated, that translated into my passion on stage, when I’m excited about what I’m talking about. My what I’m doing, and from stand up is singing to acting. It all really made it work. Um, you know, my high school drama coach, I still talked to her. I talked to her like two weeks ago, I sent her an audition. She still critiques me so yeah, I’m just so yeah, I certainly I certainly have the wonderful influences and family and phones as well. But a content that continued to be a part of my life and my continued growth and development.

Rob Head 7:49 Hmm, so important. I you know, when you say things like organ donor, I think about you know, that there’s this aspect of, of not just somebody who could teach you craft, but somebody have strong character who was encouraging to you, you know, in your formative years, and I think that’s, that’s so beautiful. So, okay, so somebody convinced you, you should pursue this academically. Your bio says, you have a master’s in Fine Arts. From California Institute of the Arts. Yeah. Acting so so. So how did you get there? And, and and tell us about that.

Dan White 8:24 Oh, Cal Arts.

So Cal Arts, there was a there was a large consortium of drama schools in Chicago, having their their regional auditions. And so I went there to audition to go to UCLA. And, okay, Cal Arts was there. And I said, Wow, and I wasn’t as familiar. And I was actually I actually got into UCLA. Uh, okay. And change my mind and went to Cal Arts. It was it was. It was, I mean, it’s funny when you talk again, about mentors, when I met Fran Bennett, and Susan soul, who were the head of the drama school and head of acting, respectively. And they, I, sometimes sometimes you meet someone, and there’s just a connection, and you know, that’s where you need to, that’s, that’s the person you need to follow. And that was, that was, that was the introduction to Cal Arts. That’s what drew me to catalyze. And I met them in the audition. And so something just told me that this is why I needed to be, you know, I mean, aside from being the number fours, like drama school in the world, like it wasn’t great. It wasn’t, it wasn’t just about that, but it was also the fact that, you know, like, you have to you have to connect with your your, with your teachers and mentors and so forth. Right, right. Because it’s assembly. It’s a symbiotic situation, you know, does that only Yeah, you know, and having having taught acting at Valley College and Compton college. I, I don’t know if I mentioned this to you, but I also am an associate professor. So I pop in and out. Okay, I’m to teach speech and theatre and acting. And so your students make you

Rob Head 10:18 do you have some special kind of day that has like, 37 hours in it? How do you do all of this? Oh, dude,

Dan White 10:26 I appreciate that. That was a, you know, you make you make time for what you’re passionate about. Right. So, uh huh. Yeah. So.

Unknown Speaker 10:36 Yeah. Okay,

Rob Head 10:36 so So you did this master’s program at Cal Arts? And did you immediately you know, get thrust into a career or what kind of path Have you taken to pay the bills along the way?

Dan White 10:52 Yeah, I am. Again, back to Fran Bennett. Fred Bennett College, huh? Mom? You know, my parents are. My parents are? Well, my dad’s from California from LA and my mom is from Mississippi. My grandparents, my my paternal grandparents from Louisiana. So, you know, black folk from the south want to know when you don’t get a job.

Rob Head 11:15 So you get a real job, not like a gig.

Dan White 11:18 Yeah. Right. Right. So so so the question to Fran was, you know, what’s going to happen? Like, like, what does it look like for him? And she said, Oh, he’ll get a series or something. And literally, within a year, a year in like, three months, I had a Siri. Oh, really? That was and that was that was barbershop on Showtime?

Rob Head 11:40 Hmm. Did that allay their concerns?

Dan White 11:44 It did it did. Oh, and then I forgot before that, before that even happened like within probably lol September. So within six months, I had a regular gig doing voiceover again using that voice from from Shop of Horrors. That was it was so basically it was I used to imitate Ricky Harris.

Rob Head 12:10 Who okay.

Dan White 12:12 You saw him on heat. He I mean, he worked all the time. That passed away. So but he used to, he did a character that I don’t know if I’m allowed to say the name I call him DJ EZ D. And I’ll let you imagine what D stands for. On this on Snoop Dogg’s first record on snoops. Forget effort, doggy style. He did this smokin offense tag right on DJ ease, and then he he did that voice, and I used to always imitate it. And I, my friend of mine said, yo, remember voice should be doing. He said, I said, Yeah. He said, Come come through this theme song. For this pilot, we’re gonna do and go if it goes, you’ll sing the theme song and you’ll be the voice of the show. So the show ended up being there was a number one show on MTV for like five years. It’s called Pimp My Ride.

Rob Head 13:11 And oh, yeah, yeah, totally. Yeah, everybody knows that.

Dan White 13:14 So yeah, so so we came up. So you want to be a player, but your wheels ain’t fly. You got to hit us up, get a pimped out. And so that was thick. That was Thank you. That was my first time. That was my first job out of school. And that that happened really quickly. That was I mean, it was no time. So yeah, so So I started so I started working, like I’ve worked consistently in voiceover TV, film, or theater pretty much since I got out of school. And I and again, I attribute that to to my incredible teachers along the way, especially at Cal Arts to, um, did I Denise woods, who chooses she’s coached Taraji Henson. She’s coach, Mr. Ali. And I say I say, Yeah, I say the award the Oscar winner, Mashallah Ali. She coached him for torture and crime. And she also and so the joke about that is she also coached Will Smith for the film Ali as a voice coach, and so she’s been, she was my teacher for three years. And she’s been one of my mentors since then, and that that’s been some time. And I’ve just had I just had some incredible teachers and some, some very, very fortunate to, you know, have people guiding me along the way, you know,

Rob Head 14:48 fantastic. Yeah. I’m jealous. That’s fantastic.

Dan White 14:53 I’ve been very fortunate to have some incredible mentors when at Cal Arts. One in particular, that works on work with Mr. Ali. And I joke about Mr. Ali because I both referring to Academy Award winner mahershala Ali, and her work with Will Smith on the film eyelid that Denise Woods was my professor at Cal Arts for three years. She actually brought me in to teach our classes when she was on set after I graduated. And she continues to be a mentor. And and second mom to this day. And so yeah,

Rob Head 15:42 so yeah, it’s wonderful. Yeah. Sort of circle back around to West Philadelphia. It Will Smith. Yeah. So, so you ended up in Los Angeles, you know, for for grad school, and just were immediately in the right place. So that’s, that’s a wonderful thing. You know, when I think back to my, the actors that I went to school with, we we went to school in Baltimore, and so, you know, the best thing going was you could get a gig on Homicide Life on the Street, or, or the wire. That was pretty much happening at work.

Dan White 16:21 We’re in Boston, where did you go the performing arts school? Where do you go? And

Rob Head 16:23 I went to u and BC with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Dan White 16:27 Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m very yeah.

Rob Head 16:30 Oh, yeah. There was an actor named James Brown Orleans, who was there at the time he ended up in, in New York, anyway. But everybody that was anybody in our department ended up being a character on homicide. Anyway, but yeah, but you know, so but in Los Angeles, you’re already there in the in the Mecca, you know, you’re in the center of everything and all the opportunities, so it’s beautiful. So tell me a little bit about your daily you know, practices. Do you have regular, maybe daily, maybe near daily practices that keep you going that help you care for yourself? How do you keep momentum, you know, with your projects in your career?

Dan White 17:12 Oh, absolutely. First and foremost, the the, the speech warmups. You know, that the habits from drama school have certainly served me in good stead that they continue to be in place. And we studied speak with distinction is a Skinner, who was a Julliard professor for many years, who’s actually who was actually Denise Woods’s coach, when she was at Juilliard, and I was talking about earlier. Okay, that’s something that’s something that continues, I’ve been working, I’ve been in scene study class, even through the pandemic to three times a week with Gloria Gifford, who is an accomplished film and television actress for many years, as well as Broadway. So we do our zoom class, a, you know, two, three days a week, and everything like that. So there’s, there’s that and then and then, you know, I’m a runner and a boxer. And I’ve stayed out of the gym out of the boxing gyms, you know, with COVID, and everything like that. But fortunately, most of my training is out video based outdoors. So running, and and calisthenics and so forth. And that when things jump back off, we’ll be ready. You know, I don’t want to sound corny, but you know, stay ready. So you don’t have to get ready that that but that that is certainly Yeah, a mantra that is applicable. Not not only and I mean, just just across the board, from craft to, to, you know, health and so forth. So that’s one meal prep has been really easy. During the during COVID. I’ve lost like 30 pounds. Like

Rob Head 19:02 the running, it helps to get the

Dan White 19:04 running in the cauliflower rice have been life, you know.

Rob Head 19:10 It’s great. So you’ve got you’ve got classes that continue. And I think it’s an interesting thing is this come up with a couple of other interviewees that, you know, classes have moved online, more so than they were before and and who knows what the post pandemic world will look like? It could be that we’ll still be doing a lot of our studies as artists, with folks that don’t, you know, live in the same city as us. Absolutely. So it’s sort of a new world, it’s, it’s giving us a glimpse of a more possibility, you know,

Dan White 19:42 it has it has I will say this though, as far as as far as on camera acting. So, so much of so much of our performance is is associated with behavior and touch human interaction and That, and I don’t think that part will ever change. Um, so that that is certainly when we get back to normal. You know, you can’t say for example, you know, Kramer versus Kramer you couldn’t have you couldn’t have that same. Uh huh. You can’t have that scene from a social distancing situation, you can’t have someone record from touch. If there’s not, they’re not there to touch each other. That makes sense. So, Rob, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s heartening. It’s heartening for that perspective, like, you know, all the training that we put in all the work that we put in, like, it will still serve us in good stead when that but we know how to make it work. In the interim, and everything,

Rob Head 20:48 right, right. Right. Hmm. So you know, you do some some writing and some some comedy, do you do you journal? Do you write or create content on a schedule these days?

Dan White 21:01 Uh, so that I try to I mean, we all I mean, we all I try to journal. I was better a journal. I was better at journaling when I was in my 20s. I have like, five journals, my 20s. button. The journaling is great. A journaling is great. And I think my content creation largely these days is just seeing work rehearsing and, and prepping for auditions. So

Rob Head 21:30 it comes out of physical space, rather than from just you know, onto the page directly.

Dan White 21:35 Right, right. Right. Yeah, I was gonna you asked you asked about comedy comedies a trip right now. Because comedy is also Zune shows. Mm hmm. And streaming live. The thing is, there’s four or five people in audience, so you got to be real, you got to be real funny. Um, when four or five people and I like, yeah, I, like, you know, it is as if that’s the thing is that when you have a large group, you can be I, and you can sound you feel

Rob Head 22:08 social pressure to laugh when other people laugh, but exactly,

Dan White 22:13 there’s actually a better there’s actually a physiological mechanism that kicks in. When other people laugh, you’re more likely to laugh. So, you know, when And furthermore, when there’s 3040 hundred people laughing? Like, chuckling it sounds like a war. But it does more people in audience by they better be about to fall out on the floor and have you know, Buster good. Yeah. And I’ve done I’ve done some I’ve done some zoom shows. And they it’s been a trip, it’s like you watch the daily shows Saturday Night Live, like, um, you know, you really have to be committed to your performance, as you would I mean, and that’s, that’s, that’s what’s interesting about it with common news, like you have to, you know, you have to you have to be to know your material so well, that it sounds like you’re speaking off the cuff. And that really crap that really translates in in the zoom era. That, you know, if you even watch and watch, like, watch Bill Maher, where he is intersperses like video of crowds laughing through the ages and everything like that. But it’s still but you know, it’s still funny, because, you know, the delivery, the timing, and everything is, you know, professional, you know,

Rob Head 23:38 right. Yeah. So don’t but find a way to make it feel. Yeah,

Dan White 23:43 exactly. And by the way, I’m not I’m not comparing myself to Bill Maher. I’m not saying I’m on that.

Rob Head 23:50 But right. Totally. Yeah.

Dan White 23:52 But you see the formula? Yeah, we have the file to make it work now, as the right. That’s

Rob Head 23:58 right. And we’re learning a lot about the dynamics of, you know, part of what makes comedy work is that people in the room laughing, right. It’s the whole laugh track issue. And, you know, in a comedy, like, you know, the office was hilarious, but also very uncomfortable, because there’s no laugh track. Right. Right. That kind of thing. Yeah. And so that’s the whole dynamic of the interchange.

Dan White 24:21 Yeah, right now, so that’s so funny. You mention the office, the diversity day. Episode, is when I revisit on a regular because it’s so hilarious. And part part of that has to do with exactly what you’re saying, Rob, which is the how awkward it is. Right and everything like that. Yeah.

Rob Head 24:41 Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, we’re gonna try to get rain on the show someday, we’ll see. So, yeah. Do you do a lot of collaborations Do you enjoy working creating content, you know, like in pairs in groups?

Dan White 25:02 Sure, sure. So as a lot of fun, I mean, it’s a, you know,

Rob Head 25:07 sort of the nature of the beast in a lot of ways.

Dan White 25:09 Absolutely. I mean, no group projects are always fun. Once the brainstorming happens, you know, just throw everything to the wall and see what sticks. It’s amazing what pops out sometimes, you know what I mean? Just back to bite gum. I mean, like the, the, the, the pulp Shakespeare project? No, there would be times where there will be times where we’re on stage. And, Yo, I need a line that is more germane to, to this idea. And I think it’ll get more of a laugh. Or, you know, working this way, you know, and so the collaborative efforts are the best. I love those.

Rob Head 25:52 And poke Shakespeare, if I understand was a retelling of pulp fiction, in a Shakespearean style. Is that right? Yes. Yeah. Or was it the opposite?

Dan White 26:03 It was, well, I you know, I Quentin Tarantino’s writing is is is very very Shakespearean, just at a great like, yeah, molecular level. There’s there’s betrayal. There’s betrayal, there’s sex. There’s violence as blood like, that’s, that’s, you know, so it was?

Rob Head 26:22 Yeah, absolutely. The blood is on the stage. Yeah.

Dan White 26:25 That’s right. That’s right. And so, the retelling of pulp fiction was not too much of a jump. You know, I mean, as much of a jump is one thing. Absolutely. So it was literally just changing language. And, and that was probably like, to this eye to this, even having, you know, had a series and doing, you know, having some, you know, high profile jobs at times. Like, Shakespeare is still my jam, like, they’ll still my most the most fun I’ve had on stage and probably the most artistically fulfilling situation as well. Huh?

Rob Head 27:08 Yeah. And it’s very 21st century, right? This idea of a mashup, right? Is is very much in the air, you know, in our generation of creators.

Unknown Speaker 27:17 Indeed, indeed. Yeah.

Rob Head 27:19 Yeah. All right. Well, fantastic. So what are your plans? You know, for the future? both within the pandemic and post pandemic, whenever that may come?

Dan White 27:30 When is post pandemic going to happen?

We don’t know. I Oh,

Rob Head 27:36 I know. Could be six months could be three years.

Dan White 27:40 Good lord. A. Real so. But that’s a that’s a that’s a funny question. Because, you know, when you say what is your What are your plans? You know, is hard to plan these days? Yeah, yes.

Rob Head 27:56 I you know, with some level of seriousness Do we have is, is the future coming in? quita? Yeah, it’s hard to tell, it’s

Dan White 28:04 coming. But but it’s, it’s, it’s gonna be different. And I mean, it is different is going to continue to be different. So the question is, you know, when I say okay, well, I need a, you know, I want to work with this director. In you know, in the next six months, you know, I, that’s, that’s another that’s another practice to is to, to, you know, I revisit my 3695 year goals.

Rob Head 28:33 And nice, and you have them, it sounds like you have them at several different several different scales.

Dan White 28:37 I do I do now, because you have to, you have to work, you have to work backwards. You know, I if I, if I saw, if I recall correctly, habit number three in the seven habits of

Rob Head 28:52 highly successful people

Dan White 28:53 of highly successful Thank you, is begin with the end in mind. So, yeah, so I tried to work my way back there, rice, interesting to try to do that. Because, you know, you don’t know when the industry is coming back. We don’t know when we’re gonna break anything again, and so forth. Um, with that, that that said, continuing to work continuing to, you know, work on my craft, those are the those are the, those are the immediate things. And when things open back up, there’s, there’s direct, there are directors I want to work with. And there are some projects that that I have in mind. And then and that and then there are projects that will continue to come out, some of which I can’t discuss right now.

Rob Head 29:33 Right, of course.

Dan White 29:35 But those there’s a project that I’m working on right now that we’ve been working on for the last couple of years. Wow, that’ll probably be released next year. So next time we talk, I certainly want to discuss it. And everything like well,

Rob Head 29:49 I look forward to that. Yeah. Very cool. So Dan, it’s a delight to talk with you. Thank you, Ron. And I really appreciate you taking the time and And, again, I hope you continue to be well and look forward to seeing your future work.

Dan White 30:06 My man. Thank you, Rob. I really appreciate it. Pleasure, my

Rob Head 30:08 dear welcome. All right, thank you so much.

Damien Burke 30:21 The 52 Sketches podcast is a product of 52 Sketches, makers of earlywords.io, daily, private, stream-of-consciousness writing, to clear your mind and unlock your creativity.