Chicago performer Erv Dahl plays Rodney Dangerfield in the recently released Netflix movie, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, about the rise and fall of National Lampoon magazine.
In addition to recreating the facial twitches and hand gestures that helped bring fame to the man who gets no respect, Dahl “nails Rodney Dangerfield’s voice,” according to Indiewire critic David Ehrlich.
Futile and Stupid is based on the career of National Lampoon founder Doug Kenney, who co-wrote the screenplay for Animal House and produced Caddyshack during his time as the magazine’s main writer.
It also documents a fundamental chapter of modern American humor.
Besides Dahl as Dangerfield, the cast features a number of actors portraying the jokers within Lampoon’s orbit. Martin Mull and Will Forte — along with 12-year-old twins Frank and Morgan Gingerich — portray Kenney at various ages of life. Jon Daly plays Bill Murray. Jackie Tohn plays Gilda Radner. Seth Green is Christopher Guest.
In many ways, Dahl had been preparing for the role since the 70s, when he was a shy kid who loved hockey in Manitoba, Canada.
“I was in about fifth grade, and my brother had some cassette tapes in a boom box,” he recalls. “There was some George Benson music and then there was, like, a three-minute shtick of Rodney, and I thought, ‘this guy’s the bomb.’ He told clean jokes that a kid could understand, and he had this incredibly unique voice.”
Problem was, Dahl didn’t know the comic’s name. So he dutifully monitored TV to find out.
“One day, Johnny Carson says, ‘tonight we’re gonna have Rodney Dangerfield,’ and they show a clip of Rodney telling a few jokes,” he remembers. “I’m like, ‘dude, that’s the guy!’ Now I had a name, Rodney Dangerfield, which in itself is hilarious.”
Dahl became an instant fan, but he was not yet a performer. That began to change when a former business partner asked him to do some Rodney impersonations at a birthday party.
“People loved it,” he says.
After marrying an American woman and moving to Chicago, Dahl continued the act on a casual basis. While working as an electrician with the construction crew at a downtown skyscraper, he threw out a few Rodney lines to a co-worker.
“This guy was kinda like a blabbermouth,” Dahl recalls, “and the first thing he says at lunchtime is, ‘hey guys, you gotta listen to Erv’s Rodney.’”
He started to do the act while riding home on the Metra with his buddies. “A few months later,” he says, “everyone wanted to ride in ‘The Rodney Car.’”
When a fellow passenger asked him to perform at an Italian restaurant he owned in the ‘burbs, Dahl’s career began to gain speed. After seeing his act in a real venue, the restaurateur suggested that Dahl try ABC’s The Next Best Thing, a reality series featuring impersonators. Dahl pursued the opportunity with full support from home.
“When my wife found out about Next Best Thing, she said, ‘that’s it, you’re going there.’”
After standing in a line outside ABC’s studios for two days, he got his chance. Show judge Elon Gold, who later admitted to being a huge Rodney fan, nearly jumped out of his seat when he heard Dahl’s opening lines.
Since then, Dahl has kept busy with a promotional website (therodneyguy.com) and frequent appearances at clubs and events.
“What I like the most is the golf outings because I love the Caddyshack thing,” he says. “It’s great to make fun of golfers.”
During his most lengthy scene in Futile and Stupid, Dahl recreates a real life interview that Rodney gave at his Manhattan comedy club, Dangerfield’s, with Ted Knight, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase.
After remarking that some of the jokes were not written exactly as Rodney had told them, he got the green light from director David Wain “to ramble” for several takes.
“We took this scene like 15 times and I threw out five or six different jokes for each one,” he says.
Dahl first learned about the Futile and Stupid role from casting director Allison Jones, who left him a message while he was cutting his grass in the summer of 2016.
Although he still describes himself as “basically a shy guy,” he went into full Rodney mode after hearing it.
“I called back and got her assistant and I said, ‘you know what, hang up and I’m gonna call back and leave you some Rodney Dangerfield,’” he says. “I did some Caddyshack and two minutes from a standup bit.”
A short time later, Jones sent him a text message that read, “You’re hired!!!!”
To connect with or learn more about Erv Dahl, click here.