It's a pretty safe bet that few people view Dave Attell and Sam Elliott in the same stratosphere.
But Attell, the comedian known for his love of booze, porn and curse words, sees parallels between himself and Elliott, the baritone-voiced, mustachioed actor known for playing cowboys and tough guys of assorted stripes.
“I'm like one of the last dirty old comics around,” says Attell, who headlines four shows in two nights at Cobb's Comedy Club this weekend. “I feel like Sam Elliott in [the 1989 film] 'Roadhouse' — this old grizzled dude who has to teach all the new bucks his tricks while kind of knowing that a change is coming.”
Attell, who made his mark as a lovably debauched clown embracing late-night haunts in the Comedy Central program “Insomniac,” laments the increasing political correctness of stand-up, as once-accepted words and phrases are becoming taboo.
“There is no doubt that I self-censor myself nowadays,” Attell said. “With social media the way it is, anything slightly controversial you say could end up becoming national news. Comedy clubs used to be these sanctuaries where anything goes — because everyone in the audience knew that these were all just jokes. Now, I'll see people in the audience look around to see if it's OK to laugh. And I don't blame them — they're constantly in danger of being shamed by anyone with a smartphone.”
Attell sees shades of that in San Francisco, a city he described as the craziest in the country, particularly when stars like Robin Williams were perfecting their craft here.
“San Francisco is still an amazing place to perform, but there is the same sense of unease here as there is in other places,” Attell says. “You know, I'm going to tell my bits about recycling because this is San Francisco and everything. But I also want to warn everyone that I'm planning on doing some pretty dirty jokes, too.”
As Attell witnesses the inevitable slide into stand-up comedy's sanitization, he's working to momentarily buck the trend, too, by promoting comics dedicated to his unvarnished sense of humor.
His “Comedy Underground” series, featuring veterans Amy Schumer and Jeff Ross alongside promising newcomers, finished its debut season on Comedy Central earlier this year. Airing after midnight, the show highlighted stand-up comedians who embrace the raunchy humor that made industry players like Attell famous.
“The comedians I came of age with and admired — Mitch Hedberg, Patrice O'Neal, Bill Burr — we all really loved hard comedy,” said Attell. “We're trying to maintain that tradition, but it's a tough road ahead.”
Even though Attell envisions a sea-change coming, it doesn't mean he's bitter or disillusioned with his role as a comedian.
“Oh, my god, I feel incredibly blessed,” Attell says. “I never thought that this could actually be a career for me. I've worked so hard to get where I am now, I don't want to give it up just quite yet.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Cobb's Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 8 and 10:15 p.m. Friday, 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday
Contact: (415) 928-4320, www.cobbscomedyclub.com