Dave Hill, the unstoppable force from the heart of Cleveland, is a man of many talents and even more laughs. A professional comedian, writer and musician, Hill has appeared in shows like Joe Pera Talks With You, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Modern Family and more. Plus, he fronts the band Valley Lodge.
We talked with Hill to learn more about his notable love for hockey and his experience growing up in Cleveland ahead of the release of his fourth book, The Awesome Game: One Man’s Incredible, Globe-Crushing Hockey Odyssey, out on all formats Oct. 24.
Through his unique lens, Dave takes readers on a journey across the world of hockey, blending humor, insight and a lifelong passion for the game in a delightful literary exploration.
Cleveland Magazine: What would you say inspired the new book?
Dave Hill: The sport [hockey] has grown in Cleveland since I was a kid. At the time, it was, like, me and two other kids in my school who had any interest in hockey, and it felt so lonely. So it was part of that, just kind of revisiting my childhood obsession, and I've been a fan my whole life. In the first chapter, I went back to Ignatius and I played with the current team, and it was amazing to see where the sport is now, at school, compared to when I went there. It was just this adventure and connecting with people through the sport of hockey, and all these weird ventures that kind of sprung from that; kind of like making things right for my 10-year-old self, and the things you can do as an adult with a publisher.
CM: What initially got you interested in hockey? Was that part of your upbringing?
DH: My grandfather was from Clinton, Ontario, and he was just super Canadian, even though he lived in America. As kids, we started ice skating when we were all 3 years old, so that's how I got drawn to it. I had as weirdly Canadian upbringing as you could, growing up in Cleveland.
My first memory of seeing a game is when I was maybe six years old going to see the Cleveland Barons at Richfield Coliseum. I went to a game with my grandfather and my dad and my brother and we sat behind the penalty box and I remember this player Len Frig was in the penalty box a bunch and so I remembered that name my whole life. For this book, I tracked him down and found him and just kept pestering him. So I met him for beers at a Mexican restaurant one afternoon. It was an awesome time for me to explore my love of hockey and go back to my childhood.
CM: How does this book differ from your previous three, or is it more of a continuation of the documentation of your life experience?
DH: I think anyone that has enjoyed the other books will enjoy this one. I tried to write it both for hockey fans but also for people that don't care about sports at all. Partially because in a way I'm both. I love hockey but I just have no interest in other sports really. But in terms of the other books, the first two are essay collections — hopefully humorous to the reader, but with some real-life things in there. Then the last book and this book have a bit more travelog stuff because I'm going out doing things for the purpose of the book. Hopefully, people will enjoy reading. I think they will because I tend to get far enough off the intended topic that there ends up being a lot of other stuff to read about. In the hockey book, when I go to Kenya, there's a little bit of hockey in there, but there's a lot of other stuff.
CM: Where did you play hockey while growing up in Cleveland?
DH: As a kid, I played in the Cleveland Heights Hockey Youth League there. I was 11 when I started playing on my driveway, and then I went to Ignatius, and I was good enough that I made the varsity team my freshman year, which was exciting. As I mentioned in the book, I think a big part of that had to do with the fact that the team really wasn't very good. I played there for years, and then I played a bit in college at Fordham University and then in my sophomore year I sort of realized that my heart was more in music and drinking beer and stuff like that, so I stopped playing.
CM: Do you have a favorite NHL team, like a ride or die?
DH: My answer is probably disappointing because I'm really a lover of the game. Since I live in New York, I want the Rangers to win. I love the Oilers because when I was a little kid, that was like Gretzky and them winning the Stanley Cup, and so I always have a soft spot for them. I kind of just ride for the home team, but if I moved to Chicago, God forbid, you know, I would push for the Blackhawks.
CM: What were the best parts about working on the book and what parts were the most challenging?
DH: I think the best part is for me to go out and have these experiences. The thing that I love about what I do, being a comedian, musician and actor, is that I end up having these kinds of adventures that I would never have. Then the hard part is, it's kind of lonely and depressing sometimes, writing a book. You're sitting there and you're left alone with that voice in your head for hours every day and sometimes it's better than others. Sometimes you feel good and other times you finish and you’re just like “Oh God,” but I'm getting better.
CM: With the type of streak you have going, do you anticipate writing a fifth book in the near future?
DH: Hopefully, I'll do another one after this. And I have no idea what it'll be about, but yeah, hopefully, I'll come up with something. I have a goal in my head. I thought five would be a good number. I think three would have been enough but once you get to four then you go “I gotta do five.”
CM: What is the one takeaway you hope your readers will have?
DH: I think there are so many aspects of hockey to enjoy, and it's just a way to be with people. You may not get into it as much as I'm into it, but it's really fun to just go and have a nice time with your friends. And even if you're just chatting and checking in on the game every few minutes, start there, and then eventually you're memorizing rosters. Hockey is the one sport that has a lot of the awesome stuff of all the other sports. There's the intensity and violence of football, the finesse of soccer, and the crazy speed of baseball. It's just awesome.