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Night Rider

Losing sleep with Comedy Central’s Insomniac.

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It’s 7 P.M. on a Saturday night in New York City, and Dave Attell is standing on a midtown curb, relaxing with a cigarette (the first of many) before another dusk-till-dawn shoot for Comedy Central’s Insomniac With Dave Attell, a weekly nocturnal expedition (airing Wednesdays at 10:30) he describes as ”E!’s Wild On for ugly people.”

That sounds about right. Insomniac takes the 37-year-old comic on a city-hopping exploration of night shifters and fringe dwellers — which leads to everything from a gay S&M piercing party in Boise, Idaho, to hunting nutria (giant rats) with the New Orleans police. The SPF-free travelogue ties with The Man Show as Comedy Central’s second-highest-rated program, and since its season 2 move to prime time, its ratings have nearly tripled, averaging 1 million viewers. ”The network gave it no off-air marketing support,” says Comedy Central VP Lou Wallach. ”The show made it on its own through word of mouth.”

Attell hops into a van and heads off to shoot Insomniac’s season finale. EW tagged along with a fistful of No-Doz.

8:15 P.M. Okinawan Isshin-Ryu Karate Dojo, Bellerose, Queens

Attell suits up for an evening martial-arts class frequented by off-duty cops. Instructor Michael Calandra introduces Attell to a rare jujitsu style by repeatedly slamming him onto a mat. (”Cup, please!” begs Attell.) The comic improvises most of the show’s comments, usually steering them below the black belt. When Calandra warns that if he slips into fight mode, Attell may lose a testicle, the host replies, ”Wow, then I’d be down to none.”

10 P.M. Castle Heights heavy metal bar, Jackson Heights, Queens

Attell stops to talk to one pierced patron who enthusiastically starts a rambling story with ”Dude, you shoulda been there!” Attell interrupts: ”I can’t tell you how many times I hear stories that begin with ‘You shoulda been there!”’

When taping in a bar, the comic always boozes along with his interviewees. Here, he has a Bud, a shot of Jagermeister, and a mystery beer a patron buys him. ”I try to keep it to a respectable level,” says Attell, ”but sometimes it goes from funny to sad.” Adds producer Nick McKinney, ”There have been times when we’ve taken an early meal break, because we’ve done two bars, he’s done 10 shots, and we have to say, ‘O-o-okay, let’s get you a cheeseburger.”’

11 P.M. China Chalet, Manhattan

The weekly ”Goddesses Party” held in this financial district Chinese restaurant is for ”big, beautiful women and men and their admirers,” says organizer Nancy ”Goddess” Esposito. With pumping music and a parade of chicken-wing platters, it’s a celebration of plus-plus-size pride. Hugged by a bosomy partygoer, Attell says, ”I come for the food but stay for the cleavage.”

He never makes weight jokes, observing his grateful-guest ethos. ”We’re thankful to anyone who lets us be a part of their event,” he says. ”I’m not gonna insult anyone in here, because look at me. I’m not Matt Damon.” (The crowd seems pretty well-adjusted, though. When he asks a group of bubbly women what they like to be called, they exclaim, ”Fat chicks!”) He’s more inclined to target himself: After a partygoer reassures him that he’s not that bald, he replies, ”I’m bald enough not to get laid, I’ll tell you that.”

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