Waiting to Exhale

Oppressed smokers of the Valley, cheer up: Dave Attell feels your pain.

Whether surviving a smoking ban or forking over a fiver to satisfy a nic fit, the 39-year-old comedian, who lights up the Tempe Improv this weekend, is familiar with the trials and tribulations of tobacco use.

"In New York City, you gotta pay eight bucks just for one pack," says Attell, via his cell phone while stuck in a cab in Manhattan gridlock. "And each time I do it, I'm thinking, `If I had another two dollars, I could score some crack.'"

Attell's even sneaking a cigarette in the taxi -- where it's illegal to smoke -- and, between drags on his American Spirit, he talks about the constant flak he gets from nonsmokers about his habit.

"They're absolutely right that you're going to get cancer from it," Attell admits. "But people don't tell you, they just give you that look of `you're weak' and `you're disgusting.'" He pauses to hide the coffin nail from a nearby NYPD cop. "I always feel uncomfortable when I fly, because other people smell the cigarettes and booze on you, and they're all fresh for their trip to meet their grandpa or whatever."

When not slowly killing his lungs or dodging dirty looks, Attell travels the globe, spewing his beer-swilling, self-deprecating humor for Insomniac, his hit Comedy Central travelogue show. (The latest episode, "Sloshed in Translation," documenting his trip to Tokyo, airs August 22.)

He just returned from Berlin, where he entertained U.S. troops and taped the (possible) series finale. Did he take any shit while walking the streets of Das Fatherland, where many take umbrage at American foreign policy?

"They mostly just yell at you about Bush -- and, shit, I mean, what can you do? I just yell back `fuck you' and keep walking," Attell says. "They've even got these lighters over there that make fun of September 11."

His jokes get fairly raunchy, as in one memorable routine where he describes activities like drunkenly dunking his dick into an aquarium to scare the fish. ("I did it just to show them who's boss, all right? They were getting a little uppity.") Attell's quick to defend the gag, lest anyone accuse him of sexually harassing underage aquatic life. "Those were adult fish, by the way. They weren't guppies or anything," he quips. "I didn't want to combine . . . bestiality and pedophilia."

Besides giving new meaning to the term "last comic standing," Attell's trademark hard-drinking humor has earned him the 68th spot on Comedy Central's list of "The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time" (he's sandwiched between Kevin Pollak and Pat Cooper). So will fans get any new one-liners this time around?

"Generally, people aren't finding out about you for the first time. They've either seen you in a club, or they've seen the show, and they want you to really go fucking-balls-to-the-wall," Attell says. "So you try to give them what they want. It's like a concert, you go up there and play your tunes. You have to do the same jokes, even if you're sick of them."