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Archive for March, 2011

Me, My Book and Colin Quinn

A friend emailed me this morning because he heard my name on the KQRS Morning Show. Colin Quinn was the guest. They were discussing the Minneapolis comedy scene. Colin said I was one of his favorite Minnesota comics and one of the most underrated comics out there. Colin Quinn’s hit Broadway show, directed by Jerry Seinfeld, Long Story Short debuts on HBO April 9. I will be watching. I wish him success. I think he is one of the most deserving comics out there.

I met Colin Quinn ten years ago at the Comedy Cellar in New York. I had just self-published my book The Vile File. It was my first time in the big city. I hadn’t much experience at meeting famous people. I have always been socially awkward. A mutual friend of ours, Tony Daro, introduced us. Instead of shaking Colin’s hand, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a book. I wanted to give him a copy. That was a major faux pas — you could tell by the expression on his face. Tony saved my ass. He assured Colin that I wasn’t a whack-job and it was OK to take the book.

The next night I returned to the Comedy Cellar. Colin was standing outside at the bottom of the stairs. He saw me approach and waved for me to come down. Colin had read my sick joke book and liked it. His exact words were, “That’s a funny book.” He said he’d been reading my jokes all day and had been on the phone reading them to others too. He mentioned some famous people. I don’t remember who. My mind went blank when he said that he had shared some with Jerry Seinfeld. I asked, “Did he like them?” Colin shook his head and replied, “Naw.”

It was a roller-coaster-ride of emotion talking to Colin that day. He wanted me to know that I had written some very funny jokes. He wanted me to know that he’d shared my jokes with others who knew a thing or two about comedy. Most importantly he wanted me to know that I should never hand somebody I just met a book. “That was weird,” he said. It was weird. I know that now. Colin taught me something important that day. It was a lesson I took to heart because I could tell he thought I was someone worthy of giving advice. It’s been years since I’ve been back to New York, but it’s nice to know that Colin Quinn still remembers me. Meeting him and talking to him that day was one of the biggest thrills of my career. I hope to see him again. This time I would just shake his hand.

The Big Risk

Inevitably when I meet someone and tell them I’m a comedian they say, “That must be hard.” It is. Usually they follow up that observation with, “How do you handle all the rejection?” I don’t really have an answer. “It’s hard,” is what I say.

I just had another hard week. I had really hoped to write about some cool new developments today. Instead I have nothing to report but the same-old angst. Usually the way I react to rejection is to set myself up to endure even more. Last Friday I submitted my mini memoir to two more magazines. It’s the same manuscript that has already been rejected by twenty others. I decided to post an excerpt. It’s called The Big Risk. It’s about the experience of bringing my act to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The Big Risk (an excerpt) by Dwight York. All rights reserved. Publisher wanted. Negative comments not needed.

It is said that a man’s dreams die hard. I can testify to that; though twenty years of chasing after them had sure taken its toll on mine. Even though I had, as a long-time professional touring stand-up comedian, achieved a level of success for which I was proud (a level very few who attempt this crazy business ever attain), I was still after all these years – after all of the blood, sweat and tears – still barely scratching out a living in all but obscurity. Sure I could say that I was living my dream; but at the same time I was shattering that dream to pieces in the process. Tired of being broke and miserable with the routine hell-gigs I was forced to accept; I was becoming increasingly disillusioned and had come to the sad realization that if that elusive big break didn’t soon come my way, this old road-dog couldn’t much longer soldier on.

Stand-up comedy is a tough business. But what’s even tougher is giving it up. As depressing as those thoughts of quitting were, they also served to light a fire within. That same steely determination that had kept me going all these years was not about to let my life-long aspirations die. Not without a fight. Call it desperation if you will, but I was itching to do something gutsy. In an analogy of climbing Mount Everest: I was tired of trekking around the safety of base camp. I wanted my shot at the summit.

That was my mind-set last January (2009) when I began talking over the telephone with another dreamer. An out-of-work because of a bum-knee floor installer with an entrepreneurial spirit and a love of stand-up comedy, Steve Heinbaugh’s latest big idea was to bring top-quality comedy shows to his little corner of South Dakota. Steve had a website and track record of losing his ass. But he also knew local prominent businessman Rod Woodruff and when he mentioned he could probably arrange for me to meet with him should I come to town, I told him to start printing posters. Though I was not optimistic that a trip to The Black Hills in the dead of winter would be fun or profitable, I was itching to make my pitch to the famous owner of The Legendary Buffalo Chip.

Doing comedy at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally had been on my mind for years. Though I didn’t own a motorcycle, my hippie-drifter-outlaw persona and vast arsenal of adult-orientated drug, drinking and sex jokes had always been especially appreciated by the biker crowd. My wildest career dream was to have my own comedy special on HBO and believed that the ultimate location to have it filmed at was the biggest motorcycle rally in the world. Surely doing a show for hard-core bikers would make for compelling television. And what a perfect setting for giving my stage persona the brand it deserved. Throw some bare breasted biker-babes into the mix and you’d have an uncensored comedy special the masses could rally around (pun intended). If I couldn’t sell that concept to HBO, I was never going to sell one. But first I had to prove I could make my show work in such an environment. Probably it would have been easier to climb Mount Everest.

Steve came through. Woodruff met us one cold winter afternoon at a sports bar in small-town Belle Fourche. It was informal. Woody (as his friends call him and I would come to know him as) drew the layout of the campground on a bar napkin explaining where his stages were and where comedy might be attempted. I explained my vision and touted my act’s unique ability to fit into the big biker-party mix. It was an audacious proposal on my part with virtually no financial risk to the shrewd and penny-wise long-time campground owner. Give me some stage time in-between bands in exchange for a place to pitch my tent and chance to sell my new CD. Woody agreed. Though my proposal was modest and but a foot in the door, I couldn’t have been happier if he’d written me a big fat check. I had my shot at the summit.

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