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Archive for June, 2011

Me and Woody: Bike Builders

My other favorite story about my 2010 adventure at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally didn’t involve any bad ass bikers or beautiful bikini models or famous bands in concert. It was about doing something kind for kids. The amusing part of the story is that I didn’t know I was volunteering to help anybody. I thought I was tagging along with the owner of the Buffalo Chip to cool off and be entertained.

It was a Sunday afternoon in August and it was a scorcher. Normally on a hot day during the rally I’d be dressed in a tank top, shorts and tennis shoes. But on this particular afternoon, Pee Wee Herman and the Funny or Die crew were filming at the campground. I thought it’d be best to be dressed how I think I look best on camera. Just in case. That meant I was wearing jeans, shirt with a collar, cowboy boots and plenty of perspiration. I was sitting in the shade when I saw Woody (Rod Woodruff) approach. I could tell he didn’t have time to stop. He motioned for me to follow. As I caught up he said, “Let’s build some bikes.” I thought, “Cool. We’re going to watch custom choppers being built.”

Woody made straight for the air conditioned Michael Lichter Building. I assumed that was our destination. It was an ideal place to build custom choppers. Not only was it cool inside, but  a celebrity fundraising event was taking place there that night. Famous people like Pee Wee Herman and Lorenzo Lomas and Rupert from Survivor were scheduled to attend. But we did not stop inside. We were merely taking a short-cut. I followed Woody in the front door and right out the back and then onto to a field where a handful of people were gathered under the hot sun. A truck had just been unloaded. At first I didn’t know what the large cardboard cartons contained. Turns out Schwinn had donated sixty bicycles to the Kids and Chrome Foundation to benefit the Black Hills Children Home Society. They were being given to residents at the foster home for battered and abused children. It was children’s bicycles that were being built. Woody and I were there to help.

An event had been scheduled for that afternoon called The Biker Buddy Build-Off. The purpose of this publicized event was to attract volunteers to donate a few hours of their time to assemble bikes. Each volunteer was to be rewarded with a T-shirt and an invitation to the celebrity fund-raiser. That should have drawn a crowd. But the event attracted only a handful of volunteers and by the time we arrived most of the bikes were still in their boxes and the hour was getting late. The organizers needed the bicycles assembled in time for the party that evening (great photo op). Woody went right to work. I watched him put together one bicycle to see how it was done (see photo below). Then I found a set of tools and got to work myself.

I put together a lot of bikes that afternoon. It was miserable working under the hot sun. There were times when I thought I might pass out from heat exhaustion. But I kept working and didn’t collapse and felt elated when that last bike was assembled. Nothing feels better than helping a child in need. Plus we finished by the deadline which was a triumph. Not only because of the charity event, but because I had a show to do too. Unfortunately I didn’t have time for a shower and a change of clothes. Good thing I was dressed cool for comedy.

Woody is taking out his first bicycle. I am regretting drinking too many beers the previous night.

Tough Getting Laughs After Pickle Licking

I did a show for five people last night. Thankfully they were a good little group and everybody had fun. One of my biggest laughs came from a practiced ad lib. It’s a line I came up with on stage one night and I break it out whenever the situation merits. I was surprised when my prepared joke, “I saw this guy on the side of the road with a sign that said ‘will work for food’ so I gave him a coconut,” got such a good response. So I said, “Sometimes that one gets nothing. You people are good. Per capita, best audience ever.”

Inevitably after a show like last night somebody makes the observation that it must be tough doing comedy for such a small audience. I like to tell people that I like a challenge (another practiced ad lib). Although last night’s show was more of an exercise in being silly than anything else (five people and the show goes on…really?), I do love a challenge. There is a element of danger in doing stand-up that makes getting laughs such a thrill. Generally the more of a challenge, the bigger the thrill. The most thrilling challenge of my career came back in 2009 when I brought my show to the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground for the 2009 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There was plenty of people to witness my potential failure on stage at that world famous venue and there were many who expected I would.

Below is another excerpt from my mini-memoir  about doing comedy at the 2009 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. From The Big Risk by Dwight York. Copyright 2009 all rights reserved.

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Soon after that lonely set on the Sam Kinison Stage, I finally found an audience; though they hadn’t gathered to listen to me. I was scheduled to do a twenty minute set before the start of a bikini contest on the Bikini Beach Stage. The contest was being sponsored by the Hedonism all-inclusive (but clothing optional) resorts in Jamaica. Hosting it were the resort’s two entertainment directors and by the time I arrived, they had already taken the stage. Apparently these experienced showmen had their own idea of how to best ready the crowd for a bikini competition. With Reggae music blasting and several couples on stage competing in an audience participation contest (most sexual positions mimed in ten seconds), the charismatic hosts had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. As the game ended and the couples left the stage, one of the hosts asked the audience if they were ready to meet “the beautiful and sexy contestants of the bikini contest.” The crowd went wild. Then the stage manager walked up to the host and said something in his ear. “Our lovely ladies will be out soon,” he was forced to announced, “But first we have a comedian.” All together, the entire crowd groaned. The loudest gasp came from me.

Though the bikini contest interruption was the most awkward introduction of my career, the one I was given later that night for my big debut on the main-stage was arguably worse. At least the guy from Jamaica had made it clear that I was a comedian. I’m guessing that the main-stage emcee didn’t feel it necessary to hype me much. He probably figured he wouldn’t know me long. Hank Rotten Jr. had hosted the main-stage festivities at The Buffalo Chip for the last twenty-two years and though he’d seen a lot of entertainers come and go, he had yet to see a comedian return. His introduction for me was simple. In his Southern Missouri Hillbilly drawl he told the crowd, “We have a surprise. A comedian. Dwight York.” Hank ran these words together so quickly that I could barely make out what he said. And I was sober.

I had a few decent crowds in the days ahead, but mostly it was comedy hell. Though I was fully aware that trying to do comedy on the secondary stages would be challenging, I’d assumed there’d always be people partying and hanging around. That was another mis-assumption. In the late afternoons and early evenings; most folks were relaxing back at their campers or out motorcycling around. It wasn’t until the main-stage activities began that the crowds began to build. That limited my audience to those gathered to watch the daily contests; the bikini competition being the classier of the two. My new friend Hank Rotten Jr. had graciously invited me to go up after the contest he hosted every afternoon. It was called “Pickle Licking” and you can guess the rules. This didn’t attract the most sophisticated of crowds; nor the classiest of competitors. I watched in fascination – on two separate occasions – as one of the contestants made a great show of first removing her teeth. That’s a tough act to follow.

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This August 5-13, I will be returning to the Buffalo Chip where I will be headlining the Buffalo Chip Comedy Club (indoors and air conditioned). It’s the best comedy club anywhere because it’s at “the best party anywhere.”

Joe Hurley: My New Best (facebook) Friend

Thanks to the power of the Internet and my new blog I have a cool (and famous) new facebook friend. I have acquired other cool (and famous) facebook friends in the past, but this is the first time I received the request. It came with a very kind message too. It is these little triumphs that make the struggling and starving artist part of being a comic seem worthwhile.

Joe Hurley narrated the audio book Life by Keith Richards. I wrote about it last week (see previous post). Life won the prestigious Best Audio Book Of The Year; 2011 Audie Awards. Hurley accepted the award (Life won two) at the ceremony in New York City. “Helluva joy ride” is how Hurley described the privilege of narrating the Keith Richards autobiography. “Helluva joy ride” is how I felt listening to him read it.

Just how good is Hurley’s narration? Jimmy Vivino (band leader/music director of the Basic Cable Band on TV’s Conan) put it perfectly. The voice in my own head was never this hip. It’s Keithian to the tenth degree! Even after reading the book I can go back and listen to Joe again and again… poetry.

Someday I would like to narrate an audio book too. Mine. I spend most of my free time writing. It has become my passion. Almost an obsession. Although writing provides me with a certain amount of joy, it also fills me with dread. Is the toil and frustration worth the effort? Maybe I am just wasting my time. I pour my heart into my new blog and I wonder if anybody ever reads my words. Thanks to a message I received last night, I know the guy who narrated Keith Richards autobiography (with Johnny Depp) has.

I need to get to New York City. I would like to meet Joe Hurley. I would love to hear his band play live (he fronts two: Joe Hurley & Rogue’s March; Joe Hurley & The Gents). Plus I have a few questions for Joe. Have you met Keith Richards? Are you guys friends? What’s Keith like? Maybe Marc Maron should have Joe Hurley on his podcast. Maybe Joe Hurley should do a podcast and interview Keith Richards himself. Somebody should. I bet Joe’s got good stories too.

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