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Archive for July, 2011

Dispatches from Sturgis for Laughspin

To clear my head and strengthen my body, I’ve taken a little vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My days have been spent learning video editing, writing and hiking. It’s my way of gearing up for the start of  the 71st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I have shows this weekend in Spearfish and Whitewood. Sunday I check into the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground. The “best party anywhere” starts Friday, August 5.


So It Begins Again

Today my summer’s grand adventure begins. As soon as I publish this post, I hit the road. I have a fifteen hour drive ahead of me. I’m on my way to Hardin, MT where I’ll be attending a wedding. Sunday I set up camp in the Black Hills, south of Deadwood, to relax and work on my video editing skills. Next weekend (thanks to my friend Steve Heinbaugh, Black Hills Comedy), I have shows in nearby Spearfish and Whitewood. August 1st I check into the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground. The “best party anywhere” starts August 5.

I’ve put a lot of effort into making this year’s Buffalo Chip Comedy Club a success. My goal is to prove that stand-up comedy can be a cool addition to that big biker party mix. I also plan on producing some kick-ass funny video reports and blog posts. The Buffalo Chip has provided me with all I asked for — joke contest to get guests and swimsuit models involved and a sexy talented comedy club hostess to help promote and emcee the show. Plus we’ve added a few guest comics to the line-up.

I leave today full of hope and optimism. That’s a good but rare thing for this old road comic. Keeping a positive attitude is the single greatest obstacle I face in my effort to stay alive in this brutal business. It’s hard not to get discouraged; easy to get consumed with bitterness. I’ve battled through the ups and downs in my career. The triumphs have been sweet; the set-backs many.

Dogged determination and a refusal to give up is what’s kept me going all these years and is the theme of today’s blog post. I’m publishing another excerpt of my mini-memoir: The Big Risk. It was about my 2009 adventure at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally; Buffalo Chip Campground. That was the year Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fell off the mainstage. “Dream On” had been my theme song since I booked myself at the Buffalo Chip months before. The next day it seemed that my dream had died.

From The Big Risk. Copyright 2009 by Dwight York. All rights reserved.

The hours after watching Stephen Tyler fall off the stage were miserable for me. I stumbled around the mud soaked field and stared at the spot where the rock icon hit the ground. I didn’t feel like drinking. It didn’t seem appropriate to party or to try and elevate my mood. In my crazy disappointed paranoid self-defeatist state of mind, I blamed myself for the accident and narcissistically thought others would too. “You brought bad luck upon the campground,” the voices in my head screamed. I felt like the guy at the bar who’s blamed for their football team’s loss because until he walked in, they were winning.

Self-pity is never pretty and it’s especially ugly on me. The next day I had my first ugly set; the pickle licking judges giving me the thumbs down. Though I had reason to blame the audience; it didn’t make me feel any better to have an excuse. I felt like my big break was slipping away and that I had just one more chance to turn my luck around. I pinned that hope on getting one more shot on the main-stage. This time for one of the week’s biggest concerts – Tesla and Hinder. According to the campground’s web site, I was scheduled to do a fifteen minute set that night; though that was no guarantee. At lunch that afternoon, Matt (the concert promoter’s assistant) explained that the line-up hadn’t been decided yet. But that he’d call and let me know.

After the pickle-licking drubbing, I went back to my tent to wait for my phone to ring. It was early in the evening but I laid my slogged-out, dead-tired body down. I kept my boots on just in case; but hope was fading as the hour was getting late. I placed my phone next to my pillow, closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. Half-dreaming, I heard Tesla begin to play. That gave finality to what I’d been dreading all day. The online schedule had me opening for them. Depression added to exhaustion and I fell fast asleep. About twenty minutes into Tesla’s set my phone woke me up. It was the campground’s media director, Michael Sanborn, “Did you know you’re scheduled on the main stage?” As it turned out, Matt had been calling, but had a wrong number. Startled awake, I asked Sanborn how soon I was needed backstage and he said, “right now.” What he meant was that I had time, but that I had better hurry. What I heard in my panicked head was that I had only minutes. Though I’d saved one clean pair of jeans and a brand new T-shirt for this occasion, I left on my mud splattered clothes and I raced out of my tent. The infield was packed and I had to push and shove and cajole my way across the amphitheater. I was soaked in sweat and looking a mess when I spotted Matt who was waiting for me at the backstage door. He told me to relax. I had thirty minutes before taking the stage. I could’ve died of relief. He had somebody get me a towel.


You can follow this year’s adventure as it unfolds online. All the details about where to find my reports (besides right here) will be posted next week.

Sometimes I’m Funniest When I Don’t Try to Be

Recently I did a comedy show at a multi-plex movie theater, Grand Cinema Hinckley (July 1). Hinckley is a small town in Minnesota about an hour north of the Twin Cities. Once every month, for the late showing, instead of a movie, one of their theaters (they have eight) is home to a live comedy show. A microphone is set up in front of the big screen and the audience sits in comfort as they would when enjoying a film. They also set up a beverage cart so a beer or wine cooler can also be enjoyed.

On account of the weather, crowd size was less than expected. Severe thunderstorms had struck earlier that evening. Many in the surrounding areas lost power. Trees were down. Roads were closed. Structures were damaged. I had a perilous drive through torrential rain and extreme winds on my way up. Additional watches for another band of storms had been issued.

Although my white-knuckled drive took longer than expected, I made it to Hinckley safe and sound. We delayed the start-time thirty minutes to allow people who’d purchased tickets to arrive but eventually realized there were going to be no-shows. The opening act did his thirty minute set, there was an intermission, then I took the stage. Although it felt a bit odd to be doing stand-up comedy in a movie theater, I got laughs from the get-go and settled in to my joke slinging rhythm.

Then about thirty minutes into my set, there was a distraction. In the moments of silence between me talking and the audience laughing, I heard a soft continuous high-pitched whine which I could only assume was a tornado warning siren. I’ve been doing comedy for twenty-two years but have never before been faced with this situation. What do I do? Keep going until someone tells me to stop? I made a snap decision. I had the microphone. That made me the leader in charge. So I stopped joking, got serious and suggested we take cover.

Nobody from the crowd moved. Or said a word. I waited. I had done my part and assumed somebody from management would break in with an official announcement. Certainly they must have a microphone too. After a long moment of silence, I concluded that the crowd felt safe enough, management didn’t care and everybody wanted me to continue. So I explained that I was certainly willing to start telling jokes again, but that — at the very least — I had to address the situation. Right? Suddenly I felt defensive for being such a pussy.

Still nobody from the audience said anything. I could read their puzzled faces. Is this part of the show? What’s he talking about? Maybe, I thought, from were they were sitting, they couldn’t hear what I did. So I asked the crowd if they heard the siren? Finally, after an awkward pause, the young lady selling beverages said, in a voice just loud enough for everyone to hear, “It’s a vacuum cleaner.” After another awkward pause, I responded with my biggest laugh getting line of the night, “Oh.”

Sometimes I am funniest when I don’t try to be.

Cool Album Covers from Stand Up! Records

Nerd Alert (available on Amazon.com) is the new comedy release from Stand Up! Records. Although I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, I know the cover is awesome. Zander Cannon created the artwork; Stand Up! Records just posted it on Facebook. I added the comment, “Almost as cool as mine.” Not to brag (actually I do) but I’m also on the Stand Up! Records label and have an awesome album cover too. The artwork for my CD Quickies was created by world famous caricaturist and long-time illustrator for Mad Magazine, Mort Drucker.

The main reason I decided to sign with Stand Up! Records was because the owner/producer Dan Schlissel is a perfectionist and demands that all things bearing his good name be of the highest quality. Schlissel produced Lewis Black’s The Carnegie Hall Performance which won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. From production value to artwork, nobody does a comedy album better than Stand Up! Records.

When discussing what I wanted for my cover, I told Schlissel that I’d like caricature of me. He asked what I thought about Mort Drucker. I said there was no artist in the world I’d rather have create it. Schlissel contacted his people, terms were negotiated and Drucker agreed. I felt like I won the lottery.

I grew up reading Mad Magazine. Undoubtedly it was a big influence on my comedy. That’s why I am so especially honored and humbled that one of the greatest caricaturists of our time — one of my comedy heroes — created my album cover. Thanks to Mort Drucker for capturing my comedy persona so perfectly. And thanks to Dan Schlissel for believing enough in me to make the investment. It ranks as one of the proudest accomplishments of my career.

You can view more of Mort Drucker’s artwork at www.mortdrucker.com.

To view more cool album covers from Stand Up! Records (there are many) visit the Stand Up! Records Facebook page (and like it while you are there).

If you want to know what Dan Schissel looks like, it’s his head who breathes fire on the Nerd Alert cover.

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