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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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