Dusty Slay: Workin' Man. Courtesy of Netflix.

Interview: A Conversation With The “Workin’ Man,” Dusty Slay

Dusty Slay: Workin
Dusty Slay: Workin' Man. Courtesy of Netflix.

Few people are as relaxed onstage as Dusty Slay is. He walks onstage casual as all hell. His attitude does not suggest that he’s about to spend over an hour performing for a room of 2,000 strangers, for a stand-up special that will run in perpetuity on the largest global streaming platform. 

He approaches such high stakes about the same as one would approach a room full of a few longtime buddies that he’s hanging out with on a Saturday night. “We are having a good time,” he tells the audience, not asks. “What a hot show.“

He then spends the next ten minutes convincing the audience that he is indeed “pumped to be here.” He says, “It is great to be here. Best job I’ve ever had. I mean I will quit it if I find a better one.” In a nutshell, that is Dusty Slay.

The jokes he slings out are at an impressing rate. He has mastered the art of working in a long string of jokes into the set-up, before we even get to the punchline. As Slay sees it, it’s extended from something that’s within his subconscious.

“That’s part of a defense mechanism,” Slay tells us. “If people aren’t laughing, I’m like ‘What’s going on?’ I’m always going ‘How can I get another laugh before this next laugh? Can I get another laugh? How can I keep that going?’”

The inception of Dusty Slay's signature trucker hat look.

Just as distinctive as his relaxed vibes is his look. Dressed in a button down shirt complete with glasses, a beard, long hair, and a trucker hat, his look has become part of his overall brand. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the earliest days of Slay’s comedy career, he had a variety of jobs that required him to have a clean-cut look. As he started to gain traction in comedy, it meant he could quit his day job, and embrace the look.

“I was kind of making a joke,” Slay says of the trucker hat origin. “I just had this old trucker hat, and I just threw it on. I went on the local news one day, and it just felt really silly and I just thought it was fun. For some reason, it just felt so good to wear. I was just like ‘You know what? I’m going to wear it this weekend when I’m doing comedy.’ And I wore it that weekend and then all the next week.“

He continues, “And it just felt so fun. It felt like it brought this new element of silliness to comedy. It was like ‘This is great!’ And now the hat is part of my life.”

At 41 years old, Slay has now been doing comedy for a large part of his adult life. He’s toured the country playing comedy clubs, been on The Tonight Show, and was the youngest comedian to ever play the Grand Ole Opry. He previously recorded a half-hour special for Netflix. But now the time has finally come for Slay to get his shot at the coveted hour. His first hour, Workin’ Man, dropped on Netflix this week.

Dusty lays out the road it took to get to Netflix.

Things have changed quite a bit since Slay’s half hour and his new hour. We are seeing more and more comics no longer waiting for the offer to produce the hour, but instead take the initiative and produce it themselves. Then if someone is interested, great. If not, they’ll at least have an hour they’re proud of and release it themselves. That’s precisely how Slay approached his new hour.

Slay says, “As opposed to waiting on Netflix to say ‘We’re going to give you an hour special,’ you just kind of take a chance on yourself and you go out and film an hour. And that’s what I decided to do. I was like ‘You know what? I’m going to go film an hour. And I’m going to put out an hour of my comedy no matter what.’”

One thing that Slay knew for certain was where he would film the special. It was very important that he taped the special in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he sold out two shows. That’s because - as much as he enjoys doing shows in places like New York or LA - he knows they’re not the audiences that he’s performing in front of most often. He knew to achieve this, he’d have to do something in the South.

From the conception to completion, Slay takes pride in knowing he got to do the exact special he set out to do.

“I got to do everything exactly the way I wanted to do it,” he says of the special. “That way in the end, the final product whether it was great or not, it would at least be all my all choices that went into it. Fortunately, it turned out great. I’m very happy with how it looks, how it sounds, the material. I’m very happy with this special.”

To watch Dusty Slay onstage feels a lot like having a conversation with an old friend. Yes, it’s a one-sided conversation, but Slay makes the audience feel at ease right away. There’s no pretense to be found. You’re just hanging with your old pal, listening to him tell stories.

From working pesticide to crushing in stand-up.

A lot of Slay’s material stems from his experiences. There’s one experience in particular that stands out from the special, when Slay is detailing what happened when he had a ruptured appendix. What may have been a minor surgery for most people turned out to being a traumatic experience.

Like any great comedian, he found a way to incorporate it into his act. At the same time that he had the ruptured appendix, he was booked to do a TedTalk. He had an entire 15-minute set ready to go, talking all about positivity. Then his mind went blank.

“I think I fool myself because I’m so good at memorizing my act onstage,” he says. “I have probably multiple hours of jokes in my head that I could just do at any point that I think sometimes I have this super memory. I do think my memory is very good, but I think I often overestimate it.”

Pretty much right away, Slay ditched the planned speech he had worked on and just went into his act. While that may not have been the plan, as you watch Slay recount the story - and watch the TedTalk itself on YouTube - you would never know what he’s going through in that moment. He remains relaxed, even in the wake of internal panic.

Another chunk of his new special stems from talking about some of the various jobs he’s had over the years. While Greg Warren sold peanut butter, Dusty Slay spent 9 years selling pesticide. Going forward, Slay promises that he’s going to find even more ways to incorporate stories from his days selling pesticide or waiting tables into future hours.

“I just have to figure out how to tell it because it’s kind of a niche job,” Slay says. “It’s similar in some aspects with Greg Warren talking about selling peanut butter. It’s a similar kind of job where he was selling peanut butter battling for space in stores, I was selling pesticides and doing the same thing. I think the pesticide world we got a lot nastier with our tactics than Greg did with peanut butter. Because they were dealing with food and we were dealing with poison. We were really battling it out out there.”

In those years selling pesticide, he was still pursuing comedy. This was to the surprise of many of his coworkers.

“When people at the Lowe’s and Home Depot stores found out I did comedy, they’d say to me ‘Oh. Well you’re not that funny at work.’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, I hate this job. I hate being here. I’m not being funny at work.’”

Luckily Slay managed to get out of the pesticide business and pursue stand-up full time, something we’re all grateful for. Because if his debut Netflix hour is any indication, there’s bound to be so much gold still to come from Slay.

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