About Dusty SlayWe are only selling entire tables instead of individual tickets
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“Everything I talk about is coming from my perspective, and I was always a bit of a weird guy compared to the people around me,” says Dusty Slay. “Just as redneck—but a little weirder. I was the one trying to be artistic while I was building a barbed wire fence.”
Fast-rising comedian Slay grew up on Lot 8 of a mobile home neighborhood in Opelika, Alabama, and that background moves to the foreground when he’s on stage, looking at life through a lens that comes from working a range of jobs from waiting tables to selling pesticides.
The comedy world has taken notice: In addition to his own relentless touring schedule, his episode of Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Featuring” premiered in May, and he’s appeared twice on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” following previous sets on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Last Comic Standing” and “Laughs on Fox.”
Recently, Slay became the youngest comedian to ever perform at the legendary Grand Ole Opry in his adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. He’s since notched three appearances on the famed stage in less than six months and hosted the CMA Fest “Forever Country Stage” in June, entertaining fans between performances by the biggest stars in country music.
This level of stardom may be new to Slay, but he’s been making people laugh his whole life. “I’ve always been funny,” he says. “In school, I was able to make the entire class laugh—but also make the teacher laugh. I knew I could do that. But I never thought, ‘One day I’ll make a living doing this.’ That never crossed my mind.”
In his early 20s, Slay moved to Charleston, South Carolina where he signed up for his first improv class and set a new direction in motion. He learned about performing on stage and was introduced to a creative world that he had never encountered in his small hometown.
Slay was sure that he had an authentic territory he could claim as his own. “The trailer park was my thing right away,” he says. “It’s something that I almost ran from—you think you’re so different because you lived there, so you make jokes about it. Jeff Foxworthy was talking about rednecks and people were embracing that, but they all seemed to have more money than me. You’d see a redneck sticker on the back of a $30,000 car. There’s a different side to this, a whole other class, and nobody was really digging into trailer parks, so that can be my thing.”
Slogging it out on a self-booked tour with some friends, Slay realized the signature piece of his identity—his beloved trucker hat. “I hate to give the hat so much power,” he says with a sigh. “I had a couple of these hats I got from my dad, and on the local news in Montgomery, Alabama, I wore the hat and felt like the reporter thought it was funny, so I just committed! I was selling homemade CDs at the clubs, so I printed up a bunch with a photo of me in the hat, and I started selling out of CDs.”
As he continued on the road, Slay decided to buck the conventional wisdom and base himself in Music City, USA. “I rented an attic apartment for $250 a month in Nashville and decided to go full-time for comedy,” he says. “There’s no money for flying; the flight costs all the money you earn in the weekend. But here, you’re in driving distance to so many cities that you can work while still maintaining a normal life.
“Also, I love country music. If I could play guitar, I would be a country singer. So to do the Opry and then sleep in my own bed is a dream. I think it does something for country to have a relevant comedian of the same age as the artists. There was Minnie Pearl, Jerry Clower, Jeff Foxworthy was on CMT—every music era needs its own comedian.”
Doors continue to open for Slay’s positive, observational comedy and distinctive, relatable point of view. He sold an idea based on his life to ABC and continues to add more television appearances, including regular sets on Circle, the Opry’s new TV network. He documents his daily life on his YouTube channel and thinks about turning that into a series, “to show the real life of what it’s like to travel as a comic, since people usually see a very fictionalized version.”
For Dusty Slay, the challenge right now is staying connected to the absurdity of regular, day-to-day life while chasing the comedian’s dream. “I’ve contemplated getting a side job, just to get material,” he laughs. “There’s still so much to talk about from my jobs, my childhood, I feel like I can mine that for many years to come. But if I do write a joke about airports or hotels, it’s still going to be my perspective. It’s still going to be unique.”