When Dusty Slay announced he was moving to Nashville earlier this year, we thought, another one? First Rachel Kate, now Slay? Damn you, Tennessee. But while the local comedy scene might be a little poorer for his absence, after listening to his debut album, Makin' That Fudge, it's clear that the move is doing both him and his act a lot of good.
After moving about six months ago, he's confident he made the right choice. "I think Nashville's great," he says, clearly meaning it. While he admits that he misses Charleston a great deal, the relocation was all about business. "My goal moving here was to be able to travel," he says, mentioning that he'd considered New York and LA, but settled on Nashville as the best option at this point in his career. Explaining that Charleston's coastal location made trips to other cities with thriving comedy scenes difficult, he has already started to book shows that would have formerly presented insurmountable logistical difficulties. And he's been able to make an impression at Nashville venues, most notably Zanies Comedy Club, that have opened doors to other locales.
"Most local showcases, I get to be part of that," Slay says, noting that every chance to perform with new talent, in front of a new audience, is a potential connection that could lead to a booking or representation. And it gives him new feedback, too. While he loved living and performing in the Holy City, there came a point he says, when he'd reached its professional limits. He knew the crowds, and they knew him. "I miss performing at Theatre 99 maybe more than anything," he says. "You pack it full, you can't get a better audience."
Nashville, on the other hand, is paying off dividends. Since arriving in his new hometown, Slay has hosted for Jeff Ross, as well as MTV's Girl Code, a female comedy series about the wonders of womanhood. He's shared the bill with a host of comics he respects and likes. Most importantly, however, it's shaken him up, and given him renewed commitment to always improve his act.
If Makin' That Fudge is any indication, the decision to move was a smart one. Like any comedy album, it presents the performer doing his best bits. It was recorded live, at Nashville's Logue's Black Raven Emporium, in front of a small but appreciative crowd. And, to someone who last caught Slay's act at Big Gun Burger Shop a couple of years ago, it's surprisingly consistent and strong, showcasing his development as both a performer and writer.
A few seconds into the album, it's clear to anyone familiar with his routine that the comedian recorded on Makin' That Fudge is not going to deviate too much from the persona the Alabama-born Slay honed for a decade while living in Charleston. This is a good thing, as Slay's strengths have always been his everyman personality and delivery. Measured and deadpan, Southern and wry, Slay manages to convey a sense of fresh bemusement to the crowd whenever he arrives at a punchline or payoff, as if it's just occurring to him for the first time. The good news is that the punchlines and payoffs are vastly improved from the novice Slay of three years ago.
And Slay actually agrees, saying he feels he's "finally found the right structure, right way to pace it out." He goes on to admit that he was "worried I might lose the audience," most of whom had never seen him before, with a 55-minute set. To the contrary, the audience is clearly enjoying itself, and the laughter is as strong for the final bits as it is for the first. When it comes to that performance he says, "It felt great." It seems less like bragging than an admission of relief.
As for the material on the album, Slay says he tried to keep the appeal broad and topics varied. One of the strongest sets, "I've Waited Tables," embodies this approach. Slay relives his time working at Hyman's. From customers who justify every indulgence "because we're on vacation" to those who give waiters information "to tell the cook" that no one would pass on, the string of punchlines will immediately connect with listeners with any food service experience. "I could probably do an hour of waiter jokes," he says.
Some of the older bits, such as the "The Alphabet," are among the weakest. While "The Alphabet" has its moments, at seven minutes the narrative about anthropomorphized letters ultimately can't sustain itself. Slay says he included it as a nod its importance in his development. "'The Alphabet,'" he admits, "doesn't make it in [the set] too much anymore," but it was the bit that got him back into comedy when he was considering giving it up.
After listening to Makin' That Fudge, it's easy to be glad Slay chose to stick with a career in laughter. If he continues to develop at the rate he's going, it won't be long before he outgrows Nashville, too.
"Makin' That Fudge" is available now at dustyslay.com