Back in the day (ya know, about five years ago), Dusty Slay was a big name in the local comedy scene. Slay had a steady Charleston following, thanks to his monthly show, Dusty Slay's Homegrown Stand-Up Showcase, and his two consecutive wins at the annual Charleston Comedy Festival Stand-Up Competition. He was a regular performer at Theatre 99 and, through his relentless support for local comedy, was something of a poster child. You would think Slay would never leave, but in 2014 he packed his bags and headed for Nashville to further his comedy career.
Despite his expatriate status, Slay clearly still carries a flame for the local scene. "I felt like you had to be smarter for a Charleston crowd, so it helped me get good at comedy," says Slay. His continued Holy City love is permanently imprinted on his new stand-up album Son of a Ditch, because it was recorded at Woolfe Street Playhouse.
The album hits the big beats Slay is known for. His "quieter, slow paced" style is still his primary weapon. Topics stay away from the serious, and steer more towards self-deprecation and light-heartedness. "I don't want to tell anybody whatever they like is bad," Slay says. "I'm just like 'Hey, let me tell you this joke about my grandma's boobs.'"
Son of a Ditch gives Slay many opportunities to wield his dry delivery and silly observations, with one central theme. "It's a lot of trailer park jokes," he says. "I think I got in the rhythm of writing trailer park jokes, so I did a bunch of them."
One of the main reasons for this is a reaction to the "aws" Slay would hear from the crowd when joking about his childhood, especially jokes told on his last comedy album, Makin' that Fudge. "Sometimes, it comes across as sad and I didn't want it to be sad, because it's not sad," says Slay. "Sometimes people just think poor is sad."
"I just don't want to write jokes that make people feel bad. I want everybody that comes to the show to watch the show and have a good time," he says. His way of doing this was to double down and show that he can make fun of his childhood and bring the audience to laugh with him.
One of the high points on Son of a Ditch is Slay recounting his area's tornado defense strategy. While the National Weather Service tells most people to hide away in their basements or seek shelter in a sturdy building, trailer park residents are told to "go outside and lay down in the ditch." It's not necessarily funny, but Slay's deadpan delivery frames the supposedly life-saving instructions as ridiculous. He riffs on it further with a jab at the ditch being flooded from the rain that comes with a tornado. "I just think about the idea that your only option is to go outside and lay down in a ditch. I don't know why that's funny to me," says Slay.
The comedian's return to Charleston comes two months after Theatre 99 announced the cancellation of the 2017 Charleston Comedy Festival Stand-Up Competition. As someone so closely associated to Theatre 99 and the festival, Slay is saddened to see the loss of a local comedy mainstay, even if it's just for a year. "I think it's surprising that the competition was cancelled, but I think it was really due to lack of interest," he says. Theatre 99's Brandy Sullivan noted to the City Paper earlier this year that a minimum of 10 comedians are required to sign-up, but only four agreed to perform. Slay believes that the amount of performers in the area isn't the only problem. "There's maybe not a lot of comics or there's no right place to harvest some stand-up comics," he says. "It's not because there's not people there."