Dusty Slay: Having a Good Time
Written by Eric Mitts. Photo: Dusty Slay.


Right at the start of his first one-hour special for Netflix, Dusty Slay admits that being a comedian is the best job he’s ever had. And he’s had many.

Titled Workin’ Man, the standup special finds Slay delivering his signature style and Southern charm, while telling stories about some of the worst jobs he’s ever had, including the better part of a decade when he used to sell pesticide.

“These were not very hard manually, but they were the worst,” Slay told REVUE recounting the absolute worst jobs he’s ever had. “I was a bellhop at a fairly nice hotel in downtown Charleston (South Carolina), and I also attempted to be a timeshare salesman. And those were the worst. I lasted longer as a bellhop, than I did at the timeshare thing, but they were both pretty awful. The timeshare one was the worst, though… I just think the turnover rate there was insane because, there’s people that I know that did it and made a lot of money, and some of them seem like very nice people, but it’s just kind of a sleazy job, and I just couldn’t do it.”

An honest, blue-collar man, Slay grew up in a trailer park in Alabama, surrounded by very poor, but very funny people. After narrowly missing out on joining the army following an arrest at 19 – a surprisingly hilarious story he’s retold onstage – Slay drank his way through most of his 20s, and is grateful to have a treasure trove of comedic gold from his childhood in the form of boxes of VHS home videos taken by his dad.

“Home videos are kind of like time travel for ruined childhood memories,” Slay said. “You know, I feel like our memories, sometimes we remember things better than they were. And then you go back and you see that memory on video, and you go, ‘Oh, this is really not that great. Was it? Like it’s Christmas, and our dad’s yelling at us.”

A father of two himself now, Slay said his parents didn’t have any strict expectations about what he would do growing up, and they are pumped about his comedy career now, adding that they’re probably happiest that he stopped drinking in 2012, something he credits as the best decision he ever made, and the most important part of his success as a comedian ever since.

“But that’s also debatable,” he said. “I was probably more fun of a person when I was drunk all the time, so it’s debatable. I think my parents sometimes think, ‘Man, lighten up, have a drink.’”

Talking with comedian friends who knew him before and after he got sober, Slay said it’s almost like he’s two different people. So when he recounts stories in his act from his binge drinking days it’s almost like he’s talking about another guy.

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop making jokes about that period of his life anytime soon.

“I’m just gonna milk all my alcoholic stuff and trailer park stuff for as long as I can,” Slay said when asked if parenthood and settling down during the pandemic has changed him as a comedian. “And then once I run out of material, I’ll have to get into the kids’ stuff. I got a joke or two. But I think that even just having kids has made me do some comparisons with my childhood and remember some things.”

Not a clean comic per se, Slay prides himself on making jokes that aren’t appropriate for kids, but are still alright if they happen to overhear while listening in the car.

“I had this joke I was working on about all these stores that have these dirty names, like Dick’s Sporting Goods,” Slay said. “I’m just making a joke about these businesses. And I’m like, it actually sounds really dirty. What am I doing right now? And my whole point is how, I’m like, ‘Don’t name your store Dick’s, you know?’ Actually, I’m complaining about it, but it’s a pretty dirty bit. So I’ve stopped doing it right now, and I don’t really know what to do with it. So that’s kind of what I do. If I have a joke that’s on a subject, and the subject is a little dirtier, I just try to find the cleanest way to do it.”

After winning Best Local Comedian and winning the Charleston Standup Comedy Competition two years in a row back in South Carolina in 2012, Slay set out on making comedy his fulltime job. He said it took him another six years before he made any decent money at it, grinding away gig after gig.

“I think that just anywhere outside of New York, LA, Chicago, people act like you can’t do it if you don’t live in those places,” Slay, who now lives in Nashville, said. “I don’t know anybody that’s done it the way that I’ve done it. I don’t know anybody that stayed in the South and ended up on ‘The Tonight Show.’ I did ‘Jimmy Kimmel’ without any representation. And while living in Nashville, I don’t know anybody that’s done that. And then I got Netflix, and I’ve never lived in New York or LA, I’ve been able to do these things, and it’s a real blessing for sure.”

Now with over half a million followers on TIkTok, and co-hosting the “Nateland” podcast with superstar Southern comedian Nate Bargatze, as well as his own podcast, “We’re Having a Good Time,” with his wife, former comedian Hannah Hogan, Slay continues to kill onstage and online.

“I’ve got a completely new hour,” he said about his act since the release of his special. “So every joke that I’m doing now is completely new. At least it’s not on the special. I’ve got a couple of jokes that are a little older that there’s a possibility I’ve done them before in Grand Rapids, but definitely not on the special. So even if you have heard it at this point, it’s going to be better. You’ve definitely not heard this version of it.” 

Dusty Slay
Dr. Grins, 20 Monroe Ave. #3f, Grand Rapids
June 13-15, 8 p.m. (Thursday), 7:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. (Friday and Saturday), $20-25
Grinstix.com, dustyslay.com