Opelika native Dusty Slay once lived in a trailer park and worked at Western Sizzlin. Now, he tells jokes for a living.
Slay, who currently lives in Nashville, is a comedian with national recognition. His 30-minute set was featured on Netflix's standup comedy series, "The Standups." He's also appeared on “The Tonight Show,” Jimmy Kimmel, Comedy Central and the reality competition television show “Last Comic Standing.”
His "We're Having a Good Time Podcast" references his signature habit of raising his hand in the air and telling his audience, "we're having a good time" between jokes.
Aside from his solo show, Slay was just made co-host of the "Nateland" podcast with Nashville comedians Nate Bargatze, Aaron Webber and Brian Bates.
"Growing up in Opelika, I never put it together that I could be a comedian," Slay said. "... I had a great childhood. I don't recommend people get divorced if they can help it, but other than that, my childhood was great."
Slay said he remembers faking seizures in school for laughs.
Like many in his profession, Slay's years at Opelika High School earned him the status of class clown and renowned party animal.
"I just partied all the time," Slay emphasized. "And it was a blast."
Slay said there was a blurb in his senior high school yearbook which listed the top five reasons to live in Opelika.
"There were several reasons, but number one was because Dusty Slay lives here," Slay explained. "I assume that's because of all the parties. It was a great time."
'Things are going great'
But Slay's comedic journey was far from just fun and games.
Within a year of graduating high school, Slay had already dropped out of community college, been arrested for underage consumption of alcohol and possession of marijuana, lost his driver's license, failed to enlist in the military, and purchased his childhood trailer for $1,000.
While working at Western Sizzlin, a military recruiter encouraged him to enlist.
"My whole mentality was 'I'm going to get some free college. I'm going to see a little bit of the world,’" Slay said. "[I thought], 'Hey, who's going to mess with America, right? We're the biggest and baddest. We're never going to be at war again."
Following his arrest, officials scheduled his court date for after he was supposed to ship off to boot camp, forfeiting him the opportunity.
His supposed-to-be ship-off date was August 2001. Less than a month later, on September 11, a group of terrorists hijacked a handful of commercial aircraft and flew two of them into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, marking the beginning of a never-ending series of wars waged by the United States overseas.
Slay purchased and lived in the trailer he grew up in for the next two years while he waited out his probation for his arrest.
"Things are going great," Slay recalled. "I just lived in that trailer. I worked, and I had a lot of fun. I had tons of friends. People would come over and hang out, so I wasn't just alone over there."
Charleston and the beginning of a standup career
When he finally got his license back, Slay moved to Charleston, S.C. He lived with a friend, but they argued so much that Slay got another place after two months.
"I move to Charleston, and I've got no friends," Slay said. "I know no one now."
Slay said he saw an ad in the newspaper about improv classes.
"I didn't really know what improv was," Slay said. "... So I just took classes. I ended up doing improv for a while and met some people and, you know, through that is how I found standup comedy."
Slay did some comedy in 2003 and 2004 but quit for a couple of years before returning to it in 2008.
"I've been in love with standup comedy since that time," Slay said.
Putting down the bottle
"I always looked young, so I never was confident enough to use a fake ID," Slay said. "I was always too afraid to try to sneak into a bar, so when I turned 21, this whole new world opened up to me that I didn't really know much about."
Slay spent close to a decade in Charleston, going to bars with his friends by the beach. During the day, he sold pesticides and also worked at a restaurant.
"It's just so much fun that I just continued to do that for the next nine years in Charleston," Slay said.
Slay didn't quit drinking because he felt like he was an alcoholic or anything tragic happened. He said he'd just grown overweight and was getting tired. He felt bad, and one day, he was so hungover he finally decided to quit for good.
After that, he lost 40 pounds in two months and took complete control over his life and comedy career.
Because a lot, if not most, of standup comedy takes place in bars and clubs, alcohol and comedy are closely intertwined. Nevertheless, many comedians have given up drinking over the last couple of years, such as Bill Burr and Slay's fellow Nashville resident Theo Von.
Slay said that though some comics might face challenges when they quit drinking, he's never looked back. He doesn't see how the comics who continue to drink heavily get by, especially while traveling for shows.
"The road is really hard," Slay outlined. "I'm in a really good place. I get to fly everywhere. I got a lot of airline perks now because I fly so much. I get upgrades, and I get the nice comfortable areas … It's still hard. The travel is really hard on your body. I can't imagine … if I were hungover all the time."
'I just like funny comedy'
Slay said he remembers listening to Jeff Foxworthy as a kid and resonating with his "you might be a redneck if…" jokes. He said he caught Chris Rock's special on HBO, and when his mom turned off MTV and “Bevis and Butthead,” he turned on BET.
Slay was also inspired by comedians Jon Reep, Reno Collier and Larry the Cable Guy.
"With the exception of Chris Rock, I've gotten to know all of these people," Slay said.
Slay was a guest on Larry the Cable Guy's Sirius XM radio show.
"I just like funny comedy," Slay said.
'We're having a good time'
Slay participated in a series of comedy festivals and finally landed a spot at "Just for Laughs" in Montreal, Canada, one of the largest comedy festivals in the world.
"When you do that festival, you're on stage in front of all of the industry if not in the country, all over the world," Slay said. "... You showcase in front of them. There were probably about 10 of us from all over the country showcasing … I definitely had the set of the night. They had not seen comedy like I was doing."
Slay's distinct style of comedy is southern at its finest.
"I don't make fun of the south," Slay said. "I love the south. I don't do politics, and my comedy's clean."
From there, he had the opportunity to appear on “Tonight Show” and sold a sitcom to ABC that was never produced. The exposure also earned him his agent and manager, based out of Los Angeles.
In 2018, Slay launched his podcast, "We're Having a Good Time."
"At this point, it's almost something you have to do," Slay said.
Slay started it as a way to connect with fans in places he only visited once a year. He tries to make the podcast a good listen instead of nonstop jokes.
Slay's never been one to talk about religion, but when COVID-19 started, he started talking about the Bible on his show. He said he doesn't want to force his religion on anyone, but he also feels he should be allowed to talk about it.
"[Faith] just helps me to try to be a better person," Slay explained. "I just want to do the right things because I know that God is watching me too. … To me, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to go through [the pandemic] without my faith and knowing that no matter what happens, it's all okay."
Slay was recently asked to be on "Nateland" after appearing on the show as a guest multiple times. He said he was already friends with some of the other hosts, so he feels like he is a good fit.
Slay said he's never been bogged down by goals, but, looking forward, he hopes to produce a full-hour special at some point and potentially an animated series.
"I don't really want to act, but an animated series would be really fun, and a reality show even would be really funny," Slay said.
Slay frequently performs in Nashville and will perform in Mobile on January 18 at the Alabama Music Box. Find his full list of shows and purchase tickets on his website.
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