Tellin’ jokes for the workin’ folks
It’s been 16 years since Vermonter Rusty DeWees started his down-home comedy character “The Logger,” and 10 or 11 years since that yokel clomped his way over to the New York side of Lake Champlain.
The Logger fits in with the populace over here, and he’ll return to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts this Friday and Saturday night.
“That area of the world reminds me of where I grew up in Stowe (Vt.) because, even though Lake Placid and Saranac Lake have more people than Stowe, now it still seems more down-home than Stowe does,” DeWees said in a recent phone interview.
He also talked about changes to his act – more jokes and more songs – and how hard he works for his target audience: locals.
FYI, he rates his show “SC” for “some cussin’.”
WEEKENDER: Sixteen years – wow, long time. How has it changed over that time?
RUSTY DEWEES: When I first started, it was more just stories. In other words, stories where the joke payoff was less frequent, so it’d be more like ‘A Prairie …’ – not like I’m comparing myself to him, but I guess I am – ‘Prairie Home Companion’ stories. Now, there are some of those, but there’s more of a stand-up-comedic tone to it where there’s more jokes. There’s more opportunity to laugh. …
The other main change to the show is, especially since I’ve been to Lake Placid, I learned the guitar. I’m 52 now. I took it up when my father went in the nursing home five, seven, eight years ago, and then I got pretty good at it, so now I’ll do about a 25-minute music set that includes, you know, humor, but there’s some music. I do a couple songs that are kind of good. People kind of tap the toe.
W: Logging itself isn’t what it used to be back in the old days. It’s so much more mechanized now: There’s like a handful of guys in the woods with these big old feller-buncher-type (pieces of) machinery. How’s the characature of a logger, of a lumberjack, different with all this high-tech mechanization?
RD: First of all, that’s a good question; it brings up a pretty interesting answer, I think. The first shows, when people saw the show, they would look up at me on stage, and many of them would go, ‘That guy is a real logger every day, and he just gets up on stage and does some stories.’ But now I’m an entertainer, and people know that. And again, going from just two hours of stories – rural-type, old Adirondack-y stories – and to more comedy-type jokes takes it away from it being so characterized as just rural, real, real rural humor. More of the jokes are jokes that are more general, in other words.
W: So the authenticity isn’t such a big deal?
RD: No, it is, and here’s the second part, and that’s why the question was a better question than you might even have thought. …
I speak in benevolence of the working-class person. That is to say, if you come to the show, when you walk into the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, the first person you’ll see is me, standing behind my merchandise table, selling to you, meeting you, talking to your 13-year-old son who is a fan of mine, talking to your grandma whom you’ve brought in a wheelchair, opening the door to let her in. You’ll see me after the show running down the aisle to stand at my merchandise table to meet the folks, to chat with ’em. If they want me to come out to their car and sign a boot they got out there, I’ll go out there. Onstage you’ll see me sweat and move. Backstage you’ll see the same green, beat-up duffel bag that I brought my beat-up jeans and boots in for the last 16 years. …
So I’m not up there showing up 10 minutes before the show, and my people have everything all set up. …
So the loggers in the woods, even though they’re not on the ground as much, they’re still freakin’ beatin’ it up. The Logger’s stories and jokes might not be about chainsaws as much, but my character and who I am as Rusty DeWees, I approach my business from a working-class physicality and mentality.
So I have not changed. In fact, with all the new technology, with the new media and everything, I’m keeping up with that as much as I can, but I’m also going back to the old-fashioned way even more. In other words, I feel if I can connect with every Vermonter and up-upstate New Yorker – and what does that mean, connect? It means going to the Boy Scout Eagles club freakin’ banquet when they ask me to go. It’s all about connection, this show. People don’t necessarily come to my Logger show anymore because they think I’m the funniest guy in town; many of ’em come to it now because they know me. And that’s working-class, logger-type work, as applied to the business of show. …
Thank God there’s tourists in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and in Stowe, where I grew up. People go, ‘Well, you know, if you’re doin’ it in March, it’d be better if you did it three weeks before because that’s when a lot of the ice skatin’s goin’ on; that’s when the big ski season, Presidents week,’ and I say, ‘I’m not trying to really market to the tourists, necessarily. I’m marketing to the locals.’ Even though I know a lot of the locals work at the restaurants and can’t come to see me, I’m doing it for the guys that are plowing, the women that are making the beds in the thing, or whatever job they’re doing. I’m doing it for the locals.
I mean, I hope some tourists come; don’t get me wrong.