08 Aug Craft Beer Comedy: An Interview With Dwight Simmons Before His Show at Bier Brewery August 11th
Brokerage Brewing in West Lafayette recently hit me with a new activity to bring patrons into the taproom – Beer and Hymns. On the last Sunday of each month, they get together to sing and drink beer; no preaching, no evangelizing, and you don’t even have to know the songs. It’s just a chance for people to get together over a great beer and build community. This example shows how inventive and far-reaching taproom activities can be when you are a small business trying to create regulars. Taproom yoga with bunnies seems to be catching on now, and only slightly more mainstream is the merging of comedy and craft beer.
In our continuing series on people engineering niches for themselves in and around craft beer, I give you Dwight Simmons and his multiple ventures – live comedy shows in breweries and a video channel called BrewTube Comedy. This type of entrepreneurship is noteworthy anytime, but especially because his Sip & Pass Tour will be at Bier Brewery for a free evening of comedy on Saturday, August 11th.
Dwight started BrewTube Comedy in 2017 after several years of drinking and doing comedy separately. The videos he produces are mashups of interviews of brewery professionals and patrons, as well as video clips of the live comedy shows at the breweries. One of the first episodes was done at the Black Acre Brewing production facility and can be seen here.
In addition, Dwight has written about doing comedy either at breweries or sponsored by breweries for craftbeer.com (here and here). In one article, he interviewed some comedians about their shows, and I learned that SweetWater Brewery and Joe Pettis pioneered this form of entertainment about seven years ago in Atlanta – so I guess comedy and craft beer are a lot more mainstream than I imagined.
Dwight has played and filmed at Upland Brewing, Four Day Ray, Centerpoint, and other places locally, as well as playing many regional and national shows. Walter and I met Dwight when he was pouring beers at festivals for Bier and manning the bar on the occasional evening. He told us about his comedy work and at first I didn’t really believe… he didn’t look that funny. But I guess the national tour means he’s making this comedy gig work.
The show at Bier Brewery on Saturday is an added date as he and his mates Kate Sedgwick and Isaac Landfert pass through Dwight’s hometown while on tour. The show starts at 8pm, so make sure to get to Bier early and call dibs on a seat. And just so you can say you’ve done your due diligence and cast a knowing eye on Dwight Saturday night, I decided to get the lowdown on how he got into comedy and any hidden insights on doing comedy with beer. We even talked seriously for a moment or two on what it is like to be an African American in the beer biz:
Indiana On Tap: How did you get into doing comedy and then combining it with craft beer? Tell your story and don’t leave out the embarrassing parts.
Dwight: I started doing stand-up in 2009 at The Comedy Attic in Bloomington. Growing up, I was a huge fan of comedy. I’d watch everything on Comedy Central, late night sets…B.E.T had this show called ComicView where they’d play a comic showcase every night. I’d watch it every night before bed. When I first got on stage at The Comedy Attic, I didn’t know what I was doing up there. I wrote out my 5 minutes verbatim, rehearsed and rehearsed, but I was so nervous I ended up just doing an Eddie Murphy bit from memory. I have made sure that all video footage of this night was deleted. That night was terrible but I was instantly addicted. I wanted to try again and again (with my own material though).
I’m lucky enough to get to travel to do comedy. I’d say that I have a beer with me 75% of the time on stage. It started as a way to see what was out there in different cities. Most venues have local craft on tap or available in some form, so I love trying the local fare. Being a comic and writer, I’ve always been fascinated with the creative process, and making beer is definitely a creative process (see this article from Dwight).
This sounds cheesy, but I like beer that tells a story. It’s how I like my comedy. I’m a fan of great storytellers and well-crafted jokes. I saw a lot of similarities to how beer and comedy are made, and I wanted to dive deeper into those similarities. I also, wanted to use my traveling, trying new beers as a quasi-craft beer education for myself. It was the best damn schooling choice I ever made!
Indiana On Tap: Talk about you and craft beer – are you a converted BMC drinker, or were you weaned on Sierra Nevada Pale? What do you drink now? And don’t give us that “I only drink stuff from Bier Brewery” crap.
Dwight: Man, I’m such a newbie when it comes to craft beer. You won’t find a bigger converted BMC drinker. From age 21 to 27, I probably kept Anheuser Busch in business. My family or friends never really drank craft. I do remember the shift though. My dad is a chef, and he brought home an array of samples to test out as food pairings. That night changed my life.
For one, the artwork on these bottles was fascinating. I remember cracking open a Saison Dupont and being like, “Holy crap. This beer has…flavor!” I tried Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat Ale, Two Brothers Domaine Dupage & Founders Dirty Bastard. From there the conversion was instant. It was like being shaken awake from a great slumber. I was probably intolerable to my friends the next few months. “All you guys have is Budweiser? Ugh. Grow up!”
My favorite beer in the city is Saucy Intruder from Black Acre and the IPA is my go-to style. I’ve been really into Tripels lately. Taxman’s Exemption is heavenly. Bier has the best limited releases. DFG, Wizard Tears, and ESB. I always make a point to stop at Against The Grain in Louisville if I’m traveling south. Citra Ass Down is a masterpiece.
Indiana On Tap: How is doing comedy at a brewery different from a club?
Dwight: The experience of comedy in a brewery is totally different than in a club, for both the audience and the comic. As a comic, I feel more relaxed in a brewery. It can be a more intimate and fun experience. The stakes aren’t as high and you can let loose, play around a bit. A lot of breweries treat comics like rock stars. They go out of their way to make sure we are taken care of, they feed us beer, and they are supportive of the show. There a bunch of clubs that treat comics well, but you don’t get the red carpet treatment breweries give you.
For the audience, it’s way more relaxed. There’s no two-drink minimum at a brewery. I would think for people who like to find out about unknown comedic talent and like trying craft beer, there’s no better way to do those things than a brewery comedy show.
Indiana On Tap: Brewery hecklers – are they better at or worse because the ABV is higher? Can hipsters heckle?
Dwight: I will say that anyone who heckles at a comedy show should never be allowed out in public ever. Learn how to be a decent human being and then you can come outside! You don’t heckle at a play, or at the orchestra, don’t do it at a comedy show! No one who paid to watch a show wants to hear your dumb mouth!
With that said, I haven’t had too much experience with hecklers at a brewery show. I think that’s because most people who come to the show, are there for the show. At clubs you’ll see bachelor and bachelorette parties just ripping shots, taking down mixed drinks and just getting obliterated. By the middle of the show, they’re super drunk and want attention. Breweries, at least in my experience, don’t tend to over serve to that extreme where people just become terrible human beings.
Indiana On Tap: What kind of comedy do you do? Does playing a brewery call for a different routine?
Dwight: I try and talk about everything in my stand-up. Relationships, politics, race, family…I like telling stories and being a bit ridiculous. I never want to dumb myself down or pander for a specific audience. I just try to be funny and authentic. I don’t change my act completely but there are things I steer away from in certain parts of the country. No matter club or brewery, crowds in New York are going to be different than crowds in West Virginia.
I liken it to craft beer. There are still people who walk into micro-breweries and ask, “What do you have that’s like a Coors Light,” ie. there’s still an audience that wants to hear poop jokes. I’m like a dark strong ale. I think there’s an audience for everyone so I just try and do what I think is funny and people that like me like me and people who don’t…there’s always that Coors Light comic out there.
Indiana On Tap: Can you do beer comedy – what’s funny about craft beer?
Dwight: Oh I love trying to write jokes about beer. Especially riffing on beer names. Where the hell do they come up with these things? I went to Dancing Gnome Beer in Sharpsburg, PA and they had an IPA called “Spy Dolphin”. What kind of acid trip inspires the name “Spy Dolphin”? I just imagined a dolphin in a Bond type tuxedo slowly emerging from the water and slyly taking off his sunglasses, “The name’s Fin. Dol Fin”. Hilarious name aside, Spy Dolphin was fantastic.
Indiana On Tap: Craft beer has had a hard time marketing itself to African Americans, on both sides of the bar. 1) How do you feel about it, and how would you expand the tent of craft beer, and 2) Does it affect you as a comedian – do you have a life experience/cultural niche that makes it harder to play in breweries?
Dwight: This is a wonderful question and I’m glad you asked it. I’m thinking that in the coming years we’ll see more and more African Americans getting into craft beer. It’s one of those things that is making itself available for everyone to enjoy. I’d like to see it as a natural progression more so than an obvious marketing gimmick.
I’d like to be a part of that progression but I have very little reach. Now if Kendrick Lamar dropped a verse expressing his love for hazy IPA’s, that would have a serious impact. I’ve just got jokes!
I’ve recently started doing a joke that I couldn’t own a brewery because all of my beer names would be too aggressively black. No one wants to drink a “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY IPA.” I’m from Indiana and have lived here for most of my life so I don’t find it surprising. I talk about race in my comedy because I don’t see it as a divisive issue. I see it as a reality that if acknowledged, it can actually bring us closer together. I think people are open to those types of jokes when viewed through that lens.
Indiana On Tap: Tell a story of when something went really well on stage at a brewery. And then tell a story of when it all went to hell.
Dwight: We typically have to provide the PA system since a lot of breweries don’t have those. This was the case for Dancing Gnome in Pittsburgh. Peter and I packed up the PA and we drove 6 hours to the show. Around 2pm we started shooting the interviews, a tour of the brewery, and getting b-roll. We finished filming around 5:30 and wanted to grab a quick bite before the show started at 8. We drove about 15 minutes to a restaurant that the owner had suggested. I had a fantastic burger and some frites. It took us about 45 minutes to finish up which was perfect because we needed to get back and set up for the show. We leave the restaurant and much to our surprise, there was an empty spot where our once parked car sat. TOWED. An hour before show time, and our car with the complete sound system had been TOWED.
I entered full panic mode. We had pre sold 65 tickets and doors were supposed to open soon. We took a Lyft to the tow yard – in the middle of freaking nowhere, paid the ridiculous $250 tow fee and then raced back to the brewery. I scrambled to take tickets and check people in, and make sure the comics were taken care of as Peter set up the sound system. And then we had to do comedy! A couple of very deep breathes later…as well as a few spy dolphins…I went up and started the show. It was an emotional roller coaster that ended up being the most fantastic night.
Indiana On Tap: What haven’t we asked you about that you want people to know about this job/mission/hobby/mistake…pick your noun.
Dwight: As I do this (let’s go with hobby for now) more, I learn so much about the similarities of craft beer and comedy. Both are made by passionate artists for the enjoyment of the masses.
banner image credit: Katelyn Calhoun