Posted October 2, 2013 by Sam in Laughs

Stand Up! Records: A funny thing happened to Dan Schlissel

Dan Schlissel, Stand Up! Records
Dan Schlissel, Stand Up! Records

Dan Schlissel started putting out eclectic array of music on his -ism label (later rebranded -ismist) while studying at the University of Nebraska. In the late 1990s, he moved to Minnesota and a funny thing happened—he impetuously pitched comedian Lewis Black on releasing an album and has put out independent comedy ever since. Now a Grammy-winning comedy producer, Schlissel, who runs Stand Up! Records, has a catalogue of more than 100 recordings from comedians like Maria Bamford, Greg Proops, The Sklar Brothers and David Cross. We talked to him on the heels of a trip to Vegas to see some acts. Of course, we don’t know what happened there, but fatigue didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for all things funny.

You’ve called yourself a curator of comedy. What are the parameters of your exhibition?
That’s kind of hard to quantify, honestly. I like things that are fresh and come from a different direction. I look for a unique point of view. I look for a non-typical sort of joke even if the comedian is covering the same sort of typical area others cover. I look for something I think reflects that particular comedian’s honest opinion.

You started out as an indie music record label. How did you know you could produce comedy?
I’ve been a lifelong fan of comedy. I didn’t know for sure I could produce it, but I had a good supposition that I could.

Comedy is a pretty subjective thing. How do you know what will have broader appeal down the line or do you even care?
I don’t know necessarily. I am not necessarily looking for that, I am looking for what I find to be funny. Much like what the Supreme Court says about pornography, I know it when I see it. It’s really hard to quantify otherwise. For my label, the bar is really, ‘Does it make me laugh?’

In your opinion, are there ever limits in comedy? Something that just isn’t funny?
Everybody has a red button topic. That’s a matter of personal taste. As a comic, you can’t worry about that. It’s just on you to be funny enough to win them back. I think a comic can talk about pretty much anything. As long as it winds up being funny, everything is good and everything is available.

Are many of the comedians you work with the kind that challenge an audience rather than trying to win them over?
Some of them certainly are. I have actually seen [Doug] Stanhope have someone get up sobbing and run out of a showroom. It was her red button issue, but he was still being funny. I don’t think you need to have the audience along with you; they don’t have to love you the whole time. But, in the end, if you’re not up there to entertain, what are you doing? I prefer truth tellers—people sharing their perspective on the world. But as a comic, they have to be funny to get away with saying whatever they want to say.

Are you a funny guy?
I am not a comedian by any stretch. I tend to take things fairly earnestly, but I also like to goof around a lot.

Is there a classic comedy album you really admire?
The album that inspires me the most—not necessarily my inspiration at the start but my continuing inspiration—is Rodney Dangerfield’s No Respect. Boy, put that on and spend a great 36 minutes of your life. You won’t need my explanation. It’s solid end to end. He owned that audience.

Is there a big comedy scene there in Minnesota?
There is. We have a lot of young comics that are coming up and trying to be club comics. A certain number of them are more road dogs that do one-nighters. There’s good experimentation in the ‘alternative scene’ as it were. You really get a nice blend of comedians from that.  We have someone to fit every taste.

How do you feel about that alt-comic classification?
I don’t know. I started my music label right after Nirvana broke so I know what alternative actually was and what it became. To me it’s just being used as a bullshit marketing thing and I don’t love being marketed to.

Has comedy changed much since you released a record with Lewis Black back in 2000?
I think there’s a rising tide and all ships float on a rising tide. Comedy has come back around as being a fashionable form of entertainment. It had been kind of shoved aside for some time.

Now you don’t see a lot of comedy on TV and there’s a little more hunger for it. I think it’s just a natural cycle of entertainment.

Why is that? Was there an oversaturation at some point?
Yeah, for a while there every channel had a half hour—Caroline’s Comedy Hour, An Evening at the Improv, 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour, HBO specials, Showtime specials—it just seemed like there was a tremendous amount of comedy on TV and it was some of the best comics out there. If you can see that for free at home why pay 10 bucks and a two-drink minimum and hire a sitter and try to find parking? Now you don’t see a lot of comedy on TV and there’s a little more hunger for it. I think it’s just a natural cycle of entertainment.

How do you find artists on the verge?
Well, I was just in Las Vegas at a comedy festival. I go to South By Southwest nearly every year. There are usually two or three festivals I hit. Plus I have 117 records by 70- or 80-something artists and if they like somebody they’ll tell me about that person.

Do comedians seek you out now?
Yeah, but a fair number of those have been doing comedy for three months and want to be on the same label as Doug Stanhope. There are exceptions to the rule but generally you have to be doing comedy for 7-10 years to draw my interest. Now usually I can watch what they are doing and assess roughly how long they’ve been in.

You can tell just from watching a set?
I’ve been doing this long enough and I am pretty quick to cut to the chase on that sort of stuff perception-wise.

What do you think time does—what does it teach a comedian or let them build up?
Comedy’s most basic rule is ‘write, get on stage and repeat.’ When you accumulate those flying hours—that much time on the stage under your belt—you know sort of the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours thing—once you have that you’re a craftsman and you know what you’re doing. You’re not just a journeyman learning your trade. You really come to know how you view the world and how to strip that down and make it funny.

Who, in your opinion is one of the next big things in comedy?
Everyone I work with I am a fan of. I don’t work with people I don’t enjoy. If it is part of the catalogue, I believe in it.

When you find someone you really like and they go to make an album with you, how do they choose the material? Do you work on that with them?
It depends on the artist. Some definitely are ready to get rid of some material and know what they want to cover. Others don’t. I usually encourage them to start with older, tested material first and not doing something where they might find themselves still writing tags. You don’t want to be just about to put out an album and have a comedian realize that they have a whole new set of punchlines for those particular jokes and want to re-record it.

I know that Lewis Black has openly expressed his appreciation for your work. Do you stay in touch with comedians when they go on to do other things?
It depends on the artist. Of course some people leave in a crappy way and some people leave in a good way. I tend to be friendly with damn near everybody.  Marc Maron on his podcast tends to be like, ‘Oh yeah, how long did it take your album to come out?’ That’s the way I was working—a bit slow and methodical. But since he’s beaten me up so badly about that on his podcast I have really worked to shorten the timeline now. I’ve done that fairly successfully. But an album should take anywhere from four months to a year depending on the amount of input the artist wants to have, their management wants to have and struggling over differences in artwork opinions.

You have a bit of a comedy manifesto on your site—a statement of beliefs behind your label and your brand. I’d like you to expound on two points. First, ‘comedy is collectible.’
Any form of art is collectible. Comedy is a valid as a book or as music as mass forms of art. It is a collectible thing and it takes a certain amount of taste to know what you like and what you don’t like. That’s the way it is to me and that’s the way I try to present it. It’s not everybody’s definition; it’s just mine.

Second, talk about the assertion that ‘comedy deserves pretty.’
There’s a lot of crap art that’s associated with comedy over the years. Until 5-6 years ago, even new comedy clubs still had aqua painting and that ‘80s style that screamed, ‘Hey, we gave up trying to be any bit creative with this.’ And you know how many album covers I have seen over the years with some hack Photoshop and crap text without any care put into them? If we’re going to say this is art, I just think we should treat the whole thing like it is art.

. . .  I don’t need to see another photograph of a comedian with their hand on their chin.

It’s probably a bit like those sites with all the bad band photos on them, right? Anything against a brick wall or on a railroad track sucks for a band.
Yeah, I’d say I don’t need to see another photograph of a comedian with their hand on their chin.

We’re big vinyl fans at Whopperjaw. You’ve put out records on vinyl. What does vinyl add to listener experience when it comes to a comedy album?
It adds a level of intimacy. That’s a big part of what our label is about. When you go hunting in a record store you see all these legendary albums and big names like Bob Newhart or Richard Pryor.  It makes you think, ‘What other artists deserve to be there alongside those records?’ And then a level of intimacy comes with it all. I mean, if you give a rat’s ass about your vinyl at all you have to store it out of sunlight, take care that it doesn’t warp and try not to fingerprint it.  You pull a record out, put it on, listen to one side and then flip it over. You’re in intimate contact with that record and you maintain a loving relationship with it because you’re caring for it over time. It becomes more than just a physical object. That’s something that vinyl has that CDs don’t.

Upcoming Stand Up! Records Releases

Oct. 8

Oct. 15

Oct. 22

Dave Mordal – (pronounced dāv mȯr-däl)

Paul Hooper – Tense & Uncomfortable

Jamie Kilstein – What Alive People Do


Sam is live-music -loving vegetarian communications professional with an entertainment, travel and tourism background. A restless soul, Sam believes in getting out there and doing things because you only go around once but knows she could benefit from a little more sleep. Give her a reason to see a movie, catch a concert or explore a new destination at [email protected].