Nashville comedian Dusty Slay's hilarious craft evolves with latest Netflix special

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Dusty Slay is so funny he doesn't have to sell pesticides anymore.

Not that he finds any shame in selling pesticides.

For the 41-year-old country music culture devotee, husband, father of two and Opelika, Alabama, native, it's important that his recently debuted Netflix special "Workin' Man" should include riffing on Travis Tritt's monumental turn of the 21st century hit "It's a Great Day To Be Alive."

Ultimately, he's having many great days as he emerges from COVID-19's quarantine alongside Nate Bargatze as an emerging, Nashville-based comic star.

To The Tennessean, Slay recalls the pandemic as an era where spots like Zanies, Nashville's longtime comic haunt, served as a creative salon of sorts for himself and Bargatze, plus musicians like Jelly Roll, to create a unified artistic community.

Their ability to remain creatively vibrant for 18 months has been beneficial.

Slay is sitting in a hotel two hours south of Music City in Huntsville, Alabama, where he's performing a three-night stand at the Stand Up Live comedy club.

Huntsville, Spokane, Washington, Dayton, Ohio, and Indianapolis are cities with multiple nights of Slay's sets booked on his nationwide Night Shift tour, which fills half of his year for 2024.

From Home Depot to Netflix

Given Slay's adeptness at crafting straightforward, dryly delivered, blue-collar humor, the spaces in which his career has expanded most significantly are logical.

Spokane's historically farm-based economy has shifted to biotech in recent decades. Dayton, a former capital of rubber goods, has shifted to defense and aerospace. Indianapolis has shifted from being a wholesale trade and transportation hub to a manufacturing center.

Starting as an improv comedian in Charleston, South Carolina, 20 years ago, Slay has since made stops in New York City, seemingly every major late-night and cable hub for top comedians, and even the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

In Charleston, Slay learned how to embody the energy of the residents of the cities where he is currently most popular. People who were once very comfortable in who they were as defined by their jobs and the stereotypes couched within that culture and landscape are strangely evolving.

In the early 2000s, Slay performed stand-up as an outlier in Charleston's hipster art scene while working as a pesticide salesman for Lowe's and Home Depot.

All the while, he listened to CDs of comedy specials featuring darkly philosophical comedians like Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg.

That breadth of influence has bore him a fruitful career.

Slay's comedy uniquely embodies his fanbase

Comedian Dusty Slay performs on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."
Comedian Dusty Slay performs on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

Being unafraid to hang his trademark, flat-billed trucker-style baseball cap on being born in, raised in and still adoring his Southern roots — and those roots growing alongside country music and Western culture in resurgent appeal — allows Slay to cultivate his comedy via a genteel culture of literally making sure, every few minutes, that his fans are "having a good time," as if they're deserving of another round of jokes like a third helping of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.

Slay's evolution from being as "hokey" as Jeff Foxworthy, one of his influences, was about his Southern roots in the 1900s to where he is today arrived early in his development. However, how he's weaved his authentic roots into the complexities of his current reality allows him to be a standout.

Country music, like his divorced, farm and trailer park-dwelling parents' love of NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki, or the time Slay spent working at the Western Sizzlin buffet restaurant -- or joking about how he long embraced chain smoking and tobacco chewing as habits, are all referenced with a seamless blend of irony and realism.

Ever wanted to watch a comedian talk plainly about alcoholism, embracing the bare minimum of social standards and manic depression, but hit it with an uproarious punchline?

Dusty Slay is your guy.

"We need a space to (address) our struggles," the comedian says.

More music: Dolly Parton's 'Pet Gala' CBS special takes country, fashion, to the dogs

Slay's next (and funniest) steps ahead

Recently, Slay blended his ironic realism with a doubling down on studying and applying the similarly ironic, controlled yet chaotic and offbeat approach of comic legend Steve Martin to his work.

In 1977, critic Robert Christgau referred to Martin's comedy special "Let's Get Small" as "post-hip" and "refreshingly tasteless." AllMusic refers to it as "anti-comedy" driven by "smart wordplay" and "verbal non-sequiturs."

Again, listen to Slay pick apart Tritt's "It's a Great Day To Be Alive" and "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'" in the "Workin' Man" special.

Comedian Dusty Slay performs in 2018 at Zanies in Nashville.
Comedian Dusty Slay performs in 2018 at Zanies in Nashville.

Reading both songs' most iconic lyrics at their flattest definition instead of nuanced by irony creates a memorable waterfall of punchlines.

Again equating his work to Martin's, he's currently willing to lean into a more apolitical brand of humor.

However, his goal is to realize the tenor of America's current social environment by blending silly absurdity with a chuckle inspired by honestly reflecting on the world around us.

"I'm at my most comfortable onstage and people aren't just sitting there listening to me," he says. "They're constantly smiling and laughing instead."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville comedian Dusty Slay brings blue-color humor to Netflix