Published on December 16th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Comedian Dave Stone is the Man in the Van with a Plan
Three years ago, comedian Dave Stone best known as one of four fuzzy teammates on the Atlanta-based stand-up and sketch comedy troupe the Beards of Comedy. After living and working as a full-time stand-up in Los Angeles for two years straight, Stone has emerged and blossomed as an individual performer. He still sports the full beard, though, and he still delivers broad range of Southern-fried observations, notions, and punchlines.
Earlier this month, fresh from his hilariously self deprecating late-night television debut on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Stone headed back to the Southeast for a string of shows at clubs, cafes, and lounges — including a show scheduled for Thurs. Dec. 19 at the Tin Roof with support from local fellas Dusty Slay and Jason Groce.
“I love coming back to the South,” Stone says. “It’s so much fun to perform in cities like Atlanta, Athens, and Charleston where there are actual comedy scenes. There are so many shows in random cities where there seem to be no comedians around at all. So it’s refreshing to come into a thriving scene.”
An Atlanta native, Stone knows the Southeastern comedy world quite well. Comedy Central utilized Stone’s drawl when they invited him to provide voices for several hickish characters on Adult Swim’s animated series Squidbillies. After starting out as an open mic stand-up, he formed the Beards of Comedy in Atlanta in 2008 with like-minded partners Andy Sandford, Joe Zimmerman, and T.J. Young.
Polite and well-spoken, the foursome specialized in dry-witted commentary on American pop-culture and their own Georgia roots. Their tag-team performance at the Pour House during the 2010 Charleston Comedy Festival was one of the highlights of the that year’s series.
The Beards of Comedy released two albums — Comedy for People for the Rooftop Comedy label in 2009 and Cardio Mix for Comedy Central Records in 2011. Shortly after the last major Beards tour, Stone decided to leave Atlanta for new adventures in California. It was a necessary career move, according to the comedian.
“With indie music, you can pretty much make things happen from anywhere in the country, as long as you’re close enough to a good music scene, and there are plenty of breeding grounds around,” Stone says. “Unfortunately, with stand-up, to really get to that next level, you really have to choose between two cities: New York and Los Angeles.”
The decision wasn’t difficult. Stone figured it would be easier to live inexpensively and comfortably in L.A. than in New York, and the opportunity to perform and network within the comedy scene would be just as great.
“As far as New York versus L.A., it really was just a ‘quality of life’ question for me,” Stone says. “I love New York, and I go there several times a year, but with the weather and the crowds of people … I’m a Southern guy, and I need my space and warm weather. In L.A., I’m not crammed into subways on a small island. I can go for a hike up in the mountains or go to the beach. It was kind of a no-brainer.”
With his mild Southern drawl and laid-back personality, Stone communicated easily with some audiences out West, but not everyone got him.
“I can play around with the subtly and the references at shows in the South a lot more than I can in other parts of the country,” Stone says. “Even in L.A., people just don’t get some of the vernacular and slang because they didn’t grow up with it. There’s something warm and inviting about performing in front of people who are from where you’re from.
“Moving to the city itself wasn’t that challenging, but breaking into that scene was whole different story,” he adds. “I hate to analyze my stature when I was living in Atlanta, but I was perhaps one of the more well-known comedy guys. That’s fun for a little while and good for the ego, but it doesn’t really help you in the grand scope of things. I needed to go and be a small fish in the pond as opposed to the opposite. Being around so many fantastic comics out in L.A. is great, and it forces you to step up your game. Doing shows with others who are so much more advanced than I am forces me to really bring it.”
In Los Angeles and on the road, Stone performs at a variety of venues, from dingy taverns and college coffeehouses to large theaters and fancy comedy clubs. He tends to prefer to cozy, casual setting of smaller bars, though — the places where hard-working musicians might hang, drink, and perform.
“As musicians know, the music world has kind of a cool connotation,” Stone says. “I know there are plenty of lame bands out there, but ‘live music at a cool bar’ is a fun thing that young kids look for,” he says. “I think there’s still a preconceived notion out there about stand-up comedy — one that’s left over from the 1980s and ’90s where it’s just guys like Jerry Seinfeld up there wearing sneakers and blazers and telling airplane jokes. If you take stand-up to the younger, music-loving audience like Patton Oswalt, Mitch Hedberg, and others have done, you tend to find a more open, refreshing atmosphere. At comedy clubs, you have to deal with people eating dinner, ordering cocktails, and wondering out loud where your puppets are.”
Stone rarely changes or adjusts his set according to the venue he’s playing, although he might veer toward his more experimental and edgier material.
“I hate to use the word ‘edgy,’ but during a show at a place like the 40 Watt Club [in Athens, Ga.] or the Tin Roof, I might pull out some of my edgier, weirder, more avant garde stuff,” he says.
One of the more peculiar aspects of Stone’s current routine in L.A. is his nomadic (or “hobo-like,” as he puts it) existence as a man living in his customized Ford cargo van. It’s not an elaborate prank or gimmick; Stone actually resides in a mobile domicile fitted with coolers, storage spaces, clothes racks, camping gear, and a small a bed. Life in the van creates plenty of new fodder for his ever-changing sets.
“I have a lot of material based on my experience living in a van, and I try to deliver it in a sincere way where, hopefully, a halfway-intelligent person can tell that I’m not just up there doing a schtick,” Stone says. “But it never fails after every show: ‘Hey, man. Are you really living in a van?’ someone will ask. Yes, I’m not trying to impress you by lying about living in a van.”
Stone’s van situation was the focus of a recent episode of the PBS Digital Studios network’s Modern Comedian, a documentary web series shot, edited and produced by filmmaker Scott Moran (see clip below). In one scene of the short film, Stone says, “Until I get to where I want to be in my career, I don’t want to be too comfortable. I feel that if you get too comfortable, you kind of take your foot off the gas, and I don’t want to do that. The van is definitely a constant reminder of, ‘I’m not where I want to be yet.'”
For now, Stone is looking ahead, eager to write, fine-tune, and deliver his best material. He enjoys the process and the challenge, and he’s glad to have great momentum heading into 2014.
“Like a lot of comedians, I try not to recycle too many old jokes, especially material that’s on an album or TV,” Stone says. “I try not to repeat any of the jokes I’ve done on late-night TV shows or on the two Beards of Comedy albums. I may whip out an old joke every now and then, but whatever I’ve been working on over the last month or so is usually what I’m most excited about.”
Powered by Facebook Comments