"My father got moved around a lot," says comedian Dwight Slade. "He had a corporate job. Either that, or he was on the run from the law for petty burglary. I'm not really sure. There was a lot of confusion in my family." For a time the family settled in Houston, where Dwight would meet his closest friend. It was a person who would change his life: Bill Hicks.
"Bill and I met running track in seventh grade," he recalls. "And we started making fun of the coach and the other athletes, and formed an instant bond over cynicism and general hatred of the human species."
According to Slade, things evolved even further when Hicks's mom bought young Bill a 13-inch black-and-white TV for his bedroom. "I'll let you breathe that in: a black-and-white television, some of the readers may not know that was possible. It's funny," he adds, "Bill's mom, whom I'm in contact with quite frequently, still thinks that was a huge mistake."
The TV became a window through which Hicks could see the world of standup comedy, predominantly via The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
"Bill came to me and said, 'You've got to listen to these comics,' and he made me an audio tape of David Brenner, Richard Lewis, George Miller -- all these Tonight Show comics. It just blew our whole world open. We both thought, 'That seems like a good thing to do. Make fun of the rest of the world.'"
The two would carefully study and memorize the comedians' routines. "We went to school and tried them out on girls, and got the girls to laugh," he says. "And that was a huge deal in middle school, getting girls to laugh." It wasn't always the right audience, though. "Our parents are very neurotic," he says in a Woody Allen-esque voice. "Quoting Woody Allen to seventh-grade Houston cheerleaders was probably not very wise."
The two managed to get some school-related gigs though, performing at talent shows and before plays put on by the drama club. The next step was doing shows outside of school. They auditioned for bars and restaurants, but an article in the Sunday Houston Chronicle sent them in a new direction.
"It was about a new comedy club in town. As an afterthought they added, 'Oh, there's an open mic on Tuesday nights.' It was the biggest thing we could have dreamed of," he says.
As a duo, they pretended to be brothers, and talked about parents and school. That evolved into doing characters and long-form pieces. "We were killing at the open mics, and it showed both of us that even though writing is very important the execution of standup is the real gift."
Sadly the partnership had to end. "Like all great comedy duos, we had to break up the act when my father got transferred."
Slade reconnected with his old pal in Los Angeles, where both performed as solo standups, but occasionally they took the stage as a duo. "We were literally doing stuff right up to when Bill passed away. We went up and did sketch comedy as a duo at the Comedy Store a few times."
Slade later relocated to Oregon, where he found he could actually get more stage time, as opposed to Los Angeles. "That's what standup is," he says. "Stage time, failure, rinse, repeat." Slade continues to headline clubs and theaters around the country with his mix of silly physical humor and witty social commentary.
IF YOU GO:
Acme Comedy Co.
708 N. First St., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:30 Friday and Saturday
For tickets, call 612-338-6393 or visit www.acmecomedycompany.com.