Dan Schlissel Q&A

January 27, 2020
Dan Schlissel on running a tremendously influential indie comedy label.

“I rely on my ear. I know that there are labels out there in the comedy field that will just sweep up anything, but that is not how I could operate. I have to believe in what the comic does. I have had plenty of occurrences where people did not see what I saw. I have faith in my taste. I also correct for when something becomes less funny to me.”

You have an entrepreneurial story that seems right out of the movies in that you walked up to Lewis Black having no experience pressing stand-up records and said you want to record him and he said yes and that album took off. Is the takeaway to be bold with your ambitions?

When I see you summarize it like that, it does seem like something out of fiction, doesn’t it? When I met Lewis Black, I was newly relocated to Minnesota from Nebraska, so I would say that it was more a Midwestern work ethic. My parents are immigrants, and I am a first-generation American. I think that has more to do with any perceived boldness. If you couple that with the Midwestern work ethic, I think you have a better formulation for my makeup. I think a certain amount of boldness, or belief in yourself, is important no matter what it is that you do.

What was the first stand-up record to have a deep impact on you when you were young?

I will credit two records. Eddie Murphy’s “Comedian” really warped my mind. It has not aged well due to content, but for that time and place, it was earthshaking. Rodney Dangerfield’s “No Respect” is also from the same time and has made me laugh more consistently over the years than nearly any other routine. That may be my gold standard still.

How much do you rely on your ear when it comes to who you choose to work with at Stand Up! Records? Does a comedian have to be funny to you for you to do business with?

I rely on my ear almost entirely. I know that there are labels out there in the comedy field that will just sweep up anything, but that is not how I could ever operate. I have to believe in what the comic does. As far as if the comedian needs to be funny or not, that is subjective. I have to find them funny. I have had plenty of occurrences where people did not see what I saw. I have faith in my taste. I also correct for when something becomes less funny to me.

Has the streaming revolution helped your business or hurt it?

That is a tricky question. I am happy folks are listening, regardless of how. I personally like records. Physical albums, whether they are on vinyl or any other format. I understand this gives me the label of being “old school,” but it’s my preference. I feel like a stream has no inherent value, and, in reality, the monetary value of a stream is greatly reduced when compared to a physical release. It seems that this is what the public might want, though, as they certainly listen to media that way. I just personally find it hard to be enthusiastic about pushing a stream.

Has the explosion of stand-up specials on such platforms as Netflix helped your business?

Anything that helps comedy get recognized more is good, but overall, Netflix wants celebrity, and my business has been more to push folks who are developing their careers. It has made making specials something I pay more attention to, though. We have a Vimeo video on demand page that we use for that reason now.

Do you still go on the road to sell albums at shows? 

At this point, I do not go on the road to sell merchandise anymore. I will do it occasionally when an artist on the label passes through town, but I am just too busy to step away like that now. It was always something I liked to do, as I enjoy traveling a lot. Now my travel is mainly for festivals and tapings.

You started out in music, booking bands and running a label. Have you ever wanted to branch out and return to music by adding an imprint?

My music days are over. It was a grind, and it rarely was satisfying. The only way I would do it now was if there was a trust fund for it, and I would mainly want to reissue records I love. I have no desire to try and break any new bands. There are other folks with more passion for that. They should be pushing that envelope.

Mitch Hedberg: genius or confusing?

Genius. No doubt.

Do you stay up with comedian podcasts or are there just too many?

There are a lot. That said, no, I don’t keep up that way. My job already involves a lot of listening. If I am listening to podcasts, I am not working on new records. New records win for me.

What do you think of the local scene? 

Minneapolis has a pretty strong comedy scene and has historically. I think there are a lot of great folks getting a lot of stage time and sharpening their skills. We really are spoiled for talent here. The same goes for Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and a bunch of other scenes. It’s a good time to be a comedy fan.

What makes Rodney Dangerfield’s “No Respect” so brilliant?

The joke writing is rock solid, and there are few wasted moments. It has an economy of words, and, if it were a boxer, I would say it was lean and on its toes. The getting across of complicated ideas while not feeling like exposition is fantastic. Rodney just tools everything for that joke, and they keep coming at you, like a flurry. At some point, you have to give up fighting it, and let him take you on that ride. It’s pretty amazing.