Comedy for Vermonters As The Logger, homegrown comedian Rusty Dewees puts a Green Mountain spin on stand-up and online comedy
RUTLAND -- Did you hear the one about what happened when The Logger met the hippie wearing sandals with socks?
Collisions of cultural opposites such as that are grist for the mill for Rusty Dewees, better known around most of Vermont as "The Logger." Dewees first developed this character back in 1998, when he was a struggling actor living in New York, and the rest, you could sort of say, is history, by jeezum. His caricatures and take-offs on the classic hard core multi-generational Vermonter who lives close to the land and clings to traditional Vermont ways and values while coping with a changing world have been a comedy hit ever since.
The Logger is back on the road on tour with a special holiday variety show that features not only his comedic talents, but also those of other musicians and perhaps a few more unpredictable surprise guests. Some of them may be ordinary audience members who suddenly find themselves in the center of the action. The show will be criss-crossing the state during November and December, and will be touching down in Rutland's Paramount Theater on Nov. 29 and 30.
Such variety shows only come together once every three or four years, he said, and part of what makes them fun is that they hearken back to a format that used to be widely popular on television but is harder to find today.
He will be bringing together an all-Vermont cast that includes up-and-coming Nashville recording artist Keeghan Nolan of Fairfield, barely 21 years-old but with a major recording contract already in her pocket. Long-time country fiddler Patrick Ross will be in the lineup, along with a musician who is a sophomore from West Rutland High School, Zach Tratenier. And then of course, there's "The Logger," armed with his maple syrup jar, chain saw helmet, and an endless supply of duct tape, to say nothing of the funny anecdotes about life in modern day Vermont, flatlanders, leaf peepers and the Priuses they drive. It's described as "family friendly," but "some cussin'" may drift into it, according to a press release Dewees handed out while in Manchester recently, where he was putting up posters to promote the show. That's where I caught up with him as his sat in the cab of his Ford pick up, and he began discussing his craft.
It all began when he was living in New York, scratching out a living as an actor. He started coming up with the Logger stories on his drives back and forth between New York and Vermont. He drew on what he had learned as a kid growing up and being exposed to the world of hard work. Becoming "The Logger" wasn't the long-range goal or part of a master plan, he said.
"I was an entertainer who stumbled onto something that had business potential," he said. "I did a couple of shows, then shot a video." As The Logger might have said, it turned out "wicked good."
Anyone who has seen Dewees perform or watched some of his videos on YouTube can tell that one part of the juice is improvisational, going with the flow of an evening and an audience. Come in late and you might get called out and suddenly become the focus. Watch out if you're not from Vermont. Or even if you are.
But Dewees never goes into a show flying blind and trusting to luck and instincts. Most of his material is thought through and planned out well in advance, he said.
"The stories you hear me do --those are word for word, comma for comma, that I've put hours and hours into," he said. "But also, I do ad-libbing. It's mostly human nature stuff. It's not like you have to be from Vermont to know where the one-way bridge is."
Or what the one-legged dog was doing by the side of the road, but that's another story.
The act has changed and evolved over the past 15 or so years. He used to relate longer stories, usually 8 or 9 minutes, and the punchlines would come, but you would have to be patient and wait a bit for them. Now, the routines are written to produce more laughs per minute, he said.
It's a creative craft, but it's also a business. Dewees has approached it as such from the beginning, he said.
Take the posters and flyers he was distributing personally, for example. He could have someone doing that for him, but by doing it himself he gets to have the individual one-on-one interactions with fans and potential fans that some business consultants would recognize as "building the brand." You can do that sort of thing in a small state like Vermont, where traveling from deep in the heart of his cultural homeland, the Northeast Kingdom, down to Manchester or Bennington, is possible. Even with a bit of chattering along the way thrown in, he said.
Plus, it saves money. How much more Vermont can you get?
But there's more to it than that. "The Logger" is all over Facebook, YouTube and other social media -- even men in hard hats know that carbon copies don't have the same bang for the buck they used to. But because of the ubiquity of social media and the sometimes impersonal, anonymous feel to it, Dewees said it made the actual personal contact even more potent.
"They don't come to see me because I'm funnier than Drew Carey," he said. "They come to see me because they know me."
Being successful as an entertainer is hard work, but it can be done -- indeed, most people probably could if they wanted to badly enough. That is the key to success in the field, and maybe to any ambition, he said -- how badly do you want it?
"Everybody gets those funny thoughts -- you've just got to write them down and remember them," he said. "That's discipline, and working on them. There's no trick to this entertainment stuff. If you have it in your heart to be good with human beings and you also recognize the fact that it keeps your business afloat, then it's hard to fail."
"The Logger" will be sharpening up his chainsaw at Rutland's Paramount Theater Nov. 29-30, the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Both shows start at 8 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit thelogger.com online.
Once there, you may find out what happened with the Birkenstock-wearing health food customer The Logger encountered a while back at the grocery store.
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