There are hundreds of aspiring comics in Seattle. Many try it for a few weeks or months, scratch it off their bucket lists and move on with their lives. Some do it for years, fail to get “discovered” and eventually throw in the towel. Some are “hobbyists,” those for whom comedy is a fun pastime, a social club, a weekly room full of familiar faces. These can stick around for years or even decades.
Hidden among this throng of comics are the grinders, journeymen for whom standup is a long-term personal creative practice. They plug away at it, keeping their heads down, gradually putting together the set of highly specialized skills required to tell jokes for money. They’re not jockeying for position with the scenesters; they do their own thing at their own pace.
Dwayne Paul Cullen is one of the grinders. He started doing comedy in 2009, long before the current boom back when Giggles was still in business. After taking some time off to play drums and tour with indie rock band Orca Team he returned to standup, and he’s quietly emerged as a local standout. His comedy is smart, personal and observational. (Cullen on his gay dad giving him “the bees and the bees” talk: “A vagina is like a butt, only gross.”)
In the past year he’s leveled up and branched out, picking up regular weekend club spots and producing an inventive sketch variety show, The Really Entertaining Show, with roommate/regular collaborator Nam Huynh. Cullen is one of my favorite local comics, a friendly and consistently funny presence on the local scene, so naturally he’s decided to move to New York. He joined me for an Exit Interview.
Why are you moving to New York?
Save for a year in Ireland, I've always lived in Seattle. New York seems like it'll be a good change. Problem is, I'm starting to really cherish comfort. I almost cried just now as I sold my incredibly comfortable full-size mattress. I need to move to New York while I can still enjoy blow up air mattresses and sleeping bags.
When did you start comedy?
At an open mic in Dublin. I'm glad my first time was somewhere no one in an entire country knew me.
What was Seattle comedy like when you started? Who did you come up with? Who did you look up to?
My first year in was bleak. I frequented Giggles while it was falling apart. I'd get bumped most weeks and was afraid to sit at the table of seasoned comics. Clubs want you to bring out friends when you're new, but when you're new is when you suck. So your friends begin to hate you. I don't know if I looked up to anyone, but I was inspired by seeing Brian Moote and Andrew Sleighter consistently killing it even if the audience was shitty. I started with Nam Huyhn and Devin Badoo—both do more acting/sketch/improv than standup now.
You quit standup for a while to be in a touring band, then returned to comedy. What happened?
The drummer quit my friend's band right before they were going on a tour around the US. He asked if I wanted to join them and I said hell yeah. We played together for two years, made an album and toured the UK. The second year we toured for a total of four months. You really have to love what you're doing after four months on the road. I remember thinking, "I would do this for stand up." The band sort of broke up naturally and I went right back into comedy.
Did you learn anything about comedy from being in a band or vice versa? Which is objectively better?
Firstly, I got over all the ego-tripping that happens when someone pursues their dreams/art/passion. Everybody is a nobody. I don't care how big you are in a scene, you'll always be able to find someone who doesn't care about you.
Also, bands seem to understand the importance of aesthetics; just compare any band's album cover to a comic's. In both cases you think, "WTF are they wearing?!" but at least one seems cooler. I think this is starting to change, though. I like yours, Brett. Haha.
Its dumb, but I do miss how much interest people have when you're a drummer in a band. The response I tend to get when I say I do comedy is, "Oh."
What will you miss about Seattle? What won’t you miss?
The food, the coffee, the friends I've made. I won't miss a city that basically shuts down at nine unless you're at a bar. We used to have coffee shops open ‘til midnight! What happened? Also, as a biker, I won't miss the bike lanes I rarely use and the streetcar rails I've crashed on several times.