By Thomas Crone
Thomas Crone highlights the standup comedians performing at the "Last Laugh Comedy Stage" at LouFest. Today’s featured comic: Tina Dybal.
In 2018, Tina Dybal scored a win as the Funniest Person in St. Louis, via Helium’s annual competition. She’s hosted shows at the same club and has begun a podcast with Jeremy Essig. She’s performed club and indie gigs with a variety of touring comics, giving Chad Wallace a run for his money as the most-seen-and-heard performer on the stage of the Heavy Anchor. She’s busy enough to familiarize St. Louis comedy-goers with her youthful love of Aaliyah and her beloved mutt. And, yeah: she’s playing LouFest this fall, duh.
In some respects, the next step on her journey involves many steps (or the turning of wheels, we suppose) as she tackles some regional touring, which has started in earnest this year and will only trend up in 2019.
“Yeah, I think I’m in a good place,” Dybal says. “I’ve had a lot of cool opportunities, which were all really exciting. That doesn’t mean the work is done. I could win that competition and that’s it; I’m done with comedy. I wanted to win so badly in years past and it was a great accomplishment. But I still have work to do. You’re onto the next thing, always looking for the next next thing. I’m still finding my voice within standup, so I’m really starting to dig deep, to peel the next layer off, to get to my true self onstage. I’m definitely on my way to doing that and it’s been very cool.”
What’s interesting in talking with Dybal is to hear discuss the responsibilities of comedy, or at least, the empathy that you might/should bring to material. For many of her contemporaries, Dybal’s viewed as one of the boldest voices on the scene. But there’s still a humanity to be kept in focus, whether it’s in a full-fledged set or a bit being worked out at an open mic.
“You need to be sensitive and empathetic if you’re going to work in touchy subjects,” she says. “You can’t just go onstage and use the n-word or do insensitive shit like that. I think you can touch on things like race, abortion, immigration, the police. Of course, you can not touch on that, too. What matters is your point-of-view If you have no business talking about it, don’t. Have a fully-formed argument, or a fully-formed joke. Don’t just go onstage yelling about politics. Be well-versed if you’re going to touch on a topic like that. Your message has to have some insight to get across.”
Those are maybe the “what not to’s”, but what are the ways in which she creates material that becomes the spin of a set. In early 2017, she told St. Louis Magazine: “I think a good premise for a bit starts with some emotion attached to it. The emotion could range from happy, sad, angry, tired, or just a moment that made you feel something. I write notes in my phone when I think of an idea for a joke. I have written premises down while crying, drunk, laughing hysterically, waiting in line at a coffee shop, or even on the toilet. The bit gets good after you sit down and hash it out, not just writing an idea in your phone. I think that includes holding onto the first feeling you had when you wrote it, but also looking at it objectively to really make it a solid bit. I am a serial procrastinator in all aspects of my life; especially when it comes to comedy. So, deadlines do help nudge me in the right direction, but I end up hating myself all the same for waiting until the very last second. I’m working on that. For sure, I’ve definitely talked about something that happened day of in a set. It’s usually when I’m mad at someone, myself, or something.”
While this covers her stage material, Dybal’s more than able to riff extemporaneously. A good way to catch her in that mode is on the podcast, “Where’d You Fuc* Up?,” which she co-founded with Essig earlier this year, based on an innocuous note that she sent him: “Do you like podcasts?” Turns out, he (did and does) and also has audio equipment and reporting skills. Together, the pair’s very different personalities and interests have created a podcast that touches, as the name might suggest, on folks not having their best days in life, how they recovered, and how you can eventually laugh at the toughest moments you’ll know.
She sees these types of endeavors as the rule, rather than the exception. Not the fuc*ing up part, but the creation of new and interesting multi-media opportunities, of mutual support and a collective push to bigger things. As a performer (and as a bartender at the Improv Shop, as well), she’s firmly embedded in the community in which he’s now an established performer.
“I think I’m in the camp of staying around after a show, supporting people,” she says. “Hang around after show, go to new shows that’re starting up, support new talent.”