Dan Schlissel makes edgy new comedy the old-fashioned way.
He’s the owner of Stand Up Records, one of the country’s premier indie comedy labels. If he likes it, he puts it out. No market research needed. But here’s the thing: All of his 160-plus albums and DVDs are available digitally, but he also presses vinyl. That’s right, comedy LPs.
The concept of a comedian releasing an album on wax is a stroll down memory lane for those who sat around the record player in the ’60s and ’70s listening to George Carlin, Cheech & Chong and Nichols and May. Times changed, the LP format withered and was left for dead early in the digital age.
But like music, comedy vinyl has come back with a vengeance.
“I think doing only digital downloads would be a very cynical way of running a business,” Schlissel said.
“The classics from 30 years ago are all on vinyl,” he adds, “and I just feel that some of the records I put out deserve to sit next to those records in the bins.”
Stand Up came out swinging in the summer of 2000 with Lewis Black’s “The White Album” (when the star was still an emerging presence on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”) and quickly backed it up with Doug Stanhope’s “Sicko” that same year. This was followed by efforts from such heavyweights as Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Hannibal Buress and David Cross. The label’s power-fist logo was designed by street art superstar Shepard Fairey (who made the iconic Obama “Hope” poster).
“If I don’t laugh, it’s not funny,” Schlissel says. “There’s big comics out there that have their followings, but I don’t want to be tied to stuff that doesn’t make me laugh. Jack White probably approves everything on Third Man Records. I just feel that I have to be a filter and that it has to appeal to me.”
Schlissel often works with artists from Minnesota as part of his roster of 50 to 60 active comics. On a recent Friday at the punk haven Triple Rock Social Club, he was on hand to celebrate his new release by local band the Drug Budget and comedian Robert Fones.
At well over 6 feet tall, Schlissel was hard to miss as he held court by the merch table. Amid the semicircle of friends and well-wishers was the waiflike up-and-comer Tommy Ryman, who was about to leave for Los Angeles but is already a veteran who had emceed at Acme Comedy Co. and opened for Louie Anderson and Bamford. Schlissel released Ryman’s “Bathtime With Tommy” in 2011.
“He got the album reviewed right away and available on all formats,” the comic said a few days later. “Working with Dan, you know you are working with someone who loves stand-up and cares about the art.”
And then there’s Slipknot
Schlissel’s singular perspective and hands-on approach is firmly based in his indie rock DIY background.
At the University of Nebraska he became deeply involved in the local music scene, managing a record store (where Schlissel fell in love with collecting records) and then founding the oddly named -ismist Recordings out of his dorm room in 1992.
A hard lesson came when he distributed the debut of Iowa’s masked metal kings, Slipknot. As success for the band came, it jumped to a larger national label because the original deal was done with a handshake. They eventually went on to work with legendary producer Rick Rubin.
According to Schlissel, “I’ve dealt with all sorts of bands that would stick a knife in you as soon as look at you and it wasn’t enjoyable. In my life I want to enjoy what I’m doing. So I don’t want to work with people who are jerks.”
The state of the music business in the late-’90s and a growing list of setbacks left Schlissel disillusioned. Now in the Twin Cities, his job working software support wasn’t fulfilling. One day while coming home from work, Schlissel heard on the local affiliate for “The Howard Stern Show” that Black would be performing that night at Acme.
“I wigged out,” said Schlissel, a lifelong fan of comedy, who cites the Marx Brothers, Johnny Carson, Bill Hicks and the early HBO specials of George Carlin and Robert Klein as influential. “I went home, and literally left my car running as I ran up to my apartment and called the club for directions, writing them on a bank slip that was a notice for a bounced check.
“I grabbed a stack of CDs and a notepad to write on. I gave it all to the usher at Acme Comedy Co. and told him to give them to Lewis Black, figuring I’d never get a chance to meet him.”
In the black
That night was the first time he’d been in a comedy club. After the show he was walking out and there was Black standing alone in the bar. Schlissel walked over to him and asked if he’d gotten the package, which he hadn’t, so he introduced himself and immediately went into his pitch.
That was March of 1999 and by November they were recording “The White Album.” Referencing the Beatles, the white LP sleeves were actually leftovers from -ismist.
“Having a failed label with 70 releases was my college education,” Schlissel said. “I paid for that. I graduated when that Lewis Black record came out and it was enough for me to pay all my old college debt and pay the bills. And that is something I will be forever thankful to that guy for.”
His reputation has only grown since then — as has his inventory. He recently moved his 100,000 pieces of product from his old North Loop warehouse space to a new one on the Bloomington/Edina border.
“All comics know of Stand Up Records and Dan Schlissel,” says Lashonda Lester, who recorded her first album for the label in April. “Here in Austin, Texas, every year a lot of the comics get very excited and hope to be able to do his showcase during South by Southwest, with dreams of being offered a deal.”
As for his relationship with his first star — Black — the two have gone their separate ways after a long, successful run. Black released two albums on Stand Up and Schlissel produced another four Black albums for Comedy Central — including the Grammy winning “The Carnegie Hall Performance” in 2006.
This level of industry success and general acclaim feels surreal to Schlissel, but it’s also been a revelation.
“Music taught me that I could do something for myself,” he adds. “Comedy taught me that I could have an impact on others.”
Tad Hendrickson is a Twin Cities-based writer.