This week’s column is a reprise of a story I wrote five years ago about Dan Schlissel after he had just released Lewis Black’s White Album, which you can read here. Still no word on whether Dan gets a statue or not. You can find the Ismist Records catalog online at ismista.com. Dan’s new project, Stand Up! Records, is at standuprising.com.
Column 115: Funny Business
Former Nebraskan Flirts with Grammy.And now the story of Dan Schlissel and his Grammy.Schlissel, as followers of Omaha’s golden age of punk back in the mid-’90s knows, ran Ismist Records and released music by bands like Urethra Franklin, Frontier Trust, Such Sweet Thunder, Polecat and Wide back when Saddle Creek Records was just a glimmer in Robb Nansel’s eye. His music career was somewhat short-lived. Schlissel moved from Lincoln to Minneapolis in ’98 and slowly weaned himself from Midwestern punk rock.But he wasn’t through with running a record label. Instead, he had in the back of his mind the idea for a new label that focused on comedy. Among his favorite funnymen was an under-the-radar comic named Lewis Black who was just beginning to get national exposure thanks to a 5-minute bit he did once a week on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Schlissel saw something in Black that Warner Bros. and Comedy Central Records hadn’t. Both labels had turned down Black’s idea for a comedy album. Not Schlissel, who released Black’s debut, The White Album, on Ismist in October 2000. Within a year, the album had sold more than 8,000 copies.Flash forward seven years. Schlissel still produces all of Black’s audio recordings as well as manages the bulk of his tour merchandise, from T-shirts to Zippo lighters. “Plus, I do vinyl for his Comedy Central releases,” Schlissel said via e-mail.Now here’s the Grammy part: Last week Lewis Black’s The Carnegie Hall Performance — produced by Schlissel — took home the Grammy for “Best Comedy Album.”“I don’t know if I get a statue or not,” Schlissel said, adding that he was the only producer on the project “other than the executive producer, and his job is just to supply the money anyway.” Schlissel’s role was to ensure that the recording got made the night of the performance, “and then to shepherd all of the raw materials into a final product.”He may not get a golden statue, but he did get thanked during Black’s acceptance speech.“I never win shit, so this is really, um, I’m astonished,” Black said. He went on to do a few moments of self-deprecating shtick, the kind of stuff he’s known for, before thanking his agents and, “Dan Schlissel, who had the nerve to start producing my CDs before anybody else.”Schlissel says Black is the same laid-back guy he met all those years ago on the comedy club circuit. “He hasn’t changed because of fame,” he said. “That’s why I am still lucky enough to be working with him. He gets it on a level that few would.”Schlissel said Black’s growing popularity — bolstered by his popular HBO specials and film projects like Robin Williams’ “Man of the Year” and the kid-targeted farce “Unaccompanied Minors” — have forced the tour out of the clubs and into 4,000-seat music halls. Just imagine what that could mean for Zippo sales. But despite that, Schlissel says he isn’t getting rich. “I am able to not have another day job, though, and that means a great deal to me,” he said. “It’s nice to not have to split focus on keeping a real day job and getting all the things done that need to on a day-to-day level with the label and merchandise.”Since the first Black record (Schlissel also released his follow-up, 2002’s The End of the Universe), Schlissel has created a new label, called Stand Up! Records, whose roster includes comedians David Cross, Doug Stanhope and Jimmy Shubert, among others.So would he ever consider going back to putting out punk rock records? “I actually just released a music project last year,” Schlissel said, “the long-awaited We Will Bury You: A Tribute to Killdozer. That was a band that I loved and had a bond with, since I put out their last 7-inch before they broke up. It took nine years, but it came out as a co-release with Crustacean Records from Madison.”He’s also placed the Lincoln/Omaha compilation Linoma, Vol. 2: Riot on the Plains on iTunes last year. The 20-song collection, originally released in August 1999, includes tracks by Ditch Witch, Polecat, Plastik Trumpet, Sideshow, Cursive, Mercy Rule, Opium Taylor, Wide and Porn (ex-Ritual Device), among others.But as for new music projects, well… “Stand Up! is focused on comedy, not music… I have no interest in dealing with music anymore. I did it for years and learned a lot. It’s now up to folks that are younger and have more energy for it than me. I am just glad to still be creative and active. It’s an amazing graduating class of folks I am contemporaries with from the Linoma scene.” Now that sounds like an acceptance speech.
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