Unless you’re new to Milwaukee, or you never turn on a radio, or you find theatre and comedic entertainment akin to getting a paper cut on your eyeball, then you may not have heard of Dylan Bolin. The rest of us know Bolin as Milwaukee’s funny-man staple at ComedySportz, a performer with the improv troupe The Dead Alewives, a professional actor who has lent his talents to Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Next Act Theatre, and as a regular guest on the WKLH morning show with Dave and Carol.
Now Bolin is crashing his large comedy waves all over town with a new one-man true-life tale that covers his hippie upbringing, his sometimes tumultuous adolescence and retreat from or race toward comedy performance, all leading up to his comic-husband mortgage-paying present day. In a recent tete-a-tete, Bolin talked about comedy, writing, inspiration, his love of words and his new full-length solo-show, Peace, Love and a 30-Year Mortgage. Incorporating humor and hyperbole as well as pathos and raw honesty about himself and his family, Peace, Love is a genuine show that makes you laugh with sentimental tears.
On his website (http://www.dylanbolin.com) Bolin describes himself as a word-nerd. Words are his musical notes. “I don’t play an instrument, so this is my music. I love rhetoric and rhythm and I love the power words have when used properly– and how it exposes those who don’t. I love a clever turn of phrase,” says Bolin. Learned from one of his influences, comedian George Carlin, he says, “It’s not just what you say it’s how you say it. I love using words as tools. It’s a lot of fun.” Bolin’s other influences include Carol Burnett, the cast of her variety show, and Bill Cosby. In Peace, Love Bolin talks about how he would repeat Cosby’s routines on a kind of “comedy tour” for different classrooms in school.
Peace, Love combines Bolin’s stand-up comedy with his true-life tales. According to Bolin Peace, Love is about a 50/50 combination of his stand-up routine and original material created for the show. Disappointed in the response his stand-up comedy was getting, Bolin was prompted to change his format to something more theatrical and thought this would be a better venue. He states that every single skill that he owns is somehow wrapped up into this show and that it’s a great culmination of his skills. Peace, Love premiered at Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theatre last November and the response was overwhelming. Three shows out of the four-performance run sold out.
Covering his childhood and present day adventures, there is a gap in the Peace, Love time line– that of his 20s. I inquired about the exclusion of this period. After a pause to think about it Bolin said “When I was a kid I was wide-eyed and innocent and there came a time when I got stupid. There were stupid times. Your drama defines you during that time. 20-year old angst is not interesting to me and so I felt it wouldn’t be interesting to anyone else.” Although, when asked if maybe there was a whole other show waiting in the wings, a kind of Peace, Love sequel surrounding this time of his life, Bolin said simply, “Maybe.” Bolin went on to say that the absence of formal education in his life was a benefit to him in that it narrowed the field, eliminating many kind of jobs. “Perseverance is a great skill to have,” he says, “maybe, just maybe, everything is happening just the way it’s supposed to. And that is an inspiring thought.”
From this Bolin was reminded of an idea from one of his all-time favorite comedians, Bill Hicks. “[That is] we are all kind of one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. And in that respect every single story counts. All of our joy and suffering is connected.” Bolin continued, “Death, loss, love, it’s what we all share.”
Bolin’s attitude toward the rough waters experienced in his childhood is a welcoming acceptance. He appreciates the peaks and valleys that life gives us. “Nothing that ever comes easy is worth it,” says Bolin, “No lesson ever learned easily is worth it. You don’t retain those lessons. The ones that suck. The times when you’re having nervous breakdowns. The times when you can’t get yourself out of bed but you discover the strength to get yourself up and move, those are the times that define you. And yet we do everything we can to avoid those times or pretend that those times don’t exist. The people that avoid it are repressed and miserable.” Coming from Bill Hicks, Bolin says Peace, Love contains the optimistic message that “once you’re done with the suffering all you have left is joy.”
And how difficult is it for Bolin to tell people the most intimate details of his life? The biggest hurdle he said he had to overcome was: “Who Cares?” Once he got up and started telling the story it was very easy for him. Bolin said he went back and forth about what to include and eventually came back to asking himself: “What would I like to see?” The reason why he was telling it was what made it easier to tell. With a call-back to Bill Hicks he said it’s very much a collective experience. “This is not just me,” Bolin stated firmly, “This is us. This is all of us here. This is you and me. And you in the back row. And you, who squeezed in at the last minute. We are together in this.” Bolin defines himself as a tour guide in this show. He’s going to show you around his life and maybe you’ll recognize some stuff of your own.
Bolin is adamant about what a fun show Peace, Love is and wants to do it “wherever and whenever there’s a space, lights, and chairs,” he said. “Despite all the heady stuff it might cover,” he added, “the show is fun. It’s an absolute joy to do and I would do every day if I could. It’s fun for me to do and I hope it’s fun for people to see.”
When asked what advice he might have for young comedians Bolin said with only a hint of whimsy, “Quit your job. If you’re really serious about it then be serious about it and don’t give it up for anything or anybody. If you can’t be true to yourself you’ll never recognize truth.” He is grateful for everything that’s happened in his life and craves those peaks and valleys. When asked for an insight into his writing process Bolin said, “[It’s] generally last minute panic. The deadline is the inspiration.” In terms of writing comedy he writes what makes him laugh. “What is funny,” said Bolin, “is like asking what is beauty?”
Actor-comedian Dylan Bolin brings his beautiful and funny one-man tale Peace, Love and a 30-Year Mortgage to the Sunset Playhouse’s Studio Theatre February 4 - 6. 800 Elm Grove Rd. Elm Grove, WI 53122. Tickets are $10 on Thursday, February 4 (7:30pm “Word of Mouth” show) and $18 for all other performances. Friday, February 5 at 8:00pm; Saturday, February 6 at 8:00pm. Reservations are recommended and available by calling the Sunset Playhouse Box Office at 262-782-4430.
Bonus Appearance: Come see Bolin tell a story tonight at Ex Fabula! Hi-Hat Garage at 8:00pm. $3 suggested donation.