Dan Schlissel: For the Record

April 17, 2019

Interview by

Lara Smith

Article by

Lara Smith

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Amidst the bus­tle of SXSW 2019, Dan Schlis­sel takes time to sit down with me. Why? Because that’s who he is: hands-on, always going, seek­ing projects, great and small, for the love of com­e­dy. Schlis­sel is the founder of Stand Up! Records and after 20 years in the busi­ness, with a Rick Rubin/​Russell Sim­mons-like ori­gin sto­ry, his career would make for one hell of a biopic!

Grow­ing up the son of a moth­er from Israel and a father who was a Pol­ish Holo­caust sur­vivor, Schlis­sel was a first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can. Hav­ing two par­ents that had seen so much hard­ship, suf­fer­ing, and war, Schlis­sel admits that com­e­dy was a neces­si­ty in his house­hold. One of his ear­li­est comedic mem­o­ries is of a group named HaGashash HaHiv­er, an Israeli com­e­dy group who per­formed entire­ly in Hebrew. Schlis­sel describes them as hav­ing a Mon­ty Python-like feel. 

Born in Mass­a­chu­setts, but spend­ing about six years in both New Jer­sey and Penn­syl­va­nia, Schlissel’s par­ents set­tled in Nebras­ka, where he would even­tu­al­ly stay and pur­sue a physics degree. It was dur­ing that pur­suit that he start­ed -ismist Record­ings, a music label born in his dorm. 

After grad­u­a­tion, Schlis­sel, now mar­ried, moved with his wife to Min­neso­ta. It was there that he heard The Dai­ly Show’s Lewis Black was in town to per­form. Moti­vat­ed by his love for com­e­dy and a desire to expand the label, Schlis­sel grabbed some CDs to bring to Black at the show. As luck would have it, he was able to meet Lewis Black him­self and pro­pose record­ing an album. After months of nego­ti­a­tions, Black record­ed this first com­e­dy album on what would become Stand Up! Records.

Even as the label expand­ed to more names, the record­ing busi­ness was a tricky one, with Nap­ster and online pira­cy run­ning vir­tu­al­ly unchecked. Dan Schlis­sel con­tin­ued a day job, wait­ing for the day that the label would prove lucra­tive enough to quit. After the launch of iTunes, Steve Jobs changed every­thing, accord­ing to Schlis­sel. Artists and labels began get­ting paid for their work, and with that addi­tion­al flow, Schlis­sel was final­ly able to make Stand Up! Records his full-time passion.

Well, first off, you have to get to the stage where you can hear their voice with­out burst­ing into tears.” Dan Schlis­sel, on the pro­duc­tion of Lashon­da Lester’s album

In that pas­sion, the label has pro­duced a who’s who list of albums from the likes of Maria Bam­ford, Doug Stan­hope, Marc Maron, David Cross, and Pat­ton Oswalt, just to name a few. Schlis­sel would go on to win a Gram­my in 2006 as pro­duc­er of Lewis Black: The Carnegie Hall Per­for­mance. Schlis­sel does­n’t let his accom­plish­ments go to his head stat­ing, It’s nice to have cred­its and acco­lades and all that, but it’s all kind of a dis­trac­tion from work­ing and doing the art.”

It’s obvi­ous that art, cre­ativ­i­ty, and peo­ple still come first in the work. In 2010, Schlis­sel and his friend, come­di­an Gus Lynch, began scout­ing out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of doing a com­e­dy fes­ti­val in Mex­i­co. With­in two years, the Aku­mal Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val was born. Run­ning for four years, the fourth and final year would serve as a ben­e­fit to the Red Cross and a trib­ute to cofounder and friend, Gus Lynch, who was killed in a trag­ic acci­dent the pre­vi­ous year. Schlis­sel and the oth­er orga­niz­ers felt the fes­ti­val should be laid to rest with their friend, how­ev­er Schlis­sel looks back on their fes­ti­val as one of his favorite accom­plish­ments of his career. 

I would be remiss if I did­n’t take time to point out just some of the major con­tri­bu­tions and ties Stand Up! Records has to Austin itself. The late Andy Ritchie, David Hunts­berg­er, JT Haber­saat, John Tole, and Doug Mel­lard are just a few of the alums of Stand Up! Records. For­mer Aus­ti­nite Ryan Cown­ie’s I Can’t Die was just released in March and Austin’s Queen of Com­e­dy, the late Lashon­da Lesters album Shondee Super­star will be out April 26th. When asked what it was like putting out a posthu­mous album Schlis­sel recounts, Well, first off, you have to get to the stage where you can hear their voice with­out burst­ing into tears.” Schlis­sel and Lester were friends and the two would catch up each time he was in town. It’s obvi­ous that this album means a lot to Schlis­sel, as it does to the entire Austin com­e­dy community. 

It’s that time, effort, and per­son­al ded­i­ca­tion to the art and the work that have led to the suc­cess of Stand Up! Records. With Dan Schlis­sel at the helm, it’s sure to continue. 

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