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 Lester’s 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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