Bill Krieger: The views and opinions of the guests of the “Me You Us Podcast” do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy.
Bill: Hello, everyone and welcome to Me You Us, our well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy. I’m your host, Bill Krieger. Today, my guest is Dwayne Gill. He is a retired Michigan State trooper as well as a comedian. Dwayne, if you could introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.
Dwayne Gill: Hey, first of all, thank you for having me so much. I really appreciate it. I’m excited to be a part of your podcast. I really enjoyed speaking with you prior to it and learning a lot about you too, which is great. It’s Bill. I can say, Bill, right?
Bill: Yes, you can, absolutely.
Dwayne: I know it’s William, but Bill, I am a retired Michigan State Trooper. I retired back on July 29th of this year after 29 years of good and faithful service, has been great. Boy, I can’t even believe it, that I am retired, because it’s been such a big part of my life.
Prior to that, I worked for Ann Arbor PD for two years. Prior to that, I was in the Marine Corp for 10 years, which led us to meet during some veteran stuff.
Bill: For the audience that doesn’t know, we were at a Pistons game when we initially met. I’ve got to say semper fi.
Dwayne: Thank you.
Bill: I grew up in a Marine Corp household.
Bill: My stepfather was a Marine. I learned how to make hospital corners…
Bill: …and take very short showers and use four squares of toilet paper every day.
Bill: Anyway, you were in the Marine Corp, good to know.
Dwayne: I went in when I was 17, and we can talk about that. Just reflecting back on the many years that I served the state, I served the country, I’m looking forward to the next chapter and seeing what goes on.
I’m so happy that you’re having me on your podcast. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about everything.
Bill: It was exciting having you here. We’re going to go back a little ways. First of all, it is William if I’m in trouble.
Bill: It’s Bill to everyone. Then it’s Billy if you’re my sister.
Dwayne: Good to know.
Bill: That’s how that works. She’s the only one that calls me…my mom, once in a while, but…
Dwayne: I got you, Bill.
Bill: …my sister’s the only one that calls me that. Let’s go back a little bit. I’ve watched your comedy, had a great time watching it. You say a lot of poignant things in there, and I want to talk about that. You grew up in Detroit as a kid. Is that correct?
Dwayne: That’s correct. I’m 58 years old, going to be 59 next month in September. What would I be? Is that a boomer or over in between, betweenish.
Bill: It’s borderline generation X boomer.
Dwayne: I think they call us tweeners because we’re in between. The funny thing about it is, is that, I was born and raised Linwood and Sturtevant in City of Detroit, right in the hood. I still remember going across the street to the liquor store and buy my mom cigarettes. You can’t do that nowadays.
Bill: That’s funny that you mentioned that because I remember as a kid. I grew up in Lansing down by Foster Street. The quality dairy right on the corner, it’s been there since the Toyota dealership got torn out 50 years ago. I remember the same thing. 2:00 in the morning, my stepmom would be like, “Hey, Billy, go get me some [inaudible 3:25] .
Dwayne: [laughs] I remember.
Bill: You go up there, you buy your mom cigarettes and no one even blinked. You try to do that today, they call the cops.
Dwayne: [laughs] I was like seven or eight years old across this big street getting that. I went to school in Detroit, Detroit Public Schools from kindergarten all the way up until around fifth grade. I was in the boy scouts at the time, and a lot of people don’t know this. I had “Boys Life” magazine, kids.
Bill: I remember that.
Dwayne: You remember that magazine about scouts and whatnot. In the back of the magazine was some advertisements for military schools. My dad was a World War II vet and he’s always seeing his pictures of him in his uniform and I always aspire to be in the military. I saw his military school, so I wrote down the address of the school and I sent them a letter.
This is a guy that’s nine or 10 years old, said, “Send me some information about your academy.” They sent me a package. My parents were like, “You got mail,” [laughs] a real mail wasn’t like through email. What is this? I brought it to him. I said, “Hey, I want to go to this military school down in Plantation, Florida.”
I was glad it wasn’t Lynchburg, Virginia, but that’s a whole another story.
Dwayne: My parents see the school and they’re like, “Are you serious you really want to go to boarding school? You want to go to this private boarding school?” I say, “Yes.” I wasn’t a bad kid or anything, I just knew that I wasn’t going to get a good education at Detroit Public School.
My father used to own some rental property, so we had a little bit of money. We went down, we flew down to Florida, we did a tour of the school, and it was in ’74 the spring. That fall I enrolled in that school, and I went there from the sixth grade to the ninth grade.
It was a great experience because I got a chance to be around cultures and people I’ve never seen before experience Latin culture, because a lot of South American kids went there. Then you have a lot of rich white kids that went there whose parents were like, they’re out cruising or whatever. Industry captains.
I went to school with Jimmy Hoffa’s stepfather. I forgot the name. He was one of the last people that saw Jimmy Hoffa. He just recently died. I went to school with those kids. They used to be like, “Hey, isn’t Dwayne that little mulyani from Detroit?” Yeah. [laughs] He ain’t go to Dairy Queen with us.
Dwayne: Hanging out with these big mafia guys. I was like, “What the hell?” That was my life for middle school until I came back home to high school in Detroit.
Bill: I want to let this sink in a little bit.
Bill: This amazes me. At the age of 9 or 10, you realize that if you didn’t take control of your education, you weren’t going to get the education you wanted. Where did that come from?
Dwayne: I don’t know.
Bill: I’m trying to wrap my head around that, Dwayne.
Dwayne: I think it came from simply this. The guy’s name Chuckie O’Brien. I don’t know if you remember Chuckie O’Brien. Mafioso guy. That just came to me. Anyway. I was a baby. I was a oops baby. When I was born, my youngest sister was 18, 19 years old. She went in the Army. She was a nurse.
She valued education, because she went to Wayne State University. She would babysit me. Take me to school with her. I just knew that that was important. That was her. Then I had a stepbrother or half?brother from my dad, from his first marriage. He was just a knucklehead. He was a knucklehead. He had kids.
He was just not a good person. Drugs, the whole nine yards. I knew. I looked at the people that were modeled in front of me and said, “OK, I don’t want to be like him. I want to be like her,” my sister. I knew that I didn’t want to be in this household with my dad.
The way my dad used to beat my brother, my sister always defended me and wouldn’t let him do the things he did to my brother, Larry. I knew that if I had stayed there, that that may have been me. I knew. I was like, “I got to get out of here.” [laughs]
Bill: Good for you. To be able to convince your parents to fly down there and do all this, that’s amazing.
Dwayne: It was crazy.
Bill: You’re down there. You’re at boarding school. You’re meeting a huge, diverse group of people. That’s just amazing. Then you come back in 9th or 10th grade, and now you’re back in the hood.
Dwayne: Yeah. That was what was different because I would have stayed and finished up 10th, 11th, and 12th. They had another school. My school was the lower school. The upper school was in Melbourne, Florida. It started costing my parents a lot of cash. I was like, “I don’t want to see them struggle.”
I said, “I’ll just come home. I’ll go to school. I want to go to Cass.” They wouldn’t let me into Cass, so I ended up going to Mumford High School. The weird thing was when I got there, I’m talking the way I speak now. I’m not talking like I grew up with all these kids.
We had moved from Linwood over to another area, a nice area of Detroit. Everybody made fun of me. They said, “Dwayne, you talk like a white guy. Where are you from? Where’s your crib at?” I’m like, “My mother threw that out long time ago.”
Dwayne: My crib? What are you talking about?
Bill: You don’t even know what a crib is.
Dwayne: You see the jokes.
Bill: I can see where it’s coming from.
Dwayne: I did really good in high school. I had a nomination to go to West Point. I got cool in my senior year. I worked at a men’s clothing store. I started selling suits, clothes, and shoes. Started dressing the part. The next thing you know, my grades slip. I was hanging out. I didn’t end up getting the appointment to West Point. Then it’s like, “Yeah, you can still go into service, anyway.”
Just home for those three years, I knew, “OK, I see why I left when I was in middle school. I got to get out of here.” As soon as I graduated in June of ’81, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I was gone six weeks later in boot camp. I hit those yellow footprints at MCRD San Diego on July 29th. Actually, it’s funny. July 29th, 1981.
Bill: That’s amazing. I do want to go back just a little bit.
Bill: You said Mumford High School. Anyone who’s a trivia buff knows that Eddie Murphy wore a Mumford phys ed t?shirt in “Beverly Hills Cop.”
Bill: I’ve always wanted to get one of those. Do you have a connection? Maybe I can…
Dwayne: I’ll hook you up. I got connections.
Bill: That would be awesome.
Dwayne: We made a ton of money at Mumford High School with Eddie Murphy. You know why that was, right?
Bill: I don’t. I’ve always wondered.
Dwayne: The writer of Beverly Hills Cop was a Mumford grad. He always said that when he wrote this movie, that he wanted to make the character, Axel Foley, a graduate of Mumford High School. I didn’t know this at the time.
I remember in 1984, whenever that movie came out, I was still in the Marine Corps. I’m sitting there watching this movie and I see Mumford physical ed t?shirt. I’m telling, “I went to that high school.” They’re like, “No, you didn’t. You’re just saying that because of Eddie Murphy.” I know I went there.
Dwayne: Yeah, I could get you that t?shirt. Powder blue and burgundy. That’s our colors. I appreciate that.
Bill: You’re at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
Bill: Interesting story. I went to Navy boot camp in San Diego.
Bill: Yeah. You guys don’t even consider that boot camp. I get it.
Bill: We won’t even have that discussion.
Dwayne: I know where it is.
Bill: We got there. Now, I got there the day after Christmas 1984. I remember three or four days after we got there, some kid jumped the fence right into Marine Corps boot camp. They kept him for two weeks.
Bill: He was very happy.
Dwayne: To get back to the Navy.
Bill: Very happy to get back into the Navy. When we did what we call PT, when we got done, we would be drinking water watching you guys run that course over and over again.
Dwayne: Yes, sir. It’s right there. They’re right next to each other. Just a fence separates it.
Bill: Yes. I remember those days. I got to ask, was Marine Corps boot camp a big shock? You’d gone to military school. You land. You step on the yellow footprints. It’s probably not at 9:00 or 10:00 AM. If it’s anything like my experience, we get there at two o’clock in the morning.
Dwayne: 2:30 in the morning. Yes, sir. Absolutely.
Bill: What was that like?
Dwayne: It was funny. Like you said, all the time that I went to military school. In high school, I was an ROTC. I was a cadet captain, an ROTC. It wasn’t a shock at all. It was fun to me because I’m crazy. I enjoyed that.
While that first night, all my other recruits are in the bed crying and listening to…You know where the airport is right there next to the boot camp.
Bill: Yes. You could hear the planes all night long.
Dwayne: All the planes taking off all day long. They’re crying. I was sitting there like, “Man, I can’t wait for tomorrow. Let’s get this on.” I already know how to break down the M16. I know how to march. I’m like, “Let’s go.” No, boot camp wasn’t a big deal to me. Boot camp was exciting for me. It was fun. I enjoyed it. No big deal. [laughs]
I loved it. I’m the same guy that goes to “Full Metal Jacket” a couple years later. I’m laughing during the first 15, 20 minutes while the drill instructor is going off on everybody because I’ve been through it. I think it’s hysterical to be where everybody else is in shock. I’m that guy.
Bill: You’re that one guy. “This doesn’t even matter to me.”
Dwayne: [laughs] That was no big deal.
Bill: No. For anybody who has not been to boot camp, if you do watch that opening sequence in Full Metal Jacket, that is what boot camp is like.
Dwayne: That is boot camp.
Bill: We’re not going to repeat those words. This is a family show.
Dwayne: Sure. Sure thing.
Bill: Absolutely. I’ll never forget that, stepping off the bus. It was a little shock for me because I had never been through anything like that. What did you do when you were in the Corps? What was your job?
Dwayne: I signed up to become a field radio operator. That was my job in the military. I was a FROC, field radio operator’s course. I graduated from boot camp. I ended up going to Twentynine Palms, San Diego. It’s Twentynine Palms up in Palm Springs, I’m sorry, for radio training. Radio guy. RTO. Radio telegraph officer.
I’m the guy with the PRC?77 on his back. My only fear was I didn’t want to get assigned to an infantry unit. When I graduated from field radio operator’s course in Twentynine Palms, I got sent to Okinawa. Then we get to reception center, Okinawa, everybody, [inaudible 14:29] field radio operator was going to different units. They just put me on the truck and said, “OK, we’re taking you to units.”
Pulled up into this one unit. I looked. I saw the insignia. I saw these cannons crossed. I was like, “Oh, I think I’m going to artillery.” I was like, “Yeah, they don’t walk anywhere.”
Dwayne: I was happy about that. I didn’t care if it was a combat arms. I was like, “At least I’m not going to have to walk.” My first unit was second battalion, 12th Marines over in Okinawa. Awesome unit. Had a great time. I was 18 years old. I was over on the rock for a year. I did that.
That was my job in the Marine Corps for a couple of years. Went from Okinawa to Camp Lejeune. Camp Lejeune, while I was there, I was still field radio operations. Then I deployed with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit to Lebanon. I was in Beirut as one of the peacekeepers after the bombing in October ’83. I went there. Then came back.
Next thing you know, they asked me, “Hey, you ever thought about being a recruiter?” I was like, “Heck no. I’d rather go to be a drill instructor.” You had to either be a drill instructor or recruiter, because you were career?oriented. They said, “Well, we could probably send you home to Detroit.” I was like, “OK, where do I sign up?”
Bill: Nothing better than being in your hometown and being in the military.
Dwayne: Hometown recruiter. That happened.
Bill: When you talked about the field artillery and how you don’t walk anywhere, those were exactly my thoughts as I was entering the military police. Our motto was death before dismount.
Dwayne: [laughs] That’s good. I ever heard that. That’s great.
Bill: We’re not getting out of these vehicles unless we have to.
Dwayne: That’s good. [laughs]
Bill: You serve your country in the United States Marine Corps. It’s time to get out. You’ve done your recruiting duty and all that other stuff. What happened after that?
Dwayne: What happened was while I was in the military, my best friend, he was in the Army. He was actually stationed in Germany. I was in Japan. We used to send each other letters all the time. Then he said he was going to get out in ’84. He wanted to become a Michigan state trooper. I’m like, “What’s that?”
Then he says, “No, man. It’s Michigan State Police. The best.” He got out. Became a state trooper. I came home. I had reenlisted like an idiot. I was career?oriented. I thought I was going to stay in. I reenlisted for six years. I did my first four, reenlisted for six.
I went on leave in July of 1985. I was home on leave. I went on the road with him. I went on a ride?along. We drove up and down. He was posted at the Ypsi post, Ypsilanti. We drove up and down the freeway. We’re speeding. We’re just having a great time. Just pulling people over.
He’s got the serious face on it. Then he’d get back in the car and he’s laughing. I’m like, “How do you do this?” He said, “That’s easy. We teach you all the stuff in the Academy. How to be professional, courteous, but then you got to still be yourself.” I was like, “Man, this is a great job.” I said I want to be a trooper.
I had just reenlisted in the Marines. I had to wait for six years. I had to do my time. I made sure that I was on recruiting duty at home. I was on recruiting from ’85 to ’88. I left in ’88 and went to Hawaii for a year. I worked for a three?star general over there. I worked for the commanding general of FMF Pacific, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.
He was retiring. He says, “Hey, what can I do for you? I’m getting ready to leave. What do you want? I want to go back to Detroit for my last 18 months in the corp, so I can get out and become a states trooper. Granted.”
Dwayne: Sent me some orders. I went back to Detroit and finished up my last 18 months. Right when I was about to get out, Engler got elected. He froze state hiring in November of ’90. ’91, State Police wasn’t hiring. I had to get a job so I wanted to get out, and that’s when I worked for Ann Arbor PD.
Funny story, while I was at Ann Arbor, I went to the police academy. While I was in the academy, you’re going to like this, Bill. One of the drug units called LAWNET at the time, Livingston and Washtenaw Counties Narcotics Enforcement Team if you remember, came into the class and they said, “Hey, we heard you guys got a guy here that used to be in the Marines.
“We did a kilo deal with the guy that was in the Marine Corps. We don’t know where he is. We got a warrant for his arrest. Do you think you can locate this guy?” I said, “Sure. Take me to a phone.”
I go to a phone, make a phone call back to my old headquarters, “Hey, Staff Sergeant Gill, how’re you doing?” I said, “Hey, can you do me a favor? I need to find this guy, such and such name.” He said, “Oh, yeah. Hold on a second. Yeah, he’s stationed at Camp Pendleton. He’s with 1/11, whatever. Here’s the phone number of the unit [inaudible 19:21] .”
I said, “Here you go.” They were so impressed, Bill. They were like, “Man, I like this guy. He thinks quick on his feet.” They said, “We think we want to put him undercover when he graduates from the academy and get him over in our unit.”
About a week later, they come to me and say, “Hey, when you graduate, you’re going to be coming to our unit, and you going to be buying drugs undercover over in the Southside Ypsilanti.” I’m like, “Don’t I got to be the police first?”
Dwayne: While they’re like, “Ah, you’ll be OK.” Needless to say, I graduated on a Thursday, my uniform. Friday, I was in a detective meeting. Saturday and Sunday, I was off. Monday, I was in my first crack deal on the Southside of Ypsilanti buying crack cocaine in September of 1991. It was insane.
Bill: Your life’s a movie.
Bill: I’ve watched movies where this happens, where they go to the recruit class and like, “Oh, we want that guy in it.”
Dwayne: You’re wanted, it’ll happen.
Dwayne: I swear to God.
Bill: It’s amazing.
Dwayne: I was out there for six months. I got into a bunch of different targets that they had been trying to get into for a while and established my reputation as the guy who was prolific at buying drugs.
Bill: I’m not sure that’s probably what you want your reputation to be at some point.
Dwayne: Exactly. I would be so comfortable in those situations, my surveillance team used to say, “What did this guy use to do before he became the police? Because he’s in this crack house watching TV. He’s very comfortable in this environment.”
Then I went to the road and I became a regular officer. I did that for a while, and then the state police called and said, “We’re hiring again.” I went to the 108th trooper recruit school in June of 1993 and became a recruit in the school.
I knew I just had to get through the academy. That didn’t faze me at all. I’d been in the Marine Corps boot camp. I’d already been to an academy. All I knew was I just had to get through this. They knew I was doing stand?up comedy on the side, because comedy came into my life while I was in the academy for Ann Arbor.
I think I told you one day that people said that, “Hey, if you’re going to start just professional law enforcement, you need to have something outside of law enforcement activity that will bring you wellness so that you don’t become cynical and think that everybody out there is a jerk and learn how to deal with other people in a good way.”
Bill: Here’s a crazy thing. Until we started talking just now, I didn’t realize that you started comedy that far back.
Dwayne: Yeah. That late. Yeah. That far back. In ’93.
Bill: Wow. You’ve been doing this for a while, which would explain why I was laughing hysterically this [inaudible 22:01] …
Bill: …while I was eating my lunch.
Dwayne: But there’s a story with that too, because I did start in ’92. First time I went on stage. Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. Did five minutes, got laughs, and enjoyed it. I started doing it for a while, but then I went to the state police academy.
They knew I was a comedian, so they used to call me a recruit joker, of course. After I graduated I continued to do it here and there, but in April of ’95 I was posted in the city of Detroit, and I auditioned for this Apollo Comedy night at the State Theater, next to the Fox, in Detroit.
I went on stage. Invited all my friends, family, everybody, down there. I went up, and it was like 1,500 people in the audience. It was insane. I went up. I told my first joke. Everybody laughed. Then I hesitated, so I couldn’t think of my second joke. It didn’t come to me.
I was still a new comedian, and the audience turned on me. They started booing. “Boo! Boo!” Black audiences are the worst.
Dwayne: They will boo you and then take keys out and shake keys, which means, “Go get in your car and leave.”
Bill: [laughs] Oh, no.
Dwayne: Yeah. It was awful.
Dwayne: I quit. So I got booed off the stage. I was so traumatized, Bill, I quit doing comedy for seven years. I said, “Nope. I’m just going to concentrate on being a police.” [laughs]
Bill: Because it’s a lot less stressful. [laughs]
Dwayne: It’s a lot less stressful. The reason I came back to it was seven years later. I think it was 2002. Something like that. Maybe 2000 whenever. Anyway, I came back to it. I went to a retirement party. It was at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. They had comedians there.
It was another comedian named Derek Richards. He was really funny. I went to him and said, “Hey, I used to do this. I got the bug again. I want to give it a try.” He gave me some books and some advice. Mentored me. Still my good friend to this day.
Then I ended up going to New York. I went to the American Comedy Institute for some professional training. I took vacation, went there for a week. Learned some skills. I came back. I got my first paid gig in May of 2004. I’ve been doing comedy ever since.
Bill: This is interesting to me. I always pictured there’s not all that work that leads up into being a good comedian. The guy is just funny. He gets on stage. You took training and you had a mentor. There were all these steps that you had to take in order to get there. All the way back to when the audience turned on you, which has got to be an awful feeling.
I got to think, Dwayne’s saying to Dwayne right now, “I don’t ever want to feel this way again. How do I not feel this way again?”
Dwayne: Oh, man. Absolutely. There’s a lot people don’t realize. If you ever see a really good comedian, like Jim Gaffigan. Do you know who Jim Gaffigan…
Dwayne: Jim Gaffigan is a graduate of American Comedy Institute. I met Jim. Jim’s a super nice guy. Man, he grinded for many years before he hit it and got famous. Tim Allen. I’ve opened up for Tim Allen. Kevin Hart, all these guys. They all got stories. All of them. Every single one of them has stories of where they have bombed miserably on stage.
I’m not as bad as that show, but I bombed before or didn’t do well. You will know that I’m not enjoying myself on stage if I dismount at the end and I say these words, “Well, that is the end of my contractually?obligated time.” [laughs] If I ever say that in the show, you know I was miserable.
Bill: Good to know.
Dwayne: The audience, if you hear me say that, it was not good.
Dwayne: It’s a lot behind it.
Bill: If anybody wants to know what that sounds like. On satellite radio, there’s a channel where they do comedy from the Apollo. They did this whole weekend where they just show people bombing at the Apollo.
Dwayne: That’s horrible. [laughs]
Bill: If anyone wants to know what that sounds like, just take a listen to that, because it can be pretty rough.
Dwayne: It’s bad.
Bill: You started getting your act polished up. You’re still working as a police officer. Now that you’re not getting booed off stage, are you getting some relaxation out of that, or is it just like a release for you?
Bill: Quite frankly, I love to tell stories. I love to get up on stage. Sometimes that can be more terrifying than anything I’ve ever done. How does that all balance out for you?
Dwayne: For me, it was like it got the endorphins going. There was a couple of reasons why I really enjoyed doing comedy. It was a couple of exact reasons why I like doing comedy, or what drew me to it. My first reason was it was an escape from the difficult job that I was doing on a daily basis, number one. It was a way to let off steam.
It was also a way for me to let off steam in my relationship. I had been unhappy for many, many years. A lot of times, comedians are…they call us sad clowns. It was a way for me to publicly talk smack about my wife. [laughs] She thought it was jokes, but it was real. [laughs]
Bill: Not get in trouble, at least for a little while.
Dwayne: Not get in trouble. I did it. She started becoming a…I don’t want to say a target, but it is what it is. [laughs] In comedy, Bill, you got to learn how to tell jokes first. Then you have to start becoming vulnerable and start opening up about your life. Anybody can tell knock, knock jokes.
Anybody can go out there and tell jokes about, “Oh, I pulled over this car and the guy didn’t like what I had to say.” Blah, blah, blah. I gave him a ticket. Those are the fluff jokes.
After I started grinding for many years, reading, and learning more about the art, and learning about Richard Pryor, all the great ones, Carlin, and everybody, the one thing that I kept coming back to were that they started to become vulnerable. They started changing. They started opening up.
Richard Pryor talked about him catching on fire from smoking the drugs and all the bad things that were going on in his life. From pain, a lot of times, comes comedy. I had to learn how to channel that pain that I was feeling off stage on stage, find my voice, and start discussing things that are more personal to me. Giving it from my point of view.
Chris Rock always says that any committee can fill up a club by talking about that fluff stuff. When you start talking about relationships and things that everybody can understand, you fill stadiums up. That’s what led to my evolution to start and be more personal onstage, and talking about things, my fears, my hopes, my dreams, and things like that.
From the time when I was still working as a trooper, how I was looking forward to what it was going to be like to be retired and being able to be free. It was tough working full?time and being…I used to get in trouble all time.
One minute, the State Police liked me doing comedy. The next minute, they hate me doing comedy. One minute, they hire me to do a show for conference. The next minute, I’m getting written up. I’m getting three days off for telling the off?color joke.
I know this is your podcast for your job. If you got any aspiring comedians out there, make sure you check with HR before you start doing comedy. [laughs]
Bill: You have to make sure that the things that you’re doing are aligned with the vision and values of your company.
Dwayne: [laughs] With the vision and values of your company. [laughs]
Bill: If they’re not, you’re going to have to make some choices.
Dwayne: You’re going to have problems, baby.
Bill: I want to talk a little bit, though, about being vulnerable in sharing on stage. I feel like my experience was the opposite of this. When I was in junior high, I was a short, fat kid. I was five foot six. Maybe 250 pounds. I was as big and round as I was tall.
Bill: I learned very quickly that you can either be really funny or you can get your butt kicked on a daily basis.
Bill: I preferred funny.
Bill: I learned how to use jokes. I wouldn’t say comedy, but I learned how to use jokes to get myself out of really bad situations.
Bill: Yes. It almost became like a life jacket for me. I could use it to mask anything at any point.
Dwayne: Absolutely. That’s what Chris Rock used to do. That’s where you get that show, “Everybody Hates Chris.” He used to use that as a shield to keep him from getting beat up all the time. Absolutely. That happened to me, too. I’m not going to say I was a fat kid.
Bill: I was a fat kid.
Dwayne: I remember when I was in military school, I used to be close with a lot of other cadets. They would take me home on the weekend. I would spend time with their families and stuff. This one cadet, his mother was the school nurse. I had asthma. I was one of those kids. I spent a lot of time with the nurse.
She would go home and she would always call my mother. She would say, “Hey, Mrs. Gill, Dwayne is such a good, young man. I think that one day, he will learn how to live on his wits. He’s the kind of kid that will learn to live on his wits.” My mother says, “She says you can live on your wits.” I’m like, well, what’s a wit?”
Dwayne: “Mom, what’s a wit?” She says, “Your sense of humor. You’ll learn to live on your sense of humor.” I’m like, “I didn’t know what that was.” Evidently, I had this email thing that eventually manifested itself and came out. Here I am today.
Bill: Did you ever have friends tell you, “Oh, you should do this for a living. You should get up on stage and tell these jokes.” Did anyone ever do that with you?
Dwayne: I can’t say that. No. I used to be a fan of comedy. We’re around the same age. I remember I used to watch this show, “Make me laugh” on TV back in the day. I used to see all these comedians. I used to say to myself, “I’m funnier than that guy. I should be on TV. Why is he on TV and I’m not?” I would say that to myself.
I had no idea how a person did that. The other thing that introduced me to comedy, and I failed to tell you this earlier, was when I was in the Marines, when I was on recruiting duty, like 1989, 1990, right before I got out, I always had a side hustle. I had no problem working extra. Even the Marines military.
I worked backstage at the Fox Theater from 1988 to 1991. I did it here and there. I had a hookup. The guy used to let me come in. I would watch the stage door or I would watch the artist’s door. Make sure the right people are coming in and out.
One day, the comedians were there. Bill Bellamy, he’s a comic. He used to be on MTV years ago. He’s still a comedian. He was there. He did comedy at the Fox and absolutely crushed. I was backstage watching them. I thought, “Man, this is the coolest job ever. You come in, you make people laugh, you leave.”
When he came off stage, we were talking. I said, “Man, they love you.” He said, “Man, it was great.” I said, “How does somebody get into this? How do I get to this career path?” He says, “Well, you just go to your local comedy club. You do open mic night. You just tell jokes.” That’s all he told me. That’s all I knew.
Then that’s what drew me to go on to an open mic eventually. It took me two or three years to get the courage to do it. That was the genesis of it. Then you heard the rest. [laughs]
Bill: No. Absolutely. [laughs] It’s great stuff. I want to point out, and I hope this isn’t lost on the audience. From the time you were a kid, you made your own dreams come true. You got to go to the school you wanted to go to. You got the education that you wanted. You made things happen through your career in the military.
All of those things came your way. They were all good things. Then you knew you wanted to be a state trooper, but you knew that you were going to have to wait. That you were going to have to finish your service and do all of those things.
You knew you want to be a comedian. Even as a young man, you were like, “I’m funnier than that guy up there.” You’re doing all of those things. Sometimes we don’t take time to reflect on all those…
Bill: You look back and you go, “Oh, my gosh, I did all those things that I wanted to do.” How does it feel?
Dwayne: That feels amazing. Especially after finishing all those things and looking toward the next chapter. It’s pretty phenomenal. Especially, excuse me, when you put it in that context, Bill. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve led a blessed life so far. I still think I’ve got a lot more to go.
I speak on it. A lot of times, I do keynote speech. I talk about overcoming adversity, because all those things I did accomplish, but they did not come without some adversity.
Sometimes, you have to overcome bad things to get to all the good things. Believe me, [laughs] in meeting all those goals, it was not easy. I went through a lot, but I overcame a lot to get there, and makes it even more sweeter.
Bill: I think that speaks to people talk about in whatever your belief system is. You want patients. Well, you don’t get patience from not having been in situations where your patience are tried. You don’t learn to make good decisions unless you make bad decisions from situations where bad decisions are made.
You don’t become a marine without some adversity in basic training because all those things prepare you for that. You don’t become a great comedian without being booed off stage a couple of times because you learn from those things. You don’t become a great police officer without some things not going your way because you learn from those experiences too.
One of the things you talk about in your show, and we don’t have to keep it in here if you don’t want to.
Dwayne: Oh, you’re fine.
Bill: I work in the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Consumers Energy. A lot of times we talk about implicit bias. We talk about it in a very serious way. You talked about it ?? I don’t think you meant to talk about it ?? but you talked about it when you talked about your very first assignment in Ionia, Michigan. You get called out to this tractor that’s been stolen.
If you wouldn’t mind, share that story with the audience. I think it’s a great lesson not only in implicit bias but in handling it like a professional. I mean, I found this story very funny because I get it. I get it. Would you mind sharing that a little bit with the audience?
Dwayne: Sure, sure. Well, the money?making joke in my act has been in my act for the past 18 years, which is obviously talking about my career, things that have happened to me. I was the first black state trooper to be assigned to the Ionia post I always say. That’s a little exaggerated. Anyway, that’s what comedy is, exaggeration.
Anyway, I get a call from a gentleman farmer whose John Deere tractors had been stolen. I told him, “Hey, man, I’ll come right out there, I’ll take the report, I’ll be right out.” I get out there, and the first thing the guy’s like, “Man, you didn’t sound Black on the phone.”
Dwayne: What does Black on the phone sound like? [laughs] He thought, he’s looking at me, I’m looking at him. Then the first thing I ask, because what do they teach you in academy? You’re taking report of some stolen items. First thing you want to know is, what color is it?
He thought that was hilarious because he figured everybody in the world knew what color a John Deere tractor was. I am from Detroit. We do not have them rolling out Eight Mile Road. If we did, they would have spinners on them, [laughs] so I had no clue. He thought it was the funniest thing he ever heard.
That’s one of those implicit bias things that I think that is funny. I’ll tell you another thing which has never been in my act before. Again, just like you forewarned whether or not you want [laughs] to use this, this is totally up to you. I remember being with my training officer, his name was Dwayne Gaddy. He’s a White guy and we’re in Ionia, and we get called to a neighborhood disturbance.
We go to it, and the neighbor said that the kids next door have been coming over and banging on his door and running away. Then we go over and confront this young guy. He’s like, 10, 12, not even 10 years, maybe eight or nine year old. I asked the young man, “Why do you keep going over here bothering this neighbor?”
The guy says, and again, you can do what you want, [laughs] the little kid says, “Oh, we were just n****r knocking.” [laughs] I’m shocked to hear this young kid say this to my face. Before I could react, I said, “Oh, really?” I said, “Why don’t you tell me what that is?” I’ve never done that before. [laughs]
Which I made light of the situation, but my partner to his credit, was he jumped right over that kid and says, “You do not talk like that to my partner. That is inappropriate, that is wrong language.” He jumped right down that guy’s throat. I thought that was amazing. That was an amazing lesson for that kid, and I didn’t have to defend it, because my partner had my back.
Now, a couple of years later, my good friend, his name was Cal Bowman. He’s retired from the state police as well. He’s the chief of police at University of Chicago now. He tells a similar story that happened to him in Lakeview, where somebody called him that word on duty while he was in his uniform. His fellow colleagues did not come to his defense at all.
My colleague came to my defense. That’s a lesson that people need to know, is that if you are an ally, and you see somebody using that type of language, or being inappropriate to a co?worker like that, you need to speak up. That’s a lesson. They didn’t speak up for him, but my partner spoke up for me. I thought that was amazing when he told me that.
He tells that story to his troops. Let them know that affected him to this day. Saying, “These are the people I serve with, and they’re not even going to speak up and defend me.” Being in diversity and inclusion, that’s a lesson that people should take and say, “Hey we need to value our employees and value our fellow workers,” if you believe in that. What do you think?
Bill: You learn a lot about people when you’re in those situations. A few months ago, I interviewed one of my co?workers. She was talking about going to engineering school at Michigan State University. She’s a black female. That’s a very small number of people who are black females are going into engineering.
Bill: She goes through this whole cohort of people who are in this engineering class. They’re in their senior year. They’re all out looking for jobs and all the cool stuff. They’re sitting around. They’re excited. They’re talking about it. One of the people in her class looks at her and says, “Well, you got it made. You’ll be a great diversity hire.”
Bill: Here’s someone that she’s been with for four years who’s a friend of hers. She now knows exactly what that person thought of her for that whole four years. Imagine how that made her feel. I’ve got to think that your friend probably felt the same way. Like, “I now know how these people think about me.”
Bill: You probably thought the same thing. “I know how my partner thinks about me.”
Dwayne: Absolutely. It goes a long way. I’ll be honest with you, that happened for many years while I was in the state police. I would meet other police officers from different agencies. They would things, “Oh, man, you want to State Police. Pretty good that you’re a trooper. I wanted to be a trooper, but they were only hiring blacks when I applied.” No, they weren’t. [laughs]
Bill: They were hiring qualified people for the job.
Dwayne: Qualified people. They were calling everybody. It’s been something that I dealt with for 29 years, from the time I joined that department to the time I left.
Even in recruiting, majority people will say things like, “Well, the only reason you guys are big on diversity and inclusion is because number one, you want to lower standards. You lower standards to bring people in.” That’s so not wrong. It’s so wrong. It’s not right. It’s wrong.
Standards are the same for everybody. We want to hire good, qualified people. We want to hire people that look like the community that we serve so that we don’t look like an occupying force, or don’t represent the community as a whole, which is important. There’s a strength to it.
Bill: That also speaks to the pipeline coming in. If I’m the only in the room ?? I know that probably back in the day when the State Police began hiring black people and minority people, those people in those classes were the only.
Bill: I can’t imagine being in a room full of people who don’t look like me.
Bill: How do I attract more people like me if I’m the only one like me here?
Dwayne: It’s hard. Like me, you’re a veteran in the military. The biggest diversity employer is the military. They are a paragon of diversity and show strong diversity is. Even though it took the late ’40s, early ’50s to fully integrate the military, but that has been a success story for all these years, has it not?
Bill: It’s interesting. Coming out of the military after my initial time on active duty, I really didn’t get some of the problems I was hearing. It didn’t happen when I was in the military. We had each other’s backs.
Bill: Even if I didn’t like you, when we were doing our thing, I used to care of one another. We were the only people we had when we were out there. It didn’t matter what your background was, what color your skin was, or any of that.
It just mattered that we were doing our jobs together and that we had that camaraderie in order to get that done. Now, we might not hang out outside of work or any of that stuff. That’s what the military teaches you. To some extent, when you come out of the military, you’re like, “Oh, that can’t be right. Is that really happening in my country?”
Bill: It is.
Dwayne: That’s just a good lesson and why it’s so important. I really appreciate my time in the military. I appreciate it more so now, because I can look back and appreciate that I did when I was in. Obviously, with age comes wisdom. You realize that type of stuff.
Bill: You know what though, Dwayne, part of it is we forget all the stuff that we didn’t like about it.
Bill: We just remember the good time.
Dwayne: Remember the good time. [laughs]
Bill: “Oh, I wish I was back in.” That’s how I signed a couple of different contracts to stay in the military.
Dwayne: There you go. [laughs]
Bill: You’re retired from Michigan State Police. You’re still a young man, because we’re about the same age. You’re a young guy. What’s the next chapter looking like?
Dwayne: I don’t know. It’s August now. I’ve got a bunch of gigs lined up for August. I got a few gigs lined up for September. I did acquire a cruise ship agent earlier in the year. Hopefully, I may have some gigs in October, November, doing some cruises or whatnot.
I am still open to another career path or whatever may reveal itself. I’m fine financially. Thank goodness that I could take a few months off. Make a little money doing some gigs and whatnot. I’m excited. I’m excited to see what’s down the road.
I still live here in Michigan now. I’m not opposed to move in, doing something else, or seeing what happens out there. I’m good.
Bill: That’s awesome. We are coming to that point in the show where we got to wrap things up. I don’t want to go before I ask you, what would you like the audience to take away from this conversation?
Dwayne: Wow. We’ve talked about a lot. Some of the themes that we talked about, and especially in the latter part of our conversation, as well as it was threaded through, some of the stuff that we talked about is how important diversity is.
That’s what I want to leave the audience with, is knowing that with diversity, builds strength. In your organization, in your relationships, in your friendships. If we want to have a better world, we should be more accepting of each other.
Even though we may have differing opinions when it comes to politics, raising our kids, and things like that. When it all comes down to it at the end of the day, we all want the same things. We all want good education for our kids. We all want good opportunity. We all want to be taken care of. We want to make a decent living. We want peace of security.
Having a diverse background, or friendships, relationships, and work environments will lead to that. That’s very important. I also want people to laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. Absolutely. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what can you do? That’s just the bottom line.
The other thing is that life is too short. You should really take advantage of everything that’s available to you. Just like you said. I really never thought about it till you put into context. I did accomplish everything I set out to do. Life is too short for you not to. Am I right?
Bill: You are right. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
Bill: That is a true. Both of you and I know that from our experience in our background. I appreciate you taking the time to come on the show and to talk with the audience. It’s been great getting to know you.
Dwayne: It’s awesome. I appreciate it.
Bill: I have a new friend.
Bill: We’re going to have to hang out.
Bill: I got at least a few more years before I retire. I’m enjoying myself as well.
Dwayne: I look forward to it. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for having me on. I hope I didn’t get too long?winded. I do have a good story. I’d like to put it on paper one day, but we’ll see. Maybe that’s something you can help me with. [laughs]
Bill: Maybe that’s part of that next chapter. No pun intended. Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy, leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. Be sure to go out, find us, and subscribe.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1?800?273?8255. That’s 1?800?273?8255. If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is in crisis, you can call 1?800?273?8255 and press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line.
Bill: Remember to tune in every Wednesday as we talk about the things that impact your personal well?being.