Comedian Dow Thomas Reminisces About The Dayton Comedy Scene
By J.T. Ryder
It’s very rare for someone to be able to meet any of the people that were instrumental in warping the needle on their moral compass. For example, in the future, the odds are astronomically against my kids ever meeting up with Snooki, the creator of “Grand Theft Auto” or any or the “Real Housewives of Poughkeepsie.” I, however, was able to talk with one of the people who were instrumental in giving me the ability to see the world through laughing eyes: Dow Thomas. Dow is a musician, comedian and actor, who was, at one time, a writer and musician for the notorious local program on channel 22, hosted by Dr. Creep called “Shock Theater” … a show that I was an avid fan of as a kid.
I was able to speak with Dow recently from his Florida home. The first thing I asked was whether “Shock Theater” was his introduction into the world of comedy.
“No. I was actually doing comedy in 1972, but at that time there weren’t any comedy clubs, so I was just doing comedy along with my music. I got with Dr. Creep in the late ‘70s when it was called “Saturday Night Dead” because they had him on after “Saturday Night Live,” so it was kind of a neat spot.”
Dow reflected on the first time he was on Dr. Creep’s show, saying, “I wrote ‘The Ballad of Dr. Creep.’ I remember some of the early stuff. It was juvenile jokes and stuff, but that was what they [the TV station] wanted because they wanted everything clean, stupid and quick.”
If there were no comedy clubs, what venues did he perform in? Dow told me that he would just play in the local bars, places like the Trolley Stop, the Bar and the Iron Boar.
“I would get hired as a musician/entertainer and just add in the comedy in between songs. I just can’t help myself from clowning around. What was always part of the show was me being stupid.” Dow said. “‘Sailcats’ was one of the early comedy songs I wrote which got people to throw plates at me and that just started it all. We used to sing ‘The Wonderful World of Toilet Paper’ and we used to TP all the clubs like Clancy’s and the old Wiley’s, which was the Iron Boar originally.”
Since this was predating the ‘80s comedy boom, I wondered how the comedy scene evolved in Dayton. After talking with Dow over an hour, I got a sense of how paradoxically brutal and liberating the process was.
“I was doing the Iron Boar only on Sundays and Wiley had hired me to do it by myself and so I basically got rid of the band … that’s when I went almost strictly comedy. Back then, I had to do five hours, like from nine to two in the morning, so you had to have a lot of material.”
Dow added a couple of memories from the early days of Dayton comedy, saying, “People still bitched about the dollar door charge! It was just crazy. I remember D.L. Stewart came in and did a little bit one night and then wrote an article about the experience.”
Since he had seen the whole evolution of the comedy scene, I wondered whether he felt that it had become too rigid, too structured.
“Yeah I do. Back then, I could have Emo Philips come in and do 20 minutes and then I’d get a chance to go to the bathroom. Then maybe Judy Tenuta would come in and do 20 to 30 minutes … I thought it should go on all night … I mean, I had moved out to L.A. in 1983 and I spent a couple of years out there going to different clubs. Back then, nobody closed their bar after the show. A lot of times, we’d all be up doing improv.”
Dow was not a native resident of Dayton, having moved here to attend Wright State, but he quickly adopted the city as his own. He has since moved to Florida. “After we moved, a Dayton newspaper immediately voted me the funniest man in Dayton,” he said. “Then they did it again the next year … and I wasn’t even living there!”
The paper in question used to be called the “Dayton Voice” … then “Impact Weekly” … and now it is known as the “Dayton City Paper.” Maybe we were just still pretending that our Uncle Dow hadn’t left our fair city.
You can catch Uncle Dow Thomas at Wiley’s Comedy Niteclub, 101 Pine St., on Dec. 16 at 8:00 p.m., Dec. 17 at 9:00 p.m., Dec. 18th at 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. and then on Dec. 19 at 8:00 p.m. Admission ranges from $5 to $12. For more information, call (937) 224-JOKE or visit www.wileyscomedyclub.com.