Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy. In this article, we talk with Dead Delray.
Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it should come as no surprise that Dean Delray has a deep affection for the 80s thrash scene – nor that he spent two plus decades cutting his teeth as a touring musician before becoming a comedian. And while he started his standup comedy career late into his 40s, it’s also not too surprising that his hard work ethic and off-the-cuff style of storytelling not only quickly made him a go-to touring companion of comics like Marc Maron and Bill Burr, but also a beloved podcast interviewer who all types of artists – from big-time musicians to fellow comedians – rush to sit down with.
Read highlights from our conversation with Delray below to find out why discovering Exodus’ Bonded By Blood was so impactful at a young age; what it was like to interview music idols like Gary Holt, Kirk Hammett and Paul Stanely on his Let There Be Talk podcast; why touring with fellow comedians is more nerve-wracking than jamming with icons like Nikki Sixx and Scott Ian; and the important lessons he learned from opening for bands like Alice In Chains and Rival Sons.
When did you first discover Exodus?
I’d say [I discovered] Exodus around ‘84 or ’85. Once Bonded By Blood hit, it was a complete gamechanger – just listening to it every day and rethinking music, like “Wow, this is SO different!” It wasn’t geared around any radio hits, completely different than say Van Halen, which I loved at the time. You look at Fair Warning and Women and Children First, that stuff was all really heavy… but this was a totally different kind of thing!
When the record came out, I think just one [of my friends] bought it, and we just played it everywhere nonstop. Metallica’s my favorite [band], but I love Bonded By Blood so much more than Kill Em’ All. I was just obsessed with Bonded By Blood. The lyrics, the insanity of how brutal it was, the album cover – I loved it all!
It’s pretty unreal [how great] the first six songs in a row are on that album, and that comes down to old-school sequencing…. It’s really bizarre how if you just move one song in the sequence, the record might have a totally different flow. I don’t know how much [Exodus] tweaked the sequencing, but I know that all records that are really monumental to me have a lot to do with the sequencing.
Has that “attention to sequence” influenced the way you approach writing your own comedy?
It used to. I used to be pretty rigid on having per se a “setlist” of comedy. Then as I got older, I got into the Grateful Dead [laughs] and I started looking at comedy as jamming. I do have specific jokes that have to be in a specific order because they run together, but when I started comedy it was really like, “Ok, I start with this bit, then I go into this bit, then I go here and then I close with this bit,” which is a great way to do it but [after a while] you can become a robot out there. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to feel a little bit of the danger and unease of the stage.
I’ve been on stage for 35 years [both as a standup and musician]. Once you’re on for that long, you need to fucking shake yourself up to feel alive, so I started to what I’d [describe as] “jamming.” Sometimes it’s dangerous – you’ll get lost and be like, “Shit, did I already do this joke?” [laughs] There’s nothing scarier than feeling like you’ve already done a joke – it’s really weird!
What is it about Exodus that still resonates with you?
Well, they are the true Bay Area, blue collar metal band… [When I discovered Exodus and thrash metal] it was right when I was in high school. I wasn’t listening to standard bands on the radio, and that really separates you in high school from other friends. You start gravitating towards new friends that are also into this insane music.
What really resonates with me and going to those shows [is that] they were such a family [gathering] of friends. It’s like that Blind Melon video with the bumble bee [for the song “Rain”] – the bumble bee is out in the world going, “Nobody’s like me, I’m a weirdo!” Then you get to the show, open the door and a band like Exodus or Slayer is playing, you go in and go, “Woah! There’s other people like me!”
I talked to Brian Lew [author of “Murder In The Front Row: Shots From The Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter”] about it, and he felt the same way. [We both] felt like, “Oh shit, these people are into this crazy shit too!”
I love hearing you talk about the comradery that you felt within the metal community. Do you feel a similar comradery in comedy?
Absolutely! I’ve now got friends in comedy, which I’ve been doing for 10 years, that are some of the best people I’ve met in my life. I started [doing comedy] at 44 years old, and at that time most people have long lived their “hanging with their friends” phase – they’ve got kids, families, and they’ve moved on. With me, I can’t even imagine not having these people in my life now, and how amazing they are as humans…
It’s so funny, it took me 25 years to get to the thing that I love. It’s a good reference to how if you always wanted to do something, then go fucking do it! Especially in this day and age with the virus. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you could be gone! I never wanted to have any regrets!
It’s great that you can stay connected with your two loves – music and comedy – through your podcast series Let There Be Talk. And you recently interviewed Gary Holt of Exodus on your podcast. What was the most surprising thing you learned about him or Exodus during that interview?
Oh, he told a great story about Paul Baloff. When he left Exodus, Paul ended up moving to Monterrey and just being a sort of beach bum. He was building sand castles for tourists, I don’t know if it was for money or whatever, but tourists would be on the beach and he’d go, “[imitates Baloff screech] Let’s build you a sand castle!” It was an amazing story!
But the most surprising story [I learned] didn’t come from the interview [with Gary] – it came when I interviewed Kirk Hammett of Metallica. It was that Kirk taught Gary how to play guitar – he didn’t play guitar before Exodus. So basically Gary learned guitar and joined Exodus six months later, which is an incredible story I never knew [before talking to Kirk] …
Do you find it more intimidating to interview comedians or musicians?
I’ve never been intimidated by an interview. I’ve been a little blown away by who I’m sitting down talking to, but never intimidated because I’ve mostly only had people on the show that have inspired me in a way… Most of the people I have on the show I feel are similar to me, except for their fame – they love music, art, books, cars, architecture, or whatever. That’s what I love, to be able to sit down and just get the human out of them.
I [actually] never wanted to interview comics when I started because Marc Maron was doing that, and I respected what he was doing. I was like, “Why would I do a comedy podcast? Maron’s already doing that, and he’s crushing it!” So I’ve mostly only had comics on who’d been out their grinding [the scene] with me over the years or became great friends with me, but the idea was to just interview musicians who I’ve always loved.
Then the show evolved into “everything” – featuring people who’ve made stuff like guitars, motorcycles, denim, or anything like that. Now I look at the show as a “60 Minutes” type format where you never know who’s going to be on, but hopefully you dig it.
Do you have one particular interview you’ve done so far that you’re the proudest of?
People ask me that all the time … Of course, sitting down and talking to Paul Stanley – who with KISS was the reason I got into music – at his house for a couple of hours was just mind-boggling … You read so much stuff [about how] there’s probably going to be these rules on questions you can or can’t ask, and how he’s going to give you a quick 30 minutes. When I showed up, this guy was like a long-lost friend – he invited me into his studio, he played me a bunch of his solo record, he showed me his guitar amps and gear, and then gave me a solid two hours with NO rules or restrictions! And that guy doesn’t need to talk to me this far into his career! What’s it going to do for him? ZERO!
Kirk Hammett is right up there with interviewing Paul Stanley. We’re talking about a guy that I absolutely worship, but also grew up with and watched explode and become a star. He gave me three or four hours with zero restraints, and he was so laser-focused and into the interview – as if it was his first interview. And that’s another man that does not have to say shit – he’s done it all.
And I’ll tell you what – Gene Simmons gets a bad rap, and a lot of people talk shit about them. I went to see KISS two or three days before the virus [impacted the U.S. heavily], and his son Nick Simmons got me a pass backstage. I went backstage, and Gene – who once again this deep into his career could easily be long fucking gone at home – stayed two hours backstage, hanged out with us, told funny ass stories, took pictures and was just fucking gold!
I’ve met hundreds of people in the business over my life, and the ones you think are going to be cool aren’t [laughs]… But Gene was the coolest!
Do you recall one of the funny stories Gene shared that night?
I remember Nick told him, “Hey Dad, this is Dean! Remember? He’s the comedian we went to see at The Comedy Store!” With lightning speed, Gene goes, “And he wasn’t funny AT ALL!” [laughs] Then he got me in this headlock with his body armor on and shit [he wears onstage]. I was laughing so hard!
All I kept thinking was [when I saw KISS] back in ’79 on the Dynasty Tour, he was the God Of Thunder to me – this guy spit blood and fire, flew over the crowd – and there he was still doing it at his age now. To me, Gene was the fucking star of the show! Can you imagine being that age, and still spitting fire and blood? He could go, “Nah! I’m rich, you should’ve seen me in the 70s. I’m not spitting fire now!”
Did you realize that Gene was in the crowd during one of your shows at The Comedy Store in L.A.?
I did. Tons of celebrities come to The Comedy Store. The one that shocked me the most – I did a really good set, I was walking down the hall and these guys came up to me and said, “Hey man, Dr. Dre wants to meet you.” I was like, “What?!” He came out to the parking lot with a couple of body guards, and he gave me about 10 minutes of glory. I was like, “Holy shit! That’s fucking Dr. Dre right there! One of my favorites of ALL TIME!” It was insane!
Well now you have to get him on the podcast!
Oh believe me, I’ve been trying since the day that happened! That was two years ago [laughs].
I know you’ve had the chance to meet members of Exodus numerous times, but imagine you’re onstage doing a set when you suddenly notice the entire band is in the crowd watching. How would you react? Would you try to do crowd work and get them involved in the show somehow?
Nah, I’d stick to the set. Unless they want to be part of the set, celebrities who are in the crowd [attending the show] are there to just have fun. They’re on a “night off” and they want to see comedy. When I know people are in the crowd that I dig, I want them to dig what I do. Many people whose music I dig have seen me [perform], like Alice In Chains. They asked me to go on tour with them [after seeing me onstage]. Being on tour for like two weeks with them is like a dream for me! That probably wouldn’t have happened if I had just sat there doing crowd work on them. They’re not there for that!
You’ve not only gotten to open for bands doing standup, but have also jammed onstage with some big names like Nikki Sixx and Scott Ian. With that in mind, which do you find more challenging – playing music alongside names like those, or doing standup alongside friends and notable names in comedy?
Oh man, the comedy! With the music icons, we were doing an AC/DC and Bon Scott tribute show, so to me that’s just fun. But when you have a high-caliber comedian take you on the road, that’s a trust thing – that’s them trusting you to kick ass while opening up the show. To me, that’s WAY more nerve-wracking!
Almost every comedian I’ve talked to dreads performing standup as an opener for bands. So which scenario would you prefer: Doing standup as an opener for your favorite band, or headlining Carnegie Hall in front of the drunkest, rowdiest crowd on St. Patrick’s Day?
Oh, Carnegie Hall! At least they’re there for comedy. Here’s the thing, the #1 trick with opening for bands is you need to have the band announce [that a comedian is opening] on social media nonstop, then you need someone from the band to introduce you onstage. If they do that, then the crowd is into it. If they don’t do that, the crowd has no idea that the band chose you, so they’re out there like, “What is this bullshit?!”
I recently opened for Rival Sons, one of my favorite bands on the planet and it was an absolute honor to open for them at the Filmore in my hometown. I walked on and got a barrage of boos before I even started. I stayed in it and didn’t give a fuck, just kept going, and by the 10-minute mark I turned it around and won this entire room over and started to really kill. Nothing felt better then that in my entire career, being able to go, “Oh now I can perform in any scenario!”
Headshot of Dean Delray courtesy of Steve Rose
Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.