Cruisin’ with Comedy

Rockin’ & Ridin’ with Stevie D.

This week comedian and author of The Trans Am Diaries, Stevie D., took me on a “virtual” cruise through Hollywood (in his decked-out, electric blue Trans Am).

As we traveled along the Sunset Strip, Stevie pointed to the world-famous Laugh Factory and said, “I decided early on that I would know I had made it in comedy, or at least made it to the big leagues, if I could get my name on [that] marquee…”

Well, not only did Stevie’s name appear on the Sunset Strip’s Laugh Factory marquee but “after more than a decade performing in the world’s most famous comedy clubs, Stevie executive produced and starred in Rockstars of Comedy, a live concert film starring some of the most recognizable comics in the business, including Whitney Cummings (NBC’s, Whitney) and Steve Byrne (TBS’s, Sullivan and Son).

“I wanted Rockstars of Comedy to have the look and feel of one of those concert videos from the ’80s, except with comedy rockin’ the stage instead of music. I always loved Bon Jovi’s, You Give Love a Bad Name video. The close-ups of the fans in the front row, and especially the camera shot sweeping over the crowd. I found out the piece of equipment (jib) used to create that effect is very expensive, but I got it! As we were doing a run-through, the fire marshal came in and said we weren’t allowed to use the jib without a special permit. He threatened that if he came back and we were still using it, he would shut down production. After he left, the director asked me what I wanted to do, I said, I need that shot, and I got it! Luckily, the fire marshal didn’t return and the rest is comedy rock history!”

The promotional video for Rockstars of Comedy is included at the bottom of this post. As Stevie says, “it is much more than a comedy performance; it’s about attitude and lifestyle. The comics I picked were all headliners and friends I had worked with, whom I knew could bring the swagger that I wanted.”

In addition to being an award-winning author, Stevie is a self-proclaimed “funny guy, producer, fitness guru, and hillbilly genius.”  You may recognize Stevie from one of his comedy shows.  Or, perhaps you’ve heard him speak on any number of podcasts, including, Dr. Drew’s.  Maybe, you witnessed him introduce Chris Rock as the “VOICE OF OUR GENERATION” at the Laugh Factory for a 60 minutes story.  Or, if you’re old school like me; you might have even caught the “D-man” Djing, break dancing, or busting his signature moves on the dance floor.

Not only does Stevie use his comedic talent to take readers through his difficult and scary journey with prostate cancer, but his book touches on universal themes ranging from dating advice to domestic violence and childhood trauma to childhood shenanigans. 

I first read The Trans Am Diaries in 2015 as I was recovering from a craniotomy that removed a malignant tumor from my brain. When I created my blog a few years ago, I just knew I had to add Stevie’s book to the suggested reading section where I share resources and so forth for other brain tumor survivors and their caregivers.  Now, you may be wondering, how in the world can a book that tackled prostate cancer help people with primary brain tumors and brain cancer?  Well, although they are two very different types of primary cancer, I was on a quest to read anything I could find that would help me to understand and better cope with my diagnosis.  Although a parental advisory is quite possibly warranted, his book is incredibly funny in some parts and equally thoughtful and inspirational in others.  I specifically enjoyed Stevie’s “stream of consciousness” style of writing although as he says, “in Hillbilly Ebonics, the stream is more like a muddy creek.”

At one point in The Trans Am Diaries, Stevie mused; “I never used to think I would ever try writing a book. I was having too much fun in Hollywood, rockin’ the stage and causing mayhem on the Sunset Strip. Then one day, I got the news that I had cancer.  Of course, now I had no choice but to write a book.  If my life wasn’t over literally, I thought it would be over figuratively. Who wants to hang out with someone who’s sick and depressed?  If I was going to survive, I knew I had to stay busy and maintain a sense of humor, so that’s what I did, thanks to some great friends, my wife, and my incredible kids. If it had not been for the people who helped me get through the scariest time of my life, I don’t know what I would have done. I believe laughter is the best medicine.” To which he later added, “moonshine is a close second.” “Wink.”

“If I was going to survive, I knew I had to stay busy and maintain a sense of humor, so that’s what I did…”

Wendy:  Hi Stevie.  Welcome to my blog.  Are you ready to rock?  Since as you say, your “native language is Hillbilly Ebonics,” what’s the best way to welcome you in hillbilly talk?

Stevie: Well, in my new upcoming book, the introduction is titled “Hey y’all!”  It’s an endearing Southern greeting that I’ve always enjoyed. But since it’s just the two of us, you can just say Hey Stevie!  Can I buy you a Heineken? That works too. Lol.

Wendy:  Ha, ha. In that case… Hey Stevie, can I buy you a Heineken? And, after you’ve enjoyed a few swigs, can you please share a synopsis of the journey you wrote about in your memoir?  

Stevie: In a nutshell, I was born poor white trash (I use the term affectionately), I always dreamed of entertaining people. As a child, my sisters, single mom, and I would gather around the TV watching sitcoms and variety shows of the ’70s. I loved it! I was obsessed with the magic of television and how it brought people together. Two weeks after graduating high school, I skipped on plans to attend Western Kentucky University and headed down South to Panama City Beach, Florida. After spending four wild years there, I headed to Hollywood where I’ve spent twenty plus years as a comedian and wild man about town. My book is about my crazy adventures and was inspired by my diagnosis of prostate cancer. Ironically, my first book signing was at Western Kentucky University, where I apologized for being late for class.

Wendy:  Oh, I bet the administrators at Western Kentucky University must have loved that! How are you doing now?  

Stevie: I’m doing great! Still exercising and eating mostly healthy. I told my son, as long he lives under my roof, I will be stronger than him. He weighs about 105 lbs. now and you want to hear something pathetic? I still carry him and my daughter to bed every night. Because once you stop, it’s forever! 

On the other hand, my mother-in-law is really starting to worry about me. She was visiting recently and as I stumbled past her carrying my giant eleven-year-old, she said, “Steve, I know the name of a good therapist.” Maybe she has a point. As I said in my book, ‘I always felt the need to be wanted. From my days as a lonely kid watching other kids play with their dads, I wanted that so badly that I think I overcompensated by striving for attention. I always thought once I was famous I would be truly happy and feel validated. Going through cancer has really made me realize that the only thing that matters in life is family. Period!’  I have tasted a little success, but the joy of that success doesn’t even come close to the joy in my heart I get when one of my kiddos says, “Daddy, I love you.”

“Going through cancer has really made me realize that the only thing that matters in life is family. Period!”

Wendy: Awe, that is so sweet! Now, for the record, can you please tell us city folk what the heck a “Redneck Riviera” is?

Stevie: The “Redneck Riviera” is the nickname for Panama City Beach.

Wendy:  Okay, gotcha. What about Uncle Harley? Who is he and how did you end up living with him?

Stevie: Uncle Harley was my dad’s brother. He had a wild past that landed him in prison. When my dad died, It was just the two of us living together, so Uncle Harley became my legal guardian temporarily. I was only fifteen at the time.

Wendy: Oh wow! And, who was Uncle Ricky?  Can you please share a glimpse of the two-way mirror story from the time he took you to Anderson’s department store?

Stevie: Ha, ha. people love stories of Uncle Ricky! I have another chapter about him in my new book. Uncle Ricky was somewhat of a legend in my hometown. He was only seven years older than me, so there were many times he would have to watch me while my mom worked. Sometimes he would pick me up in one of his self-proclaimed “classic” cars and we would head out to the country. These excursions usually included loaded guns, a case of beer, and a couple of “hippy cigarettes” as my papaw called them.

One afternoon instead of taking me to see the Disney movie that he was supposed to, he took me to see Cheech n Chong’s, Up in Smoke! I loved it! After the movie, we walked over to Anderson’s department store where my mamaw (his mom) worked. The store had a smoking lounge that had a large glass window that looked down on the shoppers below. Well, Uncle Ricky convinced me that it was a two-way mirror and the shoppers below couldn’t see us. He then encouraged me to make certain gestures at the shoppers. After flying the free bird at the shoppers to Uncle Ricky’s delight, I noticed a few shoppers, and then a few more stop, look up and point in my direction horrified. Long story short, that was last time Uncle Ricky was allowed to take me to this particular department store.  

Wendy:  So funny! Sounds like the two of you really put the “S” in “shenanigans.”

You had an experience that basically changed the course of your life when you were 17 and went to Panama City with a friend and his parents.  Can you tell us about that?

Stevie: Well, growing up with a single mom on food stamps, needless to say, we never went on vacations. When I was in high school a friend’s parents invited me to go on spring break with them. It was to Panama City Beach (PCB), and I was mesmerized. The oceans, the vibe, the bikinis, and a night club where all the magic happened called Spinnaker!  When I returned to Kentucky, I told anyone who would listen for the next year-and-a-half that when I graduated, I was going to move to PCB and become a Dj at Spinnaker. Which I did. Too bad I didn’t visit the White House.

Wendy: I can see what you’re implying but I’ll just leave the White House comment alone. Personally, I think you were better off dreaming of Spinnaker.

On another note, you have a knack for acronyms. We’re going to speak in code for a moment.  The following two questions are for those who have read or those who are planning to read your book:   

  1. Is your mom still with SFB?
  2. What did the experience with Dr. BSM teach you?

Stevie: 1. SFB recently passed away. It’s so nice to talk to my mom now that she doesn’t sound like a hostage. 2. My experience with Dr. BSM taught me to trust my instincts.

“My experience with Dr. BSM taught me to trust my instincts.”

Wendy:  Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for brain cancer.  Is it the same with prostate cancer?  Are you considered cured or cancer-free since it’s been more than five years?

Stevie: There is not a cure for prostate cancer, but just like any cancer, early detection is vital. Get those checkups!  I never say I’m cancer-free. Cancer is a sneaky bastard. You never know what’s lurking in your body. I just try to stay as healthy as possible and live my life in gratitude and good humor.

“Cancer is a sneaky bastard. You never know what’s lurking in your body. I just try to stay as healthy as possible and live my life in gratitude and good humor.”

Wendy: At one point in your recovery, you spoke about using duct tape to fix anything.  It reminded me of the references to Windex used in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  What are some examples of things you have used duct tape to fix?

Stevie: I put the invention of duct tape right up the with the wheel and the computer!  During my recovery, we had a massive rainstorm in Los Angeles. There was a flood outside of our front door. I was in no condition to go outside and bail water, so I sealed the door shut with duct tape. 

Also, a few years ago my family was in Sequoia National Park hiking and the sole came off my wife’s boot!  We were in the middle of the forest and there wasn’t exactly a North Face store nearby, but guess who had a roll of duct tape to save the day? Happy trails!

Wendy: Ha, ha. Sounds like you take duct tape with you pretty much everywhere you go.

One of my favorite stories from your book had to do with your friend Anita and her husband Phil Collen of Def Leppard.  Can you share some of that story here? The awkwardness you spoke about actually reminded me of how I felt the time my husband and I (and a small group of our friends) ended up backstage at a Jane’s Addiction concert a few decades ago.

Stevie:  Ha, Ha. I recently told that story on a Zoom author’s talk. Well, I had a friend that was married to the lead guitarist of Def Leppard. I would always tease her to hook me up when they were in town. One day I see her and she says, hey, the band is in town and they have an event this afternoon, do I want to come? Well, of course, I did except, it wasn’t a concert, it was for their induction into the Rock Walk of fame (naturally, I walked out and stood in front of the paparazzi with them). As Brian May of Queen was introducing the band with his speech, I had a feeling he kept thinking, ‘I don’t remember a hillbilly being in the band.’  

Wendy: Yes! I Love it!

Since you were only in your 40’s when you were diagnosed and the average age for a prostate cancer diagnosis is 72, it’s no wonder you were beside yourself.  You wrote; “Prostate cancer? Isn’t that an old man’s disease? I have a clean diet. I’m the healthiest person I know! I’ve exercised for over 20 years!”

I know you have done some work to raise awareness for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.  Have you become the face of prostate cancer?  How did you overcome the shame you originally felt? 

Stevie: I would say it was more shock than shame. There is a stigma attached to prostate cancer that comes from men’s pride. Where some people may feel embarrassed about discussing something so personal, I feel compelled to share it with the world. Especially,  if it gets a laugh. I don’t know if I’m the face of prostate cancer but they did use my face in Time’s Square. Although that could’ve been to control the rodent population.

Wendy: What? You have a great face! Besides, I can think of a few other faces they could’ve used if the purpose was to control the rodent population.

Here’s another part of your story that got me laughing out loud; “As I sit in the waiting room, I start to thumb through my folder and all the notes I’ve taken since this all began.  I have names and numbers scribbled all over the place.  I glance down at the bottom of a page and see the words ‘E-Z Glide!’ Huh?  Oh, no!  I’ve been inundated with so much information; I can’t keep it all straight!  What is E-Z Glide? Please don’t tell me it’s some butt lube? Was this product recommended for one of my procedures? I start to panic when I suddenly remember! We have a broken sliding closet door in our bedroom, and this was a number to a closet repair store I was given! (Note to self—pay more attention where I write notes.)”

My husband does the same thing so I found that part particularly hilarious. Have you learned your lesson?

Stevie: Lesson I’ve learned, don’t use closet repair people to work on your butt!

Wendy:  Ouch! What are some of the other lessons you have learned from cancer?

Stevie:  Live everyday like the rockstar that you are! I don’t know what God’s plan is for me, but there isn’t time to be bitter or feel sorry for myself about anything. Just keep getting back up and rockin’!

“Live everyday like the rockstar that you are!”

Wendy:   That’s awesome! Is there anything else would you would like the readers of this post to know? What advice do you have for someone newly diagnosed with cancer?

Stevie: My advice would be, don’t freak out, and don’t tell too many people at first because they might freak out, which could freak you out! My brain is constantly on overdrive. There are some days, I make a Wall Street trader look like he’s meditating! I now make it a point every day to do one very important thing—breathe.

“I now make it a point every day to do one very important thing—breathe.”

Wendy:  You have a new book coming out this summer.  What can you tell us about that?

Stevie: Although I will always be an advocate for good health, the next book is all comedy, no cancer. I love it when someone tells me about how hard they laughed reading The Trans Am Diaries. One guy told me he was on a plane reading, and laughing so hard that the man in the seat in front of him kept getting mad because he was shaking his seat. This fuels my fire! I spent four years fine-tuning this new book. Every time I would do a read through, I would get caught adding lines to make it even funnier. Being a perfectionist is exhausting!

Wendy: Congratulations on the new book, Stevie! From one perfectionist to another, I totally agree with the statement that being a perfectionist is exhausting! I can’t wait for your new book to come out. I know it will be published by Headline Books and available for pre-order soon.

***The Rockstars of Comedy promotional video is below***

Parental Advisory: this video may not be appropriate for children.

“Don’t need no guitar, don’t need no band, I rock the stage with just this mic in my hand.” —lyrics from Rockstars of Comedy theme song.

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