Dylan Avila’s My Turn at Bat is a special, life-changing comedy show
On Saturday night, a few dozen people crammed into the tiny space in the Rendezvous to hear local comedian Dylan Avila perform his extended “My Turn at Bat.” Avila has a remarkable story to tell, about being attacked with a baseball bat at an open mic he was hosting in Renton in early 2015. Three years and a day from the incident, which made local and international news, Avila is on a stage recounting what happened, and it was extraordinary.
When I left the Rendezvous, I tweeted that it was the best comedy show I’ve ever seen, and I want to use this space to explain why because it becomes more remarkable in my mind as I process it.
First, it should be noted that this was not the first time Avila was telling jokes to an audience about the incident. This short documentary captures Avila being invited before comedian Craig Gass’s shows at the Neptune an amazing 11 days after being attacked.
I have an allergy to stories that are emotionally manipulative. Whenever I watch “Chopped,” my arm makes an involuntary jerk-off motion when a chef transparently appeals to judges for sympathy by invoking dead relatives. (“My grandma always served us dry turkey, so my overcooking the protein was an homage to her, because we lost her seventeen years ago, at the age of 111.”) “My Turn at Bat,” was absorbing, but never ventured anywhere near pathos, even though Avila has every right to employ it.
The night began with a short introduction from Avila’s friend, comedian Amani Taylor, who set the tone early with a joke about how he was a few years younger, so he was the bat boy on Avila’s Little League team. “My job was to give a helmet and bat to Dylan… If only I hadn’t retired.”
When Avila came out, he told us his story of growing up poor, with ill-equipped parents, in the Skyway neighborhood of Seattle. Late in the show, for example, he tells us (when contrasting himself as a parent to his parents), “I went to jail before I went to Disneyland.” It’s a great line, but it wasn’t told as an appeal to sympathy.
The whole night was a celebration of Avila’s life and a thank you to his family, and how he got to where he was. Each time he mentioned his wife Kalimar, or his three children, he’d become visibly emotional and pause, aware that meeting his wife and her marrying him was the best thing to happen in his life. “She wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to be a rapper,” he says of their disparate career aspirations, to huge applause. I’m struck throughout how it’s his love of his family, friends, and the larger comedy community that propels this story, not a hatred of his attacker (which, again, would be completely justified and understandable). I can’t remember a time where I thought dick and fart jokes came from such a place of love.
When the story comes to the fateful night of his attack, his gift for storytelling most clearly comes through. He sets up the story of noting that his attacker has been to the open mic in Renton a few times before and had been atrocious and alienating to their entire crowd, claiming to be Jesus Christ and accentuating his set with a bible and two-ended sex toy (“The kind of dildo you throw at your friend if you’re at a bachelor party, or throw to your friend if he’s drowning”). Avila said he learned later that he had been banned from other open mics. The unique perspective of the terrible situation, combined with Avila’s self-effacing humor and recollection of the details make it, for me, the most compelling part of a pretty remarkable show. When he showed photos on the screen behind him of the scar on his head, I think the entire audience moved from sympathy to empathy because the unexpected nature of the attack collectively hit us that it could be something that strikes anyone.
A lot of the show has been running through my mind since I walked out of the Rendezvous Saturday night, but what I think about most is about how hopeful and optimistic it is. Being able to tell this story over the course of an hour-long comedy show is physically impressive. I can’t imagine the rehab it took to even be able to live a functional life after the attack was easy, and any appeal to sympathy would be expected and not out-of-place, but that’s not what I saw in this show (though there is clearly a lot to sympathize with). It was a great and special night because Avila detailed his journey in a way that made us laugh and feel empathy in a way that I haven’t seen coming from this medium. There was also an incredibly timely reminder that Jeff Sessions is a monstrous asshole that should be nowhere near levers of power.
The last time a comedy set resonated with me so much was when I saw local treasure Emmett Montgomery open the last “Seattle Process with Brett Hamil” show at the Northwest Film Forum with a story about King County’s Indigent Remains Program, which provides a funeral for people who can’t afford one, or don’t have a family that can be located. I didn’t even know such a program existed. It was just a few minute set, but, like “My Turn at Bat,” it had a change on my thinking going forward, and both were more about humanity than humor (though there were plenty of laughs, of course).
When I walked home to Lower Queen Anne from Belltown on Saturday night, all those things were running through my head, plus taking stock of my own mortality and support structure, but what most struck me was how Dylan Avila’s “My Turn at Bat” wasn’t just some great jokes with an inspirational story (not that there’s anything wrong with that, obvs), but that it was told with such grace and humor. It was an evening I couldn’t forget, even if I wanted to. Plus, I laughed. A lot.
*One more thing: Journal of Precipitation is a new, Seattle-area arts and/or culture website that is dedicated to exploring the Pacific Northwest outside of the “usual places” and the cultural zeitgeist. We believe in compensating all of our contributors (even though it is probably modest, compared to larger websites and magazines). If you value what we’re doing, please consider contributing to our Patreon, and allow us to continue to grow and provide coverage of our community.