Daytonian of the Week: Meet the godfather of Dayton comedy

Almost every comedian who has ever performed in Dayton knows about Cal Westray.

He’s not a comedian, but he attends as many comedy shows in the Dayton area as he can. When most comedians see him at Wiley’s Sunday Open Mic comics, they breathe a little easier knowing that he’s is in the crowd. And why is that? Because he is the Godfather of Dayton comedy.

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Westray was born in Trotwood, lived in Fairborn, moved back to Dayton, out to Xenia and he now resides in Jamestown. Westray found an interest in comedy after he retired from DHL in 2009. He was a computer programmer and systems analyst.

As a comedian, I can attest that Westray was always a champion for any comics who told jokes on stage. He sits at his special seat at Wiley’s, laughs and passes out key chains. So who is this Godfather of Dayton Comedy?

Meet Cal Westray, our Daytonian of the Week.

What is your favorite thing about the Dayton comedy community? 

It is a friendly, supporting, and welcoming comedy community. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there is a wealth of comedic talent in the Dayton area. I’ve seen hundreds of people who have gone up on stage for the first time and marvel over the years on how they improve each time they get up there. It’s like watching them grow and develop over time, and that’s amazing!

Dayton is visited by lots of comedians from other cities, and I’m sure they feel welcomed and appreciated whenever they are here. People come from other cities just to participate in an open mic here, and they are hits here, too! They know Dayton is the place for good comedy. Famous people made their start in the Dayton area and come back, because they know they are loved here. Dave Chappelle is just one example of giving back to Dayton. Dayton Strong isn’t just a slogan; it’s a reality and a way of life.

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Describe your first trip to Wiley’s Comedy Club. 

I was always a comedy fan, since I was a lad. I had a stack of records I listened to on my record player. I listened to anything I could find on the radio. I guess that is why I enjoyed radio shows like Bob and Tom.

Real life tends to be a drag at times and like everyone else, I needed an outlet and hobby. When our girls were growing up, I didn’t get out much, but there was so many of the old greats I wanted to see.

It was Feb. 18, 2010 when I HAD to get out. I’d known about Wiley’s from the radio and hoped to see some of the current greats. A favorite of mine was appearing there, Pat Godwin, and I went by myself. I had a blast. And I got to hang with him a bit after the show.

A later time, I remember clearly when Pat returned, I drank a lot of Doctor Pepper (before I stopped drinking soda) and during the set, in the middle of a joke, I belched (I couldn’t stop it) loudly. The acoustics were perfect in the room and it reverberated loudly. He stopped and looked my way. “Was that you, Cal?” Man, I was embarrassed. But I always had a fun time at the club!

What got me hooked, was going to the Victoria Theatre to see the Bob and Tom Show tour. So many people to see and I had a great time. I got to see all the people I only heard on the radio.

You were roasted two years ago. Describe how you felt when you found out about the roast and what was that experience like? 

I thought that they were kidding about it at first and knew that everyone needed an outlet for an event. I was proud to be the reason for the event.

Everyone took it easy on me, and I took it easy as well. I couldn’t think of anything to say. It gave them the opportunity to roast each other, and they all enjoyed it. I had a wonderful time! The key to it is not take anything personally. I enjoy being compared to the guy from Jurassic Park and other old guy celebrities.

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Do you still give out bottle openers? What’s the story there? 

Ah, that all began when a touring comedian came to Wiley’s, July 2012. Dave Williamson sold “merch” and one of the items was a men’s ring bottle opener. I ‘had’ to buy one. And, I had to share them. I looked on Ebay and found some suppliers. I got a bunch of them and handed them out. The ring sizes were random, and they didn’t always fit, so I needed an alternative option. I’m old school and remember skeleton keys. I found suppliers of bottle opener ‘keys’ and started getting them to hand out.

It became my retirement hobby. It was my way of welcoming touring comedians and friends to the Dayton comedy community (family). Before long, it became part of the experience of welcoming first timers at the open mic. I kept notes and realized I handed out over 100 rings and over 2,000 keys. It’s insane but fun!

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Besides comedy, what else do you love about Dayton? 

Dayton is a caring, generous, and compassionate city. I’m proud to be part of that community. I enjoyed being there in the Oregon District during the Dayton Strong event. Big things can happen here!

Dayton has great and reliable TV and radio stations; for news, weather, traffic, and entertainment. And they care about the city they serve.

There is lots to do in Dayton: sports, theater, movies, shopping and dining. We enjoy everything Dayton has to offer. We live in the country, but Dayton is the place to go to!

Do you ever want to get on stage yourself? 

I never planned to ever get up on stage. It terrified me, just the thought of it. I like telling stories about the strange things I witness in real life. I finally planned to go up, Mike Canestaro encouraged it and recorded the set for me. It was June 9, 2013 and I brought the family to the open mic. I was still terrified, waiting in the wings, until I stepped on stage. Under the lights, I looked around and all that terror and anxiety faded away. It was weird! I felt ‘at home’.

It went great! And I finally felt and understood for the first time, what it was like for others to be up there and feel the love from the crowd. I ‘get’ it! I’ve been on stage eight times and I try not to go up unless I have new stories to tell.

What advice can you give to anyone who wants to try stand-up? 

The same advice that Karen Jaffe gives before every open mic. Stay and pay attention to everyone else. You can learn from everyone going up on stage, good or bad. Don’t repeat other’s material; do your own. Have a good time. Pay attention to the light and the time, the light reminds you to wrap it up in the next minute. It’s better to go under your time than over it. And I can’t repeat one of the other gems, but it’s simply, tell your best jokes.

Occasionally, I get contacted by people who are interested in going up and they ask me for advice. I suggest they simply have a fun time with it and be funny. Be respectful of the audience, the other performers, the club, and the staff. There are some who try to offend as many people in the audience as possible, but I would suggest not to, if you want to be allowed back.

They should practice a run through with their material to time it. If you are scheduled 5-6 minutes, try hard to not go over that time in practice. Don’t keep talking just to ramble on and fill the time, or you will go over your time. They should learn how to use the microphone properly and proper placement of the stand. Keep organized and on track. Take notes. This and more are things that people learn over time.

Why is laughter so important? 

The old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine” is pretty accurate. There are times when everyone needs to laugh. They may not feel that they’ll ever have a reason to laugh. Or that things are so bad, they’ll never find anything funny again. But we all need that spark. That feeling that hits us when we can’t help but laugh. Many comedians tell their own stories about how rough things are for them and comedy becomes their therapy. And that’s legitimate! Some people go on stage because it’s something they need, to find humor in life and share with others. Yes, they bring joy to others in the process.

It reminds me of the ending in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, where everyone is in the hospital, in body casts and in horrible shape. Everyone is miserable and in despair because of the circumstance that brought them to the place they were. Ethel Merman comes charging in to yell at them, she slips and falls on a banana peel. And everyone breaks out laughing. Even in the worst situation, we can find humor. With everything that has happened in Dayton, we NEED humor.

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