By JANELLE FAIGNANT
Two years ago, actor Rusty DeWees was onstage with musician Patrick Ross, singing and improvising lines, the way DeWees does, when Ross suddenly jumped on a line and interrupted him.
“I chimed in (with) ‘Hey Russ, this is what the guy meant by that line,’” Ross said.
It was an unanticipated, unscripted moment, “and he rolled with it,” Ross said. “It turned out to be this funny interaction. That was a turning point.”
DeWees, 56, has been performing his well-known one-man show “The Logger” for 20 years now. Rife with funny observations about everyday Vermont life and off-the-cuff riffs with the audience, he teamed up with Ross, a renowned Vermont fiddler, a few years ago, and a musical comedy act evolved.
Ross tested the waters, playing into DeWees’ talent for improvising, and said, “That little incident where I spoke up, Rusty elaborated on.”
At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, DeWees will headline the Paramount Theatre’s “BrewHaHa,” joined by Ross. Vermont favorites Bitsy Biron and Annie Russell are the opening comedians for the popular night when the Paramount stage is transformed into a comedy club.
“When I started, it was like theater,” DeWees said recently. His two-act show had an arc in which he portrayed characters through Vermonty stories. Today, “There’s plenty of the old Vermont stuff which the Logger was born of,” DeWees said. “But you’ll hear more jokes instead of those 10-minute stories about the one-legged dog.
“But,” he clarified, “I am not a standup comic. My background is theater. I don’t use a mike. I project, I move around. I have the house up to about 70 percent house lights so I can see the audience and we get a dialogue going. The community gets to know someone sitting there, and (there’s) not a wall between you and the people.”
After a few years on stage together, Ross, 35, said, “I have a better idea of what he expects, and that lends itself to some really fun moments. Rusty is a comedian and I’m a musician, but there’s a spot where it overlaps.”
DeWees has written some “rat-pack-type music, talking and being funny with him,” and said, “What people will see at this ‘BrewHaHa’ will be mostly new music and new comedy.”
“We put our own twist on songs,” Ross said. “Russ will write comedy based on the lines in a song.”
DeWees might sing the line, “Ain’t no woman gonna ever tie me down,” from the Merle Haggard song “Ramblin’ Fever.” But he interrupts himself with, “Well, there was this one time, where I actually considered letting this woman tie me down,” and tells a story about meeting some women who worked at Hooters, but in fact were the cooks.
“It’s things like that where the music can be a launching pad for the comedy,” Ross said.
“It’s a lot of comedy, but it’s also really good music,” DeWees said, and noted that Ross will play the fiddle, the cello, the mandolin, the banjo, the guitar, and DeWees will play the guitar and the drums.
“He’s wildly popular,” Paramount Programming Director Eric Mallette said. “Rusty connects on a personal level because he’s using regional humor.”
“It’s about Vermont, Vermont, Vermont,” DeWees said. “And the people. The jokes and the music are (a) by-product of the relationship between myself and the people who come, and our state.”
“BrewHaHa” features comedian Rusty DeWees with fiddler Patrick Ross at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, at the Paramount Theatre, 30 Center Street in Rutland. Tickets are $44 (including four 4 oz. local beer samples and a souvenir pint glass); seating is limited; call 802-775-0570, or go online to www.paramountvt.org.