Whiskey Bear founder works to build the Columbus comedy scene

An unexpected pivotal moment in the life of comedian Dustin Meadows took place during a bus trip to a national 4-H conference when, in a “Garden State headphones moment,” a girl on the bus asked Meadows if he'd ever heard of Minor Threat.

From that instant “punk rock became very much a cornerstone in my interest and my approach to things,” said Meadows, who grew up in rural Cardington, Ohio, near Marion. And that ethos extends to his current craft.

“Everything that I've done in comedy comes from punk rock, that DIY mentality. There's also a sense of community,” said Meadows. “That's why I tried to build these shows.”

In his seven-plus years in standup, Meadows developed a voice steeped in pop culture and self-deprecation, sometimes dark, always honest. And in recent years, he's been producing shows in Columbus and beyond under the banner of Whiskey Bear Comedy.

“Whiskey Bear was started entirely because I was producing the shows, and people know who Dustin Meadows is but, on the whole … nobody knows who Dustin Meadows is,” he said.

Most of Whiskey Bear's recurrent shows are born out of pop culture (which was Meadows' field of study in college). There's the Pop Culture Mixtape show, where comics perform sketches and other works based on a pop culture theme, such as “Star Wars” (only rule: no traditional standup).

Then there is the series of “character roasts” in which comics do an “old-timey Friars' Club roast” for fictional figures (usually performed in the guise of another fictional character). Themes have included “Game of Thrones,” Spider-Man, Disney villains and more.

“People know who those characters are. Those jokes are going to work because of the familiarity with those characters,” said Meadows. “And I like doing those because it's easy to be shitty about a fictional character. I don't feel good roasting my friends. I like my friends. I want them to stay my friends.”

“The pop culture thing, that's kind of panned out,” Meadows added with a laugh. “I'm just trying to tie all the things that I love into a way that I can monetize it somehow, basically.”

Meadows' DIY aesthetic and Columbus' limited number of dedicated standup comedy outlets has also led to a love of alternative venues. “It's why we've got shows in craft shops and bakeries and record stores and tattoo parlors and pizza attics,” he said.

And the overarching goal of these efforts is the Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival, a multi-venue festival dedicated to comedy that will be returning for a third year in 2018.

“There are plenty of other festivals [in Columbus],” Meadows said, “but nothing like that has existed consistently for comedy for the most part.”

Meadows isn't appearing in our People to Watch issue just because he's really funny and talented (though he is, and you should see him). It's because he saw something missing in our local comedy scene, so he started building it.

“People complain about there not being shows, about not being stage time, about nobody taking comedy seriously, I was like, ‘OK, instead of bitching [and] writing blogs about it, fucking do something about it,'” Meadows said. “And people are doing something about it. And that's all I wanted. And it's happening.”