By Kathleen Gray
Detroit Free Press
LANSING, Mich. — What color is it?
That's the punch line of Dwayne Gill's favorite joke — one that had an audience cracking up during his recent stand-up comedy routine at DTE Energy Music Theater, where he opened for Motown diva Aretha Franklin.
We'll get to the setup later. But first things first: Dwayne Gill leads a double life.
His day job — as a sergeant and liaison to the Legislature for the Michigan State Police — overlaps beautifully with his nighttime gig as a stand-up comic.
He uses one to get material for the other, along with his family life and the oddities of everyday existence. And he uses his comic skills to break the ice when he testifies before the Legislature.
"I've got the two best jobs in the world," he said. "I get to make the Michigan State Police look good during the day, and I make people laugh at night."
Comedy came before law enforcement for Gill, 50, a Detroit native and now a Lansing resident. As a kid attending Mumford High School, Gill always wanted to be a singer, maybe one of the backup vocalists who was "making all the smooth moves in the background.
"But then I discovered I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. But I still wanted to get up on that stage."
He went right from high school into the Marines and ultimately became a recruiter for the military branch. To get to that spot, he had to go through recruiting school to learn the skills to persuade potential Marines into a life in the military. Humor became an essential tool.
After his time with the Marines was done, he went to an open mike night in Ann Arbor, "And I got laughs. They laughed, and I liked it and got hooked."
And so he became one of the estimated 7 million Americans, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, who have two jobs.
He needed a day job to provide security for his young, but growing family — he has been married for 25 years to Joan Gill, and they have three kids. So he became an Ann Arbor policeman and two years later, he began what has turned into a 21-year career with the MSP.
He worked as a trooper at posts in Ionia and Detroit, as an undercover narcotics officer, on the security detail for both Govs. John Engler and Jennifer Granholm, and as an investigator in the MSP's gaming division before finally landing the job in Lansing.
"Some of the legislators have seen my act and they'll say, 'Can you tell us one before we get started?' " Gill said. "It's a good icebreaker."
He doesn't joke about the brass at the MSP or higher-ups in government, "Because I value my job and retirement too much," he said.
Mostly it's about the speeders he has stopped -- the one who got the ticket when he didn't laugh as Gill tested some new material on him and the one who got off with a warning after saying he was speeding and didn't stop because his wife had left him for a state trooper and he was afraid that Gill was trying to bring her back -- or the types of investigations he has been involved with.
Which brings us back to the punch line. It comes after a joke about his first investigation in the rural community of Ionia.
"My first investigation was a stolen John Deere tractor. You should have seen the farmer when I asked, 'What color is it?' "After the laughs die down at the music theater, Gill added: "I had no idea what color it was -- we don't have any tractors driving down 8 Mile road."
Gill has parlayed his comedy into weekly gigs at comedy clubs, festivals and corporate events. He has honed his craft at the American Comedy Institute in New York and he is headed to Los Angeles next month for a comedy writing workshop. He'd love to start selling jokes to late-night talk show hosts, which can be worth up to $100 a pop. He has even thought about acting and writing a script or a book when he becomes eligible for retirement in the next few years.
But it will always come back to the performing.
"I'm just starting to figure out my voice. I can feel it starting to come out, but I can't be as honest as I want to be yet," he said, noting he has lingering post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Beirut with the Marines that might become fodder for future acts. "If I had my druthers, I'd just like to perform. It's like the endorphins and adrenaline. It's the best feeling in the world."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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