When Dylan Avila decided to take a swing at comedy, he didn’t realize comedy would take a swing at him. Literally. With a baseball bat.
About three years ago, the Skyway native was starting to find his groove at stand-up comedy after years of work. He was slowly building a reputation in the comedy world, being invited to perform sets across the country.
The stage on which he truly shined was at The Local 907, a Renton bar where Avila hosted open mic comedy nights.
Trouble came knocking in January 2015 when he found himself banning a man who claimed to be Jesus from the open mic. During the man’s set, he reportedly wielded a sex toy and made crude references, a big fuax pas at most open mics.
A few weeks later, as Avila was up on stage introducing a comedian, the man who was banned ran on stage and hit Dylan twice on the head with an aluminum baseball bat. Before the attacker got a third swing at him, nearly 20 comedians and audience members rushed on stage to subdue him.
Avila underwent brain surgery for the two skull fractures he sustained and had four stitches in his ear.
His story went viral. Outlets from across the country picked up the news. Comedians from all around the world reached out to Avila and donated funds to help with his medical expenses.
While the initial coverage was substantial, Avila’s life after the traumatic event remained untold.
A brain injury meant he had to recalibrate everything in his life — from adjusting to simple activities like walking a block to learning how to manage his temper around his three kids who were too little to understand what was happening with dad.
For the next couple of years, the real battle ensued as Avila learned to adapt to a new normal while refusing to stay away from his love of comedy.
On Jan. 6, three years after the attack, Avila found himself on the small Jewelbox Theater stage at Seattle’s The Rendezvous, facing a crowd of eager audience members, retelling the story that changed the course of his entire life.
My Turn at the Bat is Avila’s comeback show. Unlike most traditional stand-up sets, it is a primarily a storytelling event. Avila takes the audience through a journey of his life: from his childhood and the birth of his comedic profession, to the fateful night of the attack and the long road of recovery that followed. True to its namesake, the show is Avila’s attempt to swing back and show that nothing — not even a sex-toy wielding Jesus impersonator with a baseball bat — can keep him down.
Avila started working on the show about a year and a half ago. The process came with its own challenges. For one, an 80 minute show required quite a bit of stamina — stamina he couldn’t muster post-brain injury. He strategically sits for the first half of the show, until the intensity picks up to the point where he needs to use his body to convey the gravity of the narrative.
The process of creating the show has been a cathartic one.
“It’s a hard story to tell,” he said. “Even before the injury I was always processing my life [through writing comedy]. [Writing this show] was very healing.”
Avila’s storytelling mastery shine through as he weaves the dark, difficult subject matter with light, comedic flourishes. Crafting those deliberate moments — where the heaviness of a story is met with sharp humor — seems to be what brings Avila the most joy.
“There’s a lot of truth behind a joke,” he said. “My friend always said don’t let the truth get in the way of a good joke. I always find the authenticity of the truth is what I love. It’s fun to make people laugh at the absurdities of life.”
Arguably, the true star of the show isn’t even on stage. It’s Dylan’s wife Kali.
The show recounts how the two met, broke up, got back together, and how he’s learned that she makes him a better man. The attack had changed her, as much as it changed him.
“Our relationship is where the whole story stems around,” he said. “Yes, it is a story about me being attacked. But the real story is the love that kept me alive.”
Kali was the force that held the family together and was the one constant Avila could depend on as he recovered from the injury. His affection for her was obvious. Each time he mentioned her, both during the show and our interview, he teared up.
“It’s hard not to get emotional,” he said. “You see me get chocked up in the show. It’s all real. I say in the show I’m a better show with her than without her. I think every single one of her friends would say the same. She’s the person everyone comes to advice, guidance for help and she’s always the first one to be helpful. She’s overly generous and always there to fight for good.”
Since the comeback show, Avila’s eyes are scanning the seemingly fruitful horizon for what’s next. He’s hoping to shop to show around and continue to tell the story that changed everything.
“It really is a life-changing thing,” he said. “It changed my life physically, it changed my life comedically, it changed my life emotionally, every which way it possibly can. For it to change other people’s life, it’s pretty powerful. It’s only been one show so far, but to hear that reaction from everyone who’s talked to me so far, it makes me feel like the goal was accomplished.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Renton Reporter.