The first joke is always free at Dynamite Dave’s comedy desk.
Dave “Dynamite” Hendrickson is a familiar face to Madison residents, as he frequently sets up shop in front of Elizabeth Link Peace Park on the 400 block of State Street to tell jokes to passersby. Why? Just to see them smile, he says.
The adopted son of a preacher, Hendrickson often wears black pants, a white button-down dress shirt and one or more rosaries around his neck. By looking at him, one might not guess Hendrickson is homeless.
“Everything you see, everything on my body was given to me, either from telling jokes or from God,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson feeds himself with the money he collects from telling jokes. He accepts only what his customers find his jokes to be worth, which can vary dramatically from day to day.
“One day I sat here seven hours and I did not put any food in my pocket, if you follow what I’m trying to say,” Hendrickson said. “But in seven hours I talked to several people like yourself. I didn’t feed myself, but truthfully that was the best day I ever had.”
Midway through our interview, a Subway employee approached Hendrickson and set a sandwich at his side, the sort of act Hendrickson said he depends upon to survive.
As a recovering alcoholic and a self-proclaimed “walking miracle,” Hendrickson is grateful for any and all generosities that come his way.
One year ago, Hendrickson approximates he was drinking a quart of vodka a day. He was hospitalized on several occasions and was a frequent visitor to detox.
Then, during the first week in November last year, something changed.
“God cut vodka off,” Hendrickson said. “I had plenty of money in my pocket, the liquor store was still there and, truthfully, I was mad.”
A few weeks later, Hendrickson reluctantly boarded a Badger Bus headed toward Milwaukee and a treatment center that awaited him there, where he was put to work and unable to indulge in alcohol.
“The 90 days I spent in that treatment center were truthfully the worst 90 days of life,” Hendrickson said. “But if it wasn’t for the treatment center I wouldn’t be breathing or talking to you right now. I’d be dead. Or drunk. But if I was drunk I might as well be dead.”
Hendrickson credits God for his stretch of continued sobriety, which will reach 11 months next week.
As long as the weather holds out, anyone who wants to hear his or her own joke can find Dynamite Dave at his “desk” on State Street.