The first act of comedian Liza Dye’s story involves her getting run over by a subway train on the way to Brooklyn and spending more than two months recovering in Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital.
But it starts in Spartanburg and Charleston, S.C.
Dye, a Connecticut native, moved to Spartanburg as a child and then attended the College of Charleston from 2009 to 2012 before she realized she belonged in New York City doing standup comedy. She moved to Brooklyn in the spring of 2012 and began taking classes with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, a renowned theatre with classes and performances in improv, sketch and standup comedy.
A theatre major at the College, Dye was a natural comedian. “When I first taught Liza I thought she was a lunatic, she was very insistent that we would be mentor-mentee,” Dye’s former acting professor Joy Vandervort-Cobb laughed. “But by the time I was directing her in Long Time Since Yesterday I had a lot of respect for her acting process. She was very diligent as an actor and she was always making me laugh.”
After moving to New York, Dye concentrated on her comedy career and continued to act, returning to Charleston in January 2013 to play lead in a PURE Theatre production. Her standup, often about New York, popular culture and music, received acclaim and attention from the likes of Saturday Night Live producers, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Key and Peele, as well as blogs and magazines focused on up-and-coming comedians.
But on the morning of February 13, 2014, Dye fainted on a subway platform in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood and fell into the tracks.
“I just remember getting a little light-headed and thinking I needed to sit down and the next thing I know I’m on the tracks and the first train car is above me,” Dye said.
She was trapped under the train car until firefighters could rescue her. “I was like, ‘Is my leg coming with me?’ because it looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.” Fortunately, the firefighters were able to remove Dye from the train with her leg intact. That leg provided comedy fodder on Twitter as she underwent various surgeries and treatments.
Dye’s decision to use the accident for her comedy material surprised many of her fans, but her College improvisation professor, Beth Lincks, was not among them. “She made bold, surprising choices,” Lincks said. “She never went for the simple or comfortable. Liza worked on telling a good story instead of going for an easy laugh.”
Nine surgeries later, Dye was released from Bellevue, a place where her already-promising career began to take off despite a long and agonizing stay.
Dye gained some awareness through HelpLiza.com, a website started to raise money for her hospital bills. She raised more than $77,000 from supporters ranging from fans to friends-of-friends to comedy giants like Zach Braff, Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari and Chelsea Peretti. Ansari and Peretti, whom Dye now calls friends, quickly got together with a few other comics to arrange a benefit show for her in Los Angeles.
“Aziz is a really great guy,” she said. “I had never met him before but he came to visit me twice in the hospital, I think because we’re both from South Carolina and because – there’s a feeling in New York when you’re doing standup, like, ‘we’re all in this together,’ but the way he and the rest of the comedy community rallied to support me was the stamp of validity for me, that we really are all in this together.”
The sense of support Dye felt from the comedy community is what kept her going through the many challenges she faced at Bellevue.
“I wrote a lot of material there,” she said. “Some of it would be a joke or a bit for standup or a sketch. One of the reasons I did the standup shows I did when I was released from Bellevue is because I had so much material and 80 percent of it was about being in the hospital and the accident. I wanted to get rid of that material so I could try to move on with my life.”
At the same time, Dye, who has given several interviews about her accident to outlets ranging from the New York Times to comedian Julie Klausner’s podcast called How Was Your Week, knows it’s therapeutic to discuss the train incident and her lengthy recovery.
“It’s this thing that I’m going to deal with for the rest of my life,” Dye said. “I’m learning to walk again. All I can do is set little goals, like; ‘I want to be able to walk by the end of this year.’”
The stage for Dye’s recovery is set largely at her mother’s house in Spartanburg. “Being back in South Carolina is amazing,” she said.
The next chapter of Dye’s life and career will not lead her back to New York (“A lot of my standup when I first started doing it was about how much I hated New York, it’s a really harsh place to live when you’re a struggling 20-something.”) or Charleston, but a new city altogether.
“I don’t think I’ll ever live in New York again,” she said. “My manager and a bunch of my friends live in LA so I think I’ll go there next.”
Dye’s friends may not all share the same location, with many in Spartanburg, Charleston, New York and Los Angeles, but they surely share the same anticipation for what she’ll do next.
“She’s such a fighter and there’s so much interest from people in the business who can and who want to help her,” Vandervort-Cobb said. “I’d like to see her ride this wave of interest and truly begin her career.”