Ralphie May talks about the man behind the comedy routine | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Ralphie May talks about the man behind the comedy routine

I chatted with stand-up comic Ralphie May—former runner-up on "Last Comic Standing"—in advance of his show in Bend. Here is the complete transcript of that conversation. May performs tonight at the Tower Theatre.

Source Weekly: You're 17 and you win a contest to open for Sam Kinison- super exciting or pants-shitting nervousness?

Ralphie May: Uh, both. I was doing really well and then I was so young and dumb I slipped a punch line and a set up and that joke bombs and another joke bombs and then I did what Sam told me to do when I was in trouble and started yelling and cussing.

SW: Did that pull you out of it okay, his advice?

RM: No, not that night. He told me to cuss the audience out and scream at them if I got in trouble and I loved it so that's what I did. I got booed by 3200 people, I started crying a little bit, I ran off stage and then one of the biggest names in stand up comedy comes running out and tells me I'll never be in stand up comedy again. And I'm really crying now. I got used, you know? I got set up. The audience, they love Sam now. It was a brilliant move.

SW: Right.

RM: Absolutely brilliant. I didn't know what was going on. It wasn't until a year later that I asked all the questions and saw that it was a status thing at the time. But he was just great, you know. One time I called him collect to come pick me up from a venue so I could get out of there and Bill Kinison, Sam's brother shows up and says “Hey, Sam loved it. He thought you were great. Why don't you come party with us?” And I said “Okay!” Now, a Sam Kinison party, afterparty, is no place for me now, much less a 17-year old boy. I was drinking wine coolers, okay, and getting fucked up and Sam comes into the room and there's a bunch of people there and a huge line of blow in front of us and Sam was like “Hey kid, order some pizza” so I ordered some pizza. Pizza comes and when it does, Sam pays for the pizza and tips the guy three little baggies of cocaine. 20 minutes later we get a phone call in the hotel room: “Hey, you guys need more pizza? We can bring you more no problem.”

SW: Man, that's a crazy way to get started there.

RM: Yes.

SW: So, going from that into, a few years later, Last Comic Standing, was that entire thing a good experience or is there anything you feel like you would have done differently?

RM: No, not the first year. That was awesome. I came in second. I did everything I could. They gave standing ovations every time I did different material (because I thought that's what it was about), you know?

SW: Yeah.

RM: Entertaining people in their homes. You know, they're letting us in and I don't take that for granted. I want to give them something different every time. And then they got a little greedy because of the success of the first two seasons and they wanted a hybrid show. Maybe for that there should be an apology and probably shuld apologize for. Two teams are going up against each other. There wasn't a prayer. It was just so lopsided, it didn't make sense. And I tried to get out of it but then my Daddy was dying of cancer and on the second night of Last Comic, 15 minutes before I went out, I got the notice that my dad had passed and I wanted to be there with him. Instead, I had to fly back for the show and I scratched that and give a little memorial for my daddy and I did his favorite jokes, you know. All the jokes that he loved. That was a real tough one. They should have let me not perform. I tried to quit and I got edited out.

SW: I know you tour with your wife sometimes and that's got to be an amazing experience.

RM: It is. That's the best.

SW: What are the challenges and rewards doing it that way?

RM: The challenge is that she's now a headliner and she's moved into the opening position just for me. So I got to follow a headliner before I even go out. You know, that's bullshit.[laughs] It's too hard of a position to be in. I'm very fortunate my friends are very talented. I look up to my friends. Sam Kinison before he passed. Doug Stanhope now. Mitch Hedberg before he went, you know? He was a dear friend. There was a lot of nice people along the way that I look up to and love. I love stand-up comedy. I wish I could see more comedy. In the age where stand-up comedy is so readily videotaped and compared across the nation, across the world really, about whose material is whose in this comedy police world an accusation is as good as a conviction. It'll ruin your career very, very fast and so I avoid the problem so I don't watch stand-up comedy anymore. I just keep to myself and it sucks because I love stand-up. I love to laugh. I don't really watch much because I keep myself from being accused of anything ever.

SW: That's smart nowadays. It really is.

RM: Thank you. It's a good strategy for me.

SW: You've been doing this so long, do you ever struggle with stage fright anymore?

RM: Oh goodness, not at all. After this long it finally feels the same on or off stage. Except for on-stage I talk about what's going on in my mind and I just put it out there like that.

SW: Did it take years of doing it before you felt that sense of naturalness being on-stage or was it something you always felt from the beginning?

RM: No, I would get nervous before big shows but I was always excited to be there in order to perform, so whatever butterflies or anxiety I had they were certainly surpassed by the desire and love of stand-up.

SW: Do you feel like nowadays we're living in a culture of outrage, where we're always looking at the next thing to get offended by or freaked out about?

RM: Yeah and, moreover, we live in a violent, hateful and more divided, lost, community, world, than I've ever seen in all my days of living in America. We have overt racism and discrimination, death because of skin color. It's bad man. Sometimes I watch the news and the misery that man inflicts upon man is staggering and makes me cry a little bit. Sometimes I think we're living in a world where Biff Tannen still has the sports almanac.

SW: If you had the power to change things one day at a time, what do you think the first step towarda making it the country or the world you wanna see would be?

RM: Man, I don't know. There's so many things. Simple things. We can't get any more money out of gas right now. It's the biggest thing to happen for middle class tax relief and welfare enhancement in years. You cut someone's fuel bill, especially someone who drives for a living, you put hundreds and hundreds of dollars in their pockets every month and make a huge difference, you know? We stimulate the ecomony, that's good. We need to legalize marijuana which takes the burden off the criminal system so then we have the space and time to convict real criminals and leave the petty small crimes like drug convictions and marijuana (which should be the equivelant of public intoxication or possession of an intoxication substance). Be responsible for it. Tax the hell out of it. Pay off a lot of debt. You know we have a huge national debt and could use every source of income to help pay it. There's a lot of great products and ideas that could come from that...it just needs to happen.

SW: Yeah, Oregon just legalized it, which kicks in around July, I think. And the OLCC is going to be in control of it which seems like it should be pretty hysterical. With your situation with edibles a few weeks ago, do you...

RM: The reporting on that is erroneous.

SW: Is it really?

RM: Yeah, yeah. I was not too messed up to perform. To be honest, if anything I had too much cold medicine. As you can tell, I have a “Know When To Say When” problem. I have a consumption control, portion control problem. [laughs] I have a sinus infection. I couldn't stop due to huge boogers in my head because I'd gone from the Bahamas where it was 84 to Denver in a couple of days and I had a sunburn and I was cold. It's something, man. My sinuses were jacked up.

SW: Right.

RM: I took every cold medicine I had and then I got shakey. Then I took NyQuil. I played NyQuil roulette and I guess I lost. There were sound, issues which is why they were saying I was slurring words. I wasn't. My mics were too high. There were two wireless mics, live, and turned way up and two moniters in front which were turned way up and every word hit max. So part of a word would get amplified and I hoped the problem would get fixed so I turned away from the mic and had to yell out what I was saying so the funniest part of the joke, the last part that hits hardest wasn't getting amplified and so some people didn't hear it. And I do long pieces. They're are 15 minutes long and the situation when I get into them are predicated on actions on certain jokes and they need to be heard, so I would repeat them so people could hear over the applause or the noise of the other jokes. I was basically flying blind. Every theater above a certain elevation, as part of their insurance, if there's a performance on a stage, there's two EMPs in the wings, sitting there with oxygen watching the show, prepared to help in case you're not getting enough oxygen. I'd just been checked out by medical professionals and, honestly, it was a little humiliating when they took my blood pressure and it was so good one of them went, “That can't be right, let me do it. I'll get mine,” and does the same thing.

SW: [laughs]

RM: I felt vindicated, but I swear to god at the time I was mad. I was like, “How fat and out of shape do you think I am when the blood pressure is too good and causes the EMP to check it again.” I felt like an asshole, I was like, “Oh man, I need to lose some weight, bad.” But I just went out and performed. I didn't know all this drama was going on until I came off stage and I found it so funny and ridiculous what they were saying about me. They checked, the cops, they went in my bus and searched everything. They were looking for cocaine because there were reports of powder.

SW: [laughs]

RM: [laughs] Do I look like I do cocaine? I've never done that drug in my life. To be honest, I had such a bad sinus infection, all I ended up with was $800 worth of boogers. I could've been taking cocaine all day and I wouldn't have known it. I still got them boogers. It's a bad one. I can't hardly shake it.

SW: I'm sorry, man.

RM: Awww, it's not your fault. I apologize.

SW: Well let me just ask you two more questions and I'll let you get back to resting a little bit. I just wanted to ask: it seems like over the years you've struggled a bit with weight loss and gain. Does that effect your audience's perception of you in any way?

RM: You know, since "Last Comic" I've lost over 300 lbs. I don't make my weight my central focus. I'll certainly address it if the situation applies but I certainly don't make it the focus of my stand-up comedy. My audience has accepted me for a long time as, you know, not a fat comedian but a comedian who happens to be fat. That's a huge difference. I mean, there's a lot of fat guys out there doing fat jokes like Louie Anderson, John Pinette, Gabriel Iglesias, so you know, it's been done by guys I respect and laugh at and I just don't want to really try and compete. I'd rather do new stuff and be the best person talking about the newest topics and controversy and try and make it impact people's perception and beliefs and mores and morale. I try to push my audience, through comedy, into believing the simple: do unto others and they'll do unto you. Be kind to your fellow man. Be better as yourself. Admit your faults. Get 'em out there. It's better. You know, purge yourself of your hatreds. That's kinda the general message and I like it. I like that positivity.

SW: Alright, well let me just ask you one last question so you can get relaxing. If you had to give up either sex or comedy, which would it be?

RM: [instantly] Comedy.

SW: You answered that pretty fast.

RM: I've done stand-up hard for 25 years. I didn't get easy breaks. I didn't get TV shows to help with it. I'm known as a stand-up comedian and that's the hardest way to have the fame and success that I have. I'm probably, minus the movie star comics and the TV star comics, I'm probably one of the most successful comics working today. If not the most. The volume of material, ticket sales, the fact that I own my own bus...there's not too many people that are at that level. Ron White, but he's done movies and TV...a lot of TV. He's doing it the same way, you know, just by being funny.

SW: How much longer do you see yourself in comedy? Is stand-up comedy going to be in your blood forever or is there something you want to move towards?

RM: Well, you know, stand-up comedy was never work until I had children. Being a great stand-up means there's a price to pay in that that I have to pay, too, and that's that I'm not with my children and my wife. That takes a toll. You miss the things that matter. From pulling teeth to being there in the night for nightmares, snuggles. To sports triumphs, school triumphs. Shows. Things you should be a part of as a parent. Bathing and getting dressed and brushing the teeth of your children and reading stories before bedtime. You know, and that's what it's really about, man. That's something that I miss a lot and I don't wanna miss it anymore. It's really hard. So, if I could find something else that would pay as much, or a quarter as much, as what I'm doing now, I'd do it in a heartbeat just so I could sleep in my bed next to my wife and hug and kiss my babies and see them everyday.

• • •
Ralphie May
Thursday, Feb. 5, 7pm.
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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