Standup comedian Ralphie May speaks honestly with DLM
I fully expected my conversation with Ralphie May to be the equivalent of me putting a few jokes on a tee for him and listening to him hit them out of the park. So, it was a nice surprise when the 40 year old comedian from Tennessee not only answered my questions honestly, but openly shared stories about everything from his family life, to his drug use, to YouTube and life on the road.
You can expect more of the same when he comes to Merced on June 8 at the Merced Theatre. The former runner-up on Last Comic Standing says that after more than 20 years in the business, the truth is all he has left. He simply tells people stories about his life — which, fortunately for him, are pretty damn funny.
“The truth has served me very well,” he says. “I have no shame anymore.”
DLM: You are known for saying what’s on your mind, does that ever get you in trouble?
RM: I’ll catch a lot more shit than most comedians. Like when I talk about Arizona being the most racist thing I’ve ever heard of for pulling people over for driving Mexican.
I get shit for standing up for Latinos? Somebody’s got to stand up and say something, it’s like pulling somebody over for being a little overweight.
DLM: How bad does it get?
RM: There are times when I’m on stage and I think, “this is where I get shot right?”
DLM: I know your roots are in the South, but does your comedy get received differently on the East and West coasts?
RM: There really isn’t that much of a difference. Same audience, blue collar, white colar, white, black and brown people. Young and old.
Promoters call me and tell me “we don’t know how to market your audience.” I see their point that it’s difficult, but they don’t see mine. I attract everybody.
DLM: You spend a lot of time on the road, what is that lifestyle like?
RM: It’s waking up at six in the morning and going to an airport for an 8 a.m. flight. Rush to the gate and it’s delayed. You mull around the airport, recharge phone and iPad. When you’re in the plane, your cramped, you get up every hour because you’re worried about blood clots.
It’s a hassle. You finally get to where you are and it’s late in the evening when you get there. You order room service with a cold sandwich. Go to sleep if you can at 12:30 a.m. The next day you have to do local radio until 10:30 a.m. then go to sleep for a couple hours then go do two shows and fly the next day someplace else.
DLM: Wow, how do you keep things together?
RM: Keeping your suitcase in order so you have some semblance of normalcy. Make sure you have Facetime so you can talk to your children and try and take away the loneliness. I don’t smoke weed anymore so there’s no way around it. It’s a hard life. If it was easy, everybody would do it.
DLM: What makes the sacrifices worth it?
RM: I have no qualms about it. It’s afforded me a lot of wonderful, wonderful things. People come to me for their joy and that is a complete verification of all the hard work I’ve put in.
What people don’t realize is that the jokes are free, they are paying the money for me not being in my house with my children and next to my wife. If you think about it, what they pay their money for and what they get, there is a real value for their dollar. I will go anywhere across the country and come to you and you only had to pay $25-$30, it’s pretty cheap. It’s a better deal than sending an envelope in the mail if you are paying per pound to send my big ass on an airplane to wherever your town is.
DLM: I think most people know you from “Last Comic Standing,” but how did you get in this game?
RM: I Moved to Houston when I was 18. I had a day job that gave me $200 a week. Then I had another job bartending. Another job selling drugs —only weed — and I was just trying to make ends meet. There was no pressure. The pressure is on me now, with four 1-hour specials I always have to be better than I was before.
DLM: You’ve been doing this a long time, what’s changed in the industry?
RM: When I first started, I was a little scattered. I got quicker at making the joke and forming my opinion. Got quicker at writing the joke and getting it faster out there than anybody else. I was fast to the punch when it came to topical humor. But I’ve gotten stolen from, and that’s why I don’t Tweet jokes. I don’t get it.
Yeah, you know people will record you doing a bit, year or two before it’s ready to be released. It’s in its infancy. It destroys it. Can’t judge a wine when it’s grape juice.
I don’t get the urge everybody has to tape everything and put it up on YouTube. I don’t get it. Why do you want to be that person?
DLM: You talk about the standing ovations and the sold-out crowds. How do you get to that point?
RM: I draw the audience in. I don’t hang back on the stage, I get close. I want to draw them to me. I want them to hear what I’m saying. I want to look them in the eye. I’m closer to the audience than most comedians. I want them to know me and trust me as their leader. I will take you where funny is.
DLM: Did it take you a long time to learn that?
RM: Hell yeah, it took me a long time. There are a lot of comedians, years deep in this industry, who still haven’t figured it out.
DLM: What’s your process? Do you write jokes when you’re traveling or at home?
RM: I write a lot on stage. Tell people a story about what happened and keep it about the truth. Truth has served me very well. I have no shame anymore. My dads dead, my moms old, I’m married, I have kids.
Did I use drugs? Yes
Did I sell the hell out of them? Yes
Was it always quality? Yes
Was it ever a full gram? No.
Ralphie May will be at the Merced Theatre at 7 p.m. on June 8. Tickets can be purchased at www.mercedtheatre.org or by calling the box office at (209) 381-0500.