Stand-up comedian Ralphie May might not have the traditional good looks or chiseled abs that translate to mass appeal. So where, then, does this Last Comic Standing star get off appealing to the masses?
By Noah Gardenswartz
The truth is not something stand-up comedian Ralphie May is afraid of. On stage, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a concept he embraces and is something he urges others to grab hold of.
He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t shy away from touchy topics or ethnic jokes, nor does he bite his tongue when society suggests, because he sincerely believes that as long as what heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s saying is true, people need to hear it. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not that he wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like to occasionally make jokes about the mundaneÃ¢â‚¬â€ he just doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wish I could go on stage and talk about nothing. God bless comedians who can do that. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Look at the highest selling-comedians of our time, guys like Jeff Foxworthy and Jerry Seinfeld. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re great because they talk about nothing in particular, so more people can relate. But as long as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m up there I have to say something.Ã¢â‚¬Â
On his newest CD/DVD, Girth of a Nation he says a lot of something. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a talking paradox; clean and dirty; offensive and sensitive all at once. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s constantly bouncing between good-natured ribbing and all-out controversyÃ¢â‚¬â€ but always with a purpose in mind. MayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s material will often make you listen twice, the first time leaving you to think, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe he said that,Ã¢â‚¬Â and the second time urging you to conclude, Ã¢â‚¬Å“You know whatÃ¢â‚¬Â¦heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s right.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By joking about betting on the over/under of total lives lost in the 2004 tsunami Ã¢â‚¬â€œ an offensive joke topic for sure Ã¢â‚¬â€œ he ultimately makes fun of the disregard the media seemed to have for human life. When he attaches punch lines to the death of Pope John Paul II itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s to blame the Vatican for creating a spectacle and turning a profit.
One thingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s for certain: people are listening. May could do an entire set on BETÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Comic View teasing the black culture without pissing off the crowd. Why? Because they appreciate his honesty. And how many white comics could host Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not just perform but host! Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a production dubbed The Big Black Comedy Show?
As a Southerner, May also pokes fun at rednecks; as a big guy, he barbs fat people. Like the street proverb goes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Real recognize real.Ã¢â‚¬Â No matter the crowd heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in front of, May finds acceptance.
Ralphie MayÃ¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m really proud of my audience, because theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all different, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all quality people,Ã¢â‚¬Â says May. Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just a bunch of good people looking to have a good time.Ã¢â‚¬Â
KINISON TO THE RESCUE
The Tennessee-born, Arkansas-raised former Last Comic Standing runner-up got into comedy at an early age. He was an impressionable youth during the comedy boom of the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ80s and remembers thinking about how cool comics were. By age 13, May entered himself in a talent show and got hooked. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just had a blast up there on stage, man. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know I was supposed to be scared,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says.
He continued to do comedy sparingly around Arkansas throughout his teen years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ most notably Friday nights at a Ramada Inn Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and got his big break when he was 17, after winning a talent show in Fayetteville. That victory earned him the opportunity to open for one of his idols, Sam Kinison, which ultimately spawned an invaluable relationship between the two comics. At SamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s behest,
May moved to KinisonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Houston stomping grounds. The 400-plus-pound May worked all types of rooms in Texas, but black audiences were the first group of people to truly embrace him. May says while white audiences tend to get caught up in a comedianÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s appearance, Ã¢â‚¬Å“black audiences donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care whether or not youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re fat. They care if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re funny.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Actually, his large size has its benefits, like when he was cast on VH1Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s Celebrity Fit Club in 2005, where he lost 78 pounds of fat and gained 36 pounds of muscleÃ¢â‚¬â€ and a hernia. But ultimately he still feels the burden of his physique, claiming that it has cost him certain roles and jobs in an industry obsessed with bodies and beauty.
He auditioned for Late Night with Conan OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Brien and was denied, because the casting agent said he was too fat. But May eventually got on the show, where he performed and left the stage to a standing ovation.
Things have been a steady climb since. His first DVD, 2004Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s Just Correct, sold more than 100,000 copies while Girth is well on its way to becoming another hit. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s booked 48 weeks out of the year at sold-out comedy clubs and theaters across the nation.
Despite all his success, fans of the original season of Last Comic Standing, the show that gave May his first taste of consistent national exposure, always ask: Does you feel cheated about losing to comedian Dat Phan, a contestant many viewers felt was undeserving.
As a testament to RalphieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ever-happy approach to life and its many twists and turns, he points to his blessings that are partly a result of that show instead of complaining.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That show was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I live in a house in the Hollywood Hills, I have a 75-inch flat-screen TV, my cars are paid off, I have a beautiful wife [ed. note- the couple are expecting a child together] that was with me before the fame and two wonderful dogs,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s being cheated then IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll take it all day.Ã¢â‚¬Â
As further proof of his unyielding sense of humor, MayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two dogs are named Pimp and Hoochie Mama which make for interesting experiences at the dog park. Pimp is a boxer and Hoochie Mama is an English bulldog. May says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can tell sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s English because sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fat and her teeth are all fucked up.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ralphie MayFor more information, check out www.ralphiemay.com.