On stage Ralphie May comes across as crude, base and well, let’s let him do the describing:
“A dirty, sexual beast.”
May was already a seasoned pro when he shot to fame on the first season of “Last Comic Standing” in 2003.
Since then he’s made numerous TV appearances and specials and keeps a grueling touring schedule, which will bring him to the Tacoma Comedy Club for performances that run July 23-26.
Though May channels his inner good ol’ boy and uses his unique vernacular to delight his audiences he is more than what audiences see on stage. A student of history and champion of civil rights May has strong opinions about himself, comedy and the state of America.
The newspaper caught up with him from Nashville.
Q: We have Brian Regan in town this weekend. He and other comics like Jim Gaffigan work as clean comics. You, on the other hand, are…
A:..a filthy, dirty comic.
Q: Have you always worked in that style?
A: I had to work clean back in the day because (some club owners) wouldn’t let me work dirty. So, I had to change my jokes. Which is great because you can’t do dirty material on television. So, instead of using standard dirty words I would make my own dirty words. I developed my own vernacular. It’s become who I am.
Q: Is the person we see on stage who you really are?
A: I have to be honest. And being honest is me being a dirty, sexual beast. Mr. (Bill) Cosby was the quintessential clean comedian, the clean black comedian. He sat on his high horse for 50 years telling us other comedians and the black community how to be. Richard Pryor was the quintessential dirty black comic and he never raped anybody. I’m happy to be a filthy degenerate. At least I’m honest. Jim Gaffigan makes more fat jokes than I do. You’re not that fat, bro. I hate to break it to you. And you can’t take our jokes without taking some of the drama that goes with being fat. It’s like that white black lady in Spokane. You can’t pass it off.
Q: You are very popular with black audiences. You were the only white comedian on “The Big Black Comedy Show.” What do you attribute that to?
A: Being honest. The white majority underestimates the minority in America — their capability to reason and not take themselves too seriously. As long as it’s true (black audiences) don’t mind. Mexicans don’t mind if you slam them as long as it’s true. If Donald Trump had made fun of silver baby teeth or musical car horns they would have laughed their asses off. But when you call them all murderers and rapists. “What the ---- you talking about? That’s not us. We’re family people.” It’s crazy what’s going on in this country. White people want to get outraged all the time. Get over yourself.
Q: What’s your take on the Confederate flag controversy?
A: (The flag) was a (forget) you to civil rights. It was politics of fear. We used it to scare people. They call it heritage. I’m Southern. There’s no reason to take pride in the (worst) time in the South. Especially because culturally we invented every major thing that is America: Rock ‘n’ roll, blues, jazz, barbecue, writers, poets, singers, actors. Celebrate that. These people say they’re patriots. Well, if you are a patriot then quit holding a treasonous flag.
Q: You keep a grueling tour schedule. Is it energizing or exhausting?
A: It’s draining. You have to love what you do to be away from home this much. I have two homes that are a country apart, in Nashville and Los Angeles. My kids go to school in Los Angeles because my wife is doing standup fulltime and she needs to be in L.A. Most of my work is in the East.
Q: You are headed to Tacoma, the hometown of comic Jo Koy. When I interviewed him a few years ago he gave you credit for giving his career a huge boost. Do you do that often for comics?
A: I love Jo. He’s awesome. I didn’t know he was from Tacoma. When I saw him perform he didn’t have an agent or manager or any of that. I went to my manager and said, ‘If you don’t hire him — he owned the Laugh Factory — and give him tons of work you’re an idiot and then I’ll fire you because I don’t want an idiot manager.’
Q: Obviously “Last Comic Standing” gave you a big boost. Do you think all talented comics eventually get a chance for a break?
A: Every stand-up needs that in their career. You can be the funniest guy but if you don’t get any work who cares? That’s what happened to me. Before “Last Comic” I was already a well-known headliner in the Midwest. But when I went to LA I didn’t have any TV credits. I was walking down Sunset (Boulevard) because I didn’t have any money to pay for gas, valet, tips. (The clubs) wouldn’t headline me because I had no TV credits and they wouldn’t feature me because I would blow the headliner off the stage. Jay Mohr was driving by and gave me a ride. He said, “Dude, why are you walking on Sunset?” I told him. He said, “Well, you’re not going to blow me off the stage.” He called his agent and got me 16 weeks worth of work right there. That changed my whole life. Jo and Ken Jeong are probably the two biggest guys I helped launch.
Q: You are a proponent of marijuana. Will you be visiting some of our stores while you are here?
A: I don’t think so. Maybe. Usually I get by on the kindness of strangers. But it’s not the axis my world spins on.