I'm a huge fan of comedian Ralphie May. I was first introduced to his work when I was flipping channels one day in college, looking for a good way to avoid homework, and I stumbled upon his stand-up special "Austin-Tatious" on Comedy Central.
That special was taped during the time that Britney Spears was fond of flashing her, ahem, lady business in every photograph, and he told a joke about it that left me breathless with laughter.
He joked that in Los Angeles, everyone was concerned about Britney's downward spiral, calling her "manic depressive" and "bi polar" when in reality, she was just being trashy.
"Being from the South," he said, "That's one of my favorite things in the world, is watching white trash revert to its original form."
I admire his comedy because I think it's fearless in a way that is rarely seen these days. Many comedians try to take on hard topics like race and end up listing uninspired stereotypes. Ralphie May can always be counted on to call it like he sees it - and make you laugh doing it.
We also caught up with May on the road to talk about his family, his comedy and why he doesn't want to be part of the "in crowd."
OnMilwaukee.com: We’re really excited to have you back in Milwaukee.
Ralphie May: I am too. I think I’ve done my best work in Milwaukee. Yeah, my special, my last special, (2012's "Too Big to Ignore") I did there – it was my best work.
OMC: I loved that special. You filmed that last year at The Pabst – why did you choose that venue?
RM: You know, I had (performed there) once before and I loved it. I thought it was beautiful, I thought the acoustics were great and the staff was fantastic, along with a great audience. And you know, that’s what you’re looking for when you’re trying to cut an album.
OMC: So are Milwaukee audiences good to perform for, comedy-wise?
RM: I think they are. I think they are. You know, it’s – Milwaukee is a real – it’s like an eclectic blend of hyper-intelligence and blue collar values, you know what I mean? It’s like, they love their beer, but they can talk anything you want to talk about – talk politics, talk anything you want to talk about. And they’re just hyper-intelligent and for the most part really fun-loving people. And that’s what I really liked about them.
OMC: How are you feeling these days? You had to cancel some shows last year due to health issues (last October May entered rehab, citing exhaustion). Are you feeling better and is it good to be back on tour?
RM: It is great to be back. I’m on it, I’m kickin’ ass, I’m tired, you know, from flying all over the country and everything and just doing what I can. It’s hard, doing like that, bouncing all around the country.
OMC: You have a particularly hard touring schedule.
RM: Yeah, I do.
OMC: And you have a young family, too (May has two children with his wife, comedian Lahna Turner). Is that difficult to balance that?
RM: Well, like on the 17th they’re coming with me for the rest of the month. My daughter has spring break and then we’re just keeping her out a couple days after, so they’ll be able to do the whole tour with me on the bus.
OMC: Do the kids understand what you do?
RM: Yeah. They do. They’re like, "Go make people laugh, Daddy."
OMC: I’ve read that you’ve said you’re not part of the "in crowd" of comedy. What do you mean by that?
RM: Well, I’m popular with audience people. I’m just not popular with snooty comedians.
OMC: Do you want to be?
RM: No. (laughs) No, I don’t. That’s why it doesn’t really bother me. It’s okay. I don’t mind not being part of the "in crowd." You know, if that’s the "in crowd" and that’s what you’ve got to do to be a part of it, they can go f*** themselves. I don’t need that s*** in my life.
OMC: Your comedy, of which I’m a big fan, seems to resonate with people because you address really tough subjects in kind of a bold, funny way. Is that a natural way for you to approach those tougher subjects like race?
RM: Yeah, it is, because I want to take ‘em on head-on. I don’t want to be the quintessential bit when I take a subject on. I want to be the only one people remember talking about that bit, or that subject matter. Whether it’s the Pope, whether it’s the Kennedys, whether it’s the sniper in DC, whether it’s, you know, the immigration that’s going on in Arizona – I want to be the only one people remember. Maybe someday that will work out for me.
OMC: I’d say it’s working out for you now.
RM: Well, it’s not quite what I’d like it to be. But, you know, boo hoo hoo, what are you gonna do?
OMC: What would you like it to be, in an ideal world?
RM: I’d like for people to just more people know my material, more people buy my CDs and DVDs and download them and get more familiar with it. I want to be a culture personality, I want everyone to get it (the way he approaches these subjects) to where it becomes more rational than, you know, than some types of religions, you know?
OMC: Do you ever get nervous your material isn’t going to go over well with a certain audience? You have a joke that you do where you advise people in the audience to locate the nearest black person - you can if they’re laughing, they’ll know it’s okay to laugh too.
RM: I really don’t have a problem with it. If there’s no black people there, I don’t do that joke. I just move on to something else. I’m not registered into one type of stand-up. I’ve got hours and hours of unrecorded material that I can switch into and out of.
OMC: What are you planning on talking about at The Pabst?
RM: Oh, I’m a dirty, filthy animal. If you come and expect anything else then you don’t know me. I’m dirty, I’ll make you laugh hard, and it’s gonna be a great show, I promise you that.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.