A Talk with Ryan Hamilton before Saturday Show

Yugan Sakthi, Staff Reporter

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This Saturday, Nov. 16, comedian Ryan Hamilton will be performing an original one-hour set at the Ohio Theater. Fresh off of the release of his first ever Netflix special “Happy Face,” which Decider called “highly contagious,” Hamilton’s comedy is wholesome, outrageously hilarious and accessible to every kind of audience out there. 

To preview his show, The Observer sat down with him for a short interview.

(The interview below has been edited for clarity and conciseness.)

You’re coming to Cleveland to perform this week at the Ohio Theater. Have you ever been here before?

I haven’t been in a few years, but it’s a city that I’ve been performing in for a long time at different levels of comedy. I used to open for people a lot in Cleveland and I’d always have a great time, the audience was just so fun and it’s a good comedy town.

What do you like about performing in Cleveland, what stood out?

Everybody is nice. They’re happy that you came to Cleveland and it seems like its a city that’s restructuring all the time. I’m usually downtown, so I always see the changes downtown and that’s exciting. I’ve been all over the place, but I always think, “I’m happy to go back to Cleveland, I don’t know why.”

How has “Happy Face” been like?

Netflix is an interesting platform to be a part of. You don’t really know who is watching it, so it’s just kind of a surprise. I’ve always wanted a one hour special and this is the first one I’ve ever put out, on a platform in which people can watch it over and over again.

Was it scary putting something up on a platform that has such a big audience? Were you worried about negative reviews or backlash?

I wasn’t worried about backlash really, but I wanted to be well-received. It was really something I put my whole self into, so I wanted it to have a positive reception and I think it did. It was kind of a last minute processthey gave me five weeks because there was an opening. Normally you would get five to six months to prepare for something like this, but production was rushed, so it was kinda like being thrown in the deep end, yet I feel like I learned a lot in a short amount of time so that was great.

Do you have any other specials in the works?

I have an entirely new hour of material that I’m working on right now, so this is a whole, completely new set that I’m working on and bringing to Cleveland. I would like to put out a special when it feels right, but I don’t have plans right now.

You’ve toured with some pretty famous comedy legends like Drew Carey, Jerry Seinfeld, and you’ve been in the show “Inside Amy Schumer.” What was that like?

It’s kind of surreal because I know these are people that I watched growing up and I just always wanted to be a comedian. To find yourself working alongside them, hanging out in the wings of the theater with Jerry Seinfeld getting ready to go on and being able to just receive advice from somebody like that—it’s invaluable and I’ve grown so much from being around him. Just [seeing] the way he approaches his whole life has been worth its weight in gold. We’ve become good friends and it’s so much fun to perform with Seinfeld, as a kid from Idaho.

Having watched some of your videos, being from Idaho is something you bring up often in your act. Do you feel like that, and your identity in general, is an important part of your comedy? 

My identity is very tied to my comedy. Many other comedians would say the same because it’s too hard to create comedy that’s not tied to your identity. You need to have experiences to share and that’s going to bring out who you are, whether you want it to or not. So yeah, it’s very tied to growing up in Idaho and living in New York and all my experiences in life. 

And are there specific audiences you target more than others, or do you try to make your work as accessible as possible?

I like to work for a wide audience, I enjoy the creative challenge of that. Sometimes there are things that I’ll think of and I’ll go, “that doesn’t work for [some people] specifically,” but most of the time I’m doing the jokes that I naturally want to do and it just seems to fit for a large group of people. 

It seems to be working very well! Your comedy is cleaner than that of most mainstream comics—less obscenity, less swearing, fewer “edgy” topics. Is that part of what you just said about wanting to appeal to a broader audience?

What you see on stage is just a slightly exaggerated version of my normal self. It doesn’t work for me to be very strange or edgy. It’s almost like these things choose you, you don’t choose them. So I never go out and say, “I want to be the cleanest comedian,” or anything like that. I just try to discover what my natural voice on stage is.

What are some of your favorite topics to explore thematically in your comedy?

I end up talking about geography a lot in our country, like where people are from, just because I think the experience of coming from such a rural place and living in such an urban environment is really fascinating. I feel like I got my foot in two different worlds sometimes. I think there’s comedy in that kind of juxtaposition, and that ends up coming up a lot. 

Maybe [it’s] because I’m travelling a lot or something, but someone pointed out to me that, “[there are] so many modes of transportation in [your] act and that’s kind of interesting.” 

This new hour seems to be a lot about self-care and our health and struggle as a society, including my own personal struggle. It’s the comedy of taking care of ourselves and these bodies that just fall apart no matter what you do.

I have a lot of respect for that. You mentioned earlier how having this Netflix special put you in the eyes of a much larger audience. Would you consider an international tour?

Sure, if the opportunity was there. I’ve been able to perform internationally a little recently when I opened for Seinfeld in London. I’ve also headlined in Paris, toured Israel, done events all over Scandinavia and performed in Australia three times. 

I’m always looking for opportunities, and one thing that’s interesting about Netflix is you don’t know what might be possible. I go where there seems to be fans and if there was demand internationally, I would definitely follow it.

So you have done a lot of international shows.

I wouldn’t say a lot, but I am experimenting with it, and when opportunities pop up, I don’t shy away from [them].

I want to backtrack a little to your own story and how you got here. What made you start doing comedy?

I was always drawn to comedy. Even at like eight or 10-years-old, I’d watch “The Tonight Show.” There were all these cable stand-up shows when I was growing up, and I would watch this show “An Evening at the Improv.” It was a bunch of comedians doing six-minute sets at this club in LA called the Improv and I was just drawn to it.

There was this guy, Dave Barry, who had this column in the paper every Sunday and it was syndicated all over the country and I thought, “this is the greatest job ever.” So, when I was about 14 we didn’t really have a school newspaper, so I called the county newspaper and asked if I could have a column. They gave me a column, which I started writing all through high school and I would try to make it funny. 

I also had this radio show in college when I was studying journalism, and for the radio show a few of us decided it would be fun to do a standup comedy show … so that was the first time I ever did stand up. I wasn’t thinking about it as a career necessarily, but I did it a few times. Then later after I graduated, I started doing it more and more. After I got laid off from a public relations job, I really started to tackle it. It was a big year in my life.

What advice do you have for people who want to get into comedy, either as a career or just out of passion for it?

Just do it, really. There is really no way to educate yourself or prepare, it’s just a matter of getting on stage. It’s going to take many times before you really understand, feel and have a grasp of what it will take to do it. So, it’s just about doing it. 

I think a lot of people think about doing it and never do it, or step on stage once and go, “oh it wasn’t for me,” but it really takes a long time. Get on stage, and get on stage a lot, in order to make decisions, or to understand it. 

And don’t compare yourself to the people around you. It applies to a lot of places in life, but I feel like it’s especially valuable [in comedy], because no two comedians ever achieve success in the same way, so just use your own potential as your guide. The rest of it is a lot of trial and error and exploring who you are.

Ryan Hamilton will perform Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Mimi Ohio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased through the Playhouse Square website.