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An Interview with Comedian Ryan Stout

Comedy >

You may recognize Ryan Stout from his time as a go-to host on the MTV network or even more recently as a reoccurring guest on Chelsea Lately. Ryan is one of today’s hardest working stand-up comics and this week he will be headlining at the Grit City Comedy Club in Tacoma, Washington starting this Thursday, September 29 and going until Saturday, October 1. Be sure and pick up your tickets here before they’re gone!

Stout recently took some time out of busy schedule to conduct a short interview with Jon Hamilton for the Brown Paper Blog.

You’ve headlined in Kirkland and Tacoma and you have played Seattle while opening for Bob Saget.  Do you have any fond, bizarre or horrible memories of the Pacific Northwest?

I’ve always loved the Pacific Northwest’s ability to sit and focus on the show. It’s not a skill that people have in every part of the country, but one that my performance requires. So, I’m always thrilled to come back.

As a teenager in Northern New Mexico you trained in the great art of drinking with a German student. Did this training benefit your life on the road?

First of all, teenager is a broad term. I was 18, which is deemed adult-age. Second, I didn’t know that drinking with a German student was an art.

Drinking on the road can be a terrible trap.  You can end up getting black-out drunk six days a week, for free, nine weeks in a row.  These days, I might have a drink or two and call it quits.  But, even that amount, every night, is 14 drinks per week.  Most medical insurance providers would take “14 drinks per week” under consideration when developing a policy.

When you first moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles you made mention about being in a different community of local comedians.  Do you see yourself as part of the local LA comedian scene, or are you on the road too much to be considered part of LA?

San Francisco was a great place to develop because it was one small comedy scene where everyone supported each other.  Los Angeles is a huge comedy scene comprised of social cliques and the audiences are made up of people who, in one way or another, are part of the entertainment industry. Typically, I see very little benefit, artistically, to performing in Los Angeles. To succeed in comedy in LA has nothing to do with being original or crafty, it’s only about killing, for better or for worse. I’ve seen some very hacky and unoriginal performers score network development deals in LA; in San Francisco, those people would’ve been passed over, not rewarded. I tend to lean toward artsy rather than financial successful– That’s a direct result of coming up in the Bay. 

What is your first thought when you are performing and someone begins to heckle you? How often do you have to deal with hecklers?

I instantly feel bad for the people who paid to see a comedian and, now, are listening to some nobody scream-out from the darkness. Part of stand-up comedy is being a leader, so I do feel responsible for dealing with any interruptions, but I always consider it a nuisance.  Verbally destroying someone will always get a big reaction from the crowd and, for that reason alone, I find it really boring.

As someone who flies fairly constantly do you have any TSA survival tips?

Always smile, be polite, and know your rights. The TSA are complete idiots and, as an agency, they have a high turn-over rate. Chances are, the “officer” (they have badges now, don’cha know; they used to be “screeners”) hasn’t memorized the handbook yet. So, they don’t realize that you can take a screw driver on board if it’s less than 8-inches; don’t know that your scissors are fine since the blade is less than 4-inches. 

They are terrible people who have a lot of power and no status, which is a combination that is psychologically proven to make people difficult to deal with.

What has been the reaction to your Comedy Central special?

Earlier this year, Comedy Central had their annual “Stand-Up Showdown,” which is a countdown of “the best” specials over the past two years. It’s an audience-vote situation and I placed in the top ten. That was nice.  And, because I’m not very famous in comparison to others on the list, I was quite surprised.

Some people liked my special and those people sometimes send me nice e-mails telling me that I “do smart comedy” and “have an intelligent sense of humor.” And other people say I’m “really boring” or “egotistical and offensive.”

The day after my special aired, one lady wrote on Comedy Central’s website that she didn’t like me because I was “willfully sociopathic.” And I thought, “Yeah. That’s right. I am. That’s part of the joke. And I’m asking the audience, an audience of adults, to go with me on an intellectual journey and act willfully sociopathic, as well, for the next 22 minutes. You know? Like a show?”

Not everyone likes me. That’s fine.

Has anyone ever ripped off your jokes? Would you sue me if I did (theoretically, please don’t YouTube my name)?

I wouldn’t sue you, but I would make sure that your comedy career comes to an abrupt end. I’d tell every comedian, manager, agent, and club owner I know that you are a disgusting joke thief. That should be enough to seize up any money-making potential you’d have.

Truthfully, though, I think I’d find nothing more entertaining than watching someone bomb with my material for 45 minutes. Because, even if they knew every word and every pause of every joke, they’d be missing the intent and the passion behind the bits. It would be a performance with no heart and I think audiences would see right through it.

What is your all time favorite comedy album?

I’m a huge fan of George Carlin’s “Back in Town.”  And Greg Behrendt’s “Uncool.” And Andy Ritchie’s new album, “King Ding-A-Ling.” I’ve loved all of Nick DiPaolo’s records. And Nick Griffin’s “Bring Out the Monkey.”

I could go on and on. I’ve listened to a lot of comedy albums over the years and I’ve never listened to a record just once. I study them. I love them.  I almost think that the reason I started doing comedy in the first place was because I wanted to release an album.

I have been buying Steve Martin records whenever I come across them. Why do you think that you can get away with not playing the banjo?

I actually HATE when music and comedy mix. As far as stand-up philosophy goes, I’m considered a purist.  Which means, I believe the best stand-up is when one person speaks into a microphone, using personality, leadership, and clever ideas to drive the show. When music (or puppets, or magic, or juggling) is added to the mix, I, generally, feel that performer is using gimmicks and trickery to make up for their lack of personality/leadership/clever ideas.

Think about a comedian who performs a one-liner that bombs. What happens next? Nothing. Silence. And the performer and audience both have to sit in that silence. Now, think about some guy who strums a guitar, or plays piano, and does a one-liner that bombs. What happens next? Music. The audience is still being entertained; their minds still have something to focus on; they aren’t aware of the number of people who aren’t laughing; there’s no uncomfortable feeling and the performer has a false-rhythm to hide behind. 

If you’re a good comedian, you can use words and personality to create rhythm and you don’t need to rely on an instrument to do it for you.

For example, I’ve seen Zach Galifianakis perform with and without a piano. One of the things I’ve always loved about his work is how his jokes get laughs in both scenarios. Sadly, I can’t say the same for all musical acts and, without the guitar/piano/background noise, their jokes fall flat.

When does your live comedy album come out?  Will it be available on vinyl?  

I’m working on it now. It was recorded at one of the best comedy clubs in the country– Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis, MN– and it will be released on Comedy Central Records. If all goes according to plan, that could happen around December.  

And, yes, I’m going to make them release it on vinyl. But, I’m told that, in order to make a profit, vinyl copies will be, like, fifty bucks a piece.

Will your mom follow me on twitter?

She absolutely will. My mother calls me all the time saying, “Did you see what Dana Gould wrote on twitter?  Did you see what Tommy Johnagin tweeted?  I think @TheSulk is just so funny.”  

She’s a retired lady and, yet, every day, she wakes up, grabs her iPad, and scrolls through tweets. I’m pretty proud that she’s both a comedy geek and tech savvy. My dad is the same way, but he’s not on Twitter– He just has my mom read him the highlights.