By: Joel Buxton
As a small-town Idaho native, Ryan Hamilton has racked up pretty impressive credits including appearances on Conan, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, plus big wins at The Great American Comedy Festival and America’s Next Great Comic Search. We chat with about life as a comedian, how he approaches writing, and his upcoming Just For Laughs solo show, “Edgy, Boundary-Pushing Comedian.”
Can you name a few stand-up comics you look up to, or have influenced your comedy?
When I was young I really wanted to be a humour columnist and I was into Dave Barry, I would read that every week. Then I got into The Far Side cartoons, I really love how quirky and weird they were, and started getting into stand up when I was 12. I was watching cable stand-up shows, then Letterman, and later in college I got into Mitch Hedberg; he was the first show I ever saw.
I always loved Steve Martin and Seinfeld. I grew up watching Seinfeld like everybody did, and seeing him do stand-up before the show, I remember thinking ‘what an interesting thing’. Once I became immersed in stand up more and started performing it myself, it was Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan.
Do you consider any topics off-limits for comedy?
No, I really don’t. It depends what they say and how they do it. There are things that I won’t talk about just because I don’t want to, but nothing is untouchable.
I was at Rich Lawson’s roast the other night and it was an amazing show. We’ve upped the ante on these roasts, so much that some of topics incredibly personal and inside, that it’s almost cruel to bring up with this person. That’s when nothing is off limits.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring comic, what would it be?
I usually tell people don’t compare yourself to other comedians because this is such an interesting and unique career, and everyone has their own individual path. So if somebody goes one way and you feel like you should have got that opportunity, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is on their own unique path and no path to success is the same. Comparing yourself to your own potential is the only measuring stick that matters.
Can you tell us about your worst show experience as a stand-up?
I block a lot of these things out… What I’ve learned lately is you can’t tell how people are going to react.. I was doing a corporate event, a couple thousand people, black tie. I found out I was going to be brought on while they were serving the meal, and that no one would introduce me. I knew it would be death, I just looked out at the crowd, and though ‘I can’t win here.’
Being as it was just a half hour set, I thought I could shout aloud in the dark for half an hour if I absolutely had to. So I decided to really try and focus and perform as if the audience were amazing. I did that, and it was difficult, and I came offstage, and I was upset and I wasn’t happy because I felt the show was terrible, and it wasn’t my fault. Then they call me and say come, we’re having an after party. So I went and they wanted me to come back next year. It was one of the most positive reactions I’ve had to a corporate gig. I try to go in and do the best I can.
What did you do before you became a stand-up comedian?
I did public relations at an ad agency for one year out of college before I did comedy. I studied journalism and public relations.
Was that training an asset?
Yeah, I think, everything is an asset for a comedian because we’re relating to so many people. All life experience is an asset to a comedian. Just working a year in that office just helps me feel like I understand people. The education helped me too. Communication and writing skills, that kind of thing. It’s kind of ironic, I studied communications so I should be better at these interviews.
What do you consider hack comedy?
I think you kind of know in your soul, that’s all. If you feel like it’s hack then it’s hack, probably. Overlapping stuff, I don’t worry about it that much. Everybody’s got their own filter. If you want to write an airplane joke, you should write an airplane joke. I’ve seen airplane jokes recently that are great. It’s not something I worry about too much, I just write what I want to write.
What about stand-up comedy appeals to you?
I like the autonomy of it, the freedom to work alone, to make your own decisions. You also need to learn how to collaborate in the business as a whole the further on you get. But stand up specifically, I love the freedom of it. I can do what I want to do on my own time on my own terms, and if it doesn’t work, it’s on me. I like that.
And it’s fun, you know? I’m kind of a minimalist guy, and I love the idea that there’s nothing more minimal than stand-up comedy. The tools we need are few. I like that aspect of it. I could walk on an airplane with very little and work all weekend entertaining people, and it’s great. It’s endlessly challenging. It will never end. You can always fix it, or write a better joke. It’s like a little puzzle.
You can catch Ryan at Just For Laughs 2017 on his own show, “Boundary-Pushing Comedian,” which is an ironic reference to his squeaky-clean but always-hilarious material.
Ryan Hamilton at Just For Laughs: http://www.hahaha.com/en/artists/ryan-hamilton-0
Shows: Monday July 24 to Saturday July 29, 8:30
On Twitter: @RyanHamilton