Thanks to the success of his recently released stand-up special, Happy Face
, comedian Ryan Hamliton's career has picked up some traction. The one-hour Netflix original came in the wake of numerous TV appearances. Like Jerry Seinfeld, Hamilton likes to joke about the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
In addition to his own headlining gigs at clubs and theatres across the country and abroad, he counts Drew Carey and Seinfeld as fans and often tours with them. He performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Ohio Theatre
In a recent phone call from a stop in Salt Lake City, where he was performing at a corporate event, he speaks about his career.
Talk about what it was like to grow up in Idaho?
I’m from a very small town. It’s about 1,000 people. It’s a farm town. My family is from way back there on my mom’s side. We were one of the only families who weren’t farmers. I was a little different. I was drawn to something funny and interesting. I used to love to write, and I wanted to be a newspaper columnist, a la Dave Barry since I was about 14. I called the local county newspaper and asked if I could have a column and they let me have. I started writing that and did that all through high school. I loved it there. It’s just over the Teton Mountains from Jackson Hole, WY.
You studied journalism and public relations. How’d you get into comedy?
I had a little radio show in college my freshman year. I was studying broadcast journalism. A few of us were interested in comedy. We did a standup show as a remote for our little radio station. That was the first time I ever did standup. I was always drawn to it and watching it on TV, but I wasn’t near a comedy club. It was the first time I ever did it. I wasn’t trying to do it as a career. Eventually, I lost a job out of college and decided I wanted to take standup comedy more seriously.
Who would you consider your influences?
When I was really young, it was Dave Barry and the Farside cartoon and any standup I saw on television. I loved this show An Evening at the Improv
. I watched that religiously every week. Anytime there were standup comics on The Tonight Show
, my parents would wake me up so I could watch them. I loved Lettermen
. I liked Jerry Seinfeld just because it was the biggest show on TV. I loved Steve Martin’s old stuff. Later, I really enjoyed Brian Regan and some of the contemporary guys.
What was your first club gig like?
When I was in college, I had moved to Utah. I was always working at school. I didn’t have a lot of time. I remember the day I finished my last final and just had a part-time job and was done with all my tests and projects. That day, I called a tiny comedy club that had a Friday and Saturday show. I asked how you get on stage. They said they would put me on. That doesn’t seem very typical, but they gave me three minutes on a Friday night. From there, I was hooked and started hanging out at the club and another club opened up shortly after that. I was hanging out at that club before they even opened. I wasn’t thinking about it as a job. I was just doing it because I loved it so much. It was still just a pipedream. I thought I would be a local host and make a little money on the weekend and hang out at the club.
When did you start making fun of your face?
It’s weird that I’ve been opening with some version of my face for what feels like my whole career. I don’t know how or why. It just seems like it’s something to address early on. There’s been different iterations of it. For a long time, I guess, is the answer.
So you’ve always looked like the kind of guy who could sell ice cream in the ’50s?
Yeah. I also used to say I looked like a white Chris Rock.
Are you still single?
Yeah. I have a whole new hour of material, but if the old hour was the new hour, it would still fit my life. I’m trying. I don’t know. I’m on the road so much, it makes life a little strange. I’m a little older now and I talk about that a little more in my act. I’m happy and things are happening to me. I fell down, which was a difficult thing to navigate in life. I really fell and hurt myself. You don’t do that as a child. It feels like an adult fall. People were around. These two 25-year-old girls from the street asked if I was okay as they laughed. It was a real pivotal point. I realized I’m not the person I used to be. That might be a little different in my act now. I’m trying to save for retirement. You try to do that later in life, and all of the books say, “Start early.” So I talk about those kinds of things.
What was it like to make your Netflix special?
It was a dream-come-true but a real educational experience. It came to me in a way that isn’t typical. They happened to have an opening. They had a need for me for some reason. They don’t tell you a lot about what’s going on. They came to me with an offer. I had been pitching to them with no success. They came to me and said, “We have an opening for you, but it has to be done in five weeks.” It’s normally a five to six month kind of situation. It was very stressful. I was in Australia for two of the weeks. We had to find a venue and sell tickets and hire a director. I had the material but there were a lot of decisions to be made, and things that had to come together very quickly. I’m happy it turned out the way it turned out, and the response has been very positive, but it was a learning experience.
Do you know why you were on the fasttrack?
They never told me. They told me, “you will never know why we have this opening.” I wanted it. I was ready in terms of material. They said they wouldn’t do it normally, but they knew I had the material. They weren’t worried about the set. They thought we could pull it off, and we did. I got thrown into the fire, but in some ways that’s how you learn. I learned a lot.
You were just on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. How did that go?
It had been a while since I had done a late night set, so I was happy to do that. We wanted to kick off the fall tour with something big like that. That was the strategy there. It was really fun and I felt the most comfortable I had felt doing TV. And it was my first time doing The Tonight Show
. There are so many outlets but to do the The Tonight Show meant something personally to me.
Does every comic on his show getting a standing ovation?
I don’t know if everybody does. The Tonight Show has a very happy, energetic crowd. They’re very supportive, so that definitely helps.
I like your take on running and what you don’t like about it. Is that a new bit?
It’s how I feel. I feel like I’m not moving my body enough. It’s a weird modern-day health concern. We have to be concerned about moving enough. I don’t think for the most of the history of the world that was an issue. You had to move or you died. Now, if you won’t move enough, you die. That was a strange concept to me. There’s more about that that isn’t in the bit on TV. I would like to put a sport in my life. People say, “Just add a sport.” It’s like putting broccoli to your ice cream.” It’s not so simple. It’s like saying, “I play tennis now.” But you don’t. You need to start this stuff in your youth. They said, “You’re holding the racket wrong.” I said, “I’m out.” And by the way, there’s only one handle. How do you hold it wrong?
What will the show here in Cleveland be like?
I’ve been coming to Cleveland for many years. It’s a great comedy town. I love the audiences there. Everyone is happy and kind. It’s a great place to do comedy. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, so this will be fun.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.