Comedian Ryan Hamilton on Inspiration, Comic Competitions and More
Ryan Hamilton has been around the block a time or two; the resident of New York City (who grew up in Idaho) was named one of Rolling Stone's Five Comics to Watch in 2012 and appeared on two seasons of Last Comic Standing, where he gave a good showing. He'll be performing at the downtown Comedy Works, 5345 Landmark Place in Greenwood Village, starting Wednesday, October 1, and continuing through Saturday, October 4. In advance of that run, we caught up with Hamilton to talk about where he finds his inspiration, participating in comedy competitions and more.
Westword: So you moved to Manhattan from the Midwest after growing up in Idaho -- what was that like? Drastic change?
Ryan Hamilton: It was, a bit. I grew up in a tiny potato-farming community, and now I live in Manhattan. And it is a very drastic change. It took me a while to get used to it, but I really like it. The isolation can be tough in Idaho, but I do miss the outdoors. There's enough in New York, but it's not right out your door like it is where I grew up. And I miss seeing the sunsets -- it's not super funny, but it is true.
Did you start your comedy career before you moved to New York, or did you move to New York to start your career?
I was a full-time comedian by the time I moved to New York City; I didn't pick up a backpack in Idaho and hitchhike to New York City with dreams of grandeur, as romantic as that might have been.
My interest in comedy started really young; I just always loved watching it. I didn't think it was a career until much later, when I was out of college. I lost my job at an advertising agency, we lost some clients and I got laid off, and I was doing comedy for fun while I was looking for another job. I started to take some terrible one-nighter comedy work that was available to me because I was free and people canceled. I started doing more and more of that, and then I just never found another job.
Have you found it difficult to work in a competitive environment like New York with your "cleaner" reputation?
Comics are very much accepting of anything that's funny, so it doesn't really matter. The "clean" and other types of labels seem to come from places outside of comedy. I haven't found it difficult at all, really, in New York. There are some times when I might feel like I might not be as brutally honest as some people, but that's me, that's not other comics putting it on me. But mostly, it's respected, I think. Anything that's funny and original and unique is respected, and often I have comics say to me that they're really impressed I can do that without being dirty. That's more common than anything.
It was never a conscious choice, really; it just seemed to be kind of what I was naturally drawn to, and I was naturally that way. And I think that's the point of comedy: Be who you are on stage and let that come through.
Do you find it opens up your inspiration for what to talk about instead of focusing on things like dating and the differences between the sexes?
Oddly enough, I do still talk about dating a lot -- I think a lot of comics do, a lot of comics are single and struggling with relationships. If you do a show with ten comics, you get up on stage and say, "I'm single," and it seems so repetitive.
But weirdly, other patterns, too, come out. Like, I'll often have people come up after shows and say, "You have a lot of transportation-related jokes." I have a lot of jokes about moving from one place to another and how you get there -- and it's not intentional, it's very strange and it just kind of happened that way. My stuff just generally comes from anything that's happened in my life, and it's generally an observational experience that I feel stands out for me, and it clicks. It's just something that I think is odd enough and interesting enough that other people will perk up. And my slant or angle to it is interesting enough that I can work on it.
It's just a lot of happenstance, really. I wish there was more discipline behind it, but for me it just seems to be like, what happened to me this week or how do I feel about this part of my life right now? I will say when I take a real disciplined approach, it is productive, but it just doesn't seem to happen as often for me. I don't know if it's my schedule or what. Everybody's so different in their process.
Can you tell us about your experience on Last Comic Standing?
I was a semi-finalist twice on two different seasons. I probably had six or seven or eight episodes in total. I will say that I've done many competitions for some reason, and I don't think any comic gets too excited about the competitive aspect of performing. I've never really been drawn to the competition, but that's where the opportunities would come from, so I'd do them.
That show was good to me, it was beneficial and helpful, and I was portrayed in a way that I felt was fair. It was fine for me. It's a good way to sell comedy, but the competition aspect is hard. Comedy is so subjective that it's very difficult to put that kind of layer over comedy. But people seem to enjoy watching and consuming it that way. I considered doing it again, even. And I know a lot of my friends who got great things out of it. It's good for comedy in general -- any interest in comedy is good.
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