Ralphie May-Staying Straight and Soldiering On

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“I’m not sure what the deal is but he didn’t call in again today.”

Ange kept her cool but was becoming slightly irritated after being blown off for her interview with Ralphie May two days in a row. His impending show at the Gwinnett Arena on January 16th had been another of my special requests that had been inexplicably honored through some excellent networking on her part. Admittedly as a fan, I was a bit surprised about those missed call ins. Ralphie’s known for his extremely down to earth demeanor and accessibility to the public so it seemed completely out of character for him.

“Well…if he doesn’t call in today” I asked sheepishly “would you have enough trust in me to interview him at the show if they would agree to it?” I’m still very “green” and Ralphie May is somewhat of a big deal in the comedy world but I felt that I’d followed him long enough to come up with some questions that hadn’t been asked a hundred times. He was my absolute favorite on the first season of “Last Comic Standing” and like most people who followed its debut, I too felt that he was completely robbed with his loss to Dat Phan. Or maybe in the grand scheme, it was essentially the best outcome as it’s nearly 100% assured that way more people know who May is today than have any inkling of who the actual winner was that year. I’m also quite sure that Dat Phan (unlike May) was never told by Sam Kinison that his act was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen.

Friday rolled around and still no call from May. However, unlike Ange who had to rearrange her schedule several times for nothing, I was ecstatic. She had spoken with his PR peeps and they said that he would be willing to spend a few minutes with me between shows Saturday night which meant I would be doing my first REAL interview. Not only that, it would be with someone whose specials (Just Correct, Girth of a Nation, Austintatious) had left me crying with laughter at certain points. You see, I’ve always identified with May in a couple of ways. One of those being that I was a fat kid who ballooned up to 300 pounds in my twenties so any of his jokes about being enormous have always resonated deeply with me. I spent the majority of my youth cultivating a self-deprecating persona which is how one ensures people don’t hurt your feelings. You make fun of yourself first and better than anyone else can so why even bother? In fact, one of the questions I’d worked up for him was “What’s the fattest thing you’ve ever done?” Mine was cutting chocolate Entenmann doughnuts in half and spreading butter in the middle. Yeah it’s disgusting, but how do you think you get to be a million pounds? You have to be committed, it’s not for amateurs.

Another reason would be his knowledge of and incredible ease around the black community. Being raised half my life in the suburbs of Detroit, I totally know what it’s like to be the only whitey at the party or having the high aspirations of becoming a pimp. Shoot, having a pair of gators and driving a Caprice sittin’ on Dubs is touted higher than becoming an astronaut back home. Guess that’s your explanation for Kwame Kilpatrick right there. But that’s also why Ralphie is revered for his honesty when he pontificates on the correctness of the political incorrectness of many stereotypes (of all races) instead of being Tu Pac’d in the parking lot after a show.  Incidentally, he was the only white comic invited to be on “The Big Black Comedy Show” a few years back and he KILLED. That’s how unusual he is.

But what if his popularity had turned him into a jerk and he felt that he was too important to talk to just some local, online publication in Atlanta? That’s the question that troubled me as I pulled into the Gwinnett Arena. More than feeling like an idiot, my true concern was meeting someone whom I’d enjoyed watching for so long and finding out they weren’t  anything I’d built them up to be. The whole reason for doing these reviews is that I’m trying to make a name for myself as a writer but in my heart I’ll always be a comedy/t.v./movie/cartoon geek first and was terrified at having a part of that (however small) crushed.

As I stood in the crowded line at will call, it seemed quite strange that there would be so many children at one of his concerts. Only an anxious moron like yours truly would have not known they were there for the freakin’ Gladiators Hockey game and that I was in the wrong building. What a jackass! I’ve been to the arena several times and not realized there are like 3 other buildings down the road, one being the Performing Arts Center where Ralphie was playing. Five minutes till show time and I ran as fast as my chubby legs could carry me back to the car, booking it to the right venue, making it just in the nick of time.

The sign on the door read “NO Flash Photography” so I went ahead and put the camera away after kicking back in my comfortable seat. His people had done quite well in that area, putting me within a short distance from the stage and no matter what happened later, I was very appreciative of my good fortune. The show was about to start so I had no time to engage anyone who’d came but a visual assessment would reveal them to be mostly white, early twenties to mid fifties, working class Americans. The Performing Arts Center itself is a lovely place if you’ve never been and to date, it’s the only venue I’ve been to where they sell scrumptious looking Red Velvet cupcakes at the concession stand.  Once a fatty, always a fatty.

Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run” dipped to silence as the lights dimmed and Ralphie’s wife (fellow comic Lahna Turner) took to the stage to warm us up. I’ve seen Lahna perform before and she is quite amusing.  Turner typically plays an acoustic guitar, accompanying her silly, filthy lyrics about sex and other risque’ topics harmoniously. DISCLAIMER: If you are easily offended, please stop reading here as some of her jokes as well as Ralphie’s are not for the weak of humor. Case in point- when Lahna tells us that she doesn’t like it when black men hit on her, not because she’s racist, but because it makes her feel fat. Or when she asks the audience… “Is it wrong to tell an AIDS patient to stay positive?” Like she says, it’s wrong, we’re all going to Hell but as long as people laugh, who cares?  All I can tell you is that she is so ridiculously cute, you’d be hard pressed to get mad at her even if you don’t find her comedy to be your cup of tea. May’s crowd was feelin’ it though and there were colossal laughs all around.

When she introduced the man of the hour, her husband and father of their two children, the roof practically blew off from the thunderous cheering and applause. As he ambled slowly towards the microphone it was immediately apparent that something was off beam. His normal cheerful expression had been replaced with an astute image of pain. Whispers all around me suggested that his fans were all disturbed at the unrecognizable comic before them. Ralphie being the very candid person that he is informed us all that it was taking everything in him to stand before us. He had fallen a couple of weeks before, tearing his rotator cuff and the anti-inflammatory medication he was prescribed had caused him to develop bleeding, anal fissures. Now that’s just how I’ve written it, the way he relayed it cannot be posted here but it was just about one of the most hysterical confessions of an ailment that I’ve ever heard. He then launched into a tirade about not even knowing where he was because of the way the arena was set up into so many structures that it was unbelievably confusing.

“No not here they said, this is a hockey game…the next one down. No….keep going past the f*#%ing robot….. there are like 7 damn events going on at the same time…where the hell is this place?!!.”

It was one of the most validating laughs of my life I promise you that and going by the mass reaction, we weren’t the only ones who made that mistake.

Before launching into the story that would comprise the bulk of his act that night, he expressed his sorrow that he was in such bad shape and pleaded with us to just bear with him. He was told to cancel his shows this week but didn’t want to disappoint everyone who bought tickets.  Before I forget, I’d just like to comment on how much Ralphie has slimmed down. It’s the healthiest weight that I’ve seen him at but as he said, since he’s in Atlanta, he’d be breaking his diet with some Gladys Knight Chicken N’ Waffles. Because what goes best with chicken? Waffles! Naturally.

The setup for how he was busted for possession of marijuana in Guam a few months back also revealed more insight into Ralphie’s personal life. Having been in a horrific car accident as a child that broke 42 of his bones, he’d been left with a lifetime of physical anguish.  He also suffered from anxiety and a sleep disorder so rather than be prescribed a lethal combination of Oxycontin, Ambien and Xanax, the Dr. chose to give him a prescription for weed. The one medication that he said would work better than all three of those things anyways. How he tells the audience this information cannot be done justice here, just know that it may sound whiny or sad as I relay it but when you hear it in only the way he can tell it, it’ll hurt you in the best possible way. When he speaks on his love for dogs (which is relevant to why he got caught)  and tells cat lovers that they’re wasting their time as the cat hates them, I was squalling.

I won’t convey the story as it’s impossible to imbibe the humor the way he does, plus I don’t want to ruin it.  I’d just like to note that even through his noticeable agony, he still had the crowd right where he wanted them.  My sides hurt so badly by the end, I felt like I’d been kicked with steel toed boots.  In my opinion, only an extraordinary entertainer could tell you intermittently during their set that their rectum was burning, stop to prop their foot on a stool just to get relief and still cause you to wrap your arms around your waist, rocking in a fit. While we’re on the subject, Ralphie also threatened any reporters in the audience with being hunted down and fitted with barbed wire underwear if they portrayed his behavior that night as what someone would normally see at a show of his. NO problem!

The next chunk was spent mostly on how women could do a better job in “certain aspects” when it comes to pleasing their man. I don’t mind telling you what a challenge this show is to write about while trying to keep it clean.  And I’d be dishonest if I said that I loved that part of his set. I’ve never been a huge fan of sexually explicit comedy. In small doses, no biggie but when it goes on and on, I generally tune out. Call me a prude, whatever, it’s just my opinion and I knew going in some of Ralphie’s stuff is like that. It’s the other things he touches on that I enjoy hearing and laughing at. Certainly in the minority as the audience practically rolled in the aisles as May explained to the ladies how they could properly use their mouths in a parked or moving vehicle to ensure diamonds for Valentine’s Day.  It was also his way of trying to make it up to the men who happened to be on dates on that particular evening with high hopes of getting some booty that may be shot down later because of this fat guy before them that had killed the mood with his tales of woe.

By the end, he was so visibly spent, he turned to his wife (standing just off stage) and said practically in tears … “I can’t do it babe.”

In 22 years of professional comedy, May has never missed meeting and greeting his audience after a performance, but there was just no way he’d be able come through this time. Not with him also being expected to do yet another show in less than an hour. I’d already resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t even going to try to attempt to get my questions in somewhere around the start of it anyways. Only an unsympathetic piece of crap would even think about harassing another human being, much less someone you hold in high esteem during a time when they’re so vulnerable and just trying to keep it together. Had we known he was so bad off at the Backstage Beat, we never would have even expected him to call in. His admirers definitely cared not either as they screamed out “Don’t worry about it Ralphie!” and “We love you Ralphie!” He was legitimately thankful and regretfully apologized several more times before instructing the audience to disregard the “no pictures” rule and snap away right then and there while Lahna modeled the shirts they’d be selling.

Yes….the acronym stands for what you think it does and he makes NO apologies for it. If you can’t take a joke,  then don’t come to see him.

He tried his best to ham it up.

But this picture shows how he truly felt.

Afterwards, I waited for Lahna to finish signing autographs and talking with the fans about Ralphie’s predicament. Not one person complained, just sincerely wished him the best in a quick recovery and expressed their desire at seeing him again when he was feeling better. I introduced myself , telling her I was there covering the show for the Backstage Beat and how much I appreciated the amazing seats. Such a doll, she offered me things from the table that may help in my review like DVD’s and such but I refused them and just tried to let her get back to her husband and give her time to prepare for her opening set again. You can tell that more than anything, they are a team and while she’s a great comic, she’s also an amazing wife.

It was a weird feeling crossing that mostly empty parking lot to my awaiting chariot. I’d laughed a lot to be sure but more than that, I found myself caring for some dude I’d only seen on t.v. up until that night. But what I think most will find if you ever do buy a ticket, is that by the conclusion of his show you WILL know Ralphie May and you’ll probably care about him too. Another strange nugget that I hope will please him, there was only one other car in the area I was parked and it was right beside of mine. The SUV was running, park lights on and as I slunk into my ride I noticed the driver (a young dude) with his head leaned back like he was sleeping. Being nosy and upon further inspection, I saw that he wasn’t alone. His mate (a young lady) was just out of sight working on a diamond necklace for Valentine’s Day.

1 Comment

  1. Neil

    January 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Touring is hard enough, I’m sure. Ralphie’s a bad*ss. Great article!