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Clean comedian Ryan Hamilton: Sometimes the one sober guy in the club is the funniest

Ryan Hamilton headshots

Ryan Hamilton headshots Brian Friedman

Ryan Hamilton’s standup act is a rare breed of clean, observational comedy, likely due to his upbringing in a Mormon family. He left the potato-farming community in Idaho where he grew up to attend Brigham Young University, then immersed himself in comedy. He now lives in New York.

We spoke to Hamilton about bachelorhood, socializing sober, and why faith doesn’t factor into his standup.

City Pages: You often make fun of your appearance in your act. Does it affect your self-esteem after you tell those jokes many times?

Ryan Hamilton: I have a pretty good sense of self-esteem but occasionally, when a joke about your appearance gets a big laugh, bigger than you expect, it’s some version of the audience telling the truth.

CP: You also joke a lot about your single status. Do you have any theories about why you’re still single?

RH: This interview is very personal! You’re mining through my material to reveal my insecurities. It’s never easy for comedians to have relationships who travel as much as I do. Maybe that’s part of it, but I’m trying. I am dating. I’m out there trying.

CP: Has your experience dating in New York been different from whatever experience you had dating in your hometown?

RH: I haven’t lived in my hometown since I was 18 years old. I didn’t date in my hometown very much. I went to a few school dances and that’s about it. It is difficult dating in New York City. Everybody’s there for a purpose, it seems, including myself. So sometimes, dating gets pushed aside, ‘cause there’s a lot of pressure to do the thing that you’re in New York to do, whatever that may be. It’s not that way with everybody, but it seems like for a lot of young, single people, that’s their life in New York City. It can be isolating to be around so many people.

CP: You don’t drink. How do you handle the inevitable “Why don’t you drink?” question in social situations?

RH: It’s not that strange, really, most of the time. It is strange when I say, “I never drink.” People don’t like you if you say you never drank. If you drank and then you stopped drinking, they’re okay. But if you never drank, the attitude’s kind of like, “You’re an alien and I would rather not have you in my life.”

I’m in nightclubs and bars every night of my life so I’m not really affected by it. It’s something that has never really interested me that much, to be honest. I have no problem with it. A lot of my family drinks and a lot of my friends drink -- heavily, even. For a time, I thought, “Maybe I’m missing out on something.” But I think now, I’ve missed it. Even if I started drinking, it would be like, “It’s too late for you. You missed those crazy, fun drinking years.” Now it would just be sad.

CP: You’re a relatively clean comedian. How does it feel when you’re in the green room or listening to other comics onstage? Do you ever get offended by the raunchy or politically incorrect humor that you’re around?

RH: No. I don’t look at it like that. It’s just kind of who I am. I never set out to be “the clean comedian.” I was always drawn to comedians like that. I like observational stuff. I like the creative challenge of coming up with stuff that works for a wide variety of people. But I see merit in all types of comedy all across the spectrum. I don’t think one type is superior to another. And most of the time, comedians don’t put the labels on the comedy; other people put the labels on the comedy.

CP: You’ve been on many late-night shows. What is it like to meet comedic celebrities? Does it live up to your expectations? Is it ever anticlimactic?

RH: It’s a lot of fun and all my experiences have been very positive. When you’re doing the late-night shows, the interaction is very minimal because of time. They’re very busy. They do the show every day and there’s a structure that they have to fit in to get the show done. I have a little interaction onstage and maybe before the show. You get a little taste of personality off of television, but I would say most of the time that I’ve spent talking with those types of people is actually on television.

CP: One thing you don’t speak much about in your act, if ever, is that you’re Mormon. How is standup viewed in that community?

RH: They’re very supportive. I go to places where there happen to be a high percentage of that type of audience and they come out. They’re very good audiences. The clean part of comedy appeals to them a little more. But I’ve always wanted to be a comedian who was just a comedian first. I didn’t want to put myself in any kind of category that related to my religion or make it so specific that only a certain audience would be able understand what I’m talking about. That was never appealing to me. I just wanted to be a comedian, a good comedian that appeals to all people.

CP: But do you find humor in religion?

RH: Yeah, sure. There’s a lot of humor in religion. It just hasn’t been something that I’ve been drawn to talk about yet. I talk about real specific things that happen in my life and I go into detail in those things.

CP: Have you ever done a joke based on those personal experiences that you regretted telling later?

RH: That’s a good question. I’m sure that I have. Part of comedy is being vulnerable onstage, and I’m not very good at that. I’m kind of a private person. I really admire the comedians who are tell-all and ultra-honest and a complete open book. I tend to go for things that I find are absurd or unique and, obviously, funny, but things that I’m comfortable with. I’m not hiding anything by any means.

I do a lot of podcasts, or I used to, and those often devolve into, “Share your deepest, darkest secrets.” I’ve walked away from those going, “I don’t know why I did that.” At the same time, if it helps somebody, there are good things that can come out of it, too.

IF YOU GO:

Ryan Hamilton
Acme Comedy Co.
8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
$15-$18.