"He was just such an intimidating figure then," recalls Minneapolis-based standup comic Tommy Ryman, speaking in regards to an early gig opening for comedy’s current commander-in-chief, Louis CK. "He was in the green room working on his computer, and I remember I didn't say anything to him the whole first day.”
The show took place at Acme Comedy Co., where Ryman is headlining this week, and featured both CK and local favorite Chad Daniels (Conan and WTF podcast). It was 2007, just a year or two before CK came into national prominence.
[jump] “The second day he was on his computer again, and I mustered enough courage to say something,” Ryman says. “I remember saying, ‘It’s kind of weird that we're not talking. It's very serious in here.' And he asked, 'Well, what did you want to talk about?' I was like, ‘Oh, I haven’t though that far ahead’”
Ryman, who just finished a run of shows in Los Angeles, is on something of a hot streak. After spending the better part of a decade touring the country and occasionally opening for comedy luminaries like Nick Swardson and Maria Bamford, who considers Ryman a friend, he's finally coming into his own.
His affable personality coupled with his childlike wonderment makes him one of the more original, albeit easily accessible, voices in local comedy. His widespread fandom extends beyond the cozy confines of the local comedy scene, and includes everyone from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges to television icon Roseanne.
“Well I am now a fan. I’ve never seen anything like you before in my whole life. You’re a one of a kind. You’re a real original,” Roseanne declared as a Last Comic Standing judge following Ryman’s invitational set last summer. The set can be seen below:
But despite Ryman’s mounting success, which includes being a LCS semifinalist and recently being named “Best of the Midwest” at the prestigious Gilda’s Laughfest, he hasn’t succumbed to complacency. He regularly visits LA every few months for shows and to meet with various talent agencies. Ryman plans on moving out there with his wife, Megan, sometime next year. He initially had some ambivalence about the scene, but he hasn’t had much trouble with his material translating over.
“When I first went out there, I was so nervous and I had expectations of certain rooms. I'd think, 'Oh, at this alt show I should probably mention a band!' Then I just did my material and it works fine because they get me,” Ryman explains. “I feel as if they see your confidence and that you're having fun they respond. I don't want to create a different person just so I can do better because it doesn't make sense and it probably doesn't work.”
Like so many comics who started in the mid-aughts, Ryman drew most of his early comedic inspiration from the late great Mitch Hedberg. So much so that some audience members started to pick up on it.
“I just started writing my own bits in his voice. That's literally how I learned how to write a joke, it was with his structure,” Ryman says. “When I first started I was basically doing his cadence, and I remember one time I got off stage and someone said to me, 'Hey man, we already got one of those guys.'”
Of course, it’s more than safe to say that Ryman has found his own voice. However, he's done so without having wandered too far from his roots.
He pulls out a ticket stub that he keeps in his wallet.
"Mitch Hedberg with Stephen Lynch at the Orpheum Theater. September 11, 2004" it reads.
IF YOU GO:
Acme Comedy Co.
8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
$15; $18 Friday and Saturday