by Ryan Meehan
Ryan Singer is the rarest of breeds: A comic’s comic who electrifies mainstream audiences with material that is both uncompromising and unpretentious. LaughSpin says, “With his high-energy delivery and unpretentious leanings, there’s not a lot to dislike about comedian Ryan Singer. And it’s not just us saying it: In the last few years, he’s won over audiences headlining the nation’s finer comedy clubs and was hailed by Marc Maron in Rolling Stone as a comedian “who should be big.” His debut album, HOW TO GET HIGH WITHOUT DRUGS, is an intense exercise in wordplay, improvisation, and storytelling. Those who enter Singer’s world will be rewarded with knowledge of the connections between dimwitted hunters and Tyra Banks, cookies and racial tension, and even gay marriage and dragons, courtesy of a comedian who expertly connects insanity and brilliance. Both his debut album and sophomore release COMEDY WONDER TOWN were selected as Top 10 Comedy CD’s of the year (2010 & 2012). He was selected by LA Weekly as one of “10 LA Comics to Watch” for 2014, was mentioned in NY Magazine as a “Comic to Watch,” was one of 4 finalist in CMT’s Next Big Comic Contest, is a frequent guest on the WTF Podcast w/Marc Maron and the Bob & Tom Show, regularly heard on XM/Sirius Satellite Radio, and was a regional finalist in Comedy Central’s Open Mic Fight. He was the winner of the Golden Shingle Award at the Rooftop Comedy Festival, and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: So I feel like I have to ask: How does one get high without drugs? Do you have some kind of crazy exercise routine that releases an unhealthy level of dopamine into your system that keeps you buzzed all day long?
RS: I stumbled upon my method a few years back totally by accident when my car had no working stereo, a couple tires (unknown to me) that were about to burst that caused a violent vibration when I drove between 60 and 80 mph. During this time, when I was just too stupid to even look at my tires to see if something was wrong, probably out of fear for knowing there was, I had to drive to Minneapolis from Dayton, Ohio. This drive took approximately 16 hours and I did it straight through. About 9 hours into the drive, I just started saying a certain phrase over and over and over again to myself and once I pushed past the “this is weird, so stop!” phase of that exercise, I reached a state of total bliss. Push past the weird and you will always find the high. I have not figured out how to make that last all day long, though. I will sometimes show a crowd how to do it.
RM: When it comes to performing, what do you consider to be your “specialty”? In other words, what is your greatest strength as a comic and why do you think that feature of your act rises to the surface more so than the others?
RS: A certain level of self-awareness is needed to answer this properly and I am not sure I have reached that level of my career yet. But, if I had to pinpoint one area I would say it is my performance of the material. I studied theater in college for the sole purpose of making myself comfortable on stage in front of people to do stand up someday. I focus on really trying to have fun and translate that to the audience when I perform. I am constantly trying and working on becoming a better writer, but as it stands now, I would say the way I deliver the material is slightly stronger. This is not say that I am unhappy with the material, at least for now. I hope that in two years I will think all I do now is not acceptable because I have continued to grow.
RM: What was your first real “culture shock” moment living in Los Angeles? Did it happen right away like it did to Axl Rose in the video for “Welcome to The Jungle”; or was it quite some time before you had an experience that was uniquely LA? What’s the best part about living there? The worst?
RS: It should be noted here that I have lived in LA for about two and a half years…this time. I have lived here more than a few times in my younger years. I truly have lost accurate count. In my younger, more “wild” days when I would take refund checks from college loans, drop out of college, live here for two glorious months and then move back to Ohio with my comedy tail between my legs. I did that a lot of times. Needless to say I was not committed to comedy as an art or a lifestyle at that point. I find it is important, at least to me, to make my LA experience unique to me. Thinking about the world in a way that allows you to shape it, mold your ideas, and create the type of life you want to live in now and in the future. It is the same with living here to do stand up. Many people recently have been ascribing to the motto of “My dear, find what you love and let it kill you,” which is a brilliant quote of the one and only Charles Bukowski. Far be it from me to challenge what he has written, but I think it is more accurate to say I try to live my life in a slightly different way. Find who and what you love and let them make you want to keep living. LA has helped me realize that is important. The worst part is being away from almost all of my family, who I now only see a couple times a year.
RM: Let’s talk about writing for a second…You have some pretty far out premises for your jokes – Are you the type of writer that tries to start from a premise that is very unorthodox and find the challenge to be in bringing the audience back towards the punch line, or does it just seem to happen that way? What does your writing process usually consist of when it comes to preparing new material for your stand-up sets?
RS: I try to write at least five days a week. Just some basic free-style writing about whatever is my brain, without judgment about funny or worth. I stole this technique from one of the most disciplined and brilliant writers that I know – Tommy Johnagin. One day he told me that was part of his process and I immediately adopted it. From there, from those random writings, I later go back and search for ideas that have comedy legs and potential. Sometimes, not that often, the idea I stumbled upon a certain day because I just made myself write will come out on stage very soon even before I get to go back through the legal pad I wrote it in. That is rare that an idea is so formed in that stage that I cannot help but use it on stage that quickly. There is never intent on my part about being weird or far out when it comes to what I try to write. I just write literally whatever is forefront of my mind when I pick up the pen and begin. From there it becomes a free for all. I do love the challenge of taking an audience on a unique journey that they may have not expected, so yes, bringing them back to a punchline after a couple minutes of making them forget the original premise is a challenge and reward that I love maybe the most of all. The work, the writing, is where I have decided to find my worth as a stand up comedian. It is an important distinction because placing my value as a stand up, as an artist in the accolades or the opportunities I get as a stand up leads to an endless cycle of disappointment. I can control how much I write, read, listen, watch, and dream of being good at making people laugh and that is where the true value of what we do can be measured. At least for me. We all die. Why not be as good at being you as you can be in the meantime, the rest is beautifully meaningless.
RM: Could you briefly summarize each one of the web-series that you’ve done and how they are different from each other? How does each one stimulate a different creative muscle that is necessary for you to express yourself yet still remain your sanity? And is sanity overrated anyway?
RS: I think that sanity is only overrated if you have it. True insanity is crippling to many if not most of the people who suffer from it. There are times as I get older, just small moments or snapshots of my day, possibly putting on a shoe when I feel like I may never be normal again. I do not think that is insanity, but I do believe even those of us who are sometimes push the limits of self-imposed sanity can glimpse to the other side. My first web series ever was called Domesticated. I just filmed my girlfriend and muse at the time, Erika, with her camera and she hated it. It was an exploration of our life together and a great way to teach myself how to edit on iMovie. My next attempt at a series was Studebaker Pie. If anyone can explain that series to me, I’m listening because even I do not fully know what was going on. It still may be my favorite thing I have ever done in the web series medium. Next I tackled a character-driven series because I had a phrase in my head with the character’s name and needed it out – Carl Treadway VII – Monster Hunter. Carl is probably my favorite character I have ever created and at times I will perform as him live in Los Angeles. That one is about a hapless monster hunter and his super hot white trash wife hunting monsters with little success. I loved Carl Treadway because I got to involve a large cast of my really brilliant friends in its production, more so in the second season, but the first season, too. Then, as a challenge to some friends, I did Me & My Dolls. I challenged myself to create a product that was higher production value. Then when I did Dreams, it was just because I needed to make something else and it was an idea that was inspired by the very James Austin Johnson. I ran with it, it was easy to make, and really fun to do. I do feel like I need to express myself in various ways outside of traditional stand up to clear new space in my head for new ideas. If I do not do that, I do feel like there’s too many things, people, phrases occupying my limited space.
RM: What is “Me and Paranormal You” going to consist of? And is the concept of a “mindcast” something that you came up with or are there others? Could you shine some light on that whole project for us and what you hope to do with it?
RS: I cannot wait! I’m answering these questions just a couple days before launching it. I am launching it during a Super Moon period because I love that kind of stuff. It is based on the premise that “it is more fun to believe,” and I so believe that in life. As far as if a mindcast has been done before, I tried to google and am pretty sure that no one is calling their podcast a mindcast. I decided to do that because it differentiates it a bit, I think. I will be interviewing, frankly just talking to people who have paranormal abilities and experiences. I am fascinated by these people because of my experience in meeting them. They say seeing is believing and I have seen some things that most people consider impossible, insane, or ridiculous. That’s okay. I hope that it will help others who experience these abilities to feel more normal so to speak, knowing that there are a lot more people out there like them then they may have realized. Also, I get to talk to people who experience life in a possibly more advanced way than I do and that is exciting. There is so much amazing stuff that I will never know in this short life and that makes me so happy. It should be noted that I am listening to Jason Molina while I answer these questions, maybe also drinking a bit of wine after a great day, but it should not take away from the authenticity of these answers. I really feel this stuff. Maybe it is weird to be so into these questions, but I just cannot help but think that I can be experiencing so much more of life and being even that much more fulfilled if I just jump headfirst into absolutely everything I do, including this mindcast. I have had opportunities to do other podcast projects and have even tried with a great idea with a friend, Matt Knudsen, but we just were too busy to be able to line up to do our idea together and make it happen. This idea, though, this mindcast is so close to my heart that I will always do it. I’ll just write it even though it will read crazy. I dated very briefly years ago a woman who could shape shift. See? Did you feel how weird that felt in your brain when you read it? Her and others I have met have created an endless, unquenchable thirst for more of this and more of them. It is not important to me that people believe in this kind of stuff as much as it that they understand that I believe it. It is so much more fun to believe.
RM: Of all the things you’ve learned while being a standup comedian, what was the most difficult to come to terms with and why? Do you think that comedians sometimes overthink things because of the fact that so much of their livelihood exists in their own brain; and how do you personally simplify things when they have gotten to that point?
RS: I like this question because it can cripple a creative person if they let the business or the results of the business get too into their head. The most difficult thing for me to come terms with was that not everyone sees your career and your value in the same way as you do. I will give you a generic example. Let’s say you have been working your ass off at your craft as a stand up and your intentions are pure. Then, when auditions for a new stand up show come around you cannot even get one because you do not have management, the right agent, or you’re just not in the sphere of what’s “hot” or “cool” or “hip” at the time and that can devastate you if you let it. The “who isn’t as good as me but got what I should have” game has no winners. It is easy to spiral into darkness and to think that you’re getting screwed on purpose if you let your mind go that direction. But, it becomes much easier to exist, to cope, to experience joy in this business when you sit in your chair in the Milky Way Galaxy. What I mean is that you remove yourself from the immediacy of the situation that has caused this strife in your life, you sit back far, far way and get some perspective. You look down, literally from thousands of miles away and realize just how small and beautifully meaningless this all is. That makes me smile. I love that. It is easy to over-think our world and the machinations that operate within it because there is no real manual on how to succeed or be happy doing it. The journey is the best part is so cliche to say, but all of the struggles, the hardship, the rejections make it so easy to bond with other comedians because no one amongst us, no matter how successful they are now, have been, or will be that have not experienced them, too. I always tell my friends, the ones I truly and deeply connect with, the ones that I know will be doing standup comedy until the day they die that when we get cut off or have to end a hangout session early that its not big deal because we get to hang out for the rest of our lives. And it’s true. If only everyone could be so lucky.
RM: What’s next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
RS: I feel so optimistic about 2014. I really do. Every year I do standup comedy that accumulates on the year before, I feel like I get better. I know that at the very least I get closer to who I am and what my sense of humor truly is. It may sound weird or whatever, but I feel like if I can translate or recreate in a live show to strangers and make them laugh by doing the things I say out loud to myself when I’m at home or wherever alone, then that is true success. I will tell you my goals for 2014 and then maybe they will come true. These are the things that I am looking forward to in 2014: my late night stand up comedy debut, at least three guest starring roles in already established TV shows, at least three more web series that are completed, and most of all – being able to have a healthy relationships with people that add to the quality of my life overall. That sounds like a year I could die after and be okay about. Truth be told, I am already comfortable dying, but just want to keep living. That’s the funny thing about pursuing what you love, the prospect of inevitable death is not crippling as much as it is motivating. I am not sure if I have answered these questions at all or if my answers have been so far-reaching and off-topic that I will come off to strangers as ridiculous or not. But, I do know that there is nothing I love more in this world than standup comedy and I think it deserves the highest of reverence. The thing about 2014 that I am excited about the most is that there are so many great stand ups working and honing their craft right now and so many greats that continue to create brilliance in a way that I believe is unprecedented. Considering all of this it becomes impossible in my brain to even consider the possibility that stand up is not being elevated to new heights. I just hope that 2014 allows me to feel comfortable saying that I am a standup comedian amidst all the remarkably funny and quite frankly, truly innovation works of other comics out there. By the end of this year, I will either be exponentially better as a stand up because of the pressure put on me by my peers or I’ll be working in a hardware store in Nebraska trying to marry the owner’s daughter while I sleep on a cot in the storage room.
Official Website: http://ryansingercomedy.com/
Ryan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ryan-Singer/43706367557
Ryan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RySing
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