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The Weekly interview: comedian Ralphie May

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Ralphie May takes the South Point stage this weekend with his wife, Lahna Turner.
Julie Seabaugh

A breakout star of 2003’s debut Last Comic Standing reality competition, Ralphie May went on to compete in 2005’s Celebrity Fit Club ... and underwent four back surgeries as a result. Things got even worse when he nearly died of pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism in 2011. And then there was May’s October Twitter announcement concerning a rehab facility stay to focus on his mental health. But following some needed time off, May is back with much more social satire cleverly disguised as effortlessly accessible observation. Having released five stand-up specials in the past eight years, he’s about to record another two back-to-back in Las Vegas.

You’ve been on the road for five weeks, but you took some time off before that.

It was probably three or four months. This tour is a lot smaller. The last one was for eight, nine weeks. It was really bad; it was every day alone on a bus. It’s easier that way, but it was hard to figure it out, you know, like, “Where am I going? What am I doing? What’s going on?” type of sh*t, like, “Where am I at today?” You fall asleep in one city and wake up in another. Do a show, get back on the bus, go to another city and perform, come back a city that you just did ... and it’s just a lot.

How are you handling it now that you’re back on the road?

Well, now it’s a lot easier. I had to take time off because I burned myself out. I got diagnosed with PTSD from almost dying. It was keeping me awake for days on end—irritable, angry for no reason, probably would have led to drugs and alcohol; just self-medication, make the thoughts stop so I could sleep, stuff like that. But luckily I caught it before that and got out without a drug addiction or alcoholism. I got the mental sh*t out of the way.

Calendar

Ralphie May with Lahna Turner
May 24-27, 7:30 p.m., $40-$50
South Point, 796-7111

So it was more preventative than reactionary?

Well no, it was reactionary, too. I mean, I got into a fight at a Starbucks. I almost got arrested. It was pretty bad, you know. I was just not being me.

In Jim Gaffigan’s new book, he talks about bringing all five of his kids on his bus. You only have two, but does it help when you bring them along? Does it keep you more grounded?

Oh, it does, without a doubt. And I have an amazing wife [Lahna Turner]. She’s a comedian, but really she’s so much more a hell of a f*cking woman. She’s an amazing mom; an amazing performer.

In Vegas we’re both taping specials at the South Point. It’s a big deal for us, and I don’t know if they’ve ever taped two in one night, much less three in one weekend, but we’re gonna put it to the test.

What are the time logistics of doing something like that?

She’s going to do 40 minutes over two nights and editing it together. And mine, I’m taping two entirely different sets.

Are they for a double release, or will they be staggered out?

Probably staggered out. I want to get them done, you know, knock them out. I’ve got the material, I’ve got the stage time, it’s all worked out, it’s ready to go, and so might as well put it to use.

I’m guessing the past couple months have been pretty fertile for you creatively.

Yeah, exactly, I’ve done a lot of joke writing. I’ve never really struggled with that as a comedian. Most comics write 15 to 20 minutes a year, I write about two hours. I taped two in one night in 2005. I taped Girth of a Nation and Prime Cut in the same night. Not too many people can do that.

Will your new material deal with your recovery mind-set?

Not really. I find that the personal stuff just gets in the way. People want to hear about it in interviews and on Twitter and stuff, but live people want to forget their problems. They don’t want to hear about my bullsh*t that’s real. It’s like, let’s just have fun.

People come for an escape.

Exactly, exactly.

You’re still out of Nashville at least a portion of the time?

Yes, I love Nashville. I still have a place in Los Angeles as well. One in LA, and one in America. I spend about eight months [a year] in Nashville, Nashville centered, and then Lahna and I spend a lot of time in LA when we’re working on stuff.

How’s your Perfect 10 podcast going?

It’s going great! We love doing it. It’s fun, it’s something different, it’s something that my wife and I get to work on. And I think it’s different than a lot of podcasts. We do a lot of crazy sh*t, and have a lot of fun and it’s a real blast.

What I like about yours is it’s never the same thing over and over.

Yeah, it’s not just us talking to one of our friends. It’s always something different.

Do you have more projects lined up after recording the specials? Or are you looking to take some real time off?

It’s a little bit of both; June and July I’m mostly taking off. I’m just doing one show a week and doing some charity work. But mostly it’s just taking time off in Nashville.

What’s the charity work?

There’s a police officer in Arkansas, the first to be killed in 20-something years. I have a connection with this town, and they called me, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do a free set for you to help raise funds for the family.”

Anything else going on?

I’m going to be a cast member on Squidbillies starting next year. It’s a goofy show on Cartoon Network. I just finished a two-parter. It’s something that they don’t do much of, so I’m proud to do it. It’s a big deal for me. I love that show.

Have you done much vocal work before?

I’ve done some. I don’t do it all the time, but it’s hard.

Harder than getting up onstage for an hour?

Oh yeah, way harder! There’s no response, you’re in basically a hot closet recording for hours and it’s just like, “Great! It’s so awesome that nobody will ever hear this!”

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