Feature interview: Comedian Ryan Hamilton | Buzz Blog

Monday, November 13, 2023

Feature interview: Comedian Ryan Hamilton

Veteran Idaho-native comedian headlines his-first ever arena show

Posted By on November 13, 2023, 10:00 AM

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On Nov. 24, Idaho native Ryan Hamiltonwho launched his professional career playing Salt Lake City comedy clubsgets his first-ever show headlining an arena when he plays at the Delta Center. He spoke to City Weekly about the arc of his career, about recovering from a 2022 accident, and becoming friends with one of his comedy idols. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

CW: So, you’re headlining in the same venue where Adam Sandler is playing a week later. Does that feel real to you?
RH: No, it doesn’t. I still can’t believe this is happening, to be honest. It is surreal. I’ve performed there before, but opening for other people. I did a corporate event once on the floor, but I thought, “Well, this will be the only time I perform in the Delta Center.”

CW: As you’ve moved from clubs to theaters to an arena, have you found that you approach performing differently based on the size of the audience?
RH: [In an arena] I feel the need to be a little bigger, a little more physical. I’m also not acknowledging every little distraction, because even if you notice, only 10 percent of the people actually are aware it’s happening. You have to have your eye on the horizon.

CW: What do you recall about your very first set performing as a comedian?
RH: It was technically like, I was 18, maybe 19, I did it only four times in Idaho. So I’d never been to a comedy show when I did this, but I organized a comedy show, my friends and I did this. I didn’t know how difficult it was supposed to be, I didn’t know anything. I don’t remember thinking, “Well, that went terribly.” I do remember thinking, “This is pretty fun, but it’s pretty hard.” I was just thrilled to do it. I didn’t think of it as a career when I was young.

CW: We’re all our own worst critics, but as your career has progressed, do you recall when you had the “a-ha” moment of, “I think I’ve figured this out, and I know what I’m doing now?”
RH: It’s happened several times that I think I’ve figured it out, but then I realize, “Oh, I don’t know anything.” Because you get to a different level. First, you just want to be, like, a guy who can host a local show. Then you can be a featured [comedian], then let’s try to headline. You’re never ready for any of those sets; there’s no way to do it but to do it. Then you get to year 10, 11, 12, you think, “I can do everything that’s required of me to be a professional standup comedian.” So yeah, maybe 10 years.

CW: The first joke I remember hearing from you was describing yourself as looking like "the illegitimate son of Jerry and Elaine.” How surreal was it to develop a professional friendship and actually end up opening for Seinfeld?
RH: It’s very strange. I don’t know if he’s ever heard or seen that joke, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. That joke came about because I just kind of hearing from people, “Oh, you remind me of Seinfeld." In fact, I remember a review way back in a City Weekly that said, “He’s a sandy-haired Jerry Seinfeld type.” So I addressed it. If there’s something people are thinking, it’s sort of a comedy thing to address it up front.
I met [Seinfeld] at Carnegie Hall [when I was opening for a mutual friend]. He gave me some very good advice, especially about playing Carnegie Hall. … Backstage, Jerry’s wife said, “You remind me of Jerry.” I felt my whole body, my face go red, just kind of embarrassed; I don’t want him to think I’m trying to “do” him. Then Jerry said, “Really? I just don’t see it.”
Three days later, just by sheer happenstance, I was walking out of Gotham Comedy Club and he was walking in. He pulled me aside and told me some very nice things. Then a few months later I got a call to see if I wanted to open for him. And he loves comedians, he loves to work on bits. I’ve learned so much from him, not just about comedy, but about … balancing this crazy career with a healthy life.

CW: In January 2022, you were in an accident where you were hit by a bus. Aside from the ways it affected you physically, did you have any sort of “change the way you think about your life and your goals” moments?
RH: When something like that happens to you, all the things you thought were problems suddenly aren’t problems anymore. Just a year before that, my father had passed away …, and I remember feeling that then. Cut to one year later, I’m lying in the hospital, I remember thinking this same thing before. How did I forget so quickly? And I don’t want to forget anymore. It has changed my perspective on what’s important. I try to put less pressure on my career.

CW: How long was it between the accident itself, and the first moment in your head where you started to think of a joke about it that you could work into your act?
RH: I’m kind of ashamed of this, but it happened instantaneously. I’m not lying. I was hysterical, and in shock. The first thing I thought was, “I can’t believe this happened,” then I thought, “I’m going to have to postpone these shows in Salt Lake again [that had already been postponed multiple times due to COVID]. This is like a punch line.” It is a funny thing to have happen to you. … One of my comedian friends, Tommy Johnagin, was able to come to visit me in the hospital. We started bouncing ideas immediately, because that’s what we do. He brought me a notebook, and I started writing. For a couple of days I could, but then I just couldn’t for two or three months. I still had the momentum of a comedian right when it happened—this is just how we process life—but then was it like, “No, you have to heal, physically and emotionally.”

CW: Opening an arena seems to be kind of the top of a comedian’s career, but are there still other items on your professional bucket list?
RH: There were points in my career where I thought, “These are things I want to do.” It’s good to have goals and objectives, but this is an interesting enough kind of career that there are a lot of different paths. I never wanted to be an “arena comedian;” I wanted to play theaters and sell out theaters. But they came to me and said, “Do you want to do the arena?” and I said, “Sure, let’s do that.” And that’s happened several times, where somebody puts something in front of you and you say, “Do I want to pursue this goal? Do I want to take a different trajectory?” You kind of snake around and wind around and just try to keep moving forward. It used to be, I wanted to get a Comedy Central half-hour special, and it just never happened. Then I thought, “I’ll get a Netflix hour,” and then that didn’t happen for a while, but eventually it did. No two comedians ever get successful in exactly the same way.

Ryan Hamilton performs at the Delta Center on Friday, Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets available here.

About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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