Ryan Stout: Why is this kid being mean?

I first saw Ryan Stout perform at a small coffee shop a few days before he taped a Live at Gotham set for Comedy Central. On stage, Ryan was personable, charming, and delivering the sort of jokes that made the audience laugh in such a way you could tell they weren’t sure if it was appropriate to laugh, but they just couldn’t help it. Skillfully worded and delivered, Ryan’s material proclaimed he was a talent to watch in the years to come. Watch out America, here comes Ryan Stout!

That Other Paper How long have you been headlining?

Ryan Stout I’ve headlined here and there for the past two years. Cap City was the first place to push me to do more time. Everywhere else went, “We’d love to have you come back and headline. You think you wanna do that?” Headlining shows is a lot of pressure. You have to put butts in seats and it’s more fun for me to go in as a feature, do some new material and dick around, and have it be fun and easy. Everyone wants to be a headliner, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Cap City brought me back to co-headline and this time around they’re flat out having me headline. They’re sick and tired of me coming in and playing games. They just want me to go in and do some work, and I’m more than happy to do that for them.

photo courtesy ryanstout.net Ryan Stout’s press photo. Aww! 

TOP How has your material changed with time?

RS I was trying to do then what I’m doing now, but due to lack of confidence and experience it wasn’t playing that well. I hadn’t developed my voice or demeanor, so it was a lot of audience members going, “Why is this kid being mean like that?” It was difficult, but that’s starting off. I find it fun to lie to the audience, press their buttons more, and say things I don’t mean. When you don’t have any comedic experience, and you’re doing that stuff, it doesn’t come across the way you want it to sometimes. Hopefully I’m getting better at it.

TOP When did you develop your interest in comedy?

RS I watched a lot of stand-up as a kid, especially A&E’s Evening at the Improv. I must’ve been nine years old watching it at nine o’clock on Wednesday nights. My bedtime was nine and I stayed up for an hour past that to watch all the stand-up I wanted. I watched it a lot on Comedy Central, too. I preferred stand-up to sketch. I choose stand-up over Monty Python and Kids in the Hall, even though I think they’re very funny.

TOP When did you decide to make stand-up your career?

RS I did my first set on my 17th birthday at a high school talent show. As soon as I started doing it, I was pretty much trying to figure out how to do it as a business. I knew early on that there were people who toyed with it as a hobby and did it for years and years, and I certainly didn’t want to be one of those people. I wanted to develop an act, be on TV, get paid, and not have to worry about going to a stupid day job.

TOP What sort of day jobs have you worked in the past?

RS I lucked out. My first day in the Bay area I wandered into a piano store and an old guy with no front teeth was trying to sell me a piano. I told him, “I don’t play the piano. I just like pianos. I like the way they sound. I’m fascinated when people can play pianos, but I have no talent whatsoever. I don’t even have a place to put a piano.” And he said he was looking for an assistant. I started cleaning up the store. Some days I’d just come in and read a book and that’d be my whole day. After September 11th, no one was really buying anything. The piano business got a little slow, and they didn’t have the money to keep me around, so I went back to school. I did stand-up every night I was at San Francisco State University. I spent years doing that, made the connections that I needed to start going out on the road, and I haven’t had another day job since 2001.

TOP Have you had any hell gigs in that time?

RS I performed at a corporate gig for a group of retired, Republican men. I didn’t know they were Republicans until I got there, and the guy who booked me mentioned, “Yup, last Democrat we had here got strung up out back.” The gig was in a hunting lodge that had no stage, florescent lights, and a shoddy sound system. It was the only show I’ve ever done where men yelled at me because I was too loud while other men simultaneously yelled at me because they couldn’t hear me. They heckled and booed the whole time. The next night I had to do a show for their wives.

Compared to many comics, I haven’t done that much roadwork. Since I started in San Francisco, I was fortunate that I could get a lot of stage time in and around the Bay Area. So even though I’ve had a lot of little annoyances on the road, none have been big enough to complain about. Like after killing a Saturday late show at a club in Philadelphia, I was in the green room receiving fellatio from these redheaded, D-cup triplets. I reached for a bottle of water, only to discover we had run out of Fiji. All they had left was Crystal Geyser. Yuck.

photo courtesy ryanstout.net Ryan Stout is known to occasionally sit on a sofa and place his hand against his forehead 

TOP What sort of impact did your college career have on your stand-up?

RS I was pretty much a prick in college. I’d look around at people who were studying and didn’t really know what they wanted to do with their lives. They thought that maybe school would tell them. I would sit there, roll my eyes, and think, “I already know what I want to do, everybody. Can we please stop wasting my time?” I begrudgingly did all the work, kept a high GPA, and continued to do stand-up every night.

I found myself writing a lot of material in my critical thinking philosophy classes. A lot of my material toys with logic and is logic-based. Those classes really made me think more and more about certain subjects. I wish I could go back and do college all over again as a philosophy major. I was a creative writing major because I thought that would be easy. I dropped out with two classes left and moved to LA. College is done.

TOP What do you like to do when you’re in Austin?

RS I have friends who still live there and I really like to hang out with them. I eat Mexican food a lot when I’m in Austin because it’s similar to the food I grew up on in El Paso. I like going to the Alamo Drafthouse and having a meal while watching a movie. I’d never done that until I was in Austin. I’m not a big bar-hopping fan. I always do the Velveeta Room open mic whenever I’m in town because I think it’s great to see the other comics and meet the people who are in the Austin scene.