Ralphie May didn't take the stereotypical route to comedy stardom. But it doesn't really matter how you get there, because you're going to pay your dues in one way or another.
"There are a lot of different paths to be a stand-up comic," May says. "But there's no easy path to do it; all of them really grind you down."
For May, 42, the path started when he won a contest at the age of 17.
"I was going to high school and college in Arkansas at the same time," May says. "I won a contest to open for Sam Kinison, and then I got a blowjob after the show and said 'Fuck college, I'm doing this instead.'"
Not long after, Kinison advised May to move to Houston, which he did in 1990. May still views the late Kinison as his biggest role model for comedy.
"I think Sam Kinison was a great stand-up. What I want to do is avoid the pitfalls he had and capitalize on what he did well," May says.
Over the course of the last 25 years, May has risen to prominence in the comedy world. His biggest break came in 2003 when he finished second on the debut season of Last Comic Standing, but May just considers himself fortunate to be where he is today.
"I had a hard time coming up, both in stand-up and in life," May says. "I got hit a lot. I got the shit kicked out of me a lot. I'm lucky to be where I'm at today."
Though the journey hasn't always been easy, May wouldn't change his stand-up life for anything.
"I love being a stand-up, it's the best job in the world. A lot of comedians want to do stand-up to get on TV. If I'm on TV, it's so I can do more stand-up," May says. "The toughest part is having to leg it out on tour and be away from my wife and kids. It's tough to be away for so long and have the energy to perform every night."
There are two main reasons why May enjoys doing stand-up so much: the experiences and the way it allows him to see the world.
"I've met so many really cool people doing stand-up. I've gotten to work with legends and go around the world to places I never thought I'd go. I get to see things that no one else gets to see and go perform for the troops in Iraq. It's awesome," May says. "I'm glad I don't see things as someone who isn't a comedian. Like say we're walking down the street together and see an old lady fall. You might see that as a tragedy, whereas I think that's the funniest shit ever. It's not that I wouldn't help her, you just see the comedy in everything."
Like many overweight comedians before him, May says that many people don't realize how well-rounded his somewhat raunchy style of comedy can be.
"People think I just tell fat jokes all the time. I really don't, but the perception is that I do. It's nice when you get people who know about stand-up and can see that I talk about all kinds of shit," May says.
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As for what people should expect if they catch one of May's shows at the Tempe Improv this weekend, the comic says you should be prepared to laugh and become surprisingly aroused.
"The show is filthy and nasty and all those fun things. You're going to feel every good, fun, and naughty feeling at the same time. The girls are going to be turned on. The guys are going to be turned on. It's going to be awesome," May says. "Come out and laugh hard. Afterward, we can go downstairs and get sushi."
Ralphie May performs at Tempe Improv October 9 through 12. Tickets are $25 to $50 and available at tempeimprov.com.