Ryan Singer, on Stand-Up, Working with Marc Maron, & Latest Comedy Album - Immortal For Now.
August 17, 2015
I was born and raised in place called Kettering, Ohio, part of Dayton, Ohio. Went to Catholic school for twelve years because of the Irish-Catholic upbringing on both sides of my family.
I never cared for the schools as the public schools had the things that appealed more to me: radio stations, television stations, and bigger theater programs.
I knew at a young age that I would end up in the entertainment industry somehow because when adults laughed at anything I did, it was the best feeling in the world.
I enjoyed making my friends laugh as a kid, but it just didn’t seem as real or deep as making an adult laugh because they had seen so much more.
First Job in Entertainment
My first entertainment job as waiting tables at a comedy club.
I knew that I wanted to be in the world that seemed so far away or secret, but I wasn’t ready to commit to the up-front aspect of it. I wanted to get a look behind the scenes and infiltrate the world in that way and I knew working at a club would do just that.
The best job I have ever had that wasn’t performing still remains that job, but I got lucky because it was a real comedy club.
I mean that it wasn’t some huge chain comedy club that pretends to care about stand up as an art form. It is not that they do not care about the comedians, because I am sure on some level the individuals who work there certainly do care about them, but as chains they do not care about the art form.
Stand ups might as well be surfboards hanging on the wall on a TGIF restaurant when it comes to the big club chains.
I am inspired from so many sources and I believe that inspiration is the most important part of staying vibrant, to combat the stale that can be caused from the rigors of travel, being underpaid, and sleeping in awful comedy condos.
Looking back on these things they become much more romantic, but in the moment they are the things that make you wonder aloud, alone, “Did I make a huge mistake devoting my life to this?”
Amidst all that, when I find a great book, watch a moving documentary on Netflix, or just stand and stare a marvelous piece of street art – those are just some of the things that keep my mind firing.
I believe in the muse.
I also believe in the Muse. Person or thing, finding that muse is important to me above all else and detaching from expectations of outcome in what they or it has inspired.
Why Stand-Up Comedy?
The thing that makes stand up comedy the best thing in the world to me is that there are no rules.
Sure, certain clubs or show might try to put restrictions on you or your language, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen or even believe them. One must always live with the consequences of their choices, but stand up is not machinery.
There are no machines fine-tuning the pieces in a giant grinder to the exact precision of certain prefabricated measurements. This is not to say that a lot of comics don’t fall into the same patterns, styles, etc. because they certainly do.
But, when you get lucky enough to see one of the ones that floated into the abyss of their imagination, those are the moments reminding me of the ultimate beauty of this art form.
Just a performer and a microphone…no rules.
Life on the Road
I’ve always loved the idea of “the road” and being on the road.
Whether it is the classic Americana that can found there or what I gleaned from Keroac’s book. I used to tell people that I was born to be a trucker or a comic because I can just keep driving and driving and driving.
The older I get the less that is true, but I do love being mobile, free, and on the float.
Sleeping in my car, on the couches of people not really known, and crossing your fingers that the car just holds up for another 300 miles is what the road means to me.
The audiences vary slightly from region to region, but not as much as people may think.
The road gets a bit easier the longer you do it, hopefully. You figure out how to be on the road as you and what it takes to keep your sanity and not spin off the globe. That comes with time and I no longer ever see anyone anywhere in my travels and think, “That dude is batshit crazy.”
I usually just assume he’s doing what he’s gotta do to keep it together.
Mainstream & Alt. Clubs
Getting to be on the road or full-time as a comedian seems like such an impossible thing before you do it.
I was very lucky and started in the Midwest where there are a ton of clubs. From Dayton, OH, there were roughly 30 clubs I could drive to in eight hours. That could fill your whole year if you’re at the feature level and can work the same club twice a year.
Out West is a different thing due to the space between clubs.
Now that I live in Los Angeles I have to fly most places, unless I book a huge run together and just take my car on the road for 2 or 3 months straight.
The “alt” rooms are what help keep my sanity and deep, deep love for stand up as an art alive.
These are small rock venues, coffee shops, even bookstores where local comedians have decided to build their own scenes and buck against the local clubs to some degree.
Just because someone had enough money to open a comedy club doesn’t mean they have any idea about what stand up is or what it could or should be.
They just had the money.
The comedians have taken back the power to some degree. But, having said all that, comedy clubs are not all bad. Some are beacons of light in a sea of shit rooms that paper (give away all free tickets to just get anyone in the room to drink a ton of booze to make money) and make you wonder what you’re doing with your life.
I came up in the club system, but always had one foot out the door to some degree.
Mostly because the audience’s confusion had made the owner of the club ask me to take a step outside. One time on the road early in my career, my girlfriend at the time was with me because it was one of my “top 5 clubs” I thought I wanted to work before I did stand up and when I worked all 5 I could finally call myself a “real” comedian whatever that is.
I bombed all weekend.
I was so shattered and she said to me during the long drive back to Ohio, “You’re not a great comic if every club you work wants you back.”
That saved me. And I believe it still – rightly or wrongly.
Releasing an album of my comedy is a really big deal to me.
I am not sure it has the same allure to many people that it used to considering how easy it is to release something of relatively high quality nowadays – at least production-wise.
I go into a recording thinking that this is going to be what or how total strangers are introduced to me and you only have one chance to make that first impression.
But, more important than that it is what I have to live with being out there in the world forever after or at least until the fall of civilization.
It is a fine line in my life between being crippled with fear of imperfection and just doing the best I can.
I have made myself understand and accept that even though I know certain jokes will be better 1 month, 3 months, even a year after the recording that it is okay to release them into the world as they are as long as I’m not doing it just to throw something out there.
I want my albums to have a story to tell about me and my sense of humor and hopefully the person listening jives with it.
Using these rudimentary symbols of the alphabet and prearranged sounds and grunts to communicate our deepest, truest, most intimate emotions and feelings is not an easy task and to use them to elicit laughter is even more difficult.
I do not take it lightly when it comes to the permanent record of what I will put out there and only do it when I feel like the story is ready to be told.
I’ve been very lucky and had very warm responses to my first two albums HOW TO GET HIGH WITHOUT DRUGS (2010) and COMEDY WONDER TOWN (2012).
I believe that my recent recording due out in October, IMMORTAL FOR NOW is by far my best work.
My goal has always been to create the stand up comedy equivalent of the album SMILE by Brian Wilson. I will never achieve it, but even in failing I can hopefully make something really damn good.
Art for Art's Sake vs. Commerical Viability
My view in this short time as a mortal, fleshy being is that I am going to try my best to become the truest representation of myself on stage for the audience.
I am always me, but performing under lights, on a stage affects the idea of who self is, at least to me.
If in fact the simple act of observation changes the behavior of thing being observed, it is also true for stand up comedy and the comedian.
I strive to make art because I believe in art. I believe in stand up comedy as art and no one will convince me otherwise.
Sure, certain things will make more money or make me more successful, but under who’s measurement system? I do not allow other people to determine for me what success means.
I know what being successful is to me and that is all that matters and the pursuit of art is something that is worthy of struggle, austerity, and even ridicule.
I’ve seen what money can do to people and I am not interested in that aspect of this dream.
It would be nice to not have roommates by the time I turn 40, but I am not going to obsess over it and ascribe meaning to it when before no meaning was present. Only in my mind does it mean something good or bad and only if I believe it.
I truly believe it is better to be loved by few than forgotten by many.
That is why I pursue my path, a path that lets me sleep comfortably at night, in mind certainly if not surroundings. Is it a bit much or too lofty a thing to put on stand up? Sure, maybe.
This is all a luxury to even have the time to consider these answers to these questions and I am aware of that. But, I am lucky enough to be one of those people in this short life that realized you do not have to do anything or rather the “thing” people believe they have to do.
We all are just one simple decision away from pursuing all that we love.
How Has Your Field Changed Because of Improvements In Technology?
The modern age of technology has made stand up and the entertainment industry exponentially better. I love it. It is easier to communicate and find your audience arguably now than ever before.
Some people say it has made for a glut of comics and it has gone way too far. But, I would argue that if you truly believe in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish it doesn’t matter how many other people are trying to do it because you believe and know your unique voice will rise above the din.
I would argue that you have a chance now to become, in some aspects, a more unique voice than ever before in the history of comedy.
As each new day passes, more and more jokes never before told are being told so the idea of writing unique and original material becomes more and more difficult.
Considering that, if you can carve out uniqueness and originality amidst this growing glut of voices and scarcity of natural comedic resources, you are truly putting yourself in a position to transcend. Why not shoot for that?
Years ago, I used to be one of those people who believed that I will write when I’m inspired. Then, I read the book THE WAR OF ART by Stephen Pressfield and realized I was a coward.
I was a coward because I wasn’t really trying to follow my passion and subconsciously I knew I would have an excuse for failure – oh, I could’ve tried harder and made it, but I didn’t really try that’s why I failed.
But, what if I tried and gave it my all and still failed? Then I would have to live with that truth and you know what? That is a beautiful truth to live with if it plays out that way.
Well done, you courageous bastard for not giving into fear and actually trying.
There is only one thing I love more than failing and that is succeeding. So, even when I fail I love it because I know I’m trying, pushing myself further, and really living.
That is why I try to write all the time even when I’m not inspired to do so.
My goal is to “write, listen and read” something. If I can do those 3 things everyday, I have done myself a great creative service because I’m taking in more information and experience and then I’m also putting out.
Write anything, listen to something, read something. Sometimes I’ll even throw in “watch” to make it 4 items – written, listen, read & watch.
If you’re interested in joining this world my only advice would be to make sure you love it. You’ll know pretty quickly if you do. Why waste your life not doing what you love?
If you love it, stick to it, and don’t quit regardless of what anyone says. If you don’t love it, go find the thing you do.
I love acting. I studied theater in college only to get more comfortable on stage because I knew I was going to do stand up later. I fell in love with the stage when I did it, though. I love actors and their process.
The difference between on-camera and live theater is profound.
But, to get to escape and become this other person is so fun to me. The influence of my love of theater is clear in my stand up, I think. I love trying to figure out why a character would do or say something and that is the joy of that transformation for me.
Also, the sharing that happens with other actors is such a different experience than doing stand up.
To be reliant on another person and reacting to them and what is happening between the two or more of you is what creates this extra energy that stand up doesn’t have exactly.
I love the chance to use those muscles.
The most difficult things I have ever experienced in my career are usually financial.
I made the decision a long time ago that I was going to take the “long road” so to speak creatively to ensure that I was never stuck in a place in my career that I was required to do or perform things I hated, but that had gotten me money or fame.
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to maintain faith in yourself when it seems that the world will never “get it.”
No man is an island and I believe that to be true. It is helpful to have the right people come along at the right times and give you that boost you need to keep moving onward and upward.
If you believe and you are doing it for the right reasons, I have blind faith that those moments will always happen.
Some might call it living a reckless lifestyle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Financially I’m a mess and try not to spend much time thinking about the reality of it all.
I just believe someday I won’t have to worry about all that debt, you know? Just believe.
Mindcast - Me & Paranormal You
My creative life is mostly about passion projects and my mindcast is no different.
It is a podcast called Me & Paranormal You where I interview people with paranormal abilities or otherworldly experiences. The premise of it all is that it is more fun to believe.
I have experienced some things in my life that make me very open to these things including but definitely not limited to: shape-shifters, clairvoyance, ghosts, and aliens.
I love the idea of having long talks with people about figuring out their lives and adjusting to being empathetic or highly intuitive.
I do not have any abilities but if there is one thing about me that is true it is that I meet a lot of people that do. I always knew I would do a podcast at some point and at the beginning of 2014 I launched this project.
It has been so thrilling and enlightening to have so many people, most who never really speak to people about their experiences, walk me through what life has been like for them.
I have learned more than I could ever possibly explain since it began. I hope to do it until I die.
Approach to Creative Projects
When it comes to creative projects, I usually error on the side of passion. No matter how big or small the project may be, if I believe in it I am committed to it until the very end.
Whether it is a TV show idea, web series, or feature script I am going to put all of my eggs in whatever basket and go for it.
I have always believed that emptying my savings account for something I love is much better than saving up for whatever “rainy day” may come or not come.
My mind is constantly thinking of ideas of all kinds, but one will usually always make itself the priority and then it is all systems go.
Working with Marc Maron & WTF Podcast
Marc Maron has done more for me than I could ever explain to people.
Before I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2011 I was essentially on my way to NYC. After talking with him about my future, he helped convinced me that LA was the right move and I did it.
He’s been a huge influence on all aspects of my life and they have definitely shaped who I am now as a performer and as a person.
We first worked together randomly in 2010 and then I was lucky enough to open for him for the next 3 years or so. To say that his openness, honesty, and genius as a stand up comedian hasn’t had a profound affect on me and my comedy would be insane.
His fearlessness and ability to connect with the deepest parts of any audience is a gift and there is no one like him.
I’ve found many supporters and fans through him and I’m forever in his debt for things well beyond that.
I love filmmaking. I believe in the gut process. Sometimes it is okay to be rough around the edges and learn those lessons that need to be learned by only making them.
It is impossible to do anything for the first time and just be perfect, so why not embrace the flaw?
I love to make things that don’t always make logical sense. I do love telling a story, but not at the expense of having fun and expressing creativity, no matter how weird it may be. I am not sure I even understand all the things that I have done or had ideas to do, but that is okay.
Sometimes, I just feel like there is something that must be caught because I believe in how it will make the person watching it feel.
I’m not always right, but that is okay, too. But, the documentary is something I am very fascinated with and continue to play around with in my limited free time. I am trying to film something still and it has been a struggle, but the realness of it is what appeals to me so much.
I can record this footage and I don’t have to edit any of it out, even the embarrassing and shameful stuff.
That is exhilarating to think about. At the end of anything I have ever shot, edited, or written, I just want the viewer to have felt something and not been bored.
I want them to get it and if we’re lucky they do.
I’m certain social media has grown my career in many ways and I’m not sure I am even aware of it. It definitely helps connecting with the people who dig what I do and the content I’m putting out there. I’m not sure its possible for someone at my level to have that connection without it.
Top 5 Moments in Entertainment
I’ve had some incredible moments in this relatively short career of mine, but to list them in a top five way would be too limiting, I think.
I do know that my first time on a television show set, sharing the stage with comedic idols, and being able to support myself by just doing stand up comedy are definitely towards the top of the list.
What is something that people don't know about your career that you wish the did?
I would love for people to know that when it comes to my career, I truly believe that I have already made it. I would be quite surprised if anyone reading this knew who I was, but rest assured I’ve made it.
I’m living my dream every single day I am lucky enough to wake up and the rest is inconsequential after that.
Like I said earlier, I studied theater in college and then later graduated with a degree in creative writing to prepare myself for a life in stand up and entertainment.
I just consumed everything I could about the people I loved the most through books, documentaries, tv shows, etc. I didn’t want to be surprised by anything that came my way even though that it inevitable.
Marc Maron has been such a promoter of me and my comedy that he would definitely be at the top of the list when it comes to supporters of mine.
But, there are so many other people who have made my life exponentially easier by reminding me that the pursuit of art is indeed a worthy and worthwhile pursuit.
I have many peers that also believe this and together we remind each other of these things even if it at times we border on delusion.
To list everyone who inspires, mentors in some way, or supports me would too long because I am probably the luckiest guy in the world in that regard.
I’m excited about the future because my third album comes out in October, a short film I wrote and acted should be finished sometime later this year.
I’m always working on web series and TV show ideas, and I’m also writing a feature length script based on the short film we are in post-production on now.
I also have an idea for a book that I’m exploring possibilities on trying to publish – it is based on some drawings I do in my comedy notebook. I’d love release them all in a collection together with a few pieces of my writing interspersed throughout.
I’m also very excited about the steady growth of the mindcast, as I did my first live interview with an audience recently and will try to do more of those in the future and hopefully at some point can expand the mindcast into bigger and better projects, but it is exactly what I want it to be already and that is cool, too.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I’m not sure how long you wanted these answers to be, but I am sure I probably expounded and expanded a bit more than you thought.
At the end of the day, I just hope your readers believe that they can do whatever they want and it is never too late to start doing it. Life is too short not to try. It is more fun to believe.
Where can people go to learn more about you and your career?