There's an unspoken rule for news stories about Ryan Hamilton: You have to mention the fact he’s a clean comic. The topic comes up in every interview with the Last Comic Standing alum and sometimes-Jerry Seinfeld opener. Maybe it’s because audiences have become so accustomed to the raunchy jokes of heavy-hitters such as Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock that they're surprised someone can make them laugh without dropping a single F-bomb or dick joke.
Like those before us, New Times couldn’t help but broach the topic with Hamilton,
“I’ve accepted it’s a part of who I am,” Hamilton says over the phone. “There are much worse things to be called.”
Whatever those things are, Hamilton has probably said some of them about himself. Much of his humor is self-deprecating. The title of his 2017 Netflix special, Happy Face, is a reference to his chipper-looking mug. “I think I could sell ice cream in the '50s,” he joked in the special.
Some might be turned off by the idea of a clean comic, but Hamilton — named one of Rolling Stone’s "Five Comics to Watch in 2012," along with Tiffany Haddish — believes the label has been good for his career. He thinks he was able to land more gigs because of his rep. And, as Drew Carey tweeted of Hamilton: “This guy is incredibly funny. And he works super clean. But you’ll be laughing so hard you won’t even notice.”
“I think he was saying [working clean] adds a level of difficulty,” Hamilton says. “If you are completely clean, there is a little handicap you’re giving yourself. But for me, it’s the only way I can do it. I was flattered Drew said that. Most comedians love and respect clean comedians.”
Count Amy Schumer — whom nobody would confuse for a clean comic — among his admirers. Hamilton says they’ve been pals since they did Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham together in 2007. Schumer told him after his set that he should move to New York and get a place with her despite the fact they didn’t know each other. Hamilton would later appear in "The Nurses" sketch on Inside Amy Schumer and could have landed more work on the Comedy Central series but the roles weren’t, uh, on-brand for him.
“Her comedy is in a little different place than mine,” Hamilton says. “Sometimes she’ll give me small stuff I can’t do. I think she enjoys giving me opportunities and forcing me to make decisions and squirm whether to do it or not.”
They never became roomies, but Hamilton believes it would have been a “blast” had they moved in together, even if they are an odd pairing. She’s from New York; he’s from a small town in Idaho. Schumer, in her act, makes herself out to be a lush; Hamilton doesn’t drink at all and never has.
His sobriety comes up in his Netflix special, where he jokes that his friends don’t want to go drinking with him because he’ll remember every detail about the night: They “don’t want to take a little black box” with them “on this disaster.” Asked if he prefers a liquored-up crowd at his shows, as some comics do, Hamilton says he could do without it. “I have long jokes that require attention. I’ll lose people who are too drunk,” he says. “My crowd is normally pretty good.”
Sometimes a boozy audience is inevitable, like when he performs on New Year’s Eve. Hamilton works on the holiday nearly every year (he rang in 2019 in West Chester, Ohio), but he finds the experience to be kind of strange — and not because he’s one of the few sober people in the room.
“Normally, you have to be up there and do a countdown. Everyone finds somebody they love while you stand up there all alone,” Hamilton says. “It’s an odd moment in your life.”
Ryan Hamilton. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 19, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $28 to $38 via ticketmaster.com.
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