Ryan Hamilton remembers one night when someone shouted “You look really happy,” and the joke went from there. Now, Happy Face is the name of his first Netflix special. “It’s almost like the audience created the joke more than I did,” he says.
With appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan, and The Late Late Show under his belt, Hamilton will set up shop at Improv Houston from Thursday, June 14 to Sunday, June 17 to dish out his brand of observational humor (presumably with a smile). Houstonia chatted with Hamilton ahead of his visit about his iron skillets, trying to give up sugar, and the bittersweet experience of meeting your fans.
People have compared you to Jerry Seinfeld, and you've joked that you're something like "the illegitimate son of Jerry and Elaine." Now you've been opening for Jerry at certain shows. How's that going?
It’s been a new relationship, and it’s been a lot of fun to be able to open for someone who has been an influence on my entire comedy life. It’s been amazing just to get to watch him work—that has really inspired me. And it’s something I never thought I had the opportunity to do. I’m from a small town in Idaho, and I’m living in New York now, and it’s just been great to have this opportunity to work with a master like this.
In terms of material on your special, you talk about some wild experiences—going on hot air balloons, skydiving. Do you do these things for your comedy, or do they just happen to you?
Well sometimes—I will be honest—I think I don’t really want to do this, but maybe I’ll get a joke out of it. I don’t plan my life around trying to have experiences to get material, but it does seem to happen sometimes. But I don’t know, something strikes me in the moment as I am just living life, and I think there’s something there. And it’s not funny in that moment yet really. It is just an idea that has potential to be funny or a concept or a story. I just jot that down on my phone, and I think about it then I come back, and I do some free writing about it. Then I have a couple of beats I think will get laughs hopefully, and then I take it to the stage, and I try to get to those beats, and sometimes there’s a laugh with those beats, sometimes there are no laughs. You just take what works and keep it and move on. But every joke is a little different. They all have their own life.
I heard you were trying to give up on sugar, after trying to quit your gym membership. How is that going?
I can’t do it. I watched one of these documentaries. You know how documentaries become like gospel now? Sometimes I get halfway through one documentary and go that’s the new me, and there’s no consideration. It’s like I have concerns about this and now they’ve confirmed them all. That’s what happened with sugar. But it’s just too hard! People say that they do it, but it’s really difficult. Twenty years from now, we will be talking about sugar the way we talk about smoking right now. We’ll be going, “I was eating a candy bar on an airplane. It was crazy.” Or, “There was no age limit on ice cream, children were just licking cones on the street. We had something called ice cream cake.” It’ll seem then that we were crazy. I think that’s how it will turn out.
That's great. But other than our brighter, sugar-free future, what's something you’re obsessed with right now?
I got into cast iron skillets not too long ago, which is a funny one.
That’s really random.
Well, the thing about the information age we live in is that it’s too easy to get sucked down these rabbit holes. There’s too much information available about cast iron. I’m holding it in my hand as I’m walking around the house right now. My prized cast iron skillet! It was made in an old manufacturing process that they don’t do anymore because it’s too expensive, but it makes it lighter weight than cast iron skillets we have today. I just seem to get into these things, so I’ve accumulated knowledge that will hopefully be helpful in the future somehow.
Here's hoping! But skillets aside, these past couple years have been big for you with your Netflix special, your tour, being on The Late Show. How does it feel to be recognized and have some sold-out shows considering you came from a small town?
It’s kind of funny. Recently I was out and everybody was shouting out my comedy friends’ names and someone finally goes “Ryan Hamilton!" That's when I think I’m going to show my famous friends that I have some fans too, but then the dude comes over and says, “I know you from Google!” Which is, to be honest, a little deflating. I should have let it alone, but I asked, "What do you mean from Google?” He says, "My name is also Ryan Hamilton, and every time I Google my name, your face pops up.” And it wasn’t even that he was a fan, he just knew who I was because we share a name and he googled it. I asked if he'd ever seen what I’ve done, and he says no. Then I realize and said, “Are you the wedding photographer from Sacramento?” And he is! I also knew him from Google, but I knew his stuff. I thought he owed me one.
Ryan Hamilton, June 14–17. Tickets from $20. Improv Houston, 7620 Katy Fwy. 713-333-8800. More info and tickets at improvhouston.com.