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Speaking His Mind

Ralphie May played to a tough crowd last year.

His visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center was “the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he says. He tried to cheer up young soldiers who were missing body parts, and he got one guy who was probably headed to the psychiatric ward to start talking and laughing.

“He wouldn’t talk to anybody; everybody thought he was suicidal. The head colonel goes, ‘Thank you for drawing him out. Nobody’s ever been able to do that since we got him here, for six weeks.'”

“That stuff is when you go, ‘Wow, that’s why I’m a comedian,’ ” says May, who performs today and Saturday at South Point.

People say they oppose the Iraq war but support the troops. May actively does both. He has been to Iraq and visited troops on the home front. He figures it lets him make jokes about politicians (“Hillary, she’s cold baby. I wish she could have been in Nevada in July and cooled it off about 40 degrees”) and the war (“I know a way for no Americans to die in Iraq: Leave.”).

“I recognize the only reason I can do what I do is our Constitution enabling the freedom of speech. Without that, I have nothing,” May says.

“(For) those men and women who defend that right for me to make that living, I am going to give back time,” the Tennessee native adds. “I can’t take ’em out of (expletive) Iraq or out of the wheelchair, but I can make ’em forget about it and laugh their asses off for a couple of hours.”

The 35-year-old comedian has come into his own since his first dose of fame. He was originally known for his weight — topping 500 pounds — and a near-miss second place on the original “Last Comic Standing.” The first contest had big network viewership in 2003, allowing May to headline a “Last Comic”-themed package at the Sahara after his narrow loss to Dat Phan.

He hasn’t been on the Strip much since then, falling into that gap between comedy clubs and the big names. But he’s closing in on the latter, and credits two Comedy Central specials for scooting audience expectations away from fat jokes and into the edgy terrain of comedy pals such as Joe Rogan, Jim Norton and Louis C.K.

Louie Anderson and John Pinette “always did fat jokes better than I ever could,” he says. His obesity is “part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am.” May is instead honing more aggressive material to record his third Comedy Central special — this one 90 minutes — this spring.

He also wants to do yet another special, “a dirty one,” for HBO or Showtime. “The comedians I always loved and respected the most were always filthy degenerates,” he says. “It would be kind of nice to do an homage to those guys.”

Like many of the great blue comics, May leaves the raunch onstage. His home life revolves around the new baby — April June May — which his wife, stand-up comic Lahna Turner, had in September. “When she’s onstage, I’ll hold the baby, and when I’m onstage, she’ll hold the baby,” he said last week, speaking from the South Beach Comedy Festival.

He has lost more than 100 pounds after gastric bypass surgery, though a hernia slowed progress on his attempts to go lower than 392. The baby motivates him to get in better shape. “I can’t think of anything more that I want to do in life than hang out with her,” he says.

Although he has so far evaded serious complications such as diabetes, he knows “it’s a serious problem, and it’s not gonna be a quick fix.”

Even so, May figures he enjoys life more than most of his comedy peers. “I’ve talked to all those guys, and I think I love stand-up more than they do. I don’t think I’m better than those guys, I just think I love it more,” he says.

“My brother runs a transmission shop in Arkansas. He works. Guys who tar roofs in the middle of the summer, they work,” he notes. “This is a joy. If people are going to pay money to hear me talk dirty? Fantastic.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0288.

 

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