Ryan Hamilton more concerned about laughs than labels

If you watch Ryan Hamilton’s comedy special, “Happy Face,” Netflix will recommend other stand-up performances, including concerts by anger merchants Bill Burr, Jim Norton and the late Sam Kinison. It’s a bit like having a buddy say, “Hey, ya like ‘Sixteen Candles’? How about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?”

The Netflix algorithm is news to the wholesome BYU graduate who grew up in Ashton, Idaho (2010 population: 1,127). The very idea of it makes him laugh. “All great comedians,” the 42-year-old Hamilton says. “I’m a big fan, but you wouldn’t lump us together.”

Read anything about Hamilton, and the label “clean comic” seems to stick. “People have to put you somewhere in order to advertise and talk about you,” he explains. But he sees himself as a comic who just happens to work clean. “I’ve always kind of worked that way, but I think it was because that’s just what I was drawn to. That’s kind of who I am, anyway.”

Hamilton, who’ll play the Comedy Cellar at the Rio on Monday, talks while driving from his home in New York to open for Jerry Seinfeld in Atlantic City. No stranger to pressure, having performed on “Last Comic Standing,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and “Conan,” Hamilton admits to having a nervous energy the first time he got the call to work with the comedy icon. “There’s a little anxiety with it, but it goes away very quickly. He’s very easy and accommodating. And it’s just apparent right away that he loves comedians, and he loves to talk about comedy.”

That’s something else Hamilton shares with Seinfeld, both of whom deliver sets of observational comedy you can feel safe seeing with your grandmother: During a conversation, Hamilton will explain the inner workings of comedy as though he were teaching a class. Circling back to that seemingly random Netflix grouping, he says, “In my mind, that’s kind of how comedy is. We’re all comedians. We all get along. People wouldn’t understand that really from the outside looking in. Comedy is what has brought us all together. Comedy is the thing that we have in common, not what kind of comedy we do.”

Hamilton is a regular at the Comedy Cellar in New York, and Monday’s show marks his second trip to the Vegas offshoot. The resemblance between the two, he says, is uncanny but not totally unexpected considering it’s a couple of miles from a Statue of Liberty. “It’s a little strange, but it fits in Vegas. Because that’s what Vegas is: It’s a bunch of reproductions of other things. That’s what it feels like to me.”

Las Vegas presents a challenge for touring comedians, Hamilton says. “People are coming from all over, so the crowd can be a little, I don’t want to say disjointed, but it can be diverse in terms of experiences that people are coming from. When I’m on the road, it’s like, ‘This is the event.’ But Vegas, there’s a lot going on, so this might be the third thing they’ve done today.”

But the best thing about playing Las Vegas, he adds, is simply saying that you’re playing Las Vegas.

“There’s a nostalgia to it and a romance to it that’s fun. It’s an entertainment mecca, and it has been for a long time. I love the romance. ‘I’m playing Vegas.’

“I love listening to old show business stories, and somewhere along the line, everybody gets to Vegas.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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