For 25 years now, Ralphie May has appeared at the biggest venues, slayed every late-night audience multiple times, recorded a special for every comedy-loving network on television, traveled the world for the USO and reached the level of popularity few stand-up comedians have attained.
Yet little compares to the amount of exposure May received when Netflix exclusively launched his new comedy special “Unruly” on February 27th, at the same time it released the new season of “House of Cards.”
“That’s the biggest launch in Netflix history,” May said. “The wave for ‘House of Cards’ is a tsunami and I’m the fat guy trying to body surf. These guys are taking me to the middle of the country. They’re taking me into people’s homes. I’m the luckiest guy in America.”
You could make the argument May already was among the luckiest, with a charmed career that’s equal parts sweat equity and choking the life out of every opportunity that came along. He fell in love with comedy after performing at a church conference at age 13, and winning unexpected rewards. He turned professional at 17 when he opened for Sam Kinison after winning a contest as a dual-enrollment student at the University of Arkansas.
“He told me to move to Houston,” May said, “so I didn’t wait till graduation. I just left: ‘I’m going to Houston to do stand-up.’ And that was 25 years ago. It’s crazy.”
Houston was a comedy Mecca at the time with seven clubs and a thriving, competitive scene. May could work all the time, and he did, also landing a radio gig that helped expand his reputation. He eventually earned a spot on the first season of “Last Comic Standing,” and though he finished second, he might as well have won (anybody remember who won that year?) with the way fans fell in love with his over-the-top persona.
Warning: This clip is rated TV-MA and may contain adult content.