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Donaldsonville Chief - Donaldsonville- LA
  • After health scare, comedian Ralphie May takes a new approach

  • Comedian Ralphie May, the “Last Comic Standing” contender, is still doing “for adults only” routines. He uses words we can’t write here and pokes fun at things that make Americans nervous, such as racism.

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  • There’s nothing like almost dying to give a man perspective.
    Comedian Ralphie May, the “Last Comic Standing” contender, is still doing “for adults only” routines. He uses words we can’t write here and pokes fun at things that make Americans nervous, such as racism.
    But after surviving a serious health scare a few months back — pneumonia and blood clots were among the problems the performer faced — May says he’s a changed man. And the way he approaches comedy reflects that.
    “When you lie in a hospital bed, your life really does flash before your eyes,” said May, speaking by telephone from Nashville, Tenn. “It wasn’t the time I spend with my babies. It wasn’t my father telling me that I’m a man and getting his full acceptance … it was regrets. The stuff I missed while I was trying to be the best comedian. … It was me trying to be the best personality instead of the best person.”
    May says his doctors gave him a 70 to 80 percent chance of not surviving the various ailments afflicting him. He took the news seriously enough that he started writing goodbye letters to his wife, comedienne Lahna Turner, and their two small children.
    Doctors pulled May through. He says there’s good news — his heart is in good shape and prescription medication is offering some help (even if, he says with an expression of disbelief, one of his meds contains the main ingredient in rat poison).
    But May says he has plenty to live for.
    “There’s hope where there wasn’t hope before,” May said. “There’s hope that I can be the father I want to be and be the husband I want to be.”
    ‘The jokes are on the house’
    May performed on television several times before finding fame on the first season of NBC’s comedy talent search, “Last Comic Standing,” in 2003. He finished second to Dat Phan.
    But May says he won a bigger prize. Shortly after his time on the show ended, he went from working small clubs to performing in Las Vegas. He’s up to his fourth hour-long special on cable television’s Comedy Central. He says he’s sold 1.4 million tickets to his shows over the past three years.
    “Remember when Jethro Tull beat Metallica at the (1988) Grammys (for best hard rock/metal performance)? Metallica won the real race. That’s the only thing I can liken it to,” May said.
    Also, he ended up marrying “the hot girl,” as he describes Turner, who helped him reach his audition for “Last Comic Standing” by buying an airplane ticket when May didn’t own a credit card.
    Page 2 of 3 - May says that after he got sick, he realized chasing after wealth and fame came at a price.
    “I worked hard to be wealthy, but I negated the healthy part. And where’s the wisdom in that?” he said.
    These days, he prefers to perform three times a weekend in large rooms rather than six nights a week in small venues. That way, he can spend more time with his wife and children.
    “The jokes are on the house. What you’re paying me for is not being home with my babies,” May said. “ … I’ve been doing standup for 23 years this September, and this is the first time that standup has become work.”
    When he is home, May said he enjoys being a dad. At their home in Nashville, the family planted a garden, and May says that’s a great teaching tool.
    “We planted tomatoes. I want them to know that if you put something in the ground, it’ll grow, and if you put compost on it, it’ll grow even better,” May said. “ … They (his children) love strawberries. So we put in a strawberry patch. My daughter, she likes roses. She likes the pink and red roses, so our backyard is lined with them.
    “They love fruit, so we put in fruit trees so they can see where they come from.”
    May also said that as much as he loves his children, few things are more humbling than getting chewed out by someone less than four feet tall.
    “They both love to read books. They’ve memorized Dr. Seuss. They like it when I read to them, so I’ll read it upside down so they can see the pictures. Reading upside down and backward isn’t so easy, but if I miss a word, they’re like, ‘Daddy, come on.’ And I’m like, ‘All right, you read it to me. Hush.’”
    ‘I’m more resolute’
    Besides trying to be home more often for his family, May says he now wants to use comedy as a way to get people to think about weighty issues.
    Don’t worry — he still has plenty to say about movies he hates (let’s just say he gave “Twilight” zero thumbs up), life in Los Angeles (“We have two houses — one in L.A., and one in America”), and his continuing efforts to lose weight (“I find myself dreaming of eating spinach salad. No other fat guy in America does that.”).
    But if you go to his show, May says he’ll use the opportunity to make people think about hate and racism rather than just laughing at their collective ridiculousness.
    After getting sick, “I’m more resolute in my standup comedy. For 22 years, I’ve tried to make them laugh. Now, I’ll try to slip in life lessons I had to learn the hard way,” he said.
    Page 3 of 3 - “ … I don’t say racial slurs for shock value or needlessly or carelessly. I get people to realize, it’s not the word that’s the problem, it’s the hate you assign to it. If you just choose not to hate, life is so much easier.
    “ … I wasn’t supposed to be a comedian. I wasn’t supposed to be wealthy. I wasn’t supposed to get out of Arkansas. I wasn’t supposed to marry the hot girl.
    “This country’s an amazing place. And we’re all better off together.”
    ***
    From “Ralphie May: Austin-tatious”
    About his wife, comedienne Lahna Turner: “She stayed with me … . For the first six years of our relationship, I never had a comma in my bank account … . She’s the opposite of me. She’s a stick. For the first eight months she was pregnant, she was like a snake that swallowed a basketball.”
    From “Girth of a Nation”
    About terrorism: “You blow up New York, you incur the wrath of our military and we’ll take your country. OK? … (But) you blow up St. Louis and disrupt the distribution of Budweiser beer across America? A fury of mullets will rise up in this nation like the world has never seen before. Two minutes — two minutes — after rednecks realize they’ve gotta switch from Bud Light to Coors Light and the King of Beers has been assassinated, it’s Armageddon. … Nothing will stop those guys, not even a three-day NASCAR event.”

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