“I like you so much, you’re the only interview I’ve done in the last few days where I’m not playing video games at the same time,” Ron Funches tells me on this bonus episode of The Last Laugh podcast, letting out one of his signature belly laughs.
The exceptional stand-up comedian was our third guest on the podcast all the way back in April of last year when he was promoting his first big hour-long special for Comedy Central called Giggle Fit, in which he talked about how losing 140 pounds transformed both his body and his comedy mind.
In the first months of the coronavirus lockdown, Funches admits that he was “depressed for a little bit, overeating for a little bit.” But now he’s “buckled down” and has a new hour of material ready to go. Since he can’t pack an audience into a theater, he’s decided to perform his new material, Awakening, as a live-stream YouTube special on the night of Sept. 5.
He hopes the show will be the “best of both worlds” with a small, socially-distanced audience of about 10 fans along with a much larger group of people watching online. “I’ve performed for much less than 10 people before,” he says. “So I feel like it’s probably going to be my biggest show of the year!”
In addition to the special and some animation voiceover work that has been “saving his life” when he can’t be on the road, this coming Monday marks the premiere of his new comedy game show Nice One! on Quibi. It’s kind of like @midnight meets Roast Battle but where the comedian contestants are only allowed to make positive jokes.
“I get to showcase my friends and do the style of humor I’ve always been doing and then force my friends to do it,” Funches explains. “My entire style is finding the positive in a negative and it was fun to watch my friends try to write that way too.”
With so many young comedians out of work right now, Funches says he tries to remember how “blessed” he is all the time. “Not that I ever saw this coming, but there was a true hecticness to my work ethic of like, I can’t be on the fringe anymore,” he says. “I know that life. I used to be on food stamps. I used to be on public housing and those are the people who get hurt the most, the quickest.”
As for the future of stand-up comedy, with packed theaters full of laughing fans, he adds, “I’m hopeful, but I try to stay realistic.”
Below is an edited and condensed excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
What’s the meaning behind the title of your upcoming live-stream special, Awakening?
I think a lot of people are looking at what’s going on in the world as a negative, as a catastrophe, as an Armageddon. And I kind of look at it as an awakening. There’s always been these negative things going on, there’s always been this deception, but it seems like more and more people are awake to it. And more and more people are aware of it and people are just waking up. But here’s the difference between being awake and being woke. People can be woke and asleep as fuck. It’s the same people who just hear buzzwords and go, “You can’t say that! You shouldn’t have said that!” That is woke. That’s not being awake. Being awake is being yourself, being your own person, knowing that you’re full of faults, but seeing what’s going on in the world and saying we don’t stand for this anymore. That’s what I see going on in the world and that’s why I named it that.
Yeah, I think a lot of people who thought they were “woke” maybe realized they weren’t as woke as they thought they were over these past couple of months.
Yeah, I mean, it’s just a bad position to put yourself in. You see it online all the time, people out-woking themselves. It’s so crazy. I remember when the Ellen [DeGeneres] thing came out, I saw one of my friends tweet, “I always was saying that Ellen was bad.” And then someone else right below them goes, “Well, I remember when you tweeted this about transsexuals!” People are mad at me for going on Joe Rogan, you know? And I don’t understand that one bit. If you don’t like the man, that’s fine. I don’t agree with everything he says. I go on there and I tell him, “I don’t agree with what you say.” But to not talk to him, to not go on literally the biggest show in the world right now makes no sense to me.
To get your perspective on his show is important.
That’s what I felt! But then I had people be like, “Oh no, you let us down.” And I just had to let them know, “Hey, look, I don’t work for you.” I don’t work for anybody. If you don’t want to talk to someone because you don’t agree with what they say, that’s your opinion. I don’t work that way. And above all, never tell me what the fuck to do. It will always go wrong for you. Even if you were right. If you come at me as a grown man telling me what to do? I will just say to you, I don’t want you as a fan anymore, get the fuck gone.
Speaking of that, there was something I wanted to ask you about that happened in the very first days after George Floyd was killed. I saw you post on Instagram a comment from a fan who was basically calling you out for not speaking out about it yet. Can you explain what happened and why you decided to put that out there?
Yeah, absolutely. Basically we all remember what happened with George Floyd. But personally, that week, I had lost a friend to suicide. So I was dealing with that at home privately and not talking to anyone about it. When someone commits suicide and you consider them a friend of yours, there’s a lot of emotions going on over, what could I have done? Or could I have been a better friend? We weren’t on the best terms before he died and he killed himself in the very house that I first moved into when I lived in Los Angeles. And I remember that feeling of fear and that I would never make it. I was never like, I should kill myself, but I remember feeling the desperation. And so I was dealing with a lot of stuff mentally at that time. And I would see this guy DMing me and I would just ignore it. And then he just kept coming at me. And then he was finally like, “Look, I’ve got to unfollow you, you’re not talking about this, you’re part of a Hollywood elite and you just want to protect your money.” And I was just like, bro, you don’t know me. I don’t know anyone in Hollywood, first of all. But mostly it was just like, I don’t owe you anything. I don’t owe you my grief. I don’t owe you my anger. I can choose what I show people. And if I don’t want to show you how I feel about a subject at that time, that’s my fucking decision. So I was angry at that time, but then I thought about it more and I was like, oh, this guy isn’t mad at me. He’s scared. He’s looking for a leader. He’s looking for someone to say the things that he doesn’t even know how to say. It made it such a bigger issue to me, that our leaders have let us down so much, our public servants have let us down so much that we turn to people like comedians and actors and expect them to lead us.
The comments that you got reminded me a little bit of what Dave Chappelle talked about in his 8:46 special where Don Lemon from CNN was criticizing celebrities for not speaking out. And Dave’s thing was basically like, this is not the moment for celebrities to speak out. What did you think of that special?
It’s always beautiful to see our leaders in comedy and—I am sure he wouldn’t like hearing it—but our elder statesmen in comedy continue to show new ways of doing things and how we might be continuing to do comedy through these types of social-distance events. Because I hadn’t seen that before. I liked the special, liked how raw it was and how it hit on certain things. I love Dave Chappelle and there’s things I completely disagree with with Dave Chappelle and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean I don’t love his work. Opening for him in Montreal is still one of the highlights of my entire life. He’s one of my biggest inspirations and I love what he’s doing. And then there’s times where I’m just like, why do you talk so much about transsexuals while you also dress like you just came from working as a drag queen?
I was wondering if you noticed, there were some pictures that went up of Louis C.K. performing shows [in Dayton, Ohio] with Dave Chappelle and Sarah Silverman and Michelle Wolf. And I know you had some pretty harsh things to say about Louis the last time we talked. So I was curious what you thought about him kind of joining that crew.
I mean, I don’t love it. I don’t want to speak for anyone, but it looked like a couple of people in that picture looked pretty uncomfortable. But you know, Dave is Dave and that’s his friend and I don’t judge people off of what they want their friendships to be. Would I do that? Absolutely fucking not. But I’m not going to go, “Tear down Dave Chappelle because he wants to be friends with a guy who he’s been friends with forever!” I wouldn’t be, but to each their own.
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: From ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and ‘Mapleworth Murders,’ JB Smoove.