Comic Slow Dances With the Dark Side
March 17, 2005 12:07 AM
After being introduced as “the dark prince of comedy,” Ryan Stout explains to the crowd how he had an assignment to write a suicide letter.
“I just turned in one of my old ones," Stout said, laughing.
The audience laughs and the clean-cut comic goes on with his act. Stout, a SF State creative arts major, has a tendency to keep things a bit edgy. Often the audience laughs and shakes their heads all at the same time. His comedy is funny while it pushes the envelope.
Stout said he doesn’t want to talk about a topic people are conditioned to laugh at - that’s why there are sitcoms. He would rather put out a thought that challenges the way audience members think and feed off their reaction.
Stout, 22, began doing standup at 17, but his interest started years before that. Stout is one of the many local San Francisco comics just trying to make the bill. But Stout’s ambition to enjoy and share comedy has been with him for years.
Born in Cleveland, Stout moved with his family to El Paso, Texas, where he was raised, at age 4.
“My mom picked on us a lot. We had to learn to respond quickly,” Stout said, as he snapped twice. “It was a lot of respectful disrespect.”
At 10 years old, Stout’s favorite TV show was “An Evening at the Improv,” he said.
“It was on at 9 p.m., which had always been my bedtime,” Stout added.
Stout’s parents didn’t like that he was staying up past his bedtime, but soon realized that he was going to bed promptly after the show without complaints, so they gave in.
Stout loved the show’s comedians.
“I was learning about things no one was telling me about,” Stout said. “I started writing down jokes that I liked.
“I’d watch the bit, memorize it and then write it down.”
He shared his interest in jokes with his father. They would trade jokes they heard at school or work and use the new material the other provided.
After graduating high school, Stout stumbled around, trying out a college in New Mexico and attempting stand up for the first time. In spring 2002 Stout started at SF State.
He applied to school with the sole intention of going to school during the day and pursuing comedy at night. He said the San Francisco comedy scene would be a better place to try stand-up.
“He would kind of B.S. with us, come up with jokes on the spot,” Knoles said. “He always had something with him to jot things he liked down.”
Molly Schminke, manager and booker for Punch Line San Francisco, remembered Stout showing up about three years ago at Punch Line.
“In the beginning he was sort of G-rated and green, but still a good comic,” Schminke said.
But about a year and a half ago, that all changed. Schminke was putting together a darker comedy for Halloween and people recommended Stout for it. Schminke didn’t think Stout was “dirty” enough, but Stout asked to be put on it and she gave him a shot.
“I put him up and was flabbergasted with how ‘blue’ he was,” Schminke said. “It opened him up and he never went back.”
Tom Sawyer, co-owner of Cobb’s Comedy Club, agreed with Schminke that Stout found his voice a little over a year ago.
“He’s still working out the bugs, but he’s a lot more confident on stage,” Sawyer added. Stout’s style is a little darker and for that to be successful a comic needs to have a likeability and confidence, which Stout has, Sawyer said.
Even though Stout has a dark side, he doesn’t consider himself to be a dirty comic.
“When I tell him he’s dirty he always says, ‘I’m not dirty,’ because he doesn’t swear,” Schminke said. “He has a way with words. He doesn’t need to swear to get his point across. He’s all about attitude.”
His “clean” and professional work ethic has allowed Stout to work with such big comedy names as Robin Williams, Patton Oswald and Robert Hawkins.
But Stout especially enjoys picking subjects that make people a little bit uneasy, to shine a new light on an old topic.
Stout’s dark but clean comedy can be found outside his act, on his Web site, put together by Knoles. The guys worked together to make it match Stout’s personality. There are a section of extras with photos of Stout with various celebrities. Many of the photos were cropped together, but a few are real.
The first is a photo of Stout crouched down next to a brown wooden coffin with the words “with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” underneath. Below this photo is another picture with Stout opening up the same coffin to show that it is empty. The caption reads: “Hey … Where’d he go?! Ah, the magical Dr. King …”
“We actually searched out for places with coffins,” Knoles said. “We came in saying we’re looking for a coffin for a loved one.”
While Knoles and Stout were out trying to capture the Dr. King photos, they caught a lucky break when they were left alone in a showroom. Knoles quickly snapped the photos of Stout.
“We’re waltzing,” Stout said. “I’m leading. You feel that, you feel the rhythm?”
April 4-6 at Cobb's Comedy Club with Carlos Alazraqui
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