Friday, December 01, 2006

I enjoy speaking to comics who come through our area and recently interviewed two: Sommore and Ralphie May.

Ralphie will be appearing at the Comedy Connection at Chicopee's famous He Ke Lau on Dec. 9. He was a friendly, thoughtful and humble guy to talk with.

Ralphie rose to national prominence when he was a member of the first "Last Comic Standing" reality show on NBC. He's a big dude who also appeared on "Celebrity Fit Club" where he dropped some 27 pounds and weigned out at about 420 pounds.

One of the salesmen at work was talking with me about him and wanted to know why I didn't ask him about his weight, especially in light of seeing a photo of May's slender and attractive wife on the Web. Since May doesn't do a "fat" act I didn't see any need to bring up that subject.

I don't ask someone's age unless that fact is an important part of the story.

And as a fat guy myself, I congratulate him in making his weight a non-issue.

Here's Ralphie. Sommore is coming.

For Ralphie May, it didn’t matter that he didn’t win the first season of “Last Comic Standing.” He told Reminder Publications his loss only made his fans “more vehement.”

“They’ve stuck with me for 17 years,” he said.

May, who has become well know through his appearances on “Last Comic Standing,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, “Jimmy Kimmell Live” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” will be appearing at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee for the second time on Dec. 9.

“I’ll be on the set of ‘South Pacific,’” May say referring to the Polynesian themed show room.

May has recently released his second CD “Girth of the Nation,” which is also the subject of a special for Comedy Central.

May started his career in comedy at age 17 and recalled how he had to have his mother bring him to some of his appearances because he was too young to be in a bar by himself.

“It was an adventure,” he said.

He said that it has taken him 14 years to make a living as a comic and the relatives who told him he should have gone to college aren’t telling him that anymore.

At 17, he won a talent show that gave him a chance to open for the late Sam Kinison.

“He was a heck of a guy,” May recalled. “He was very nice to me and showed me there are no boundaries [in comedy].

May is concerned about boundaries and freedom of speech.

“I slam everybody,” he said. “I have a major problem with political correctness.”

May is concerned about the fallout from the highly publicized incident concerning the language used by actor Michael Richards in a stand-up performance.

“He’s our Janet Jackson, “ he said, referring to the controversy over Jackson’s Superbowl half-time performance that resulted in a Federal Communication Commissions crackdown on broadcasting standards.

Richards, he emphasized, is not a stand-up comedian, but rather “a crazy homeless man with money.”

He also was critical of the Rev. Jesse Jackson becoming involved in the Richards issue, but has been silent on the slow re-building of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the erosion of voting rights of African-Americans.

He said that some people might believe that comedy “can’t offend anyone, but comedy has always been about offending someone.”

May said that like other stand-ups comics he wouldn’t mind doing a situation comedy, but that it would have to “really good, like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ or ‘Seinfeld,’ or ‘The Honeymooners.’”

He said he and his wife, fellow comic Lahna Turner, had considered starring in a reality show about their lives on the road. Besides “Last Comic Standing,” May has appeared on another reality show, “Celebrity Fit Club.”

He said ultimately he and his wife rejected the ideas because every couple that has had such a show has broken up and that he doesn’t want to lose his wife “because she married me when I was fatter, broke and not famous at all.”

“I’m extremely lucky,” he added.

Sommore was also a pleasure to interview. She is nothing like her on-stage persona and instead is queit and thoughtful.

Sommore never thought she could do stand-up comedy despite her love for it. Twelve years after she read a book on the subject and tried out on stage, she has appeared as one of the "Queens of Comedy," been called "a force to be reckoned with in the new millennium" by Oprah Winfrey and won the Richard Pryor Comic of the Year Award.

She will be appearing at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee for one show at 7 p.m. on Nov. 25.

Speaking to Reminder Publications, Sommore said that after some initial efforts during open mic nights, she received her real training as comic as the emcee for a male strip revue. She recalled with a laugh that she had to appear before "300 women who weren't interested in anything I said."

Week after week though, she would try out material and include it in her 20-minute set until people started coming early just to see her.

She said her comedy is based on observation.

"I listen, I watch everything," she said.

And Joan Rivers and her aggressive say-anything style of comedy inspired her.

Unlike Rivers, whose stand-up included some severe self-deprecation, Sommore said that women comics who are attractive "have a fine line to walk."

The wrong choice of outfit could inspire remarks from male members of an audience that could make the female members a little upset, she said.

"I point out my flaws first," she said.

Women comics today still fight a battle about whether or not they are as funny as male comedians. Sommore recalled how she and other women would be introduced at open mic nights with an admonition that the audiences should go easy on them.

That's one reason she, Adele Givens, Laura Hayes and Mo'Nique toured as "the Queens of Comedy" in 2001 she wanted to show that women comics are the equals of men.

Sommore said she appreciates both working live on stage performing stand-up and acting in a sit-com or movie. She's appeared on "The Hughleys" and "The Parkers" and in the movies "Soul Plane" and "Friday After Next."

She'd like to have a television comedy of her own and shot a pilot that wasn't successful. She added that she draws inspiration from the fact that Dave Chappelle had 13 pilots before having success with his Comedy Central show.

She said the challenge is to find a format to present "my voice, my true voice."

"It's not easy to do," she added.

She said it's frustrating as a comedian who writes her own material to perform a script that is supposedly funny, but isn't.

She also noted that with success on television could come with a big paycheck that can be accompanied with a loss of creative freedom.

"Me, I'll take the money," she said with a hearty laugh.

Sommore is known for a hold-no-prisoners humor and said she "makes a distinct choice about the style I'm going to do.

"I curse to make a point, to enhance a joke," she said and added that she hosted an entire season of BET's "Comic View" show without using any questionable language.

What she likes to present is "the real raw truth."

"Sometimes we need a little severity," she said. "Life isn't all peaches and cream."

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