bill bodkin talks with New Jersey comedian Ryan Maher about his career and his past as a professional wrestler and train conductor …
B&B: You’re a local Jersey Shore guy. Where are you from and where are you currently residing?
Ryan Maher: I was born in Secaucus and spent my early childhood in North Bergen. Hudson County, represent. I spent the formative years of my life growing up around Latinos, which greatly improved my shanking abilities, but unfortunately not my dancing.
I moved to Brick at age 7 and have been here ever since. I have given up everything to pursue my dream as a comedian. I was a train conductor for NJ Transit and made $80,000 a year and had full medical benefits. Now, I’m a stand up comic, and last year I made a little more than half my train conducting salary, and every time I get sick, I have to go to the hospital and pretend my name is Jorge.
My parents haven’t spoken to me in four years, which is awkward … considering I live in their basement.
B&B: For those who might not know, you were a popular figure in the New Jersey independent wrestling scene.
B&B: I can’t even begin to tell you about my earliest memory of professional wrestling. It’s just something I always remember being a huge fan of. When I was a kid, Iron Mike Sharpe had a school for aspiring professional wrestlers here in Brick. I would ride my bike there and watch the guys train.
Some of the young hopefuls that I watched learn their trade went on to become huge stars. Guys like: Charlie Hass, Mike Bucci (a.k.a. Nova/Simon Dean), and Stevie Richards. The late Chris Candido was just on the cusp of his first WWE run, and he would come by often to train, as well as the late great wrestling and Jersey Shore legend Bam Bam Bigelow. As I got older, I became friendlier with some of the guys that were closer to my age, or only a few years ahead of me, and began going on the road with them to shows. I started putting up and taking down the ring before and after shows, and before I knew it, I worked my way up to being a manager, part-time wrestler, and even a behind-the-scenes storyline booker.
Some of my proudest memories were establishing friendships with stars like Al Snow, Mick Foley, The Iron Sheik and many others. As well as working with a lot of the biggest names in the business from years past and present. I had a series of inter-gender matches with a girl by the name of Alexis Laree, who went on to become a huge star in the WWE, and their seven-time women’s champion under her given name, Mickie James.
As for some of the crazy stories? [laughs] I am afraid most of them are not suitable for print in this esteemed publication. I will be saving them for my autobiography entitled From Headlocks To Hecklers. I have the catchy title for my book — that’s the hard part. Now I just need some worthwhile career accomplishments to fill the pages with.
B&B: When did you decide into comedy and what was your inspiration to get into it?
RM: Well, I knew there was no future for me in pro wrestling and I took a “big boy job” working for NJ Transit. I was miserable. I always felt I was destined to be involved in entertainment in some aspect. As a wrestling personality, people always urged me to get involved with stand-up comedy and it was always something I had wanted to do, but was not sure how to go about it.
I would always make passengers on my train laugh, and one day a guy told me about an open mic tournament that was taking place at Uncle Vinnie’s Comedy Club [in Point Pleasant, N.J.]. I went and checked it out and found out that it was an outside production company that was leasing the club on Tuesday nights. The winner of the three-month long tournament would win a paid spot opening for a comic at a legit Uncle Vinnie’s Comedy Club show.
The first night, I attempted stand-up was October 5, 2006, and I went up there and won that round of the tournament. Nobody could believe it was my first time on a stage, but all of my experience on a microphone from my days in the wrestling business was a huge bonus. Week after week, I kept winning and eventually won the tournament.
Two years after that, I decided to hang up my polyester train conductor suit and become a full time comic. I always grew up with a love of comedians. My grandmother loved Rodney Dangerfield. My parents always enjoyed Sam Kinision. And somewhere along the line, I discovered George Carlin and was hooked.
I know it isn’t popular for comedians to admit this, but I also loved Dane Cook when he was brought to my attention in 2002. He has really helped put stand-up back on the map and has opened the art form up to a whole new audience. The guy sells out major arenas, sells millions of records, stars in movies, and is adored by everyone … wait a minute … on second thought … I hate the guy also!
B&B: I read one of your first gigs was opening up for Howard Stern collaborator Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling. How nervous were you?
RM: Well actually, that was the paying gig that was awarded to me by Dino, the owner of Uncle Vinnie’s Comedy Club, for winning the tournament. I wasn’t nervous at all — and that was my problem. I was so used to killing in front of friends, family and others at the open mics, that I thought I was a natural. I did five minutes in front of a sold-out crowd at Uncle Vinnie’s opening for Jackie Martling, and it felt like three hours. But everyone is due for that epic bomb. It makes you a stronger comic. I have been fortunate enough to work with Jackie at least 10 times since that fateful night, and we laugh about it now.
B&B: What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a comic?
RM: I feel like I am always striving for more, and that is the key to success in any endeavor, but sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and realize that for just under four years in the business, I have accomplished quite a bit. The respect of my peers means a lot to me.
Also being considered a “go-to” guy for alot of veterans in this business, who repeatedly ask for me to be their opening act. Getting to open for Gilbert Gottfried in a sold-out theater in Staten Island was a huge thrill. Having an Emmy Award-winning comic like Don Jamieson (VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show) personally recommend me to Andrew Dice Clay to be his opener, when Don had a scheduling conflict. Performing at Bar Anticipation [in Belmar, N.J.] with Don and Jim Florentine (Special Ed on Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers) was alot of fun. Working with comic geniuses like Nick Dipaolo, Bobby Kelly and Rich Vos are always huge thrills.
Each year. I am asked by a wrestling production company to be a part of a live roast for a different wrestler. I have had the pleasure of roasting The Iron Sheik and Terry Funk, and on October 15, 2010, I will be roasting legendary wrestling manager Jim Cornette. It makes me feel like my time in the wrestling business has come full circle and I still get to be apart of it — only this time I am applying my new trade.
So I consider every night that I get paid to step on a stage to be a huge accomplishment because there are so many people in this world that hate their jobs, and that is unfortunate.
B&B: Talk about the absolute worst show you’ve been involved with.
RM: Again, I really can’t complain about any gig I have ever done. Sure, some are less glamorous than others, but give me a mic and a stage and let me do my thing, and I guarantee you that the audience and myself will make the best out of any situation.
B&B: Outside of New Jersey, have you done any national touring, and if so, where?
RM: Yes, I have performed throughout the tri-state area, all over Pennsylvania, New England, the Midwest, and down South. I am currently working on some West Coast dates for mid-2011. I love performing anywhere and everywhere. Each crowd is different.
However, I have noticed that whenever I go to other parts of the country, I can no longer say I am from “The Jersey Shore.” The MTV reality sensation has gotten me barraged with questions when I say I hail from this area. People ask to see my abs all the time, and I’ll show them, but needless to say they are very upset with me aferwards. It’s funny ’cause Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is the star of Jersey Shore, and he isn’t even from here. He has no talent, is on TV, and goes and makes appearances for up to 15 Gs a night. I am from the Jersey Shore, I have talent, I don’t have my own show, and I am making appearances all over the country for up to $500 a night. He is “The Situation.” I am “The Disappointment.”
B&B: If someone’s never seen you perform before, what can they expect from a Ryan Maher show?
RM: Expect to laugh, plain and simple. I always find it ironic when publications or critics write reviews about comedians and call them “cutting-edge, provocative or engaging”. Well, that’s fine, but were they funny?
Funny and originality is what matters to me. George Carlin was without a doubt the greatest stand-up comic of all time. He also was a genius. But often, people talk about Carlin the genius and it overshadows the fact that the guy was a genuine riot. If you think I’m edgy or smart, that’s great, but if I don’t make you think I am funny and something different from what you have seen in the past, then I feel I failed at doing my job.
I spend two hours a day, seven days a week attempting to brainstorm new material. I always have a notepad within reach everywhere I go to jot anything down that I observed and feel I could use in my act. I cover everything from topical celebrity humor, to politics, to ethnicities, to past- and current-life experiences. Throw in some improv and crowd work, and I feel that I give audiences a very well-rounded show.
B&B: What can we expect from Ryan Maher in the future?
RM: Who knows what the future holds? I would like to think I will go on to become a household name in the business, but that takes just as much luck as it does talent. People always come up to me and name their favorite comedians, and it’s always famous people. That is all well and good, but I look at comics like Paul Venier, Vic Dibitetto, Joe Moffa, Pete Michaels and countless others that blow away some of these big names, and chances are that the average person has not heard of them. All those guys I just named above make great livings doing something that they are great at and love doing. So if I can be as blessed as they are, I don’t need to be famous.
Right now, I am in the middle stages of developing a pilot for a sitcom. It is based on my days as a train conductor. When I worked on the railroad, I was one of a 1400-person roster that included such a wide array of characters. That alone, mixed with what we dealt with each and every day while serving the public, is really going to make some fascinating television. I hope something can come of it. I am also currently in talks with a well-known production company about being a part of a reality show that is truly unique and different than anything else that has been put out before in that genre.
I update my Facebook page quite often, so I would love for your readers to come and shoot me a friend request. www.facebook.com/comedianryanmaher. I am also on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ryanmahercomedy.