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The Big Questions: Ralphie May on marijuana, TMZ and the changing face of comedy

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Comedian Ralphie May has come through a rough couple of years. A near-death experience with double-pneumonia left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which made it impossible to sleep, which landed him in rehab. And then, he was busted in Guam for pot possession after petting a drug dog at the airport.

In this episode of “The Big Questions,” May tells that story and goes on a funny, thoughtful campaign on the need to legalize drugs — timely, considering Illinois’ recent legalization of medical marijuana.

A note to listeners who may be offended by swearing: May’s stories are not for the faint of heart. Particularly the ones involving his children cursing. Yet, the Tennessee shock comic is brutally, hilariously honest about his podcast, his recreational drug use, his kids and balancing on life on the road with his family.

Below is an excerpt of our talk, but the entire conversation can be downloaded via SoundCloud or streamed on YouTube.

“The Big Questions” is part of the Sun-Times Media Local Podcast Network.

Q: You hosted TMZ’s TV show this week. So did you host TMZ to keep yourself from being on TMZ?

A: No, that is not how I got it. They fell in love with me after [I got busted for marijuana possession]. Oh man, this is so stupid, I was so stoned. I was tired and I was stoned and I got on a plane to Guam.

Snoop Dogg gave me some of his new weed that he’s branded and franchised as his very own. And he wrote on the bag and I put it in my backpack. But I put it in a separate place, a zipper inside pocket, and didn’t think anything of it.

The next day I’m at LAX and I put everything in the car and my 18-hour flight to Guam was two naps. It was great and I got caught up on my sleep. We land and my wife is like, “You don’t have anything on you, do you?” I’m like, “No.”

So I got down and I walk 68 feet out of my way to pet a drug dog and while I was there I called another drug dog over. They’re both sitting in front of me and that’s their cue that they’ve found drugs. So I got busted with bringing marijuana into Guam and petting a drug dog. And TMZ heard that and they go, “Is that for real?”

Q: So basically, Snoop Dogg is responsible for your TMZ gig?

A: That’s exactly what it boils down to, yeah.

Q: I wonder how many people are stopped with weed, and it’s actually Snoop Dogg’s fault?

A: Let’s ask Xzibit. Xzibit was there, he got busted too, same place I did. I know all the places where celebrities have gotten caught with drugs, like Sierra Blanca, Texas, where they pulled over Willie Nelson and pulled over Snoop … that’s why when I go through there, there’s nothing on my bus at all. I just keep it all separate. There are some states some serious, serious, jail time involved.

Last year they spent $100 million in prosecuting against the war, just on marijuana. That would be saving a huge tax base. And you know, there’s not one farmer that wouldn’t like to grow something different. Just to rotate crops. To help their soil. And marijuana does that. It’s one of the few plants that actually inserts nutrients back into the soil as opposed to leaching them out.

Q: It’s like you’ve just been possessed by Joe Rogan.

A: It’s so funny you say that, because when I came to LA, Rogan never smoked weed at all. He would call me and my buddy Joey Diaz losers for smoking weed. And now he is one of the biggest advocates of marijuana ever. It is so funny.

But if we just took away the shame, we could really tax the hell out of it and make a lot of money. It just seems like a smart move, you know? When you drive around Chicago, and it’s not like you all couldn’t use extra tax money. You got potholes and you take a burro down to the bottom of … these pot holes are incredible.

Q: You’ve been in the public spotlight for a long time. “Last Comic Standing” was your coming out party. You also opened up for Sam Kinison when you where young. How has the business of comedy changed?

A: Big time. When I launched, social media was MySpace and MySpace alone. Once the first MySpace headliner was launched, Dane Cook — he became a megastar and after that became this wave of alt comedy, which is not really punch line centric, just “I want to tell you what happened to my day.” It’s very dramatic and … I don’t understand that side of it. To me, it’s a very odd thing to watch grown men basically whine. As a man, I get frustrated by that. But that’s the next-millennial-generation thing

Q: Richard Lewis made a career out of it, though.

A: Exactly, and Richard was on good drugs. He’s really messed up and he earns it. A lot of these guys don’t — it’s a weird thing. But this is my 25th year of standup comedy. So, I’ve seen the bust after the ’80s boom. I saw every comic get a sitcom and then no comedians get a sitcom and then there’s no sitcoms. The audiences are getting more mixed, which is great — white, black and brown, which is a healthy thing for stand up comedy.

Ralphie May is performing tonight, April 4 though Sunday, April 6 at the Chicago Improv in Schaumburg. For tickets and info visit chicago.improv.com. For more information about May visit ralphiemay.com.

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