Ryan Hamilton knows all too well that physical appearance makes a lasting first impression, so he dives right into it. The standup comedian often begins his routine by asking, “All right, should we start with my face?”, continues by describing himself as a “guy who looks like he could be selling ice cream in the 1950s”, and sometimes laments the difficulty his perpetual huge smile causes him when he attends funerals.
Hamilton debuted his new show this week at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, subtitling it Edgy, Boundary-Pushing Comedian. That is, shall we say, slightly ironic, because early on, he warns his audiences “If you’re easily offended by certain material… well, you’re gonna be just fine”.
But Hamilton’s always-clean comedy in no way diminishes the impact of his clever and hilarious sets, which bring to mind comics such as Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Wright, two of his inspirations. His background, however, is quite different from theirs. Born in the small potato-farming town of Ashton, Idaho, he began doing comedy at Brigham Young University in Idaho and later Salt Lake City.
As he looks forward to the release of his first Netflix standup special, Funny Face, on August 29th, Hamilton took time between his Montreal shows for this conversation with The Huffington Post.
SN: You studied broadcast journalism and public relations in college. What prompted you to make that big leap onto a stage?
RH: I had a little radio show in college, and I started doing comedy during those days. I did it three times when I was 18, then after finding work at an ad agency, I did it on the side, for fun, for about a year. Then I got laid off from the job.
SN: Were you funny at work?
RH: I’ve never been the funny guy in the office, or the class. People who get to know me, and find out I’m a comedian, are shocked. Even people who know me really well, then finally see me on stage, are shocked. That’s not you! Who’s that guy?!
SN: As you well know, most people think of Idaho as a place where they grow potatoes, not standup comedians. How did this happen?
RH: When I was 10 or 11, I actually wanted to be a newspaper columnist. I thought Dave Barry had the best job in the world, and I also devoured the Far Side comic strips.
I called the local county newspaper and asked if I could have a column, and they said OK. So I wrote it between the ages of 14 and 18. I spent hours writing them; it was excruciatingly hard. Nobody was teaching me. I was just doing whatever I thought was funny.
Then we started watching A&E’s Evening at the Improv, and the late night shows. I remember watching Johnny Carson, and I guess I talked about standup a lot.
So if there was a comedian on a late night show, my parents would wake me up and let me watch. When I was 13 or 14, I started watching Letterman every night, with my brother. I have a younger brother and sister. I think they’re funnier than I am!
SN: And your parents?
RH: We were one of the only families that weren’t farmers in that town. My father became a lineman and an engineer for a power company; my mother’s family owned a general store. But they’re both very artistic.
SN: You moved to New York City a decade ago. What was that like?
RH: I was going to do a set for Comedy Central, and my sister and I flew to NY. Neither of us had ever been there. We got in a cab from the airport, and another cab is in a battle on the road with a Mercedes. The cab cut off the Mercedes, causing it to stop, and our taxi started driving around them. We saw the guy in the Mercedes get out, walk over to the other cab, open the driver’s door, stick his hand in… and then we drove away, so I don’t know what happened. But my sister and I thought, “This really delivered!”
SN: A substantial part of your routine is about your attempts to no longer be single. What happens if you reach that goal?
RH: Well, this is where I’m jealous of my married friends. You can only talk about being single for so long. At a certain age it’s no longer relatable. I do these corporate events for 60-year-old businessmen, and I’m talking about Tinder! I’d love to have a relationship for all the right reasons, but I also think it would be great for my act. (laughs)
SN: You opened for Seinfeld recently; what was that like?
RH: It was amazing, and I got to know him a little bit. For me to be able to talk with him and have a peek into how he works was so informing and great; I really enjoyed it.
SN: Every story about you mentions how in 2012, Rolling Stone named you “one of five comedians to watch”. Is there a statute of limitations on that honor?!
RH: Yes, I kind of think we should stop talking about that, because at what point are you like, how long are we going to watch this guy? Maybe I’ll just be a person to watch for the rest of my career.
But it doesn’t matter, because I have a great life right now. I don’t want for much, I’d like to have a relationship at some point, but life is good. I just want to be happy and healthy and do what I love for a living, and I’m kinda there.
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