October 4, 2012

No subject off limit for Ralphie May

Rotund stand-up Ralphie May delights in skewering politics and politicians, but he said he’s more than ready for the day after the November election when it will all come to a halt.

Rotund stand-up Ralphie May delights in skewering politics and politicians, but he said he’s more than ready for the day after the November election when it will all come to a halt.

“I’m a political person, but this election year has gotten too divisive. We have lost our ability for civil discourse with all the lies and negative Obama and Romney ads,” said May, who has slammed Arizona’s immigration laws and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s involvement with them.

May, 40 and 400 pounds, is one of the most recognizable and popular Comedy Central stars after four TV specials in as many years. He will bring his Too Big to Ignore tour to Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre on Sunday night. Opening for him will be the diva of outrageous satirical songs, Lahna Turner, who is his wife.

“We’re traveling on our tour bus, so we’re like the comic Partridge Family — but with a lot more cursing and a lot fewer drummers,” May said with a laugh.

The Wichita stop will be a family affair of sorts because the two are traveling with their two children, ages 5 and 3, on their way back to home base in Los Angeles. They also have a home in Nashville in May’s native Tennessee.

“When I met Ralphie 14 years ago, he told me that if he ever had a daughter, he wanted to name her April June May. I thought that was hilarious. It’s one of the reasons I was attracted to him,” said Turner, a Canadian who moved to Texas as a teen.

“When our son came along, Ralphie wanted to call him Spartacus, but I worried whether he’d be a tough enough kid to carry it off. As it turns out, he was. But we went with August James — Auggie or AJ,” Turner said. “We don’t plan to have any more because we would then be outnumbered. Besides, we don’t have any good months left. We’d have to call him ‘Oops.’ ”

May had a health scare last year when double pneumonia that laid him up for two months. He’s been on the road since January and said he has a deeper appreciation for life and family.

“I recovered. I lived,” May said. “But, my goodness, I’m taking my health more seriously. I realized how hard it is to be away from my family, from my babies.”

For her part, Turner said she’s been quietly encouraging May, who had gastric bypass surgery and appeared on Celebrity Fit Club, to lose more weight for health rather than cosmetic reasons.

May and Turner have separate stand-up careers and only occasionally get to perform together, as they will in Wichita. Is that togetherness too much of a good thing?

“Absolutely not,” Turner said. “Ralphie has the big picture, the world, in his act. I do more personal observations, family and, now, kids. We fit well together.”

For his part, May said that his wife is a difficult opening act to follow because she’s usually a headliner herself.

“She’s really a funny lady. She does a lot of material about me. I give this powerhouse 30 minutes with the audience, and she’s essentially roasting me in front of my fans. How do you come back after that?” he said.

May and Turner are quick to note that their graphic and outspoken observations are not for prime-time. But that’s OK because both say they have sort of a sacred comic duty as truth-tellers.

“I think of us as the last bastion of the First Amendment. I’m a dirty, dirty act, but I’m honest,” May said. “As long as I stay true to myself when I talk about my social mores, people appreciate my telling it like I see it.”

May said his best audiences often are outside the largest metropolitan areas.

“New York and Los Angeles are two of the worst places to perform because the audiences are too jaded. They know everything already. They’re above everything,” May said. “Audiences in places like Wichita” — he’s played the Loony Bin before — “get it and get me. There is more electricity between me and the audience. They are just more appreciative.”

As a result, May said he strives to give fans their money’s worth.

“Most headliners do 45 minutes or an hour, but I do 1½ to 2 hours, plus Lahna’s 30-minute opener. A lot of people in my audience get maybe $20 an hour, so if it takes two hours to pay for our ticket, I want them to have two hours worth of entertainment. Your two hours is worth my two hours.”

May, who names Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor among his influences, has been a stand-up since age 17, when he won a contest to open for the late screaming comic, Sam Kinison. From them, he learned to hone his audacious, hilarious, politically incorrect observations.

“Nothing is off limits if you find the funny in it — and the truth,” he said. “This is one of the last art forms where you can express yourself without corporate interference. They’ve tried, and it hasn’t worked. We are the last bastion of truly free speech. And I get to make people laugh at the same time. You can’t beat that.”

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