Plus-sized comedian Ryan O’Connor doesn’t shy away from fat jokes
STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
RYAN O’CONNOR EATS
Greenville Center for the Arts, 5601 Sears St.
June 23 at 8 p.m. $15.
Don’t call Ryan O’Connor a standup comic. Sure, he’s funny, he stands onstage in front of a microphone and people laugh, but his show is more than that.
The former actor and talk-show character player recently embarked on his first tour (complete with a rented Minivan) and took time out hours before the debut performance in San Francisco to talk about his career, his show and the foods that make him happy. His current boyfriend is Mormon, three of his exes have gone off to marry women and he’s not above smuggling dogs into hotel rooms. How could he not be a comic?
Dallas Voice: So when did you first start doing comedy — or rather, getting paid for doing comedy? Ryan O’Connor: My first paid comedy gig was with Second City in New York. We formed an improv group out of that called the Birdwatchers. There were eight of us and we got a split of the door, so we got about 20 bucks.
How is being a comedian different from being an actor? It’s been an evolution. In a lot of ways I fought being a comedian because there’s a lot of fear involved in it. Even describing myself as a comedian right now feels ambitious. I consider myself more a storyteller, and I tend to tell funny stories. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that people would like me to call myself a comedian, so I’ll oblige.
People like labels. Exactly. But even when you’re doing cabaret, you’re still one man standing in front of a microphone. I’m a cabaret artist, which I sometimes describe as singing standup. You will never catch me at a standup open mike; you will never catch me going on after a standup performer. It’s just way too terrifying for me. Even though it’s not that much different than what I do, in my brain, it’s terrifying.
You sing a lot in your show. Is the singing your security blanket? Yeah, kind of. It’s not even that I have the world’s most terrific voice. It’s just that I’m comfortable.
Musical theater is what I grew up in. It’s what I’ve known my entire life. It gives me security knowing that if a story bombs, I have a song I can go into and songs are easier to sell than comedy. Even funny songs, it’s at least written into the music. This sounds like the most defensive interview of all time!
I’m sorry. No it’s me, not you!
Your publicity describes you as the “big gay singing Kathy Griffin.” Do you think she’s worried about you stealing her gays? Kathy’s a friend of mine. I got her blessing to refer to myself as the big gay singing Kathy Griffin. I don’t think Kathy sees anyone as a threat any more. In the last couple of years she’s finally getting the acclaim she’s deserved forever.
I’m sure she loves the label — it gets her name out there more. It’s only fair, too, because I’ve been in her act before. She used to refer to me in her act as her Pink Hollywood Gay or something.
That’s the double gay dream: Being friends with Kathy Griffin and being mentioned in her act. I was a huge fan before we became friends, so to have a story mentioned in her act was very surreal.
Do you have any juicy celebrity stories? Not in this show, but I do. I am not as willing as Kathy is to “go there.” Most Hollywood types are so difficult to deal with anyway, that once you do something publicly, it’s even worse. I see how tough it can be for her. It’s isolated her. There’s groups of people that shy away from her. I think they laugh at her in the privacy of their homes, but if she walks into a party, they all avoid her like the plague. That’s a very lonely kind of fame.
I tell stories in my show and I don’t say it and people don’t know that I’m talking about a very famous person. I could cash in and make this more exciting, but I choose not to.
What can people expect from your show? It’s a comedic, self-effacing journey through story and song about my life and experiences as a compulsive overeater. It goes into my food addiction and how that is a manifestation of my experiences as a child, as well as an adult. My experiences in show business, my experiences as a gay man, all sorts of things. The show is Ryan O’Connor Eats His Feelings, but it could just as easily be Joe Schmo Eats His Feelings or Tiger Woods Fucks His Feelings.
You don’t have to be gay to enjoy it then. My show’s definitely not a gay show. It’s a gay story so gay people relate to it immediately.
Are you empowered by the self-effacing part of it, beating others to the punch? That’s absolutely what it is. The whole show is what I learned as a 10-year-old fat kid. My mom always told me if I made the joke first, they can’t make it. That was my survival tool as a fat boy and a gay boy. That’s how you get through it.
This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.