Last month we saw the return of Wiseguys to downtown SLC, taking up residence in the Gateway Mall as a spot to revive the area and solidify itself as a major hotspot once again for standup comedy. The inaugural show featured Marcus, Guy Seidel and Spencer King, along with the evening's host and first comedian to take the new stage, Eric Ripley. Today we're going to chat with Ripley about his career and rising through the ranks, as well as his thoughts on the local standup comedy circuit. (All pictures courtesy of Ripley.
Eric Ripley on Facebook
Gavin: Hey Eric, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I always hate talking about myself, but that would defeat the purpose of being interviewed, I guess. I grew up all over the country. I was born in Arizona but lived in New York, New Mexico, California, and now Utah. I moved back to Utah a little over a year ago. I came here for a job that ended up not working out, and it was a blessing in disguise because I started doing standup comedy, and I went back to school to get my ratings to become a pilot. I currently hold two commercial pilot's licenses, but I don't fly for the airlines. I don't really want to be a bus driver. My ultimate goal in aviation is to fly in air shows. I'm a pretty quiet person in real life. I'm a homebody and I don't get out much. Sometimes people find out I do stand up comedy and they assume I'm outgoing and the life of the party, but it's quite the opposite. I'm the guy sitting in the corner making fun of those people.
Gavin: What first got you interested in comedy, and what made you decide to try it out?
I always liked making people laugh. I enjoy writing and being creative, and comedy allows you to do all of those things. I kind of feel bad because I talk to so many other people who tell me how they would listen to Cosby albums, or Louie CK, or Jerry Seinfeld growing u,p and they knew
they wanted to be a comic. I wasn't like that at all. Growing up, I enjoyed comedy and standup, but I never had dreams of doing it. I just decided one day, comedy is something I think I would really enjoy. It allows you to be yourself, express yourself, and take a tragedy and turn it into something positive. So, I showed up to Wiseguys' open mic and did it. I don't consider myself a standup comedian yet. I do
standup, but I'm not quite there yet. When I start to headline clubs, when people come to see me
, that's when you're a comedian. Guest spots, featuring, hosting, these are things you do to help you get there, but I'm not there yet. When you have a tight, solid 45 minutes to an hour, then you're a comic.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into open mic events and getting gigs?
I feel like I might be one of the luckiest people to ever do standup comedy. My journey from open mic to being on shows is probably the easiest road anyone in stand up has ever had to walk. I feel lucky to have had the chances that I've had so early in my "career." You hear these stories of guys working for years before they get a chance at doing real shows. My story is the total opposite of that. I started doing open mics at Wiseguys. Five months after my first open mic, Guy Seidel asked me to be on his Comedy Cares Christmas Show. It was my first time in front of a packed house. I was really nervous, but it went well. The next night I did the same show in Price, and it went really well, too. A few weeks later, Marcus (from Last Comic Standing
) asked if I wanted to try hosting his show. I was only six months in, but I said sure. I hosted two shows for Marcus in Ogden, and it went so well he told me I was just going to be the permanent host. So it only took me six months before I started doing real shows. Now I've probably hosted 30-40 times for Marcus. I love hosting for him because he always has packed houses, fun audiences, and it's a great learning experience. Not many people can say they perform in front of that many people on that regular of a basis, and I get to. I also have been blessed to have performed in Idaho, Wyoming, all over Utah, and I bombed hard in Colorado. I really have had the easiest road to walk. If you ever see my complaining, slap me!
Gavin: What were some of the lessons you learned about performing when you started out?
It's weird, the best lesson I ever learned going into standup I actually learned in college. I was a broadcasting major, and I did a lot of radio work. One day my professor told me, "Don't talk about what you think the listeners what you to talk about. Talk about what YOU want to talk about, and your passion will draw them in." I always remembered that, and when I started standup I said to myself, "I'm going to talk about what I want to talk about. Not what I think a comic should talk about." I also learned how to edit jokes pretty quick, make them stronger and tighter. Comedy, like anything, is something you will get better with over time, so I try and learn something every time I perform.
Gavin: How was it coming up with material and figuring out what works best?
I've been told multiple times by people, coming up with material isn't just about looking for funny things, but looking for the funny in everything. There's probably a joke in the story about getting your heart broken. There's something funny about your family being dysfunctional, there's something funny about your horrible relationship with your spouse. Typically, if I have an idea, I will walk around my apartment talking to myself out loud. When I say something I think is funny, I write it down, I expand on it and I keep bouncing the idea around in my head. Sometimes for weeks. I've learned you will never know how, or if, something will work until you try it. Then, I perform it, find out what's weak, what doesn't work, and I cut it, and that makes the joke stronger.
Gavin: What's your time been like in the local standup scene and working with the talent pool we have here?
We have some amazing local comedians. Sometimes I have more fun just sitting and talking with them before and after shows than I do performing. We really do have extremely talented people doing great things, not just in Utah but all over the country. It's great because you see these people succeeding and the things they're able to accomplish, and you know that if you can work hard, you can get to those places as well. It doesn't matter that we aren't in LA or NYC. We have people representing Utah in comedy festivals, on radio programs, in comedy clubs all over the country. As a new guy, that's exciting! The only thing holding me back is me. People have made names for themselves starting at the same club I did so there's no excuse. I love this scene, and I feel like its a great place to start comedy.
Gavin: You've become a regular go-to performer for Wiseguys, how was it for you working to become a regular act?
I have seriously had it so easy. I would attribute it to me working really hard, me being easy to work with, and me being able to make people laugh. Those three things make it easy to find work. Wiseguys has been great for me. A year and half ago, I was some guy who showed up and did three minutes of material. Now I get weekend spots, I get to host, and these jobs have set me up with other jobs outside of Utah. When I started I never thought I would really get to do real comedy. But comics like Guy, and Marcus, and Andy Gold have given a TON of chances, and I'm grateful for that. Keith Stubbs, the owner of Wiseguys, has given me way more opportunities than I thought I would get. I was never really sure what would come of me trying comedy. Now I try and make sure every time I get a gig when I'm done the person in charge says, "we want him back!"
Gavin: What do you think of the rise of people trying out open mic nights and making an effort at doing standup?
I think if you want to try comedy, you should. It's not easy. People need to understand it's difficult to stand up in front of a room full of people and start telling jokes. The comforting thing is, every single comedian to ever live started at that exact same spot. You won't know what can happen until you try. It's not something you can just show up and you're doing an hour your first time on stage. I think its great to see people excited about live comedy. People coming to open mic and trying comedy allows their friends to be exposed to it. They come back, they invite friends. It strengthens the shows.
Gavin: What's your take on our standup scene and the current talent coming out of it?
I'll say it again, we have some very, very talented comics in Utah. People that are during things at a national level, not just a local level. We also have a lot of great local comics who are up and coming that perform all over town that are hilarious and extremely talented people. If you haven't watched live comedy, you need to. You need to get out and find a show and just enjoy yourself for an hour or two. There are so many local guys who should get more attention and bigger turnouts then they do. We have really talented people. Go watch them!!
Gavin: Aside yourself, who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
Oh man, this is a loaded question because I don't want to forget anyone and then have them bring it up next time I see them. There are a ton of local comics that I LOVE watching. I try and attend their shows every chance I get because I love laughing as much as I love to make people laugh. I will take this chance to plug the show I'm always on! Come watch Marcus, and his special guest Guy Seidel when they do their musical comedy show. It's amazing, people have come back over and over again to watch it. I host it, come see it. That was a shameless plug, but I don't care. I really can't come up with a list, because there are so many comics I love and respect in town that I seriously would worry and feel horrible if I forgot someone. Find me on Facebook, all the comics I'm friends with here in Utah I like! I'm also friends with a few I don't though so FYI! Ha
Gavin: What's your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town, and what that does for the local scene?
Comedy is a business, and having huge national names come through town is good for business. Both for club owners and for comics. If you get to open for a big name comedian, and they have four sold-out shows, that's a couple hundred people who were exposed to your comedy. They can follow you on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, any of the other 387 forms of social media out there. The next time you have a show people see you, they recognize you and they come watch. The hardest part in comedy, I think, is finding an audience, a fan base. When you're first starting out no one knows who you are. This big name guys can help other comics get exposure which in turn helps sell tickets. That makes money. Everyone is happy!!!
Gavin: What advice do you have for people looking to getting into standup comedy?
Man, I would probably say just do it. Don't make excuses. Show up to open mic get on stage and do it. Also be honest with yourself. There's nothing wrong with saying, 'man my jokes suck'. Sometimes they do, so rewrite them and make them better. Get on stage and get better. Everyone bombs, everyone tells a joke and hears crickets; the only difference is, some people work past that and become great comics. Set realistic expectations and be willing to learn from older comics. You're not going get good at stand up sitting at home writing. You're going to get good being on stage performing.
Gavin: What can we expect from you going into 2016?
Hmmm, well if you would have asked me what I thought my 2015 would look like, it wouldn't be this. I have had a really lucky year performing, and I want that momentum to continue. I will be hosting for Marcus. When he has a show, come watch, it's great! Another plug! I will be at open mic every week getting better. I feel like those two things are my comedy foundation, they help me get better and learn and I want to just keep building on that. Honestly, by the fall of 2016, I'd love to have a tight 45 minutes to an hour of comedy. Something I'm proud of that I can take on the road and headline with. I have about 30 minutes right now, so I have a lot of work to do. I'd love to get to the point this time next year where I can say I'm a comedian!