None—and all—of that matters now. Since the age of 40, Ron Shock has been know as one of America’s greatest—if not most famous—comedians and storytellers.
Shock got off to a quick start. It wasn’t long before he was playing the Improv in Los Angeles as preparation for a Showtime special (Bad Gig Blues). But it was on one of those Improv shows that Shock got his big break, the comic’s coup: five minutes on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. “As I came offstage, a man stood up out of the audience and grabbed my hand and said, ‘I’m Jim McCauley, and I book The Tonight Show,’ says Shock in his laid-back Texas drawl. McCauley hadn’t actually seen the show, he says, and didn’t because the two wound up getting drunk together. “Jim says to me, ‘Are you gonna be funny?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna kill, Jim.’ … So we drank some more and then went home.
“I am one of the few, if not the only, comic that ever did a set on The Tonight Show without [Carson and the producers] seeing the set first.”
Shock performed what would become one of his signature bits: “Oral Roberts and the 900-foot Jesus,” a gut-clenchingly funny send-up of the televangelist’s legendary claim that a 900-foot-tall Jesus appeared and told him to raise $8 million or he’d “call him home.” Thus began Shock’s foothold in comedy, the only career he has been able to maintain.
Then based in Houston, Shock formed the legendary Texas Outlaw Comics with his friends Riley Barber, Jimmy Pineapple, Andy Huggins, Steve Epstein and Bill Hicks—yeah, him. “There are about 60 people out there that claim to have been [Outlaws], but they’re lying,” Shock laughs, adding that the group also often is confused with Sam Kinison’s Outlaws of Comedy. “It got to the point where I don’t even use that [as a résumé item].”
He didn’t need to. His blend of stand-up comedy and storytelling—“comedy from a life fully lived”—made him a favorite at comedy clubs across the nation as well as on television (Comic Strip Live, Comedy on the Road and Showtime’s Bad Gig Blues). He toured 40 weeks per year and, at one point, was hitting Salt Lake City’s Comedy Circuit two to three times every 12 months. The shows were events—Shock was a top draw, almost invariably selling out the room, even on short notice.
“I had a nice little following,” Shock says. People came out to see him repeatedly, he believes, because the shows changed nightly thanks to his bottomless well of material. That includes: knee-slapping yarns about making sure your mother-in-law hears you pleasing her daughter; eating Twinkies and having sex with strangers because “you’re gonna die anyway;” and marijuana, the centerpiece of his silver bullet, “The Greatest Dope Story Ever Told.”
His success culminated in a one-man show in Los Angeles called The Storyteller. Billed as a “concert of stories,” it featured Shock backed by musicians Kenny Moore and Scotty May, who performed original music. “The show was critically acclaimed and sparsely attended,” he says.
Tragically, it ended all too soon. In 1998, Shock’s wife Ellen Harrington was in a devastating car accident, and he quit comedy to care for her. After her death in 2000, Shock moved to Las Vegas, playing poker and resuming his career onstage and online (RonShock.com). It wasn’t the tough comeback it could’ve been. “The feeling I had when I first walked back onto a stage,” Shock says, “was how glad I was to be there. It’s more than what I do; it’s who I am.”
Now remarried, Shock is back to touring 10 to 20 weeks per year, although the demand would permit him to be nearly as busy as he was in his heyday. He’s appeared in the film Totally Baked: A Pot-u-mentary, been interviewed for a BBC special on Hicks, done a reunion show with the Houston comics and is headlining on the Las Vegas Strip on his 65th birthday. “Gotta love that!” he laughs.
“I’m unique,” he says, both grateful and proud that he’s back on the road. “There isn’t anybody out there that does what I do. Comedy clubs were still getting calls for me, [so] when I was ready to come back, it just took phone calls. People like what I do.”
RON SHOCK @ Mo’s Neighborhood Grill, 358 S. West Temple, Sept. 23-26. 359-0586, MySpace.com/SLCUnderground