[Editor’s Note: Welcome to a new monthly column from veteran punk Brad Logan of Leftover Crack, Rats in the Wall and the Adolescents about surviving day to day between tours as a working musician. In this week’s column, he interviews fellow musician and comedian Ryan Clark about his lifelong addiction to the stage.]
Ryan Clark’s chosen form of artistic expression normally involves making something out of nothing, on the spot, under bright lights, and usually in front of a group of people expecting him to make them laugh. He’s a standup comedian who performs on weekends as a member of the troupe Improv Shmimprov, headquartered at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton.
But Clark is no stranger to an audience, hostile or otherwise. He cut his teeth as bassist for the hardcore band Homesick Abortions and many others before surrendering to a higher calling as court jester. He allowed me to pick his brain about comedy, jobs and living the dream.
OC WEEKLY: Who are you, and why do you do what you do?
RYAN CLARK: Hi, my name is Ryan Clark and I am an addict. I have an incurable craving for the approval and appreciation of audiences. It acts just like any other drug. It has ruined relationships; it has caused me to miss out on momentous occasions of friends and family. It has also cost me jobs. If I don’t do some sort of performing for a while, I get noticeably irritable. Currently, I do comedy to get my fix. I honestly do think of it as less of a dream and more of an addiction.
Are you able to make a living off comedy? If not, what do you do to keep the lights on?
I’ve never really been able to make a living doing the things I love. There is still part of me that holds out for that to come true someday. I’ve had a gamut of jobs from white to blue collar. I’ve had stable income in the past, and those times of my life tend to be more depressing. I currently work at the Improv in Hollywood and will Uber on the side, which is depressing, but at least it’s depressing on my terms. Truthfully, I’m much happier now, making the fraction of the money I was making before I decided to dedicate my life (mostly) to comedy. I sometimes think that making money is just a hobby for people who don’t know what they want to do with their lives.
Do you ever notice a disconnect between the reality of being a comedian and what people see you as? Do you see the illusion as being an important part of the art?
The reality of pursuing one’s passion is not the same as fantasizing about someone else who has done it. I remember being a kid and going to shows and thinking that the band up there playing had “made it” because they were playing at the Troubadour. Little did I know that the money they made off that show probably went right to making band shirts so they can sell enough shirts to one day make more shirts. I used to want to walk down the street and be recognized for my work. On a small level, I have done that, and it can be a cool feeling. But not when you are an Uber driver and you picked someone up who has come to a couple of your shows. Or not when it’s a bank teller who is a fan of yours but can see that you only have about $30 in your bank account. I’ve achieved some incredible things that I can look back on and be proud of. But I don’t ever think I’ll think I’ve “made it.” Because there is a curse of never being satisfied with your work as an artist. Any artist worth checking out probably hates their own work.