Good seats are still available for comedian Ralphie May, who is to bring his bodacious brand of humor to the Ritz Theatre for a 7:30 p.m. show Wednesday.
Since his debut on season one of "Last Comic Standing," adults of all ages have become fans of this super-sized comedian with a no-nonsense point of view.
In spite of some serious health issues over the past few months, May spoke by phone about his upcoming appearance. His bio indicates he just had his 40th birthday, which has left him a bit depressed. He said he considers himself fortunate to have a successful career and a wife and two children he dearly loves. For a comedian, May has endured some experiences that are anything but funny.
"I don't remember a real good birthday. ... I grew up poor, so they were never fun. I make sure my childrens' birthday parties are ... with 60 kids and jumps and clowns and horse rides ... their favorite food, everything they want. I spoil them rotten, so I relive all my birthdays through my babies. That's the most positive way I've found. Plus, I spoil my wife rotten on her birthday," May said.
Last November, the comedian had a case of walking pneumonia. He explained he was scheduled for a cruise and thought he could keep the booking, armed with antibiotics and an inhaler. The second day of the trip, he became so ill he was incapacitated.
"They wanted to fly me off the boat, but there was a hurricane between them and Tampa. I couldn't win," May said.
He landed at Tampa General Hospital, and a pulmonologist discovered a clot in his leg and put him on a blood thinner. Later, a team of people went to work locating and filtering clots. He had to remain conscious throughout the procedure, because his lungs could not tolerate the anesthesia. The doctor said they would know in about six hours if their efforts were successful.
"My life changed in that six hours. I wrote a letter to my children ... and my wife," May said.
As time ticked down to two hours, he started berating himself for letting himself get run down. He worried about what could happen to his family and his fans if he died. After he was out of danger, he would not allow himself to sleep.
"I was nervous if I fell asleep I would die, so I was awake for 11 days," May said.
That crisis gave him a new appreciation for life, a new sense of responsibility and a re-alignment of his priorities. May concluded he must let go of the negative elements in his life and focus on the positives. He said some of his recent experiences, as difficult as they were, will be incorporated into his stand-up routine.
"When happy things come to you, you might as well take it in, but it's the sad things and the regrets for what you didn't do more than what you did do. I'm using that to drive home the point that hate is a choice. We choose to hate who we want to hate and who we want to love," May said. "To be successful, you don't have to hurt other people. You can be happy for others' success."
He added he does not hate anybody, and he cannot understand how people can harbor so much hatred of Muslims, immigrants and homosexuals. These biases are addressed in his new one-hour special,"Too Big To Ignore." Filmed for Comedy Central, it is to debut at 10 p.m. March 4. More than a million copies of the DVD have been pre-ordered.
May said the Tiffin audience will hear excerpts from that effort. He emphasized the title does not refer to his size but to social issues that must be addressed. May is well known for pursuing controversial subjects that point out hypocrisies in modern culture, such as the concern about gays in the military.
"I find it dangerous that we put our U.S. citizens - the best we have, our service men and women - in harm's way and then we worry about who they sleep with," May said.
Since establishing a residence in Nashville, he has been involved with the 100 Club of Nashville, various youth organizations and the Humane Society. Every few months, May also donates six boxes of clothes and shoes to needy, plus-size men. He is losing weight to get healthier, and companies who make large men's sizes send him garments all the time.
"It's strange. When you become successful, people give you free stuff. It's crazy," May said.
When talking about popular clothing brands, May recalled "going off" on Santa Claus and Jesus at about age 8 when he didn't get the pair of Adidas shoes he wanted. He said it brought his mother to tears because she had to buy him another brand. She had to tell him Santa wasn't real but Jesus is. Now, he can buy all the Adidas he wants.
Regarding the meaning of the number 9 red jersey he has worn in some of his publicity photos, he said nine was his father's number at one time.
"Well maybe I'll just be the ninth-funniest comedian of all time. I'll take that ... Why not be number nine?"
Now that he has established his name and reached millions of people through his performances, May is contemplating a run for public office in a couple years. His hope is to make his native Tennessee a better place for its residents.
"In the last four years, 1.4 million people bought tickets to my shows. They only pay for the jokes, but they're going to get a message, maybe a wake-up call. You know, I get 100 to 150 people on Twitter in a day saying 'Thank you for the show. You really made a difference. You made me want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man,'" May said.
He finds it encouraging to have reached that many people with one performance, not to mention those who did not communicate with him.
For now, he is touring to promote "Too Big To Ignore" and he plans to have previous CDs and DVDs on sale in Tiffin. He will sign the discs in advance.
"I can't go out in person and meet everybody like I used to. I used to go out and hug people and take pictures with folks, but I'm so susceptible ... The doctors say I'm done," May said.
Tickets for Ralphie May range from $20 to $49. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show is for adults ages 18 and older.
For tickets and information, visit www.ritztheatre.org, stop at 30 S. Washington St., or call the Ritz at (419) 448-8544.