Storytelling is an integral part of being a comedian. Many can get by on jokes. Others rely on bits, impressions, music, gags or whatever else. But one common theme is the ability to tell a story.
Ryan Sickler knows what it takes to craft a good story. He’s learned that one of the most important aspects of it is to be willing to experience something you’ve never done before. His latest album -- Get A Hold of Yourself -- is emblematic of that. A few weeks ago, Sickler and I had a chat about living life out of the box, how comedians play all roles in production, and the different ways in which to tell a story.
I wanted to have a little chat about your album -- this is your second one. This is a pretty big step for you, especially with you being a prevalent voice in the comedy community. What’d you learn going from the first one to the second one?
Ryan Sickler: Man. The first one, material wise, I talked about what I thought was funny. I touched on stories that get too deep. Also, I learned what proper production really is. I left it up to the people there at the time. They recorded from one mic, pulling the audience from everything; it wasn’t set up properly. In all the mistakes you make in life, hopefully you grow and you learn.
This time I did. I had our producer, Jeff Fox, who-- When I say “our producer,” I’m mean the producer for [my and Jay Larson’s] podcast, The CrabFeast. I had him come down. He’s so good with audio. I had him sit there and record four shows for me. You’re getting me on mic and the crowd on theirs. The club was set up properly. It was done great. I was stoked about how good it sounds. I was stoked about the audio quality. Podcasting opened my world up...You sit there and tell a story and you’re like “Have you ever talked about that on stage? You need to talk about that on stage.” It just evolved out of that. This album has so many stories that I first told on The CrabFeast. So many ideas I started on The CrabFeast that I then took to standup. I’ve learned a lot the first album.
It’s interesting hearing you talk about what was wrong [with production] on the first album and then going to the second album. And in thinking about other people who have had TV specials, not only are you playing the host or main character for the album, but you’re also playing director. You’re playing producer. You’re wearing multiple hats in order to make sure things go right.
Sickler: Yeah. You want to be a comedian but being a comedian, when I first started, it was all jokes. Then you had to learn WordPress and how to do websites and social media. I’m still not great with it. You have to keep up with videos and stories. It’s so quickly moving and ever changing that being a comedian is not ever enough. You’re 100% right. You need to be a director. You need to be a producer. A performer. [Executive producer]. You paid for it! You gotta do it all. Then, when it’s done, that’s just the recording.
I’ve worked in post-production for years too. Then you gotta get into the edit. You get a good mix of what you have. I’m really happy with my label, Blonde Medicine -- Dominic Del Bene and his group are fantastic. Everyone over there has been awesome to work with. You’re sitting there listening to them, “Take that out! Put this back in!” So much goes into it. It’s a label of love, brother. That’s for damn sure.
You know the real struggle. Like you said, you worked as a producer. You’ve been behind the camera on so many shows that you’re still doing. You’re taking storytelling to an entirely different level because you’re seeing the in’s and out’s as well as the behind the scenes of it too.
Sickler: Absolutely. I performed on Josh Adam Meyers’s The Godddamn Comedy Jam, the live one. Jay, myself, Matt Braunger, and Bill Burr. While I was singing I was like “This is a TV show.” I went to a friend of mine’s production company. I was like “This is a show. You build these stories about songs.” We were fortunate enough to get a series on Comedy Central with that. I sold another show to E! as a series. All of it involves a bit of storytelling. I can see it everywhere. I love it. I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m glad to see that shift. It’s just where my whole being has gone.
Sitting here and listening to people’s stories, having my own. Feeling how to take a story that freeflows on the podcast where three people are riffing on it versus you, isolated, on stage -- trying to get that same story with the punches in the right spot and the word soup. All of it. I love it. It’s a different [mode] to go from podcasting to standup and try to get that material to work both ways. You can feel someone doing a bit when they’re on a podcast and it’s a standup. You can feel it. And same thing. If you’re long winded and just rambling, the audience can feel that with standups. You have to figure out what that happy medium is and sway each way. That’s been fun and cool to have. It’s something new. I think it was Richard Pryor who said you don’t get your voice until it’s been -- I want to say 15? 18 years? I hope he’s right because that’s about right where the hell I am!
Speaking of those early years, was it a good shift for you when you found out “Hey! I’m good at telling stories. I’ll just drop telling one liners and hack jokes, leaning into my personal stories?”
Sickler: Yes. Lighten up on those hack jokes a bit. I prefer C+.
Sickler: It was. It was a great relief. That’s why I’m excited to do an album too. There’s so many audiophiles out that. That’s why audiophiles are important; they’ll call you out on it. Being able to tell these stories… The goal is to sit down and have a fun show. The result was so many people… Millions of downloads. Thousands of emails over the years of how we’ve helped people. It’s a side effect of something you set out to do you had no idea would ever come about.
It was such a relief. I get it. I can’t sit there and tell that story long form in standup without making a funny throughout. It was a huge relief. I was able to do two stories on This Is Not Happening -- they’re ten minute stories. It was a great relief. I was excited for it. I’ve embraced it. It’s where my comedy and writing is.
Speaking of This Is Not Happening, I watched the one with the alligator. And then I watched a clip from The Joe Rogan Experience. I was wondering -- this is very interesting for me -- You have a lot of great panel style stories that’ll play well pretty much anywhere. Do you find yourself seeking to do a bunch of weird stuff to have a story to tell? Or does this just happen to you?
Sickler: All that stuff has happened to me. But a big result of that stuff happening to me is not because I sought it out but because I said yes. The opportunity presented itself and I didn’t say “You know what? I’m going to go home.” I said “Alright. I’ll see where this goes.” I didn’t necessarily go out seeking [a story] all the time but that night I did.
That night at the party I went to seriously meet these dudes and get to know them better. We’re going to be playing together for a season. In that story, prior to the guy getting bit in the face by an alligator on cocaine, I could’ve left. Mostly it’s because I said yes to things. We talk about that on the podcast a lot. The more times you say yes to an experience-- I’m not talking about something going against this law or to kill you. [laughs] The more times you say yes to experiences, the more experiences and stories you have. Those have been some of the best stories of my life because I said yes.
From all your standup and producing, that leads to more writing and taking storytelling to another level. Have you found that you wanted to create more shows -- not specifically standup or [those] that were picked up -- but other shows that involve storytelling? Like a sitcom or one man show of some sort?
Sickler: Not necessarily. I’m open to any content. Funny is funny. Good is good. Beautiful is beautiful. I don’t care what the package is. What I’ve realized from podcasting is I’m not a social butterfly. Jay really is good about that. If we’re in a club doing standup, I’ll definitely come up to you and tell you how funny I thought it was. Loved this joke and that joke.
But that’s probably as much conversation you’ll get with people in a comedy club unless you know them, sit down and chit chat with them. On a podcast, you really get to sit down with these people -- know their stories and their life. Just because of their stories, you know who you need to be. It’s been this conduit, connectivity. That’s been a side effect that’s come out and I appreciate it. It all goes back to people’s stories.