Hailing from “The Land of Pleasant Living,” comedian Ryan Sickler has been making people laugh since he was a kid. Inspired by his Maryland roots, he’s spent the past several decades tirelessly honing his craft as a storyteller on stages across the country, and as a host of one of comedy’s most beloved podcasts, The CrabFeast. The weekly series celebrates the things the host enjoys most – family, friends and comedy. Along the way, the podcast has become one of the top podcasts at All Things Comedy, consistently in the top of the charts on iTunes, and was a finalist in the Stitcher awards for Best Comedy Podcast. Sickler’s ever-expanding resume also boasts appearances on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Comedy Central’s “This is Not Happening,” and Viceland’s “Party Legends.” In addition, he has also visited CBS The Late Late Show, Tosh.O, and Live At Gotham. Ryan is also an die-hard sports fan who as appeared as a regular on Fox Sports. On the opposite side of the camera, he’s also served as the Supervising Producer on Season 2 of Kevin Hart’s award-winning “Donald Mac” series, the Co-Executive Producer of the new E! Series “The Funny Dance Show,” and Senior Producer on the Comedy Central Series “The Comedy Jam.”
Even with that impressive resume, Sickler is about to usher in an even more impressive (and hysterically funny) new era and it begins with his hilarious sophomore album, “Get a Hold of Yourself.” Released on November 20th, 2018 via Blonde Medicine, the album quickly rose to the top of the iTunes and Billboard charts. Expertly balanced from start to finish, this amazing comedy album brings his trademark wit and natural humor to fresh, new territory. Ryan makes a statement with “Get a Hold of Yourself” as he unloads for over an hour, bringing the audience along for stories about the first time he saw his dad cry, how he gamed the phone company on collect calls, and what will certainly go down as one of the craziest college parties of all time.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Sickler to discuss his journey as a comedian, the challenges he’s faced along the way, his latest comedy album, and what the future holds for him in the months to come!
What are your first memories of discovering standup comedy as a kid?
First, this is how comedy was introduced to me. It’s funny because I just made a post today. 29 years ago today, my father died. I wake up this morning to the #1 comedy album on iTunes and it debuted [on the Billboard charts] at #3 today. Technically, like I said in the post, I have Tenacious D and ‘Rick and Morty’ ahead of me but both of those are soundtracks, so technically I have the #1 standup album on the Billboard Chart and I’m taking the damn points! [laughs]
As you should! It’s a well-deserved win!
To answer your question, my father was the reason I posted that today and the reason I got into comedy. I was about 10 or 11 years old and we were living in Carroll County, Maryland, where we had something called SuperTV. It was early cable. It had HBO and I remember sneaking down the stairs at night and seeing my dad watch this movie. I saw all these kids in it and I thought, “Well, hell. There are kids in it, so I can watch this.” I was laying out in the hallway while he was watching it in the living room with his back to me. I started laughing and that’s how I got caught. He said, “Get in here!” It was late, and I thought I was going to be in a lot of trouble, but he said, “Sit down and watch the rest of this movie with me.” It was Richard Pryor’s “Bustin’ Loose.” That was literally it for me and the introduction to comedy. From there he would take me out of bed and show me Eddie Murphy’s “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” and stuff like that. I remembered doing old Martin Short characters like Ed Grimley and Nathan Thurm, and all the Eddie Murphy characters to make the family laugh.
At what point did you figure out this was you’re calling and decide to pursue another career?
It’s crazy that you’re asking me all these questions from Maryland, too! You know, I recently went back and did some album release shows at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood. We sold out Saturday night and had to add a second show. I could step out the door of my hotel, take a few steps to left, and I was walking the street called Water Street where I first did standup for the first time ever. I walked up that little cobblestone street and I went inside that little venue, which is an Italian restaurant now, and I said out loud, “What a good decision it was to walk in here 25 years ago!” That’s where I first did standup at 20 years old. I just dabbled with it. I didn’t really get into it again until I was 26 or 27, somewhere around there. When I stepped in that building and made a crowd full of mostly strangers laugh, I thought, “I can do this! I can do this.”
What went into finding your creative voice as a young comic and when do you feel like you came into your own as a storyteller?
I started by just saying things I thought we funny. I remember even bringing fake buck teeth up onstage very early on. I also remember when they broke! That was the moment I realized that you can’t depend on the prop! [laughs] Honestly, the evolution of all of it is failure. It’s about “What didn’t work? Okay, Let’s dive into what did work!” My first album isn’t really storytelling. It’s a little bit of storytelling but mostly just things I thought were funny and jokes that resonated with me or I thought meet people laugh. Once podcasting hit, that changed everything for me. We would all sit around and say, “Are you talking about that on stage? No? You’ve gotta talk about that on stage!” Then you have to go from taking a conversation that three people have where people can chime in, or weigh in, or add things and bring it to the solo sport of standup on stage and try to hold and audience’s attention long enough to make things funny, relatable, and memorable. It’s a process of all of that. I think it was Richard Pryor who once said that you don’t really know your voice in comedy until you’ve been doing it for about 15 or 20 years. I think that’s absolutely true. As far as coming into my own as a storyteller, once The Crabfeast really got rolling and we got into making it about storytelling, focusing on that and began bringing those stories to the stage, that’s when it all shifted and changed. No doubt! I’m still discovering more stories that I can talk about, sharing them and doing it in different ways.
What can you tell us about your writing process these days? What goes into capturing an idea, building it out and bringing to the stage?
I’m observational. I might see something or talk about things with someone and say, “That’s hilarious. That’s a good nugget.” That might be the start of something that would have taken me six months to figure out how to save properly. I need to be around people. I realized that when I work isolated and there’s no human interaction, there is nothing to talk about, pick apart or joke about, so I need that. I might even go back into my own library. I have a very big extended family and I talk to my cousins and stuff all the time. They’ll say, “Oh, remember that time…” I’m like, “I didn’t remember that until you said it!” You might take that and try to get that into storytelling and build jokes around it. It really all just comes from day to day life, observational things and sitting around reminiscing. Doing this as long as I have, I thought I had told every story I ever had, but there are times when someone will say something on The Crabfeast and I’m like, “Oh my God, I don’t think I’ve ever said this!” Then boom — there’s that! That’s a bit of my process. I’ll tell you this, I’m most creative just as I’m falling asleep. I used to keep a recorder by my bed because I would start falling asleep and it was almost like I had an open channel where I would start thinking about everything. It was almost like I was able to clear my head in a way that I couldn’t do during the day. It’s still that way for me! I still use my voice recorder on my phone and put ideas down for things to talk about.
As you mentioned, your original album, “Above Ground Cool,” was released a number of years ago. From there we entered into The CrabFeast era. You just released “Get A Hold Of Yourself” and I feel like it marks the start of a new era. What made now the time to release this album?[laughs] I’d love to give you some deep answer to that but the truth is I recorded it last year! I won’t get into too many of the business details, but I was asked to hold off and see if we could work on doing a special or something like that. That really just drug on and started to fall apart, so I just thought, “Why am I waiting on that?” Again, back to The CrabFeast and podcasting in general, there are so many audiophiles out there that I think a lot of people forget about albums these days. Honestly, if I wasn’t going to get a slam dunk special, then for me it was an obvious Plan B, which I talk about in the first track. It’s a good Plan B and the timing just couldn’t have been any better. They say everything happens for reason and I believe that. I was able to go do my shows in Baltimore and make them album release shows and get my album to my hometown before anyone else in the world could get it. It didn’t drop until last Tuesday, November 20th, so it’s only been out for week. I’m really proud of it and I’m pleasantly surprised with how well it’s doing!
You should be proud of it, Ryan. It’s truly a great album, balanced from start to finish. It’s one of those albums I think will stand the test of time.
I’ve been doing this for many years now and I’ve talked to my fair share of comedians along the way. Over the past decade, I find myself talking about the comedy boom and this golden age we have entered into. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger, which is awesome! What’s it been like for you for your point of view?
I think it’s awesome! They’ve always said that there’s room for everybody and I feel like there’s even more now. When I was a kid, there were only three networks. Then, this network called Fox came along and had these weird new shows like “Married With Children” and “In Living Color” and they became iconic shows. Now there’s 1,000 networks and there’s so much good stuff and you just can’t keep up with it, but it’s an avenue and it allows you to get your stuff out there. You take a podcast like The Joe Rogan Experience, who was kind enough to have me on this year and I can’t thank him enough for that, but you also have guys like Tom Segura. These guys are doing bigger numbers with their podcasts then what’s being done with television. You also get an hour and a half, two hours, 2 ½ or 3 hours sometimes of the real person. So, it’s not a five-minute FCC approved set I’m doing. I’m really able to be myself and learn so much more about someone outside of that five minutes. I mean, I’m doing my own show. If this was a TV show, I wouldn’t have my own show. The one thing that I’ve proven to myself, and I was recently talking about it with a bunch of comic friends, is that the industry doesn’t always know what’s right. If it wasn’t for something like podcasting, a lot of these guys out there wouldn’t even have voices. So, we went and did it for ourselves and we were right! That’s the other thing, the reason this podcast and this album are so successful is because not one person has given me their “professional input” on it and that’s 100% true! There’s not one person who’s given me the, “Well, I wouldn’t say it like that!” Nope! These are the two things in this industry that I’ve done 100% the way I wanted to do them, and it doesn’t surprise me at all, but they’re successful! The other things that I’ve been a part of, everybody had to have their say and there were too many cooks in the kitchen. It’s no surprise to me that those are not as successful.
It’s important to note that you didn’t get to this point in your career overnight. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way both personally and creatively?
Honestly, I’ve been on my own since I was 16. So, to move here, not know anyone, get into a business where I don’t know anyone, stay, be consistent, and keep fighting it every day even though you want to quit sometimes because of how hard it gets, has been a challenge. Doing it the way you want to do it is always the longer way around things. Through all of that I’ve also lost some family, become a father, become a single parent, trying to keep that going with my schedule… all those things are tough! When I win an award the first people I want to thank are my babysitters, because I’ve got a crew of them and I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I’m doing now without those girls! [laughs] Creatively, I don’t know if it’s any different than it ever was. Everyone wants to talk about diversity, diversity, diversity and that’s true it should be, but the truth is that funny is funny when it comes to comedy. You either put funny ahead of everything else where the project falls away and takes care of itself. Creatively the biggest challenge is to continue with creation of content, content, content. You always have to be putting something else out. You know, if it were a band, you can listen to that same song 100 times and people will still come to see you for 40 years just to see you sing that song. If you’re a comedian, they don’t want to hear you tell the same joke! You go to do a podcast every week with an hour and a half a fresh content! You tell me what band is doing that! [laughs]
Having listened to you and gotten to know you over the years through the podcast, I think I probably know the answer to this question. You’ve got an incredible drive and work ethic. Was that something you had instilled at an early age?
That’s all my father right there! My brothers are the same way. Regardless of their occupations or professions, that blue collar work ethic, that hustle mentality, that stay alive, chip on your shoulder, is all my dad, man! I still believe in a blue-collar work ethic, I just want to move it into some of those white-collar tax brackets, ya know what I mean? [laughs] I don’t mind working hard, I just want to work hard in a different tax bracket!
You’ve also done a lot of work outside the realm of stand-up comedy. What can you tell us about the work you’ve done behind-the-scenes?
I really love writing and producing! I’ve been writing and producing promos for everybody from Oprah to the WB to Fox to ABC to Disney! You name it! I’ve helped work on selling a couple series to TV. I am co-executive producer on a brand-new show, which is basically a dance battle show that E! picked up. I was a senior producer on another Comedy Central series last year that I helped sell. I’m also out with a few other ones right now, but I think could be really big! I like being on the other side of the cameras, being the producer as well!
It’s cool to see you have success in that realm as well. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean you will slow down in regard to stand-up anytime soon.
I hope I don’t slowdown in any of it! I never wanted to be just a comedian. Why? I want to do a bunch of things and be good at lot of things. I know a lot of people say that you can only be great at one thing. Well, I don’t think so! I really enjoy stand-up and podcasting. That’s who I am first. With that said, you can sell a TV show, work on that for a couple months and then you have time back to go travel on the road and do whatever else you need to do. It’s all part of entertainment. I took Mass Communications in college. I knew I wanted to do stand-up, but I also enjoyed all of the aspects. I look back at everything I did for radio and it now makes sense for podcasting or for TV & film, which now makes sense for the jobs I do that aren’t stand-up. In hindsight, I guess I kinda knew what the heck I was doing! [laughs]
Sadly, The CrabFeast will soon be coming to an end but it’s been an epic run! What have been the highlights for you?
No doubt the laughing! I have sat there and been blow away every Tuesday for people’s stories for years! It really makes me appreciate comedians every week because as comedians we have all seen some of the worst stuff you can see in life and still have managed to take it and make ourselves laugh, as well as other people in the process. I think that’s what makes comedians so special. I’ve enjoyed sitting there and listening to everyone’s stories. I’ve also made quite a bit of friends from that podcast. Behind-the-scenes, dealing with and getting to work with Jay [Larson] on a weekly basis has been amazing. He’s been a great partner. I agree with you — we’ve had an epic run! I’m really proud of what we’ve done, and I stand by that work. That podcast is going to be around for a long time. In fact, I tell my daughter, if you ever really want to get to know who I am, if something happens to me, you go listen to the CrabFeast podcast!
Honestly, that’s been my favorite part of the CrabFeast, getting to know you guys.
It’s been a pleasure and thank you for saying that! It’s not easy to bear your entire soul to strangers but, man, the love and support has been reciprocated! It’s been pretty awesome!
You have a brand-new podcast on the way. Can you give us a hint as to what you have in store for us?
I’ll tell you everything! What I really loved about The CrabFeast the most, as far as the actual podcast, was the storytelling. I really feel it’s time for The CrabFeast to have a baby, so to speak. I’m going to keep the storytelling aspect of it but put more of a focus on it. I’m calling it “The Honeydew.” The reason for that is that I was sitting in a diner having dinner one night. I was eating my fruit and I realize I never eat the honeydew. I eat everything but the honeydew! When I got up and started making my way out, I started looking at the tables and realized everyone had left the honeydew. I was like, “Huh, nobody really likes the honeydew. It’s a perfectly fine fruit but we’re all throwing it away.” Then I started thinking about me. I said, “I’m a honeydew! Everybody has thrown me away!” [laughs] The main thing for The CrabFeast we started with was to have a funny storytelling show, but the side effect of that has been hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails and messages over the years about how much we’ve helped people. We might’ve help them through a death, a divorce, a career change, a move or so many other different things. Which, again, was amazing and we had no idea it was happening. I really want to lean into that. I really want to help people also want to laugh at those really dark times, sad times or embarrassing moments. Anytime you’ve ever been overworked, underpaid, overlooked, picked on, cheated on, lied to, spit on, all on it! I want to talk about it! I’m going to make it comedian heavy, but not just comics. I want to talk to people who have had those moments in their life, talk about those moments, laugh about those moments and talk about how we thought it was the end of the world at the time, but we spun them into positives instead of curling up in a corner and letting life pass you by!
I researched honeydew to see if it really was one of the least liked fruits and it’s one of the bottom three. There are only two after it, which are figs and dates. I read an article about a guy who owns an all-you-can-eat pancake restaurant. He said, “You can imagine how many uneaten pancakes I throw away every year, but I throw more honeydew away every year than uneaten pancakes!” I thought, “It’s perfect! It’s The Honeydew, man!” We’re going to be doing it the first of the year, brother! Christmas is the last CrabFeast. Then, the following week, I’m going to sliding down the dial from Tuesdays to Wednesday. Then every Wednesday we’re gonna have a Honeydew episode!
I recently caught you on Tom Segura and Christina P.’s ‘Your Mom’s House’ podcast. The Honeydew is going to be on their new network, correct?
It is! It sure is! I’m super stoked to go there with everything they’ve got coming. I can’t say anything else about that because that’s their thing, but they’ve got some pretty exciting guests and people who were going to have their podcasts on their network. It’s going to be a good time!
It’s definitely inspiring to see everything you’ve accomplished. What’s the best lesson we can take away from your journey as an artist?
The best lesson is to show up every day and be the best wherever you are. It does not matter where you are! Be the best where you are. Get up every day, grind and hustle! Believe in yourself, believe in yourself, believe in yourself because no one else is going to do it for you!
Thanks so much for your time today, Ryan! I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come! Let’s keep in touch!
Yeah, let’s do that! Thanks so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much, man!
Visit Ryan Sickler’s official website for upcoming tour dates! Follow his continuing adventures on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Check out the side-splittingly hilarious new album, “Get A Hold Of Yourself” on iTunes, Amazon or Google Play.
Catch episodes of The CrabFeast podcast on iTunes and prepare yourself of The Honeydew, coming in January 2019!