No one walks onto a stage with a bigger smile than seasoned New York-based comedian Ryan Hamilton. This year, audience members at Montreal’s 35th annual Just For Laughs (JFL) comedy festival will witness his kind yet self-deprecating sense of humour in a long lineup of shows from July 24 to 29. After a wild year, which included the taping of his first Netflix standup special, Happy Face, Hamilton is coming to Montreal to perform in the Laverne Cox gala and in his own show, Ryan Hamilton: Edgy, Boundary-Pushing Comedian.
Hamilton got his start at telling jokes while majoring in Journalism and Public Relations at Brigham Young University before taking a break from comedy to work full-time after finishing his undergraduate degree. He only fell back into comedy several years later upon finding himself unemployed.
“I got laid off, and I was doing comedy for fun, and it got to a point where I started to get offered these little, terrible gigs, for 100 bucks here, 50 bucks there,” Hamilton said. “I had a part time job as a parking valet while I was looking for a real job, and I just decided I was going to swap comedy for a year with job hunting, and I just went all in.”
Fast forward several years later, and Hamilton will be returning to JFL this summer for the fifth time. If his past shows are any indication, Hamilton’s set is sure to be full of clean, inclusive jokes—making the show’s title a bit of satire itself.
“The name of the show is Edgy, Boundary-Pushing Comedian, which I’m really hoping people understand the irony in,” Hamilton said. “I’m a little nervous about it, about a crowd showing up just expecting something [crazy] that won’t be there.”
While many comics get laughs by relying on shock value, Hamilton’s sense of humour has always erred closer to the side of caution. Not only does this line up with his own personality and interests, but drawing lines challenges him more when writing.
“I just try to be authentic to who I am, really,” Hamilton said. “But mostly I just write what I enjoy thinking about and what intrigues me [….] I think for me having some boundaries or restrictions in where I can go forces me in a good way creatively.”
Hamilton’s principled approach to joke writing translates well on stage, and he is often successful in achieving his goal of inspiring specific emotions among audience members. There are plenty of things Hamilton is willing to joke about, like his own appearance, his troubles in the dating world, and hot air balloons. But unlike many comics, who aim to shock and push buttons, there are an equal number of more risqué topics that Hamilton stays away from, preferring that his audience leaves in a good mood.
“I like whimsical stuff, I like people to come out of a show feeling a certain way,” Hamilton said. “You know, you can laugh really hard and come out of a show feeling overwhelmed, and you can laugh really hard and come out of a show feeling light, and you can laugh really hard and come out of a show feeling confused. I just kind of like have a certain way that I kind of hope people come out of a show feeling.”