Before a crowd of smiling women and howling men at Union Hall last week, Crown Heights-based comedian, Ryan Beck, recorded live his upbeat debut album that lightens this dark year. Lending such otherwise dramatic topics as the coronavirus pandemic, marriage and expectant fatherhood necessary relief, the St. Louis native delivered a warm set.
Two days prior, however, during his set in the posh lounge of the Canary Club on the Lower East Side, Beck wasn’t having any of it. “Are you going to shake all night?” he jabbed at the bartender who kept shaking his mixer like a maraca with devilish glee.
“That’s New York,” Beck later said by phone, embracing the clatter of a city where cocktails can deafen jokes. Like an indie rocker who shouts his soul even as fire alarms blare, the performer gets on with the show.
The album, titled “Ryan Beck: Truly Alive” — a reference to his grandfather’s declaration that he feels “truly alive” when he wets the bed — will be released by 800 Pound Gorilla Records at a date still to be determined. Filled with jokes that Beck culled from several notebooks, the album really “ramped up” in 2020 during the pandemic yet transcends the virus’s confines to survey the full breadth of life.
An affable comedian in the tradition of Ray Romano or Jim Gaffigan, Beck grew up in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles watching Johnny Carson reruns before his friend urged him to try his out own comedy when he was seventeen. After sneaking into eighteen-only open mics in his hometown, he moved to New York for an internship at The Daily Show while in college and then, with just the belongings he could fit in a suitcase, established himself in the city upon graduation.
Since then, the youngest child of a retired colonel and a college advisor has become a regular at such iconic comedy clubs as The Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village and Stand Up NY on the Upper West Side. What distinguishes Beck, who sometimes trades a button-down for a t-shirt displaying his Missouri pride (“It’s not that bad,” reads one), is his undeniable likability pierced through with his bull’s-eye wit.
“Truly Alive”On stage, whether it be across the country as part of his consistent touring schedule or at one of New York’s many clubs, the ruffle-haired comedian emerges as an everyman who deftly relates the comic minutiae of daily life. “I got married recently, the pandemic started and now my wife and I have celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary,” goes the variation of a line that Beck dished for the new record.
Playing countless shows for over a decade, the comedian has proven himself an ace thrower of the punch line. For a bit about aging, for instance, in which Beck starts out by saying, “It’s hard to get older because no one believes in you anymore,” he continues that during adolescence, everyone says that “you can” do this or that before closing with: “But, when you get to be eighteen, it’s like, ‘You got to do something.’”
Beck’s comedy is largely about interpersonal relations, particularly the almost absurdist encounters that not only New Yorkers but individuals the world over have on an hourly basis. “I do have some observational jokes where I see or notice something that I want to talk about, don’t understand or maybe have a small grievance with,” he says in his slight Missourian drawl. “There’s always something funny in that but a lot of the stuff that I think is really the most fun to tell other people are things that happen to you.”
In between sips of water at the Union Hall album recording, Beck conveyed the comedic pitfalls of domesticity, saying, “I wake up sore every morning, like a sad detective” and then reveals that his father-in-law considers him “part of the family” but “won’t give me his WiFi password.”
“Truly Alive” radiates such homespun candor. The record attains true gravitas as Beck relates his Midwestern youth (complete with a gun-toting father who scares even the pizza boy away) before pondering his own future as a parent. The album’s final punchline is too good to reveal but has a depth that recalls the essays of E.B. White while still managing to resonate in the current moment.
Beck isn’t convinced that it’s any easier, even with the benefits of social media or YouTube tutorials, to be a stand-up comedian in 2021. He also knows that New York—and the world, at large—aches with ills, a pandemic and general madness amongst them. A pure comic, though, he wants to make people laugh. Raucous barmen aren’t fading anytime soon, though.
As he steps down the stage to a sea of handclaps, walks to his wife who carries his arriving son, and gives her a kiss, he soaks in the mist and stands ears to the rafters to hear those howls.
“I do have some observational jokes where I see or notice something that I want to talk about, don’t understand or maybe have a small grievance with. There’s always something funny in that but a lot of the stuff that I think is really the most fun to tell other people are things that happen to you,” Ryan Beck.