The Big Man Stands Up

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Why you should care

Because you could use a gentle, giggling reminder that the world is deliciously absurd.

Comedy can be a brutal art. Maybe that’s why so many comedians aim for the hard-hitting, the controversial, the downright rude jokes. Not Ron Funches. He just seems so nice. Yes, he drops F-bombs. He pokes fun at racial stereotypes. But he also talks about his cat, and what he’s learned from his autistic son, with a delivery that feels almost meandering.

Don’t let the laconic act fool you. Nailing jokes that don’t aim for an easy target can prove one of the hardest things in stand-up, and that’s part of Funches’ talent. He takes advantage of his personal dichotomy — a very large black man with a big grin, a self-proclaimed social media affinity for ganja and a style that’s less attacking, more storytelling vignettes. Then there’s the laugh.

It’s something that could seem dirty, but instead comes off as delightfully innocent.

“Not used to a 300-pound black man that giggles like an Asian school girl?” he asked Conan O’Brien’s audience early last year.

Hollywood has taken notice. Funches started telling jokes in public at 23, about seven years ago, in Oregon. He hit the circuit, drew the attention of the likes of Comedy Central, appeared on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show and Disney’s Crash and Bernstein and won a part on NBC’s midseason sitcom Undateable, which just started filming its second season. He’s also got a role in Justin Bieber’s next film, according to IMDb (we’ll let the jokes tell themselves there). He’s snagged the top wins on Comedy Central’s @midnight, a late-night improv game show where he’s been called “adorable.” In a sort of adult male teddy bear kind of way.

On the long-form interview podcast You Made It Weird, Funches says he started telling jokes to entertain his younger sister after their father left and their mother dated an abusive man. He described being drawn, even at 8 years old, to classic bits on I Love Lucy — funny stuff that pulled no punches. Maybe that’s what helped him nail the slow build and big payoff that’s attracted the fandom of industry leaders like JoAnn Grigioni, Comedy Central’s vice president for talent. “I think it’s the whole package of Ron — his physical appearance, his sweetness, his cadence,” she says.

Be sure to catch Ron Funches’ Comedy Central special, named one of the year’s best by Vulture.

Take, for example, his “Cinnamon Angel” bit from two years ago. Here, Funches finds that fine line between talking about something that could seem dirty, but instead comes off as delightfully innocent. Even, in a way, protective. Just listen, says Grigioni, to the laughter. “You think he’s going to say one thing about how he’s feeling,” she says, but then he pivots to an inexact landing point. “The setup has at least three laughs before he gets to the punch line,” she says.

In an often cynical business, you get the impression that Funches seems genuinely thrilled with how everything has worked out. “I love my job. I truly hope you love yours,” he tweets (he tweets a lot). Dance on, sweet angel, dance on.

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