“It’s a simple fact,” he told the Inquirer in a recent interview. “I’ll put it out there as an open challenge: Prove me wrong. Bring your dankest, and bring some whoopie pies, because I love those there.”
Those up to the challenge can see Funches at Punch Line, where he will hold court with several nightly sets from Thursday to Saturday.
Known for his dry, friendly style of comedy and his lilting voice, Funches has been involved in stand-up for nearly 15 years. In that time, he released a half-hour Comedy Central set, a comedy album dubbed The Funches of Us, and starred in NBC’s now-canceled Undateable.
Funches’ Philly appearance comes on the heels of the taping of his first hour-long Comedy Central special in Seattle last month, so expect plenty of new material. Set for release next year, the special raised about $20,000 for Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based family shelter.
Currently, Funches is filming a movie in Toronto, and preparing to release a self-help podcast, Getting Better with Ron Funches, that came about after he lost about 140 pounds. We caught up with the comedian over the phone, and talked about his future projects and cheesesteaks, his favorite food.
You’ve got your first hour special under your belt now. What was making that like for you?
It started off as business as usual, which is kind of living my life and trying to mine jokes from it. Then, it became this focus of, ‘What do I want to say? What do I want it to be about?’ There’s a lot of specials that are out, and some of them are specials, and some of them are just hour sets. I wanted to make sure that when people watch it, they realize, ‘OK, he had a reason for putting this out.’ It’s not like I was given a date and a check and was told to have a set ready by this time.
Streaming services really have flooded the comedy market with specials recently. It seems as if there is a new special every other day.
I think it deludes stand-up because it’s a lot of people’s first time they’ve even seen it, and it is just a mediocre stand-up, or some actor. It’s like, ‘Stand-up sucks,’ but that’s not cool — stand-up is awesome. Especially right now, it’s one of the last honest, pure art forms where you can say what … you want. I think that’s important, and that’s what I went into my special with.
You donated ticket proceeds from your taping to Mary’s Place. What made you want to donate to that organization?
It’s a women’s and family shelter in the Northwest in Seattle. I’m from the Northwest, and I felt like it was a good thing to do. I had a time where I was very close to living in shelters, and it’s one of the few shelters that takes in full families — men included. A lot of shelters don’t do that. I figured I’m going to get paid for the special; I didn’t need to get paid for the tickets, so we gave that money to them. Because of that, Comedy Central doubled it, and we ended up making almost $20,000 for them.
Your act tends to have a positive outlook, which seems rare in comedy now.
It’s important to be positive when things seem negative. Anybody can be positive when [things are] going well. That’s what they want — for you to be unstable, to give up, to think that life is horrible when life is not horrible. One day I was bogged down by the news, and I went on a hike in Runyon Park. When you go there, there are always dogs hiking off-leash, and I looked at them, and none of these dogs [cared] who the president is. Sometimes you’ve just got to live your life and fetch that ball.
Are you still working on a sitcom based on your life with your autistic son, Malcolm?
I can tell you it’s not dead. There are things I want to do, but this I have to do. I have to figure it out. Whenever I do my shows, that’s the thing people speak about the most. I have people who had autism in their family, or people who just have autism. Just in Spokane last week, this lady, her niece has autism. She comes up and she’s just crying, like, ‘Thank you for being open, and making me feel more normal, and not making it feel like a burden.’
Do you view your material about your son as a way to raise awareness about autism?
To me, it’s about normalizing it because with a lot of these kids, it’s a disability that you can’t see. It only manifests itself through behavioral issues. My son is 15 now, and he’s getting bigger, and he’s going to be taller than me. If he was pulled over or someone called the cops on him, I’m not sure if my son is going to follow instructions. We need to raise awareness because these kids are going to become adults, and they need jobs and opportunities just like any other child.
Another big part of your act is marijuana. You’re buying in California, where new regulations about safety, testing, and purity just kicked in for the recreational marijuana market. What has that done for cannabis there?
Right now, I’m hating it. I was never for legalization. I liked having medical, and I’m big into decriminalization. To me, it feels like legalization was a push so that big-market competitors could come in and push out the people who have been doing it for 20 or 30 years, when it was illegal. Now, it’s long lines, and the quality is worse, and the places that I loved are being zoned out of where they were. In Oregon, when it went legal it was kind of [bad] for a while, but then it turned around, so I’m hoping the same for Los Angeles.
Your favorite food used to be Philly cheesesteaks before you started losing weight. Will you return to them once you’re in town?
I may have one on Saturday night, but that will be it. There won’t be fries or anything like that. Maybe I’ll do it on my way out of town so I don’t spiral out of control. I’ll probably do a cheesesteak, a whoopie pie, and call it a weekend. Everyone tells me to eat a different sandwich. I forget what it’s called — like a broccoli rabe or something?
You mean a roast pork sandwich. A lot of people say locals get those, while tourists go for cheesesteaks.
That’s what people are telling me. I like the roast pork, but … I love a good cheesesteak. I don’t care how touristy it is.
You had an onion ring-topped cheesesteak named after you in Portland, Ore. If a Philly spot named a steak after you, what would you make it with now? Maybe something a little healthier?
Yeah, just put protein powder all on it. Just protein powder on some bread. It still has the cheese sauce, though. No, on my diet, Monday through Friday, it’s pretty strict. But when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. If we’re going to do a Philly cheesesteak, let’s do a Philly cheesesteak. All I would do is probably put the Whiz and the provolone, and we can cheese it up.
- 8 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 & 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday, Punch Line Philadelphia, 33 E. Laurel St., $25-$35, 215-606-6555, www.punchlinephilly.com