As a Mormon growing up in small-town Idaho, Ryan Hamilton found escape in comedy. He watched the classic standup series Evening at the Improv regularly, read Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons and fell in love with Steve Martin’s work early.
That attention to the art form has paid off richly, as Hamilton has become a regular opening act on Jerry Seinfeld’s tours in addition to having his own one-hour Netflix comedy special called Happy Face. He will perform this Saturday at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks (formerly the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza) as part of a national tour.
“I was in a very small town, with not a lot of people going into showbiz or comedy clubs around,” Hamilton recalls. “I was always interested in being funny and wanted to be a humor columnist like Dave Barry, and loved reading him every week. We didn’t have a school paper so I started writing in the local county paper every week.”
“The local NBC affiliate asked me to shoot and edit high school sports for them and I tried to make it funny,” adds Hamilton. “I always tried to do kind of funny things, and was drawn to standup. I was a broadcast journalism major in college, and did standup as remotes for my college radio show. That was the first time I did standup. We’d set up in a pizza place, and do a live audience show.”
Hamilton has racked up a string of impressive kudos, including being named one of Rolling Stone’s “Five Comics to Watch.” His recent appearances include The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan, and opening spots for Seinfeld and Gad Elmelah at Carnegie Hall.
The 43-year-old comic started performing in Salt Lake City while studying public relations at Brigham Young University. He also came up through the Seattle and Boston comedy scenes and won the Sierra Mist “America’s Next Great Comic” search in 2005 before joining their national tour.
In 2011, Hamilton won The Great American Comedy Festival, held every June at the Johnny Carson Theatre in Norfolk, Neb. He has also been a regular performer at the Just for Laughs Comedy festivals, including Montreal and Sydney, and was a two-time semi-finalist on the NBC comedy competition series Last Comic Standing. Through it all, his values have helped him build a thriving career while being known as one of the best clean comics in the business.
“It always was where I wanted to be, where I fit,” says Hamilton. “It doesn’t work for me otherwise. I respect comedy across the spectrum, but those were the comedians I was drawn to — broad, observational comedians for some reason.”
“Creative constraints pushed me in an interesting direction,” he adds. “I don’t feel I changed myself to be clean; I found I was rusty. It was where I was drawn anyway and where I feel most comfortable.”
That approach made him a perfect fit for Seinfeld, and Hamilton feels he’s already learned a lot from the comedy master.
“It’s an amazing opportunity, a couple of years working together once in a while,” says Hamilton. “He’s such a master and I learned about his work ethic, how diligent he is to this day. He’s accomplished so much but still working consistently, writing and turning out new stuff.
“The way he runs his life, he has a very happy joyful life, but he loves working and it brings him a lot of joy,” he continues. “It brings him a nice balance, and all of that has been great. The importance he puts on the show, I’ve started to do more of that in my own act. He’s a very balanced person, so it’s pushed me to try and be balanced. A comic can afford this great life and career, but I want it to be long and consistent like his.”
Ryan Hamilton performs on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Scherr Forum Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets and more information, call 805-449-2787 or visit civicartsplaza.com.