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Ralphie D. May was a stand-up comedian famous for his topical humor combined with hip-hop slang and Southern comedy, as well as his numerous appearances on reality and talk shows. May appeared in such films as For da Love of Money and was the only white standup comedian featured on The Big Black Comedy Show, Vol. 4 DVD in 2005.
Ralphie May was born on February 1, 1972, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was raised in Clarksville (Johnson County). He grew up listening to veteran comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Sam Kinison. May had wanted to be a comedian since age nine when he first saw Johnny Carson hosting The Tonight Show and thought that Carson was truly bombing his jokes, rather than intentionally doing so for comedic effect. He started developing his own stand-up routines by age thirteen.
At age sixteen, May was in a car accident resulting in a ten-day coma and forty-two broken bones. His immobility caused his trademark obesity. May swelled to over 800 pounds but underwent gastric-bypass surgery, which brought him down to 481 pounds.
May briefly attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) but took a break at age seventeen to enter a radio stand-up comedy contest, the winner of which would open for Kinison. May won, and Kinison reportedly said of May’s act, “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Kinison convinced May, then eighteen, to move to Houston, Texas, where they, along with comedian Bill Hicks, formed a stand-up group dubbed the “Houston comedy mafia.”
May later moved to Los Angeles, California. In 2002, he worked as an actor, writer, and producer on ESPN’s Mohr Sports starring Jay Mohr. May gained national exposure in 2003 when he won second place on the first season of NBC’s reality show Last Comic Standing. He appeared on several talk and game shows, including appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Hollywood Squares, Celebrity Blackjack, and The Weakest Link. One of his most memorable reality show appearances was in 2005 on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, during which May lost twenty-seven pounds, one of the lowest totals lost in the show’s history.
The DreamWorks–associated label Melee released May’s debut CD/DVD Just Correct on February 10, 2004. It later became a platinum album. The DVD included footage of May swimming in Saddam Hussein’s pool during his United Service Organizations (USO) tour in Iraq. May moved to the Warner Bros.–associated label Jack Records to release his 2006 CD/DVD Comedy Central special Girth of a Nation and his 2007 CD/DVD Comedy Central special Ralphie May: Prime Cut. On November 9, 2008, May’s third Comedy Central special, Ralphie May: Austin-Tatious, made its television debut and, in 2009, was released on DVD by the independent distributor Image Entertainment Inc. and on CD by the label Anonymous Content. This was followed by a fourth Comedy Central special, Too Big to Ignore (2012), and two specials for Netflix in 2015, Unruly and Imperfectly Yours.
May married his long-time girlfriend, comedian Lahna Turner, on July 3, 2005. They had two children. He died in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 6, 2017, of cardiac arrest following a long bout of pneumonia.
For additional information:Harrison, Eric. “Comedian Ralphie May Returns to the Roost.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. January 18, 2008, p.11W. Online at http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2008/jan/18/comedy-comedian-ralphie-may-returns-roost-20080118/ (accessed October 16, 2017).
Ralphie May. http://www.ralphiemay.com/ (accessed October 16, 2017).
“Ralphie May.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1166257/ (accessed October 16, 2017).
Liz GravesJessieville, Arkansas
Last Updated 1/25/2018
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