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Comedian May makes big splash by telling jokes aimed to make people not just laugh, but talk


None June 24th, 2010

ts watching "The Tonight Show."

"My grandma used to let me stay up and watch Johnny Carson's monologue each night," he said. "But she made me watch the news right before, so I understood what his jokes were about."

May hadn't even hit double digits, and already he was learning the art of topical comedy. He kindled his love for comedy by listening to Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Sam Kinison. Coincidentally, it was winning a radio contest "” the prize being a spot opening up for Kinison "” that sparked his full commitment to comedy.

May was developing a stand-up set at 13, and performing for audiences at 17. It was at 16, however, when an incident unrelated to comedy would come to define much of the public's perception of him. He was seriously injured in a car accident and emerged with 42 broken bones. Left immobile, his weight ballooned. At his peak, he weighed 800 pounds.

But May fought his way back down to a manageable weight. He had a dream to be comedian, and he didn't need anything weighing him down.

It was during his days at the University of Arkansas that he won the opportunity to open for Kinison. The wild comedian, impressed with May's act, encouraged him to move to a bigger comedy market in Houston. May took his advice and honed his act there for several years before leaving for Los Angeles.

After years of acting, writing and performing in clubs, May got his big break on the TV reality competition "Last Comic Standing." The show would prove to be a bittersweet experience for him, but a career-changing opportunity.

He became a quick favorite in the series, winning challenge after challenge with his quick wit and sharp tongue. May advanced to the finals, but came in second to underdog Dat Phan. May and his fans still don't understand the results "” even suspecting foul play by NBC producers "” but he remains convinced that the controversy helped get the ball rolling more than winning would have.

"When I didn't win, people got pissed. That is what started the momentum for me," he said. "It was like when they awarded the first Grammy for hard rock," May continued. "Jethro Tull won "” fucking band with a flute "” but Metallica went on to platinum records. Fans righted the wrong, and it happened to me, too."

His fans righted the wrong to the tune of platinum-selling comedy albums and hit Comedy Central specials in three consecutive years, starting in 2006, 2007, 2008.

But it wasn't May's size that endeared him to all these fans. If that had been the case, the U.S. would have a lot more platinum-selling comedians.

STAND-UP STAND OUT
Having grown up in the South, May had found a deep appreciation for hip-hop culture. Naturally, this became a big part of his onstage persona.

There is an authenticity to it that most comedians can't match. Furthermore, issues of race have become one of the biggest aspects to his comedy, and he tells a lot of jokes that other white comedians couldn't pull off. He cites his upbringing for the reason he can do so.

"I grew up around black people," he said. "They feel the vibe. I just don't act like I'm better than anybody. Hell, you can say the N word and not offend someone. It's all about the context. It's the condescending attitude that surrounds the word that is so offensive."

May came up with the phrase "just correct" to define his comedy. He readily tells jokes about little people, the mentally challenged and members of every imaginable race. But he doesn't prescribe to the limitations of political correctness in the attempt to be edgy; he does so with a very specific purpose in mind.

It's easy to hear a joke and be offended. But when May tells one, it's not meant to hurt anyone, but to get people talking.

"I do what I do with a purpose," he said. "It's not just an idle joke. I do it to make a point, to show people a different perspective. I'm the catalyst. I can get people talking about it."

It doesn't take long listening to May to get the full picture. He simply loves people, all people, and looks beyond the exterior.

"None of us look alike, but we are all knitted together," he said. "No one should be treated better than anyone else."

He also shows an appreciation for the working class that is rarely seen in entertainment industry today.

"I grew up in Arkansas, man. I know what it's like," he said. "I know what people have to go through. And if someone has to spend two hours at work to afford a ticket to one of my shows, well, the least I can do is give them back two hours of my life."

May's quest to serve the people is reflected in his future plans. He has several upcoming projects, including starring alongside Neil Patrick Harris and Amy Sedaris in "The Best and the Brightest," and two more comedy specials. But it's what he's doing in his spare time on the road that is most impressive.

"Right now, I'm studying Rosetta Stone, trying to learn Spanish," May said. "I want to perform the first comedy special in Spanish on Telemundo. I just see it as a sign of respect."

It's a serious objective "¦ and it might not end there.

"After that "¦ holy fuck "¦ maybe I'll learn French." "”Joshua Boydston
 
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