Three years ago, Ryan Joseph found himself with his back to the wall amid some of the most harrowing life experiences anyone can possibly endure. He was abusing drugs and alcohol himself, but one morning found his sister — who was also his best friend, and used with him — dead from an overdose.
In short order, his mom and a beloved cousin also passed away. He then came to the stark realization that he needed to quit using if he wanted to stay alive. He eventually managed to turn his life around and establish a career as a multimedia designer. But perhaps more surprisingly, he turned to performing standup comedy and has managed to become one of the fastest-rising and distinctive voices on the Los Angeles comedy scene since moving here from Seattle six months ago.
His comedy is pitch-black and razor-sharp — so much so that he has driven outraged audience members out of the room at both the Ice House in Pasadena and another bar show in LA. A fan of Louis CK, Chris Rock and Bill Hicks, Joseph is getting noticed at the Comedy Store and the Ice House for his incredibly twisted material that’s especially reminiscent of bad-boy comic Anthony Jeselnik.
Joseph will be bringing his outlaw comedic sensibilities to Pasadena Friday night in the “Dat Phan and Friends” show on the second stage of the Ice House. He’s also currently making waves in the Ventura Comedy Festival.
“I like to do really dark, sick humor but deliver it in a really stupid manner,” says Joseph, taking time to discuss his dangerous and distinctive voice as he prepped for a second-round appearance in the VCF this past Tuesday.
“I project this stupid character that can talk about these things, and it’s easy to laugh at him because he’s obviously very ignorant of things; if I don’t nail that persona, that joke doesn’t go over well,” he says.
“At the Comedy Store,” he recalls, “I was followed by a guy joking about being raped by his uncle and he asked why doesn’t [the joke] work? Maybe because you come off like your real self. But I was honored he asked that of me.”
Joseph had prior experience in drama and acting, but had always enjoyed “getting a rise out of people,” so he took the bait when a friend challenged him to go up and do better than the comics he was snickering about at a Seattle open mic. He writes constantly, and has already had the dark-comics’ honor of having an audience member yell at him or walk out (or both) at the Comedy Store and the Ice House. But his most controversial performance took place recently at a bar.
“I drove a woman out of the room, it was an amazing feeling,” says Joseph, who will also be making his New York City standup debut at the legendary club Caroline’s on Monday night. “I felt like finally, I’m a comic now. It was a bar with 10 people in it. I was getting laughs, but I knew it was a bad idea there, with no stage, standing by the bar with a microphone. I had said, ‘I’m here playing pool with my girlfriend so I can beat her in public.’ Other people said it was great, including my actual girlfriend, Jenny, but she was having a meltdown outside and her friends were trying to keep her from me.
”My girlfriend just looks at me weird, and said ‘I thought I was gonna have to kick her ass,’” he adds. “She said you might have triggered something. Some people might not get these jokes. If you bring these things up that we all have inside of us, it’s pretty cathartic, I think. I don’t want to do shock comedy. I do twists.”
Ryan Joseph performs in “Dat Phan and Friends” at 7:30 Friday at the Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $14. Visit brownpapertickets.com/event/3189243