If you frequent my website, you already know that when it comes to the things I produce and post here that are outside my realm of stand up comedy, things can be a little bit weird from time to time. Some might argue that a few of the things on this site are not even comedy at all. I love to go places indirectly. It is all about the journey. But, there is a greatness in being able to be straightforward, at least when done greatly and especially when one’s own journey has been so strangely beautiful and fucked up. Ron Shock was a stand up comedian. That’s pretty straightforward of a description. He was a storyteller. That is also pretty straightforward. The difference here is that I have never seen someone better at those two things simultaneously.
All the things that you could possibly look for in an attempt to build a great storyteller were all there: the perfect voice, the life experience, the unique mind to melt those experiences down to their core, the vocabulary to convey any thing or any emotion so you knew exactly what he meant or felt, and lastly, incredible arrogance. Don’t be mistaken, this is not meant to be negative. I chose that word on purpose because he was so damned good, damned great at telling stories. In my experiences with him he was a very humble man, with humility that can only come from the shit he did in his life. But, when it came to telling a story, he and everyone else knew just had damn great he was. So fucking great. And oh he was. Was he ever.
Being on the inside of the stand up comedy world has many perks. One of those perks is that you get to know or discover some of the greatest comedians before the world does. If you spend enough time living in this world in a very real way, you already know who is going to be making an impact on the young comedians someday. We talk. At times, we can get a reputation in the small world of stand up comedy as being shit-talkers. But, if there’s one thing that is also true it is that when you get stand ups talking about comedians they think you should know or who they think are funny, those conversations will last 10x longer than the shit-talking ones.
Ron Shock was a guy every young comedian who knew enough to learn about the craft had already heard of, even before social media really exploded. I’m talking about the days when you would pass bootlegs around of comedy shows. I have passed a bootleg of one particular Ron Shock show around a couple times to other great comics and it is still one of my favorite recordings to this day. One time in particular, I barely could get the words, “I have this awesome bootleg of Ron doing his entire set while Kenny Moore played guit-” “I want that set!” the comic yelled. And he meant it, too. I snail-mailed that cd to him because sometimes when comedy is worth listening to, it is worth sharing – even through the United States Postal Service.
I had the good fortune of being born in a town that had a comedy club that loved Ron. He would come headline a couple times a year when I first started out and I watched every single show, every single time, and learned so much watching a master craftsman work the stage. I saw him do the sold-out shows, the medium but rowdy crowds, and also saw him weave masterpieces for 15 people. He never gave them less or more. He was always just Ron.
As good as his stories were on stage, they were just as entertaining off stage. What right did I have, being a year into stand up comedy, not knowing my dick from my dick jokes, to get to sit up with Ron until 4:30 am and hear him spin yarns about his youth, the old days coming up in Houston, and other inside stories that the audiences would never get the chance to hear? That is the beauty about stand up, there is definitely a set pecking order and it is always looming, but even if you’re a peasant, you’re allowed full access post-show to the lifestyle.
When the stage lights go off and the showroom lights go on, some clubs like Wiley’s in downtown Dayton, Ohio, were and still are great hangout spots. I probably only spent 5% of my time in that club actually on stage, the other 95% was sitting around drinking Mountain Dew or even beers, smoking or not smoking, listening to headliners like Ron tell stories about being on the road. Friendships are made in the musty, abandoned showrooms of comedy clubs after the audience goes home to their seemingly more normal lives. And those bonds are forged over laughs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and sometimes other various elements of the night. With Ron, even as a young, open mic’er, I felt so comfortable asking questions, listening to his wild and awesome life, and ready at any time to hear something else that could change my life.
He came through Dayton enough that I felt like we were friends. Hard not to feel like friends with a guy like Ron. He had a laugh that was distinguishable from a mile away and as a young comic doing guest spots, I tried my hardest not to listen for it and it alone when I was on stage in front of him. I hung out with him enough of those early years of my stand up life that I had a pretty damn good Ron Shock impression that I could do and impressions are not something I’ve done since I was a kid. He was always just so fucking cool to me. He encouraged me even though I sucked so badly. He never once hesitated to give me a guest spot when he was in town, even though he knew it probably wouldn’t go well. He helped me get on stage during real shows, not just open mic nights. And when you’re just starting out in this inexplicable life, that experience is irreplaceable. He knew that. Of course he did.
One night, I did a guest spot on a packed house show – probably a Thursday night. I thought my set was okay. I knew him a bit by this time and he knew me a bit, too. This was maybe the third or fourth time he was at Wiley’s and I was hanging out. I walked off stage feeling pretty good about myself. He shook my hand and gave me a nod. I felt like I had passed some initiation of some kind. After the feature, Ron took the stage. He did not go up on stage – he TOOK it. It was one of those nights and one of those shows where I’m in the back of the room laughing and wanting to cry simultaneously knowing I will never be able to do what he is doing. All while sitting on a stool with his legs tightly crossed over.
SIDENOTE: Ron Shock is probably one of the biggest reasons I feel comfortable sitting the way I do with one of my legs draped down over the other. Many people think only women sit this way, but I have always found it more comfortable. Ron helped me accept that.
Ron killed that crowd. There is a Dave Chappelle album entitled “Killin Them Softly” and it is a great album. But, what Ron did that night, from that chair, with his slow-drawl and crooked smile, was the definition of that phrase. He was brilliant. He was a performer. He killed them and they knew it, he knew it, we all knew it. He walked slowly off stage to an uproar of cheers and applause and made a direct line for me sitting on a back booth. When he was just a couple feet away from me he stopped, leaned in, the crowd still going crazy, smiled, and said, “Now, Ryan – that’s how you fucking do stand up comedy.” Then he laughed and walked out of the showroom.
And damn was he right. And that’s how he always did it. Fuck! I’m so lucky to have the friends I have and the experiences I have had. I hadn’t seen Ron in probably 5 or 6 years before he passed, but he’s always been a part of me because of those early days. He always will be. In comedy, one weekend or even one shitty show can make us lifelong friends. Fortunately for me, I had more than a few weekends with America’s Greatest Storyteller.
When someone like Ron dies, it affects me in a way that is different than when someone in my family dies. They are equally jarring, totally different, but eerily similar. It feels as if I lost someone close to me, but from a separate pack of creatures that I am inexplicably connected to through some rogue or strange strand of DNA that drove us to the watering holes of comedy clubs to mate with the faceless laughs of strangers.
Thanks for the laughs and thanks for showing me very early on how to fucking do stand up comedy.
I’ll miss you, friend. I would tell you to Rest In Peace, but something tells me that mind of yours will always be figuring out how make people laugh.
Special thanks to my buddy, Andrew Shaman who is pictured above with Ron on stage at Wiley’s Comedy Club. I stole the photo from your site, Andrew in true bootleg fashion. At this moment, in my room in Los Angeles, I miss those days so fucking much. The days when nothing mattered but stand up comedy. Thinking of Ron helps me get back to those days and live them now since he no longer can.