Since 2007, Ryan Gaumont has been seen on Valley stages making people laugh as one of the founding members of Bully Mammoth, a local sketch comedy troupe that has performed more than 40 shows since its inception. The 25-year-old Scottsdale resident and video editor at Sequence Media Group always loved watching sketch shows growing up, and now he and the six-member troupe craft new scenes regularly for the Arizona masses. Gaumont, along with the rest of his troupe members, can also be seen doing stand-up comedy at various venues. Catch him with Bully Mammoth at Tempe Center for the Arts Friday, April 19 and at Brigett’s Last Laugh on Tuesday, February 19 doing stand-up, and scroll down to hear what got him interested in comedy and why he loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
My mother’s vagina — just kidding, but yes! I’m a native. I was born in Mesa and went to Dobson High School and Scottsdale Community College. I got my bachelor’s degree in theater from ASU and an associate’s degree in screenwriting.
What’s your first memory of being interested in comedy?
Ever since I was little, I’ve always been interested in anything entertaining. I was really into music and dance and got into performing. My parents would tape Seinfeld and SNL, and I started watching those.
When was your first comedic performance?
I did a lot of performing as a kid at church, but my first intentionally funny performance was probably in junior high at a talent show.
How did Bully Mammoth come together?
At Dobson, we had a sketch comedy show that was student-produced, and I met Bully Mammoth co-founder Ricky Brindley there. Once I graduated, I still wanted to do comedy and produce shows and write, and so did he, so we romanced the idea of writing comedy. We met a couple other guys who were interested, and it just kind of came together.
What drew you to sketch comedy versus other forms?
I think watching cable as a kid. I’d come home from school, and Comedy Central would play old Saturday Night Live or The Kids in the Hall.
What do you look for when you’re bringing new people into the group?
It has to be somebody we think is funny who is also somebody we want to spend time with. I personally think sketch is a really collaborative art — everybody contributes some way to a sketch.
What’s the writing process like for you guys?
We hang out as much as we can and think of funny stuff. It helps a lot of us do stand-up, too, so we can work out jokes and are always doing comedy. We put funny ideas on paper and read them and discuss feedback.
What’s your stand-up performance schedule like?
I try to perform at least once a week and more if I have time. I perform at the Ice House Tavern, Monkey Pants, Brigett’s Last Laugh, and others. I really like to do stand-up but feel it’s misleading to call myself a stand-up comedian now — maybe after a couple more years.
What are the challenges to doing stand-up versus sketch?
With stand-up, you’re by yourself, and with sketch, you’re surrounded by a group of people, a team. We support each other during stand-up, too, but that’s one of the things I sort of like about doing stand-up — that I’m on my own, and if the joke doesn’t work, it’s my joke, and it’s my fault.
What inspires you with your comedy?
The stand-up is more personal than Bully Mammoth, but when I say personal, I’m talking about my cat — not deep shit. Observing things is always a great way to find inspiration for comedy. It’s not math — it’s a little more spiritual. You should open yourself up and accept what you’re writing. I’m kind of known for talking about my cat, Julien. He’s my first real pet, and I’m always fascinated by him. He’s just a weirdo.
For people who want to get into writing sketch comedy, what advice would you have for them?
You have to kind of figure it out. We produce ourselves, and we’re never been backed by anyone else, which allows us to do whatever we want — which is nice, because hopefully we’ll all get jobs somewhere in the entertainment industry at some point where we won’t have that kind of control, so we use it while we can. If you want to do it, do it. In Arizona, you can look around and say there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do stuff, but you have to realize you have to make them yourself.
What are your goals for Bully Mammoth?
I don’t know. It’s surpassed anything I could ever expect for it. I like performing at Tempe Center for the Arts and hope we can keep doing that, and we are looking to perform more around the Valley, do more shows and get in front of more people.
Do you have any advice for getting over nervousness on-stage?
I’ll be nervous when I’m unprepared, but all it takes is experience. The more you do it, the less nervewracking it gets, I think. If you really love performing, it shouldn’t be torturing to do it. You shouldn’t be racked with anxiety and freaking out because there’s an audience there to see you. It just takes time.
How do you get through tough crowds at stand-up shows?
That’s going to happen, for sure, and it happens to everybody. You just have to get through it, and you can’t let it bring you down. The best thing about stand-up is that every time you get up there, it’s different. Anything can happen. You just have to be open and loose, but that takes time.
How would you characterize the comedy scene here in the Valley?
There aren’t as many sketch groups. I’ve been doing stand-up only for about the past year, but I’ve seen it grow a ton. There are a lot more opportunities to perform, and there are a lot more comics. We have to get people to understand there are free open mikes and shows you can see, and there are a lot of good comics. I’m a cynical bastard, and I can go to a Monkey Pants show and say, “That’s a list of really interesting, if not hysterically funny, comics.” If more people came out, the comics would have to step up their games and get better. If comics are just performing for comics, who’s going to get better?
Why should people go to local shows?
I think even for sketch, there is a stigma for comedy in the Valley. The term “local comedy” doesn’t mean “potentially funny” to people. I think that’s a hard thing to fight, and I think the people running the shows need to get the word out better. A lot of people running the shows rely on the comics to get the word out, but it’s also the responsibility of the venues.
Is there anything that distinctly characterizes Arizona comics?
We have very colorful politics here — there’s a lot of craziness going on. You can’t get away from talking about it sometimes, because a lot of the stuff that goes down here is so outrageous. Politics are a pretty universal theme, but for Arizona especially.
What’s your most memorable character you’ve played?
I do like playing Elvis, because that’s a childhood dream of mine. I used to idolize Elvis as a kid. He’s the man, he’s the king. He’s so cool, and he doesn’t have to be smart about anything. He got fat, and it didn’t matter — he was still cool. I love his voice, and he was bigger-than-life.
What’s your most memorable moment from a Bully Mammoth show?
Around Christmas 2009, we were doing two nights at Space 55, which we don’t normally do. Friday went OK, but we were all pumped because we were just going to nail it Saturday night. We never got a second shot at the show, so we were really excited and ready. The opening comic went on, and then we were halfway through our first sketch, and an assault happened where a guy grabbed a woman in the lobby outside. We heard a scream, and everybody in the audience thought it was part of the sketch, but it wasn’t. We on-stage just sort of stopped and wondered what was happening. One of the guys in the front row hopped up and went to the lobby and yelled, “Hey! Let go of her!” A couple members from the audience followed him back, and we filed off the stage to go out. One of the audience members tackled the guy, I waved down a cop that was driving by, and the whole show stopped. I had to go back inside because half the audience was still inside. We couldn’t get the show back on at that point. The guy got arrested, and we ended the show.
One time, in Christmas 2010, we were performing at MADCAP Theaters in Tempe. We had booked one of the smaller 80-seat theaters we had used before and had rehearsed there and were set. The show was starting at 8 p.m., and around 6:30, there was a band booked next to us, and you could hear and feel the drum and bass in the theater. The management told us we could move into the big 300-seater on the other side. We had only an hour until the show started, so we had to move all our taped-down equipment down the hall. From the minute we started moving to the end of the show, I don’t remember most of it, because it was such a whirlwind. Also, since it was a giant theater, the people in the movie theater seats weren’t close to us — they were kind of far away, so we were performing to darkness.
What are your performance aspirations?
I like Bully Mammoth, and I like acting, but I don’t know if I necessary want to play the actor game. I like writing and producing, too, and the ultimate goal would be to write and produce television. I’m already getting back behind the camera, directing a new web series, called Fork in the Socket. We have a Kickstarter for it going on right now, and we hope to shoot it at the end of February. It’s about a guy whose life is going to shit, so he hires a life coach to improve his life, but he doesn’t quite do that. One of my favorite local stand-up comedians, Sean McCarthy, is in it, along with writer/actor Eli Godfrey. The first season is going to be six episodes — that’s what we’re fundraising to shoot. It’s going to be short, sweet, and one storyline, about a 22-minute pilot when it’s all put together.
What kinds of shows would you like to write for?
I’d love to write for comedy. Sketch comedy, of course, is the pipe dream. I would never turn down an opportunity to write for something like SNL, but I also really love independent sketch, like Kids in Hall, Tim and Eric, and Mr. Show.
Who are some of your favorite comics?
Locally, all my Bully Mammoth friends are doing great work. I like Jonathan Gregory, Sean McCarthy, Nate Sinclair. Famous-wise, I like Louis CK, Zach Galifianakis, Neil Hamburger, David Cross. I like the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and WTF with Marc Maron.
What do you hope people take away from seeing Bully Mammoth?
I hope people know we work really hard, and that we just want to have a really great product and give people the quality of shows they might see on TV live. I feel like the homegrown experience is really unique and good, and there shouldn’t be such a stigma.
Why should people come out and see you perform?
You’re going to see some raw talent and some comedy and perspectives you’ll never see anywhere else. If you’re going to go to a bar and drink, why not go to one and see some free comedy and see some folks who might be serious about continuing this and doing this as a career, if they’re lucky enough? You’re investing in the community by going to shows. Having an audience is key and the only way we can gauge if we’re good enough. That’s why I love live comedy — people either get it, or they don’t. You could put something on YouTube and watch numbers, and crazy people can comment on it, but you don’t get to see people react to it.
You play women frequently in Bully Mammoth sketches. If you’re a guy, what is the key to playing a great woman?
Body language. It’s all in your body, because men and women move differently — if you’re stomping around on stage, you’re just a guy. We don’t have much — we put on wigs, we put on accessories, but we don’t wear dresses. We don’t have time or money, and I’m 6″4. Everybody has a mom — just play your mom. If you know your mom, you know her mannerisms. It’s not just changing your voice.