Skip to main content

Culture Television

The Big Apple’s small-town comedian

Comedian Ryan Hamilton (Netflix)

Television

The Big Apple’s small-town comedian

Humorist Ryan Hamilton ribs New York City and Idaho in the hourlong Netflix special Happy Face

Netflix has added a glut of one-hour stand-up comedy specials to its streaming service, releasing one original special a week through all of 2017. Even for stand-up comedy fans, that’s a towering mashed-potato pile of comedy to consume. The upside is that some underappreciated comics are getting their moment to shine.

One is Ryan Hamilton, a comedian from a small town in Idaho. Netflix just released his first one-hour special, Happy Face, which focuses on the contrasts of urban New York life and small-town America.

“I’m from Idaho,” Hamilton says from the top. “No one is disputing that. I look like where I’m from.”

Hamilton’s comedy is clean. He grew up Mormon, graduated from Brigham Young University, and worked the Salt Lake City comedy circuit before moving to New York. He doesn’t mention his faith except in oblique references about not drinking. He understands small-town America, and he can jab snooty New Yorkers now because he has lived there for years.

The urbanites who say with a raised nose that they couldn’t live anywhere else? “I think you could pull it together to grocery shop in Milwaukee,” he says.

Hamilton also needles his own middle-America culture, though not as icily. He jokes about half his town being in the town parade. He talks about people praying for their favored sports players.

“Nothing wrong with that, but here’s my thought,” he says, pausing a beat. “You’re on your third divorce. … I’m surprised about the things you have decided to … pray … for.”

I attended the taping of Hamilton’s Netflix special in New York, where the audience guffaws you heard in the special were genuine and loud. A comedian taping his first TV show must be feeling all kinds of nerves, but Hamilton proved himself a smooth professional. If anyone is on a trip to New York, I recommend finding these kinds of tapings of your favorite comedian. They’re free, usually in a nice theater, and typically just require a sign-up.

Hamilton’s jokes lack some of the off-the-wall weirdness of, say, Norm Macdonald or Gary Gulman. He’s got the straightforward observational humor of Jerry Seinfeld, and even the timbre of Seinfeld’s voice, but coupled with 2017 insights from the dating world or internet culture. In fact, this past summer Hamilton opened for one of Seinfeld’s stand-up shows in New York. Afterward they had pizza—a kind of New York comedian coronation. Watch out for this small-town Idahoan.