There is much more to Ralphie May than his size, but the man did name his most recent stand-up special Too Big to Ignore, so it behooves us to tackle the subject up front. An excellent mimic who would have done gangbusters in the silent-film era, May knows how to use his weight as a physical prop, and is particularly fond of bugging his eyes out beyond the limits of his face before retreating them back to the point where they almost disappear into his ample folds of flesh. He seems to weld his jowls like a muscle; one suspects he purposefully makes them waddle at just the right level of excitement to complement his main three facial expressions, the “Can you believe this shit?,” the “For real, can you believe this shit?” and, every so often, the classic “What the shit?”
His girth also has subtext. May is too smart to say it forthrightly, but as someone who grew up severely overweight, he knows what it is like to be viewed as different. This has, thankfully, not embittered him. Even at his most frustrated, he practically sweats joy. When May talks about his wife and kids or thanks the audience for continuing to support him, it’s clear he’s still surprised at how good he now has it. His experiences as an obese man have given him sympathy for those who continue to experience prejudice. May is a great humanist, fighting for the dignity of all people with the crassest jokes possible.
Because he knows what it’s like to get endless shit just for being who you are—and because he clearly doesn’t have a hateful bone in his ample body—May believes he has license to say whatever he wants…which is often the sort of filth that merits as many “Oh my God!”s as actual laughter. There’s a bit where poor May is dragged to the mall, even though “Nothing there fits me except for socks,” and his family enters an elevator with two “smoking hot” America’s Next Top Model contestants. (“So hot, I was stunned honest. If my wife had asked me, I would have to tell her the truth: ‘I would bang both of them in front of your family.’”) After noting one’s G-string placement, he observes the other model’s particularly tight pants and develops a case of one of the most immature Tourette’s possible, invoking the phrase “fat monkey” until it becomes a mantra. When his son grabs said monkey (May admits he could have stopped him, but “Can’t c-block your own son!”), the model questions May’s parenting technique and eventually his girth, to which he replies, “Yes, I’m fat. But notice: loose clothing. That thing is like a catfish that’s been out of water too long.” (His suffocating-catfish face is simply too beautifully weird to accurately describe.)
May has an outspoken political streak, one welcome in a stand-up era that has become generally apolitical in recent years. But even when attacking prejudice, he does so with all the gleeful irreverence he brings to G-string jokes. He often seems like a real-life Eric Cartman, only knowingly flirting with close-minded ideas in order to shed light on their idiocy. Which is another way of saying that there’s a part where he sings “The Muslim is Going to Get You” to the tune of Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” mocking the fears of White America by rubbing their faces in it: “Last thing you’ll smell is couscous, camel hump and diesel fuel.” Though May takes his get-away-with-whatever persona a bit too far, a screed against declining blowjob quality is the only part of the set that actually feels ugly and unearned. He could also do with about 30 percent less use of the word “bitch.”
May takes down Arizona’s immigration laws (getting interrogated for “driving while Mexican” or just mowing your own lawn) and the gays-in-the-military debate, stances greeted with an implied “Of course. Everybody thinks that; don’t be so proud of yourself.” Yet when May talks about how he escaped the small-town minds of his native Arkansas, there’s a sense that many of his viewpoints are hard-won victories earned from relentless introspection, and something he probably still has to justify to people in his life. He’ll throw these people a bone with knocks against the Prius (“the gayest car”) before going in on homophobia, praising gay men for taking competition out of dating pool, and eventually coming to the conclusion that if straight people don’t like gay people, it’s their fault for making more gay people. (No amount of lesbian donut-bumping, he tactfully points out, will result in more lesbians.) To May the more gay people born and Mexicans in this country, the better, as long as they aren’t easily offended by dirty jokes. Seems the biggest thing about him is his heart.
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