Ryan Davis Explains Why His Comedy Just Hits Different
Hailing from North Carolina, Ryan Davis is a standup comedian and actor most widely known for his standout performances on hit HBO shows like Insecure and Curb Your Enthusiasm. With a distinctive style that blends intellectual humor, nuanced storytelling, and a fearless spirit, Ryan is the first person that people look to for commentary on anything trending.
Where you born and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Concord, North Carolina. My childhood was great. I didn’t know how great it was. You don’t have anything to compare it to when you’re young. But now that I’m older, I realize that my childhood was pretty great. I grew up in the middle of seven children. My parents were hard workers. They tried to get us to have everything. Everything we needed and a lot of stuff that we wanted. I had friends. I went to good schools. I had a really good childhood. I can’t complain whatsoever.
When did you make the move out to California?
(Ryan) I moved out to California in 2017 or 2018. My career was really going in a positive trajectory. And there was only so much I could get done from here as far as getting in movies and TV shows and things of that nature. I already had comedy locked up. Social media was pretty much locked up too. So the natural progression of the next level of my career was to get on the screen. Moving to LA provided that. Then the pandemic hit and I was like, why are we spending $4,000 for a two-bedroom apartment? Hey, Charlotte, I’m back.
How is living in California different than North Carolina?
(Ryan) All right, let’s get honest. Living in California is different. The weather in North Carolina is some of the best in the entire country, and LA is somehow even better. The weather is amazing in LA, but I prefer the genuine courtesy that you get in North Carolina. When people ask how you’re doing, they really mean it. They ask how your family’s doing. They really mean it.
In LA, people don’t really ask how you’re doing. They ask, “What have you been up to?” because everything is seen as an opportunity. Everybody’s at work from the moment they wake up to the time they go to sleep, always looking for their next job or their next come up or their next project. So everybody is robotic.
And I come from a place where the reason to be nice to people is because you’re a good person. Just morally, you should be nice to people. And in LA, they say you should be nice to people because one day that person may be somebody, and they’ll remember the people who were nice to them. Not be nice because you’re a good person, but be nice because it may benefit you in your career. And that disgusts me. And that’s when, you know, I will always prefer the genuine people of North Carolina over the people of LA. The people of North Carolina over the, for lack of a better term, fakeness in LA. That’s the biggest difference for me.
Why is North Carolina also a factor in the movie industry?
I believe North Carolina is a big factor in film because, I mean, we are a place that has everything. You want to shoot something? You want to shoot a mountain movie? We got that. You want to shoot a beach movie? We got that. You want to shoot a movie in the woods? We got that. You want to shoot movies in the city? We got that. Not to mention the taxes are great. I’m sure they love that. We have a beautiful state. You can shoot here and not have to build a set. That helps, too. And this is a place full of diversity. I don’t think people give North Carolina the credit for diversity that it deserves. People from the South come up. People from the North come down. People from the West come East. And they all meet over here. This is a very, very diverse state. I didn’t realize how much of an advantage I had doing comedy because I grew up here. I got to be around people from all corners of the country while growing up. So my perspective is more of a worldview instead of a North Carolina view. You can grow up in North Carolina and have more of a traveled view than you probably think you do just because of the diversity.
Is it harder to perform on camera or in front of a crowd?
(Ryan) I think it’s harder to perform for a camera. For a crowd, I’m so in the moment that I don’t know what my facial expressions are. And it’s happening in the moment when you’re performing for a crowd. But when you’re performing for a camera, eventually you have to edit it yourself. And you may hate the way you look. You might hate a facial expression you make. I think you’re far more critical of self whenever you’re performing for a camera than you are for a crowd. And the benefit of a camera is you get to run it over again if you don’t like it. And for a crowd, what just happened is what just happened. But I still prefer the crowd more than the camera.
What’s the worst advice you’ve received from another comic?
Oh, man. The worst advice you can ever get from a comic is to try to do what works. “Hey, man. They like this. Do it like this. The crowd likes when you do it this way.” Listen. If you focus on what people like versus who you are, then nobody really likes you. They like this idea of you that you have put out there. And the best thing you could ever do in art, when making art, because art is so subjective, is give them your actual art. The people who don’t like it, that’s just not your audience. And by doing stuff that’s not authentic to you, you’re going to miss out on the opportunity to connect with the people who actually get your type of humor. The worst thing you could ever do is play toward the audience. I don’t think any comedian should do that.
Tell me about the tour that brought you to Greensboro.
(Ryan) Oh, man. I’m currently on my “I Probably Shouldn’t Say This Tour”. That was the tour just I ended. I shot my special and then I took three months off to spend time with my kids. And I was like, man, what do I want to say? I thought about the stuff I wanted to say. And the name of this tour is “With All Due Offense”. Because I’m not holding back at all. And I’m going to also say what I really want to say.
My comedy is really nuanced. It’s not as silly as some other comedians. I like to make points. And I like intellectual humor. So if you’re going to have intellectual humor, especially in front of a large group of black people, and you don’t include Greensboro, you sound crazy. There’s so many colleges here. There’s HBCUs here.
Alumni still lives here. People graduate and stay here. If you want to know if your perspective matches or is in line with intelligent black people, you have to come to Greensboro. If you don’t go to Greensboro or Washington D.C., you’re killing yourself. You’re not doing your job. So to do any tour in my style of comedy overlooking Greensboro, it’s just not even a possibility. I’m surprised I don’t come twice during the tour.
What do most people not know about Jiwan Kapp?
(Ryan) What a lot of people don’t know about Jiwan Kapp is that he is possibly the closest person to getting credit to discovering me. There will be a lot of people who I’ve met over the years who probably would try to wear that crown or cap and say they discovered Ryan Davis. No, I was probably introduced to you by Jiwan Kapp. Man, I had never seen somebody so young be so, like, driven. It wasn’t something I had seen growing up. Where I come from, like, the most driven you could possibly be is, like, to go to college. And that was usually your parents’ influence or whatever. It wasn’t necessarily what you felt like you should do. It’s what you felt like you had to do.
But Jiwan, man, this dude, man, he’d get up every day and he’d go to school. He’d go to work. He had his own business that he was running. He was passing out flyers. He was renting out venues and hiring people. Like, he didn’t have a liquor license, so he found bartenders with a liquor license to come. He would find caterers to cater his events and everything. And I’m just sitting here like, man, this is really well put together.
He was like 20, 21. That wasn’t even on my mind. I was 26 at the time, and I was like, I’m not anywhere near these kids. And he really showed me how to get it. I tell him this. I still don’t know if he believes it, but he really showed me how to get it. Like, you can’t say that you want something and don’t put that type of effort into it because if you don’t, then do you really want it? And Kapp made me see that I was like, oh, I’m playing. This is what it looks like when you’re really trying to get it. So, my work ethic increased after my meeting Jiwan. I think that’s what a lot of people don’t know. He can fool you into thinking he’s lazy, but he has a very good work ethic.
Who is the best two sport athlete of all time?
(Ryan) I’m a Deion Sanders guy. I’m sorry. I’m just a Prime Guy man! I’m so biased maybe because it was just my time. I didn’t get to see how amazing Bo Jackson was at football. But in my opinion, Bo Jackson was short lived so I don’t think you should compare him to Deion. Deion was the guy. He revolutionized his position. When you think about what a star athlete is now, the marketability of nicknaming themself. Do you know how many social media followers a person like Prime would have had during a time like that? A lot of people don’t think about it but he performed on Saturday Night Live as a rapper. That’s how well his song was doing. He was the famous guest on Saturday Night Live as an artist. That’s the best athlete. And if he ever wins a college football championship as a coach, he’s the greatest person in sports history. I don’t care what nobody says. It’s Prime by a lot. Name whoever you want to. I don’t care. It’s Prime by a lot. Must be the mon-ey! Ha Ha.
What’s your favorite rivalry in high school or college?
The Battle of Tobacco Road. Duke vs. North Carolina. I think that’s the greatest rivalry in sports. I could be biased because I’m from here. I could be biased because I’m a Duke fan. But I don’t think that’s the case. I really think that that’s the greatest rivalry. Just look at the people who came from the rivalry. Just the names. Dean Smith. Coach K. Michael Jordan. Name another rivalry that has that many legendary names attached to it. You can’t do it!
Which pro sports team would you buy if you could?
It would the Dallas Cowboys because even if they go 0-17, we would still sell out every game. I would still make my money. I would still have more jersey sales than everybody. I would have the most delusional fan base on the planet and that’s what you want when you’re trying to make money. You want people who are gonna buy stuff no matter if you’re good or not. So yeah! Cowboys. That’s who I’d buy. America’s Team!
Do you believe connections are more valuable than money?
This is what people need to realize about money. Money is not real. Money is just like the universal connection. It’s the thing that everybody respects. But at the end of the day, money just represents whatever it is that you are bartering. You know what I mean? If somebody is a sneakerhead and they have a refrigerator full of food and someone is like, I’ll buy the food out of your refrigerator. I mean, like, man, you just go to the store and get your food. And I go, hey, man, I got these exclusive Jordans, but I want everything in the refrigerator. They would give me everything out of their refrigerator. Connections is basically about finding people. You find people who are valuable and understand what other people want. There’s a lot of things in this world money can’t buy. People have things, but a connection can get you through a door that money will never open. With connections you can always get through a door that money can’t get you through.
What should people expect to see from you in the future?
What people should expect to see from me in the future is me working significantly harder to become a household name. I think I’ve done the work and people recognize that I’m a talent. I think I’ve done the work to make sure that I’m respected amongst my peers and amongst the legends. But I think it’s time for me to put it in overdrive. So that it can be undeniable that I’m just one of those guys for the future. And I think that I’ve been a little bit too laid back. I think I should be further in my career than I am. And I think I’m not because of my own doing. I’ll take two months off and then drop a video and then go viral and be right back in the algorithm like I never left. And it’s because there’s something compelling about what I do. I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back. It was just me having to realize that when I saw it, I was like, oh, there’s really an audience for what I do. And I really need to lean into my gifts moving forward. So expect to see a lot more than me than what you have in the past couple of years.