Let’s face it. Life is hard. Life is particularly hard when we’re all living through a global pandemic that doesn’t really have an end in sight. Tensions are high, and even the most seemingly calm and laid back people are on edge in ways we never thought possible. We need to relax. We need comfort. We need something to bring us all up. Something like Ron Funches.
Ron Funches has long been identified as having a positive presence in this crazy world. He tends to talk up the things he loves when he’s onstage, and his stand-up is in a category all its own. He serves as a spiritual cheerleader for all that’s good. But on top of that, he’s also truly funny and has a strong comedy voice that is needed right now. And that unique sensibility only makes it all the more powerful and manages to bring out the good feelings in us all. He’s like a comedy Santa Claus, so jovial he is and treats every day like it can be Christmas.
And this seems to be quite a moment for Ron Funches. This year alone, he’s been in a hit movie that really took off during the pandemic (Trolls World Tour), has a recurring role on a new animated series (Hoops), and now hosts his own compliment battle game show on Quibi (Nice One!). And as of today, he is live-streaming his own show (Awakening) onto YouTube, available for 24 hours only. Not to mention all the various other places he seems to pop up, and also hosting his own podcast, Gettin’ Better.
We recently had an epic talk with Ron Funches about why he’s a good game show host, working with his friends in comedy, playing a version of himself in Hoops, being in the DC universe (but not the video game universe), hosting his live stream show, and how George Clinton inspired his comedy.
You’ve been doing so much this year, but let’s start with Nice One! Can you tell me a bit about how that came together?
Yeah absolutely. Well it started with Kyle Ayers, who is a comic out here in L.A., he has a live show called Boast Rattle, which is basically the invert of the roast shows that have been going on. So he started doing a compliment battle show that he would tour live and they were pitching it around as a T.V. show that’s looking for a host. And at the same time, I was just looking for what I was calling a home at that time. I had been guesting on so many things and going around and helping on other shows and I wanted something of my own. And they reached out to me about doing this show because they thought I was a good fit because it’s basically my style of comedy and it’s a place that I write from, looking for pulling the positive out of what seems to be a negative situation. And that’s pretty much what the show became.
So it just kind of got matched up and then we took it to Quibi and they loved it right away and decided to make it.
And I think it is your warm personality that seems to be tailor made to host something like this. Had you thought previously about wanting to host a show or something?
Well I always had a love and was a big fan of game shows. Comedy game shows and then of course just game shows in general. I grew up watching things like Family Feud and Supermarket Sweep and Press Your Luck is one of my favorite shows of all time. So with anything, I think it starts with I was a fan first. That’s how it started with stand-up and that’s how it started with acting. And I never thought I would do acting. But I tried it and I fell in love with it. And hosting is the same way.
It’s kind of the reverse of how you look at stand-up because when you’re a pure stand-up, you’re trying to get away from hosting as quick as possible. Hosting is the bottom of the totem pole. You want to headline. But at the same time, a lot of comedians will tell you that you can’t be a great headliner unless you’re a great host. And from the first episode, I fell in love with it. And I was like “Oh, this is something I think I am naturally good at. I like doing it, I like helping other people shine. And I think that’s the main difference. When you’re just doing stand-up or even when I would go on @Midnight and try to win, I didn’t care about the other people’s jokes. I didn’t care how the other people on the show did, I just wanted to win. Whereas when I’m hosting, I care about everything else. I want everybody to shine. I want my friends to look good, I want the show to come across well, and I worry about me last. And that just feels better as a human being to me. So after doing this show, I want to attempt to host. I’ve been hosting award shows around town. I’ve hosted a casting award show. And I’m looking for more opportunities to host because I think that this is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. I really like it.
I love that. And it comes across very well just how much fun you’re having doing it. So can you tell me a bit more on some of the positives that you found while doing this?
I mean the biggest positive is that I was able to put my voice through the whole show. It’s my home, it’s my house, and people have to follow my rules, and if they don’t I get to yell at them. (Giggle Fit). And there’s a lot of fun and power in that that I enjoy. And most of all, like when I went on @Midnight, that was better for my career and helping me be more well known and do better financially. And I love just being able to do that. And I think that’s something that’s missing right now from the landscape. There aren’t many panel shows in the U.S. that focus on comedians. And I love comedians. They’re the brightest minds and they’re the most fun people to be around. And I love being able to showcase that and how much they’ve done, because a lot of times people don’t know. It’s a game show and it’s funny, but my favorite thing is being like “It’s Riki Lindhome. You might have seen her in this and this and this and this.” And I like people knowing “Oh, these people aren’t just the background who write for celebrities and things like that. They’re hilarious and they’re funny and they’re special.”
And I think the friend aspect makes it shine as well. I don’t think the format would probably work as well if they were people that you weren’t already mostly friends with.
Oh absolutely. I think that’s why it’s a natural pairing because most of the people on the show I’ve known for over ten years. So I know them and we’re able to sometimes even get past the joke level thing and be like “No, here’s a real compliment about something I know about you.” And it undermines what they thought they were doing. They thought they were just gonna come in and joke. And it’s like “No, here’s some real compliments. Here’s Jen really complimenting Chris Hardwick. Here’s people who really love each other that don’t normally get the chance to express these things.” Because normally we’re all about competition and breaking each other down. That’s one of the things that I never understand. Every time there’s a comedy on T.V., it’s always competition, competition, against each other, against each other. And that’s the very opposite of comedy. It’s usually us against the world. And you see that on the road and people think they’re giving you the best compliment in the world by going “Oh I liked you better than that other guy.” And you’re going “Well, that’s my friend.” (Giggle Fit). “Thank you stranger, but that’s my actual friend.”
Yeah that’s a really weird thing to say to someone. Last thing I wanna ask about Nice One! is what is the shooting process like for a show that has episodes that are only 5 minutes? Is it shortened, I imagine?
Yeah, it is shorter. Like when you’re doing a 22 minute show, usually we’re shooting for about an hour. Obviously not like a sitcom, but it was one of these type of game shows. So for about the 5-6 minutes shows, it’s still about a half hour shoot for episodes and then they speed it up and take out things that didn’t work as well and tighten it up. And personally, I see both sides of it. I think there’s an ability to let it breathe a little bit, but I also like not being tied to any format. Like if the show is super awesome and then having to go to 10 minutes, then that’s fine. But if all that we got is 6-7 minutes, then it’s 6 minutes. So I like that aspect of it, but I also think we could run longer.
I definitely think it being shorter does it a service. And also a few weeks ago, you had a co-starring role on the new Netflix animated series, Hoops, where you play the nicest and most grounded character of the bunch in the middle of craziness. And so what can you tell me about this experience?
I mean it was pretty fun. I choose a lot of my projects based on who else is working on it. And when I knew the cast list was Jake and Rob Riggle and Natasha, who I used to open for Natasha when she came to Portland when I lived in Portland, Oregon. So it was easy. “Oh, I’m gonna be Natasha’s boyfriend in this thing and we’re gonna have fun and make fun of Jake.” And the thing that I enjoyed about it was that they didn’t want to change who I was or kind of force me to go along with the way the rest of the show is. And in fact, I think I kind of help balance it out. And I’ve never been attracted to just being crude for crude’s sake. And they said “You know, that’s not going to be your character. You’re just gonna be Ron and kind of being the balance to Jake’s character, Ben, who is this complete out of control a**hole. And so the ying to his yang is going to be this peaceful, patient guy who is so nice that you would believe you could still be friends with him even though he’s sleeping with your ex wife.
So that was an interesting character to me and what made me want to be a part of the project. And Ben [Hoffman] was easy to work with and also challenging me because a lot of my cartoon work had been very, I guess the best word I can think of is cartoon-y, where I’m pushing and I’m trying to act crazy. And every time I try to do that, he would just kind of stop me and say “You don’t need to push it. You don’t need to act. Just be Ron. And that’ll be funny.” And then I became this calm in the center of this hurricane, and I think he was right. And it kind of also has helped me become a better actor and be more myself.
And so in order to be comfortable being more of yourself in character, did doing your podcast help you feel more comfortable being able to be yourself in front of a microphone?
Yeah. And more in general, that’s what I’ve been learning to do. That’s what I’ve learned in acting class. Everyone has their skill sets. I went to a show recently, Taylor Tomlinson was there, Whitney Cummings. And we’re all so different. I’m looking at the different skills that they have. And they have these skills that I don’t have whatsoever. And my skill set is that I’m very good at being me and going into myself. And I’ve learned to just own that more in general. Even in the projects I take, unless I take a complete departure, which can be really fun, I try to lean into roles that show what I’m good at. I would get these other rules when I was younger or even now where it is like “Oh you’re this aggressive gang member.” And it’s like A – that doesn’t excite me and B – that kind of mutes what’s special about me. What’s special about me is my kindness, is my open heart, is my ability to see the brightness in bad things. There’s a million people that can go that other way. So I want to show what I’m good at because there’s not that many that are good at that. So I just try to lean into that in general and try to take roles that match that. But also, I try to challenge myself. I’m doing a couple things, some that are completely different. But I just try to be me.
And I think that’s important, because we definitely need a voice like yours right now. Let’s talk about the livestream show you’re doing. How is the preparation for that. Is it any different than doing a live show?
I mean it’s different just because I’m not in practice. And even still the practice that I’ve been doing is mostly Zoom shows. I did one live show recently in a backyard. And I felt very uneasy. (Giggle Fit). But the Zoom shows are different, the timing is different, you’re not getting the feedback as much. But I just felt like I needed to do something like that, instead of sitting around and not performing. And I felt that this was the best way to do it. And I could livestream it out so people could see it at home safely. And I’m still performing in front of a live audience. There will be an audience of ten people I guess on set is what you’d call it. But it’ll be one of the biggest shows I’ve done in the last six months. (Tiny giggle fit).
But I’m very excited about it. I’m excited to do a show with my friends. This is just something, especially in the summer, that I was doing every year. Just going on the road with my friends and just trying to get better at stand-up. And not being able to do that this year has been very hard for me mentally. And for a while I was like “I’m just going to wait until I can do it how I want to do it.” But I did a couple of Zoom shows and saw people in the audience that I’ve seen on the road and I’ve seen other places. And I was like “Oh, it’s more than about me. There’s people that still need comedy. More than ever they need that stress relief. They need some form of escapism. And it’s completely overwhelming right now. I know just from being on Twitter how I felt last week. Last week was tremendously overwhelming with all the deaths, and we lost Chadwick, and all the shootings and things like that. So at that point, it reminded me that while I might not be very important, there is some important in my job where I’m providing stress relief and providing escapism. Even when I was a kid and going through trauma, shows like I Love Lucy, game shows like Supermarket Sweep, and stand-up comedy is what saved my life and kept me mentally sane. So I’ve got to do my part now that I’m in it to help other people.
People definitely need stand-up right now. Really they just need to laugh. But I wanna know, you’re only doing this for an audience of ten people. How do you pick those ten people? So do you know who the audience is gonna be?
It’s a mix. I’m gonna give a couple online to people who want to come who live in the L.A. area. There’s a few people I’ve known from just coming to a lot of shows that are great laughers and I know enjoy my comedy, so I’m going to invite a couple of them. And then my wife and the partners of the other comedians will be there. And that will be it. It will be a real friends and family vibe. And then we’ll put it out on YouTube.
And it’s interesting, because most of the live-streams we’ve been seeing exist beyond that moment. They’re kind of stored on the internet to be viewed in perpetuity. I think it’s cool that you’re bringing it back to the basis of live stand-up, saying “This is it. If you miss it, you miss out.”
Yeah. It’s up for 24 hours and then it’s gone. Because I’m still working on it. I’m not trying to completely just dump that material, especially when there’s the HBO Max’s and people out there. (Giggle fit). I’ll keep working on it. And I think there’s a specialness to it. And obviously maybe it’d be a better finical deal to just leave it up and people could buy it. But it’s truly a live show. We’re recording it live, we’ll probably f*ck up live. And if you want to watch us nail it, and if you want to watch us make mistakes, then you got to be there. And also, we’re being generous. It’s up for a full day later. And also, me personally, I’m gonna go all in. I’m gonna watch the AEW pay-per view and then I’m gonna go watch my show and it’s going to be a beautiful night.
I’m looking forward to seeing it. Jumping around a bit more. As someone who is a big fan of comics and stuff, did you ever think you would be in the DC universe? Like is that a surreal thought now that you’re voicing a character on the Harley Quinn series?
I mean, I never really think of it like that much until some people reach out to me and tell me how much they like me as King Shark. And that makes me very happy. But I’ve always been a little bit like “Oh, I’m on this little show that’s on this DC Universe app that not too many people know about. And it’s not on HBO Max. And we’re still waiting and hoping for a third season just because we love working on it so much. So when you’re in that position, I don’t really then go like “I’m in the universe. And also then there’s like two other King Sharks right now. And I understand there’s a multi-verse. I get that. But I want to be all the King Sharks!” (Giggle fit).
Especially the video game King Shark. I was a little upset about that. But I’m sure Samoa Joe will do a great job [in the Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League video game]. I did not know he was in acting or voice acting at all. I did not see his resume. (Big Giggle Fit). But I’m sure he’ll do great. But I want to be King Shark in the Injustice video game. Put King Shark in the Injustice game and let me voice him. I’ve been wanting that. So I was a little upset when I saw him in the video game. So I guess, to answer your question, it pisses me off more than anything. (Big Giggle Fit).
I’m sorry to throw salt in the wound there. But this year, man, you’ve done so much. You were also in what was, at the time, the biggest movie of that moment with Trolls World Tour. What was your reaction like when you found out the movie was going to VOD, and then once it did so well?
It was a bit of a roller coaster, mostly because especially doing the voice over movies, you don’t really see your cast that much. And the only chance you get to do that is usually at the premiere. I’ve been a big fan of George Clinton, big fan of Mary J Blige, Sam Rockwell for so long, that I was really excited to just meet them. George Clinton is one of the reasons that I got into comedy. Going to one of his concerts and how much fun I had and then realizing that he’s just going off to have more fun the next day, and I’m just going home to work in a bank. And it was one of the nights where I was like “No, I want to work in entertainment.” And I wanted to meet him and shake his hand and tell him that. So at first it was a little upsetting.
But again, I try to think outside of myself and just see, especially myself as a parent even though my son’s 17, knowing how stressful it was for kids at that time and in turn more stressful for the parents. And in fact, Trolls World Tour was one of the first reliefs from that stress. I got a lot of DMs and a lot of people sending me pictures of them watching it at home with their family and having a Trolls movie night at home. And we turned it into like “Everybody’s in the premiere! And we’re all doing it together and we’re all going to watch it the night it comes out!” And I know a lot of that is straight up marketing. I’m not trying to make it seem like it’s all altruistic. But there was kinda a shared cultural experience at that time where we’re all feeling very isolated and to be able to help kids relax and have some fun for a little bit when everything was seeming so out of the ordinary and very unpredictable. So I felt very good about that.
And you guys did not have much competition at all. So you sort of had a threshold on the market.
Yeah, but it was also super weird because it was not like I could sit around and go “I’m in the number one movie in America!!!” And everybody’s like “We’re all worried about our lives right now.” (Big Giggle Fit).
And with your podcast, Getting Better, do you find there’s any difference when you’re doing a conversation over Zoom versus in person? Does the vibe sort of seem a bit like it’s missing something?
I mean definitely. You can’t really feel the energy of the person as if they’re in the room. I find that I just have to kind of listen more, because you can quite easily talk over someone in a Zoom interview. So I try to just listen more and wait for them to finish their full point and be more patient. And I think the only positive thing that’s come from it is I’ve been able to reach out and get guests that live in different areas from me that I normally wouldn’t be able to get. Like I had Kenan Thompson, who has been a hero of mine since I was a kid and he was also a kid. And he lives in Florida and he works in New York mostly. So there hadn’t been a time when I could get him on my show, but because of this and because everybody’s more used to doing Zoom interviews, I was able to get him. I was able to get someone like Bun B who lives in Texas. And so those I think are the positives about it. But I went to Eric Andre’s house and did his in person because it’s still better when you could get them in person and talk to someone and be in the same room with them.
Absolutely. And there’s no timeline for when things are going to be back to normal, and everything will move back to being in person.
Yeah. And I think that might be a part of it. And some of it may follow us, especially doing a lot of these press runs on Zoom. It’s like “Oh, this makes much more sense just to do it from home and talk to the people.” Because a lot of times it was chopped up like that talking heads style anyway. And so it’s saving money, because a lot of times they’d be flying people halfway across the world for these press interviews. So I think some of the stuff will be here to stay, and I’ll continue to do interviews for people who either are away or uncomfortable with being in person until we have a vaccine as well. But I just got married and I’m trying to talk my wife into getting on the podcast. So I think I can talk her into doing one live. (Giggle fit).
That shouldn’t be too difficult. Congratulations, by the way!
Aw, thanks man.
And the last thing is, there’s so much negativity going around. And your persona built around being positive and kind, do you ever find it hard to maintain that with everything being so negative?
I mean of course. And I understand what you’re saying, but a lot of times I only take offense to it because people read it like “Oh, you’re an act. That’s not really who you are.” And it’s not my persona. It’s just how I choose to live my life. I don’t try to be positive if it makes no sense. If it’s completely illogical to be positive. But I do be a realist mostly of like “Hey, this is happening but things could be worse”. And that’s just how I was raised, to always look at the bright side of things. There was a time when I was kind of shell shocked about the pandemic and what was going on and worrying about my own finances and my job. But, as we’ve been talking about doing the shows, what I’ve found out is sometimes you need positivity the most when it’s the darkest. It’s easier to be positive when things are going good. A f*cking coward can do that. It’s harder to be positive when things are bad. It’s harder to look on the bright side of situations when things are down. But I’ve been watching a lot of Avatar. I’ve been watching a lot of The Legend of Korra and they give a lot of messages about how you act under times of stress and how to act when things are uncomfortable. You can hurt yourself a lot more by having a negative attitude in a negative situation. You can do yourself twice the harm. If you can feel positive in a negative situation, sure, it might still suck. But at least you won’t be harming yourself as well. I do this myself, but you’ve got to watch overeating, over drinking, over smoking and these types of things, because you try to numb yourself and get away from these types of situations instead of just going through it.
And that’s how I look at it is this is what I was out here to do. So at first I was like “This is hard”. But now I’m like “You know what? This is my job. This is my job and I’m going to do my job.” And especially with my podcast. More and more people reach out to me all the time like “I’m so glad I found this now. I didn’t need it before. I kind of laughed at your affirmations before. I’d see your posts and things and be like ‘Whatever’. But now I need them and I appreciate the fact that you make them. And so I feel like that’s what I was put here to do and I’m going to do my job until it’s time for me to leave this Earth.”
Ron Funches’ Awakening special is happening at 10 P.M. EST tonight. Tickets can be found here.