It is a quiet, sunny afternoon when Ron Funches and I connect by phone, each quarantined in our respective residences. The outside world, while vibrant and full of life, seems at odds with the lack of interpersonal connectivity many are yearning for right now. Ron admits he’s struggled some, but is doing his best to remain positive and happy. And with good reason. He’s the voice of ‘King Shark’ on the popular animated series, “Harley Quinn,” which premiered its second season last month on DC Universe, and his upcoming show, “Nice One,” premieres on Quibi June first. Our conversation touches on how Ron has successfully navigated his career highs and lows, and why comedy is such an important part of society, especially in these uncertain times.
Before you got into stand-up, you took some jobs you didn’t feel suited for. How were you able to acknowledge you weren’t where you wanted to be, and then have the courage to change your situation?
Ron Funches: It probably comes from when I was younger, like 19. I was a very shy kid and I never really took chances or went out for anything. No plays, no sports. I was just a real big coward in a lot of ways. I remember reading this quote from Shakespere in “Caesar,” where it said: “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero tastes of death but once.” And it really kind of shook me. It informed me that I was having all these little deaths every time I wasn’t honoring what I wanted to do, or wasn’t taking a chance, or wasn’t being who I wanted to be. I’m having all these little deaths that are making it so that I’m not truly alive. And I was like, “I don’t want to be a coward. I want to be a hero.” I put that quote in my phone and would look at it all the time. I also started this mantra where if something scared me and it wasn’t for any particular reason and it wasn’t going to harm me, then I was going to do it. I was going to lean into it. I started doing that for a long time, and one of the biggest [fears to overcome] was realizing that I wanted to get into stand-up.
At the time, I still didn’t think [getting into stand-up] was a good idea. I had my son who was just two years old and was diagnosed with autism, and that kind of shook me again. I was like, “Well now I need to find a career, not just a job.” I’m going to have to find something that will help take care of [my son] long after I pass. The only thing I was truly interested in and truly wanted to start at the bottom of was stand-up. I tried it and fell in love with it.
I was still working other jobs, but very quickly, all my focus and mental energy was going toward stand-up. To the point where I wasn’t showing up to work. [Laughs] So I had to learn quickly how to make money from stand-up.
What was the first nugget from the universe that affirmed you were on the right path?
Ron Funches: Several years of being offered twenty-five bucks. If someone was willing to pay me to do comedy, or someone in another town was willing to have me out on their show, that let me know [stand-up] was going okay. It was the little things. The first big thing was probably when I got to be on “Conan O’Brien.” I did a set on his show and heard him laughing in the corner. The audience laugh was great, but I could hear him laughing, and he was really laughing, really enjoying it. That was probably the first time where I was like, “This is real, I can make this my career.”
Making Conan laugh and the alignment you must have felt in that moment is poetic in contrast to the jobs you worked where you weren’t living up to the quote on your phone.
Ron Funches: It really felt like that from the first moment I got on stage. A lot of comedians will tell you the first time you get on stage you get this “high.” It was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I remember I parked my car around the corner from the comedy club and after my set, I couldn’t find my car for an hour. I would just walk by it and not see it. I couldn’t remember where it was. I just kept walking, thinking, “I don’t even care if I ever find it.”
You’ll walk home.
Ron Funches: I’ll walk home because I now know what I want to do. I knew I wanted to explore comedy since I was five years old, but I didn’t start until I was 23 because I was like, “What if I’m wrong? What if this thing that I think I’m meant to do, I’m not meant to do, and then I have nothing to look forward to?”
For a long time, I probably wasn’t the best person to hang out with because I wasn’t looking to have a real conversation with anyone. You might know someone like this in your circles, the person who’s always looking to put a joke in everything. They’re not talking to you, they’re looking to do a turn of phrase or something to make fun of you. And that was me. I was never really listening. I was always like, “Where can I put a joke in?”
People would tell me I was funny, co-workers would tell me I was funny – and that I should do comedy – but I’d be like, “No, [and make excuses].” It would almost make me angry. Because they were right! Those are the things that hit your nerves. But when you don’t know about open mics and things like that, it seems like [comedy] is Chris Rock, or Adam Sandler, or people who are super famous. And I’d just be like, “Shut up, ho. How am I supposed to do that?”
What sparked your initial interest in comedy?
Ron Funches: I grew up watching “Benny Hill” and “I Love Lucy,” and my mom was a big influence stand-up wise. She was always watching Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy. I was just around a lot of comedy very young, and I was always into it. One time, my mom was coming up to punish me and my sister for something. I was making fun of [my mom] before she got up to do it, and by the time I was done, she forgot all about punishing us. So I got out of a spanking from just telling jokes. I was five, so I didn’t view it as a job, but I realized there was a power to being funny.
Do you still view comedy from that power perspective now?
Ron Funches: Absolutely, especially in times like this. It’s unfortunate that you can’t go out and see live shows, but there’s sketches, things online. Anything that makes things lighter is important and helps you get through dark times. I know I’m certainly not sitting around watching a bunch of dramas and scary shit right now. I’m watching a lot of comedies. Stuff to keep my spirits light. I think comedy is needed and necessary. I miss getting on stage and can’t wait to be able to do it again.
When you’re on stage, making people laugh and having that be aligned with your spirit, is it more than just jokes?
Ron Funches: I think it’s what you make of it, you know? Me personally, I have been trying to get deeper than just these light laughs. I remember reading, “A joke that is light and comical floats away, but a joke that tells a universal truth sticks around forever.” Those are the types of things I’m trying to lean into. Lately, I’ve been trying to use comedy as a form of positivity and talk about positive things about being in a relationship – I’m about to get married again – and my son getting older. On my podcast “Getting Better with Ron Funches,” I talk with people who I look up to, and we talk about the paths that they’re on and the goals they have now.
I think a lot of times people look at successful people and they see a divide. That’s how I was before I started comedy. All I saw was Chris Rock. And I was like, “How can I get all the way there?” But Chris Rock started at an open mic, too. Everybody goes on these same paths. You can’t look at [those people] and say you can’t get there. If anything, these [people] are examples and maps to show you how to get there. So I like talking to people and asking how they got to where they are and where they’re headed next.
You’re an avid video game player. What is it about video games that you enjoy so much?
Ron Funches: A lot of the things I enjoy now are no different than from when I was a little kid. I love comedy, I love pro-wrestling, I love video games. Weed came a little bit later. [Laughs] My favorite game of all time is “Super Mario 3.” It’s my perfect game. But right right now, I’m playing “Animal Crossing.” I play a lot of “Call of Duty.” I like different games for different reasons. A game of “Call of Duty” can be very stress-relieving after some bad meetings, if some things don’t go my way, or it can be a great time to hang with some friends and veg out. A game like “Animal Crossing” is really great for this time period where you feel kind of powerless.
There’s a game for every scenario.
Ron Funches: Absolutely. My fiance, she’s not the biggest gamer, but sometimes we’ll pull the Nintendo Wii out and do some “Wii Bowling,” play some “Mario Kart,” play some “Guitar Hero” and have an old-school type of night.
You mentioned weed came into your life a bit later. How did that occur and how do you use cannabis now?
Ron Funches: I use it now for many things. For creativity, if I want to have a night where I stay up listening to music, I’ll throw on some instrumentals and I’ll smoke a bit and try to come up with some jokes. Or if I’m stressed after a long day on set, [weed] is really great. It used to be more of a thing to help me get through some bad times when I was stressed-out and poor and not really doing well. I had to readjust a little bit and now look at [cannabis] as more of a treat. Now, I usually try to wait until my workday is done and then get as high as I’d like.
What was the transition from using weed as a coping mechanism to being that cherry at the end of the day?
Ron Funches: It mostly came from realizing that my life had gotten better. That it wasn’t as fun for me being tired. Sometimes I was getting high before I would go on a shoot and it was actually making it harder for me to go to work. Now I just go to work, and afterwards, the high feels better. I don’t feel paranoid. If I make a mistake [at work], I’m not going, “Is that because of me or because I’m high?”
I don’t care what people think about smoking, but a lot of times, I felt the stigma people put on you – “Oh, you smoke a lot of pot, you’re forgetful, you’re not professional” – and I always wanted to show people that you can smoke a bunch of weed, get a bunch of money, and be professional. Smoking weed doesn’t mean you’re a lazy person.
I’ve never been a drinker, I’ve never been an “uppers” type of guy. Weed is what I like and is what works for me. And again, I made a big shift. I used to be really into taking dabs, but I’ve found as I’m getting closer to 40, [dabs] are little much. Flower is where it’s at for me.
What sets flower apart from everything else?
Ron Funches: For me, the ritual of breaking it down. I love grinding it down to a nice fluffy powder. I love opening up a new bag and smelling it and playing with the nugs and stuff. It’s not just the smoking that’s the fun part of it, it’s all of it. Opening up a new strain you’ve never tried. Calling a friend over to smell what you just bought. I love that.
Right now I’d say my favorite strain is Gary Payton. It hits me on all levels. I love the smell of it, I love the high, I love the flavor. I started comedy in Portland, so I’m from the northwest and I love Gary Payton in general. I like sativa, but I also love a strong indica. I’m just really into trying new flavors all the time.
Like trying a new flavor of ice cream.
Ron Funches: And then I usually get some ice cream.
Follow @ronfuch and check out https://ronfunches.com/ for tickets and tour dates.