There’s no arguing Ralphie May is a big man. He’s also a father, a doting husband and a fairly popular comic.
Beneath the surface, however, sits a man in pain. May feeds off that pain and turns it into comedy. That comedy can be seen at the Weinberg Center in Frederick at 8 p.m. on April 20.
May was scheduled to perform at the Weinberg last year, but had to cancel when he went into rehab.
“I was there for exhaustion,” May said. “I needed to go someplace — mentally, physically I was exhausted. I was suffering from [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I didn’t have any actual addiction to drugs or alcohol, I just had PTSD and I didn’t know how to handle it. You don’t know how to handle flashbacks to dying almost and not sleeping for days on end. It drives you crazy.”
May says he feels a lot better now that he’s on proper medication. He’s able to sleep without having nightmares and he’s lost weight.
May has been through a lot in his life. Born in Tennessee and raised in Arkansas, throughout his childhood and even as an adult, May said he’s almost died many times.
“I just wasn’t handling [the PTSD] well,” May said. “I was crazy. I got into a fight at a Starbucks, it’s just … bananas. A guy attacked me and I beat [him up] at a casino. He was drunk … I took a punch and he cut my ear and I just went off on him. I had too much rage, … I was working too much. It was bad, man. It was bad.”
May admits that at one point, his depression was so severe he thought about killing himself.
“The suicide rate amongst people with PTSD is — I mean, I was suicidal, I was suicidal — is about 60 percent and some people use drugs and alcohol to the point where they’re suicidal,” May said. “They just can’t deal with all the [crap]. You just can’t deal with it. I couldn’t deal with not sleeping for three or four days at a time, being exhausted.”
A year before the fights, May was hospitalized with bilateral double pneumonia with pulmonary embolisms. Doctors kept him awake for almost 11 straight days.
“I was really close to death,” May said. “They only gave me a 10 to 20 percent chance of living. I fought it off. ...
“Almost dying is a lot harder than dying. Death is pretty easy — you’re done. Between that and back when I was a kid I almost died with tornadoes that came through and the roof on the house was ripped off. I was self-medicating for years with marijuana. Now, I don’t even need that. It’s awesome.”
May said he spent a lot of time self medicating to deal with his PTSD. At one point, he was smoking 20 grams of marijuana and five grams of hash a day.
After his pneumonia, he couldn’t smoke anymore and didn’t know how to handle his condition.
“For me, it was just mental. It was all mental,” May said. “I needed to relax, I needed to learn how to relax. ... I learned techniques — like meditation and stuff like that — to be able to cope with it before it gets to that level of stress. I like it, man. I really do. I’m a lot more at peace. I know I’m a better father, a better husband, a better performer because I’m not … stoned.
“It was a hard time, man. I’m sorry for canceling [my show in Frederick] but I wouldn’t have been any good to come anyway. It was just a good thing we canceled and we came back.”
May has become an advocate for people with PTSD. He said a lot of people are ashamed of having the illness because they think it shows weakness.
“Any time you almost die, or you’re very traumatized, whether it’s rape, abuse, beatings, stuff like that, you can get PTSD,” May said. “And if people just got in touch with it and learned what it was and was properly medicated, there would be a lot less addicts in this country. We need to get a federal program to get people off drugs and alcohol that helps them mentally. Otherwise, we’re going to have more crazy … people going nuts and shooting people and [stuff] like that.”
Through it all, May had the support and love of his wife, Lahna Turner, who is also a comedian. The two have been married for eight years and have two children.
“She’s my biggest supporter, my biggest fan, the best manager,” May said. “... We’re constantly laughing and we have a great time. It’s wonderful being in the same business with your wife. You’ve got a real partner. Our kids know about it, they come on stage and have no fear of the audiences and I’m glad I could give them that at an early time in life, that they’re not afraid. Fear is a bad thing.”
May wants people to know that he’s still the hard-working comedian people came to know when he finished second on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.”
“I wish more people knew that I’m just me,” May said. “Fat or skinny, I’m not trying to be somebody else, I’m not trying to be black or white … I’m just me. ... When people say, ‘You act black,’ that bothers me because that’s racist on their part, you know? How do black people act? My goodness, Barack Obama acts like the president and that’s not too bad. I just wish more people realized it’s just me and these are just jokes, you know? I’m not trying to hurt anybody. I love them.
“One thing I wish more people knew about me? I’m just me. I’m just Ralphie.”