Comedian Ralphie May faces death and politics – and it’s no joke

The last time comedian Ralphie May spoke to the Observer, back in 2009, he was a young father of two less than two years apart. He was full of energy, chatting and dropping punchlines for close to 45 minutes.

In the five years since, May has faced death, re-evaluated his lifestyle and traded it for a healthier one, reconfiguring his comedy. He’s more serious and businesslike about comedy today.

His lowest point was when doctors in Tampa, where he was treated for bilateral double pneumonia and pulmonary embolisms, told his wife his chances of survival were slim. He began writing goodbye letters.

But May pulled through, began working out, eating better (he’d already dropped more than 50 pounds while hospitalized), bought a second home in Nashville and purchased Dave Matthews Band’s old bus.

“We had to pile all that (crappy) music out of there. Then we were able to rock ‘n’ roll,” May says of the double slide-out luxury RV which he, comedian wife Lahna Turner, daughter April, 6, son August, 5, and their au pair pile into, Partridge Family-style. “It’s a blast.”

He was an overweight, heavy pot-smoker, but he says constant six-hour flights, lack of sleep and hotel living wore him down physically and led to his health scare. Traveling in a tour bus from city to city, like a rock band, is much easier.

A Tennessee native who grew up in Arkansas, May never felt at home in L.A., where he and Turner maintain a home.

“I’m too Southern. I’m too blunt, too matter-of-fact and not PC enough. When people tell me they’re not religious, they’re spiritual, I want to stab them in their neck. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard in my life,” he says.

He remains passionate about comedy, but his relationship with his calling has changed.

“It’s weird. It’s the first time it’s been work. It was a pleasure, a gift,” he says of his job. “It became work after I had kids.”

May recently shot a new special, which will be available exclusively on Netflix, with which he has signed for multiple, more frequent releases.

“Comedy Central makes you do every three or four years,” he adds. This new approach will have May doing more timely topical humor. But the 42-year-old is already thinking about his second act.

“I’d like to be a U.S. senator from Tennessee,” he says. “I’m not crooked and I want to help people. I don’t need the fame or power. I got kids now... It gives you an empathetic feeling into other cultures and stuff. How does this affect someone else’s life?”

“(In Tennessee) we’ve been bamboozled by Republicans, not taking matching funds. The crossroads to the country should have the best roads and we’re denying our bridges and infrastructure,” he says adding health care, power and unemployment to his list of concerns. “I’ve been in the ‘feel better’ business for 25 years. It would be nice to do something about it.”