From Oct. 7-11, the Rogue Island Comedy Fall Fest will be taking over many venues in Newport to have a few laughs.
Both local and national comics will be participating, making the event a perfect place to see established and up-and-coming talents in the same room.
One of the local comics who will be performing is Warwick’s Ray Harrington. He’s going to be headlining the third night of the festival on Oct. 9 at the Jane Pickens Film & Event Center, located at 49 Touro St., starting at 8 p.m. People might know him from his performance on “Conan” on TBS at the beginning of last year or the award-winning documentary “Be a Man.”
We recently had a talk about how he got into comedy, a sketch show that he enjoyed as a kid, liking to have a camera in his hand and his thoughts on the upcoming festival.
ROB DUGUAY: Being a stand-up comedian and being good at it is one of the hardest things you can do, so what made you realize that you could pull it off?
RAY HARRINGTON: What made me realize I wanted to do this was falling in love with the art form, and on good nights that’s exactly what it feels like. It feels like there’s art happening, and on bad nights it feels like you are controlling a group of people and just trying to get them to not break anything for a little while. When it works, it’s beautiful, and I think especially now there’s such a need for escape, and if it’s not escape it’s the ability to take everything in with a hint of laughter. I think it can definitely help us get through this weird time.
RD: I totally agree, we all could use a bit of laughter in our lives these days. Who was your favorite comedian while growing up as a kid? Did you grow up in the “Saturday Night Live” era of the early to mid-1990s with Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Phil Hartman and David Spade?
RH: Growing up as a kid, I remember one specific moment where I got a George Carlin tape when I was in elementary school. I had no business owning this thing and I had no business having this tape in my possession. I got it because it said “explicit content,” I wanted to know what it was and I think my mom just let it slip through. I listened to that tape over and over and over. I would laugh at that and I would understand maybe 30 percent of what he was saying. Whenever it got a little too dirty I wouldn’t understand the joke itself, but I would understand the cadence and the rhythm of what he was doing.
After that, I definitely grew up in that era of “Saturday Night Live” when I was watching it before I had any business watching the show. That’s what I was into, but I was more of a “Kids in the Hall” fan than a “Saturday Night Live” fan. “Kids in the Hall” would come on Comedy Central from 2 to 3 p.m. and I would get out of school while rushing home to watch the show. I really do think those five guys from Canada absolutely are responsible, for better or worse, for the shaping of what I have as a sense of humor. The things that I find funny and what I want to explore in stand-up and comedy in general I really think come from so much of “Kids in the Hall.” I feel really lucky to have had five very unique, very different voices that were rattling around in my head as a kid to create my sense of humor.
RD: You’re also a filmmaker, and your 2016 documentary “Be a Man,” which has you exploring “manly” subjects before your kid was born, won the L.A. Comedy Festival before premiering on Hulu. What was the experience like making that film and what made you want to get into filmmaking in general?
RH: I’ve always loved film. Before I found stand-up comedy, my heart was definitely in that world. I always enjoyed the craft of making a movie and I would nerd out about the behind the scenes stuff. I used to make little videos with my friends with a handicam and edit in camera, and it was terrible. Every scene started “OK, go!” and you would hear that before anyone did anything. That never went away and I’ve always loved documentaries. I find the genre so enlightening and there’s some really incredible stuff happening in that format.
It’s a constantly innovating genre and the idea of doing a documentary had always been in my mind. I was batting around a couple of ideas with my friend and fellow comic Derek Furtado, and then my wife told me she was pregnant and we were going to go through this experience. I started venting to Derek on the phone about my fears, my concerns and my anxieties of not having a dad growing up, and now I’m going to be a dad. I had no idea what that looked like and then it kind of expanded from there of not only not knowing what a father figure is supposed to do, but also in a lot of ways not knowing what the stereotypical manly things are supposed to be. It really started at that moment, and with the ticking clock of my wife being pregnant it was going to have to be made within the next nine months.
In a lot of ways I’m very grateful that things lined up the way they did as far as timing, because looking back I had no business making a documentary. I had no business doing that. I was just a guy who’s a stand-up comic and likes holding up a video camera. To go into this thing with a very small group of people, put our hearts into this thing, work so hard collectively and come out on the other end with an award-winning documentary, it’s crazy to think that it just started with a guy in his backyard thinking about documenting becoming a father. I feel incredibly grateful to have done it.
RD: In the beginning of last year, you got to perform on “Conan” on TBS and it got a lot of local media attention. How were you able to get on the show?
RH: That was a really special time. If I had known at that moment that the next year and a half to two years were going to be what they were, I think I probably would have kissed more people or hugged them more and rubbed my hands on their faces. I would have gotten all of that out of my system before going into quarantine. It was a long process to build up to that. J.P. Buck, who is the stand-up comedy booker for Conan, saw a set and he really enjoyed it. It was the set that I did on the show, so he asked me to be on the show and I was so thrilled because Conan has always been my favorite late night person.
His show in whatever iteration it’s been in has always been the one I enjoyed the most. He’s the late night host who’s the most in love with the form of comedy. I think he’s a guy where if you shut most of the cameras off and he had nowhere to go he would still be coming up with something that just delighted himself. I really admire everything about that, so when I went out to L.A. to do the show, I had done the bit so many times that the words started to lose meaning in my head, but I’d say them and people would laugh. I flew out there, I met Conan, Andy Richter and J.P. Buck in person, and truly every single member of the staff of that show gave off the most welcoming, inviting and warm experience I’ve had.
RD: What are your thoughts going into the Rogue Island Comedy Fall Fest?
RH: First and foremost, I’ve always loved the Rogue Island Comedy Festival. It’s run by a couple of friends of mine, especially Doug Key, who has been a longtime friend. What he’s managed to build is really incredible. To just say one day that you’re going to do a comedy festival in Newport with fantastic comedians from across the country showing up and have it grow every year is amazing. I’m not just saying this because I’m involved in it, it really is impressive what he’s built, so I always love going. I think the energy and vibe of the festival is very special and there’s a lot of camaraderie happening, not just between the comics but also with the crowd.
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