Comedian Ryan Beck wants you to know St. Louis is for you, specifically. There’s something incredibly endearing about a hometown talent who is doing big things but still remains appreciative of their roots. This is the case with Beck. Born and raised in St. Louis, he’s now making waves as a comedian and filmmaker in New York City.
The Lebanese-American’s stand-up comedy has been featured on Comedy Central, and he is a regular at New York’s iconic Comedy Cellar (a venue where comedy legends like Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr and Patton Oswalt have performed). Now, Beck is coming home for a special engagement at the Funny Bone in suburban St. Charles from Jan. 25-28, 2024.
As fans gear up to give him a warm welcome, St. Louis Arts touched base with Beck to talk about his triumphant return, why stand-up comedy is undeniably an art form, and why St. Louis earns the love he has for it.
Beck, who says St. Louis has always stuck with him and is ever-present in his work, found his place on the comedy stage in a nonchalant way – strolling through a mall at 17 years old and cracking jokes with a friend, who commented that Beck was funny and should do stand-up. Beck was up for the challenge.
“That’s truly it. It was hubris and opportunity,” Beck said. “There was a club back then that no longer exists. I just tried to walk taller and pretend that I was 18 to be allowed in. No one cared, so I started doing their open mic night.”
Beck noticed that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was hiring interns. A big fan of the show, he applied and got a phone interview. “They never had anybody from Missouri, and there were a lot of positive stereotypes about people from the Midwest being friendly and hard-working, which worked to my advantage. That’s how it came together, and I brought my St. Louis sensibilities to New York.”
After coming home to finish his degree, Beck went back to the East Coast as a self-described “wide-eyed but determined oddball.” “I carry that with me throughout each little endeavor to not become a jaded, coastal person,” he said.
He spoke fondly about St. Louis’ supportive arts community. “When I was coming up, St. Louisans took care of their own.” And they still do. “You know, everybody from Greg [Warren] to Nikki Glaser to Tommy Johnagin (all comedians from St. Louis) – I have their phone numbers. I can text them and ask a question, and it’s not weird.”
While Beck noted that having that kind of support network is a huge bonus, a comedian also needs to be a writer, storyteller, social observer, engaging performer, and more. This puts comedy squarely in the arts category. “Not only does art take dedication, it also takes a personal connection to what you’re trying to create and communicate. So, I do see comedians as artists,” Beck said.
“Maybe it’s something people don’t always consider to be an art form because it’s made to seem conversational and off-the-cuff. The medium itself kind of masks the work that you put into it. The real masters make it seem effortless when it’s not.”
Touching on how art and humor bring people together, Beck discussed how comedy can heal the soul during traumatic times and acknowledged the importance of supporting the arts – particularly getting out and experiencing live stand-up comedy – is crucial.
“The art form really doesn’t exist except for in a live setting, in my opinion,” he said. “You can watch things that have been recorded, but you’re still watching one night that existed at a particular moment. [Experiencing] a candid moment or the flourish of a new joke in person – that’s where you can have the most fun. You feel a part of something.”
Bringing it back to Becks’ return to St. Louis, he was generous with his praise for the grit, resilience and inviting never-met-a-stranger nature of his former Midwest home.
“I just love the pride people have in the city. I love the new wave of investment that’s coming from guys like you [St. Louis Arts and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis], specifically for artists,” Beck observed. “People are down to get their hands dirty. There’s an edge.”
Beck is still inspired by the attitude and determination of people from St. Louis. In Beck’s words, “it’s that people give a shit” about a particular place, organization or venue that makes the difference.
When asked what he would say to someone considering a visit to St. Louis for a long weekend, Beck said, “You’re going to find slices of nature. You’re going to be able to find subcultures like the chess movement. You’re going to find people making films and doing comedy. You’re going to be able to find everything that you want.”
Beck added that visitors will be surprised at how much they like St. Louis, and how there is something for everyone.
Beck ended our conversation where it began, voicing support to up-and-coming St. Louis comedians and sharing a few supportive words of wisdom.
“The truth is, it’s really hard to live your life as an artist, so the dedication is important. But that’s a quality that I love about people from St. Louis and one that will serve you well,” Beck said. “If you just want to be a famous person, find something else to do, because it’s very hard work.”
“You work weird rooms. You have really bad nights. You have really great nights. The job is getting on stage, telling people jokes, and sharing your experiences. So, if that’s what you love, great – do that. Check in with your values and what’s important.”
Get your tickets here to Beck’s upcoming performance at the St. Charles Funny Bone.
About Ryan Beck
Ryan Beck is a Lebanese American filmmaker and comedian based in New York City. He has written and produced his award-winning directorial debut short “A Few Days Home In Johnson County” (2023), as well as his web series “#RyanBeckShow” (2015), the critically acclaimed interactive short film “We Need To Talk” (2016)
Ryan is a regular at the Comedy Cellar in New York City and his stand-up has been featured on Comedy Central. In 2022, Ryan released his debut special “You Can Do Anything” with 800 Pound Gorilla Records. Ryan is a former digital creator for Comedy Central and has appeared on MTV’s Girl Code, Comedy Central’s Alternatino, This Week at The Comedy Cellar, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Ryan was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and is a graduate of the University of Missouri.