Ryan Donahue started his stand-up career in a small Boston club in November 2012. On Tuesday, he makes his late night television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He spoke with The Interrobang a few days before he appears before a national television audience.
“If you had told me three years ago that I’d be doing this, doing late night TV …” His voice trails off. He can’t complete the thought because he had never entertained such an audacious thought when he was starting out. This is all uncharted territory. Landing a spot on Kimmel is a particularly noteworthy achievement as Kimmel rarely features stand up acts on his show. Fine-tuning his set for TV proved to be a process. “I submitted the material I was considering. The booker liked it and showed it to the people at Kimmel and they showed it to Jimmy and he liked it,” Donahue said. “I had to condense a seven-minute down into a four-minute set. I made some changes and sent more tapes until it was good to go.”
In addition to making sure the set was tight and well-paced, Donahue also had to figure out which of his material would be the best fit for a national audience, something he had never had to do before. “You do your jokes so many times. You know what to do in various rooms and you change your approach depending on the room you’re in,” he said. “This just happens to be a very large room called America. For me, the most important thing was that the material that I used was demonstrative of who I am as a comic and a person,” he said. “I didn’t want to do anything topical. It’s like I’m introducing myself to this room, as it were, and this is the material I want to use to introduce myself.”
Donahue’s laid-back, self-effacing demeanor and witty observational style is likely to be well-received by a national audience, just as it was by Kimmel and his staff. He credits his appearance at the 2015 Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal for preparing him for his late night debut. “That was my first time performing at a huge festival like that,” Donahue said. “That was before I had management or anything so I was going up there on my own dollar and hoping for the best. That was way more of a shot in the dark than this. I was such a young comic and I didn’t have anybody to show me around, and nobody knew me. It felt very much like ‘8 Mile.’”
Now based in New York, Donahue hosts a weekly show called “Hush Money” at Pinks in Manhattan. He was recently featured at the Great American Comedy Festival.
While Tuesday’s appearance on Kimmel will put him in front of millions of television viewers, Donahue said he doesn’t expect to become an overnight sensation. His goals are much more grounded. “I don’t have any expectations in terms of what will happen as a result from this,” Donahue said after a thoughtful pause. “I just want my material to be seen. Hopefully this will lead to other jobs that lead to other jobs forever. That’s really what it’s all about – being consistently employed and being paid to do what you love to do.”