After 34 years living the dream in New York City (or NYC), moving to Florida has been the “Second Act” for national touring comedian and entertainer, RC Smith.
Ronald “RC” Smith was born just south of Cleveland, Ohio, and lived there until he graduated college. From there, the theater major moved to the Big Apple with dreams of becoming an actor and Broadway star. With his larger than life personality, and yet the inability to carry a tune, he was a proud and self proclaimed “single threat.”
RC graced the City of Dreams in classic punk rock style, complete with tattoos and earrings, setting himself apart from the generic look of the 80s. Although this limited the type of roles he could go for, he began tackling the mountain of auditions set before him. He quickly grew to hate the audition process, finding it to be a vast ocean of similar people going out for the same roles and commercials.
“Doing so many auditions can get exhausting fast. Especially when you have to work a real job on top of it,” RC recalls. “Real jobs” in the world of a comedian can include everything from “watering plants, squirting perfume at the mall, teaching art and theater in dangerous neighborhoods in Queens, and being a NYC tour guide” which RC did for several years.
From there, RC joined a theater company in the Village (or as he describes it, an “off off off off Broadway theater company”) and started performing in free plays and shows in the children’s theater arena. He then moved into doing improvisational comedy at the same theater.
“The only problem was that everyone sucked, so I had to do all the talking,” RC tells. As the initial glimmer of him being a stand-alone act began to shine, he remembers having constant encouragement from friends and people to try stand-up comedy.
In the late 80s and 90s, comedy was booming. The Boston Comedy Club, a prominent spot in NYC, had a sign out front that read ‘Open Mic Tonight’ which caught the eye of young RC.
“Being 1990, it was as simple as asking ‘How do I get on?’ They asked my name, told me to be back at 9 pm, and that I would be doing 5 minutes. Nowadays, it’s not always that easy for comics. Some clubs will require that you bring friends or someone may have to recommend you for the spot,” RC says.
With his stand-up comedy debut happening that evening, RC wrote what he thought was his first 5 funny minutes and headed back to the Boston Comedy Club without telling a single one of his friends. One of the last to be called, RC remembers his very first introduction to the stage: “I don’t know whether this next guy is funny or not, but he probably isn’t” the host announced sarcastically.
“I can’t remember the whole set,” RC tells, “but I know there was a joke about the clapper, I talked really really fast, blew through the jokes and got off the stage.”
Having been the most challenging thing he had done up to that point, he looks back at his first, nerve filled, set, and remembers the feeling coming off stage for the first time, “It was like a light bulb went off—that was a lot of fun!” That performance didn’t happen in the absence of nerves, though. RC admits that he still gets nervous before shows. “My last thought every time before going on is ‘What the hell am I doing?’”
ON THE ROAD
After just one time of doing stand-up, RC knew this is what he wanted to do. So he quit the theater company and dedicated his evenings and weekends to comedy. Famous clubs such as ‘Catch a Rising Star‘, ‘Comic Strip‘ and ‘Improv‘ were all still open in NYC, as well as several others, and these provided a lot of opportunity. RC remembers the comedy scene in the 80s and 90s as the “Cheers” of his time.
“You could just hang out and be around the scene. We were watching guys like Ray Romano, Dave Attel, and Luis CK. Sara Silverman was just starting out back then. They were ‘the working comics’ at the time. I was at open mics every single night working on getting established around the city. After a while, they’d notice you hanging out for a while and ask if you’d like to do a spot.”
In 1990, RC started performing open mics with now household names like Jim Gaffigan, Juda Freelander, and Greg Geraldo. This four pack of all-star comedians spent countless time together and became roommates on many buses where they called home — the road.
RC’s first road gig was opening for Dave Attel at Catch A Rising Star in New Jersey. His 10 minute set back then paid over $100 and provided a nice hotel room. “I have arrived!” RC thought at the time; more realistically, he was developing the feeling of being a comic on the road.
Stand-up comedy is said to be a lot like fashion. It changes with the times and the seasons and people’s current tastes, styles and beliefs. The adaptation of one’s set over the course of decades can be an incredible transformation to watch.
“We went through phases” RC tells. “First observational, then political. You had to assume your audience was very well read because all you had was the newspaper and evening news, so your jokes had to be more general in nature. Now, everyone knows what’s going on today just by picking up their phone, even someone who is the most casual about seeking out information. I stopped doing political because it was limiting in scope and it was a LOT of work and research to be on your game. Political comics I knew were miserable pricks, very serious—which is the opposite of comedy.”
INTRO TO CROWD WORK
One evening, RC was performing at Iona College with 4 other comics on the showcase. It was a casual night with a loose format and no real order to the lineup. “There was a bunch of frat guys in the audience being douche bags and the guy who put the show together asked me to go out and put these guys in their place,” he said with a smile.
Although RC had been doing some crowd work, he had no idea that his next set would be the one that put his future as an explosive improv comic in motion. “I spent 12 minutes hammering them and the audience went bananas.”
The other comics, having never seen someone be able to talk to an audience like that, were stunned. “That was the first time since starting stand-up that I felt like myself,” RC says. And so began the start to his comedy career as the entertainer he was destined to be.
New York City gives you 2 choices. A city comic, where you end up running around to all the clubs, but to make money, you have to do 5 or 6 sets a night for $25-30 each. Or a road comic, where you have 2 shows per week, Friday and Saturday. At that moment, RC decided that he wanted to be a road comic, which he describes as being “more exciting” as he enjoyed the traveling element of the job. He hit the road, and his appearances as an inner city comic became far and few between.
Eleven years later in 2001, the national tragedy that we know as 9/11 occurred, and the tour industry in NYC took a dive. RC now had to make the conscious decision to “really bust butt and start booking gigs.”
Around this time, he became friends with the Godfather of warm-up comics in NYC, Joey Kola. The idea behind “warm-up” is making the audience feel like they are at a comedy club instead of a TV studio. Joey was the warm-up on the Rosie O’Donnell Show and asked if RC had ever considered trying it. Remembering the thrill of the frat-boy-roast, it became a considerable option for RC.
“I watched him and thought it would be a fun gig. He said he’d use me as a fill-in if he ever needed someone. I never expected to hear anything else about it. I figured he was just being nice.”
A few months later, Joey called to see if RC would fill in for him at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. “Talk about being scared (for the sake of family-friendly journalism) poopless! There were celebrity hosts, cameras, producers — it was a whole new world,” RC tells.
Like most employers, once they know someone can do the job and do it well, they are likely to use you rather than keep searching.
RC performed as a warm-up comic for 2 weeks on Millionaire.
From there, he was on the Caroline Rhea Show, Tony Danza, Ricky Lake, Rachel Ray, The Chew, and filling in on many others, as well as doing one-nighters and game shows.
Just like that – 2 weeks on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire became an 18-year career.
RC’s schedule was now bursting with performances, doing warm-up 3 to 4 days a week and stand-up as headliner every Friday and Saturday night on the road.
Now, he truly had arrived!
THE MOVE TO FLORIDA
After so many exciting years of following the dream and chasing gigs, RC started getting burned out on warm up and the stand-up scene. “It started feeling like Groundhog Day—seeing the same highways and audiences over and over,” he recalls.
“After 7 seasons, the Chew got canceled and, for the first time ever, there was no buzz of future shows being produced so I couldn’t foresee my next show coming.”
“Someone mentioned The View may be interested in me, so I moved to Florida,” RC says.
Why Florida, you might ask? RC’s proud parents moved here from Ohio in 1985 for retirement and he has been visiting here ever since. Until now, his Florida life consisted of working at the Laugh In Comedy Café in Fort Myers twice a year and visiting his parents. Being a familiar place with friendly faces, it was an easy transition. It happened to be an opportune time for a move for the family, career-wise, as well.
“I wanted to be closer to my parents to help them out and keep an eye on them, and overall it was just time for some new adventures. I couldn’t picture myself continuing to do the same thing for the rest of my life,” he says, leaving no hint of regret in his decision.
He goes on to add, “NYC beats the crap out of you on a daily basis—late subways, expensive cost of living, walking in the rain, the cold, the list goes on. Plus, I went from a five room apartment in Brooklyn above a bar, to a house with a pool and a yard. I loved the change. It brought my blood pressure down about 100 points.”
With his new home base in paradise, RC is optimistic about what the future holds. “It’s like starting over as a comic, only this time I know what I’m doing. Whatever projects I take on I am dedicated to making succeed. My thought process in moving here was to ‘conquer Florida.’ After meeting my goals of becoming a headlining comic and a top warm up performer, I want to start doing more on my bucket list—hosting trivia, cooking demos, and staying on the road,” he says, having just returned from gigs in Canada, Pennsylvania, and New York. He is also scheduled for many more all over Florida.
ADVICE FROM RC
–As comics, we have to find our niche– what we want to do and what kind of audiences like us.
-Never say no to a gig! I’ve performed at 2 wakes in my career, and they were great! You don’t know what appearance may lead to an 18 year career.
4 Tips For Every Gig:
1. Show up early.
2. Do what you’re supposed to do.
3. Don’t cause any problems.
4. Go home.
Visit RC Smith Comedy on Facebook for upcoming shows and appearances. Available for all bookings, everything from wakes to weddings, and more!