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Chicago’s Ron Funches Finds the Funny Side of Life’s Ups and Downs

Client: Ron Funches – Talent

When comedian and Chicago native Ron Funches is onstage, his bright, beaming grin spans the length of the theater, and his delicate, sing-song delivery lulls and entrances the audience like they’re listening to a patient kindergarten teacher reciting a nursery rhyme.

But, like many nursery rhymes, Funches’ comedy occasionally betrays a flash of something sinister. On his 2019 Comedy Central stand-up special “Giggle Fit,” he starts a sweet and endearing story about his teenage son, Malcolm, devouring a piping hot pizza, wearing a shirt but no pants, like Winnie the Pooh. And, just before the tale takes a dramatic and, well, scalding turn, he smiles, turns to the audience and his voice drops a few octaves: “… and then Jesus takes the wheel.”

This blend of dark and light has remained omnipresent throughout Funches’ career. Almost a decade ago, in Montreal for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, he memorably brightened a dark joke by tossing Skittles into the air.

“To me, funny is lighthearted — it’s twisting, turning and surprising,” Funches says. “Something I always tell myself when I’m writing is, ‘Don’t give them what they want. Give them what they did not know they need.’ … You get a little bit of a twist, but it’s in a positive way that skews what’s going on in your everyday life as opposed to reinforcing your everyday life.”

Funches’ TV and film career carries a slew of positive, happy characters with a few twists. He carried a few scenes in the 2015 Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart film “Get Hard,” appeared on the hit series “Black-ish” and costarred on the 2014 NBC sitcom “Undateable,” which ran for three seasons. Not surprisingly, his soft vocal timbre fits well with animated voiceover work, including “Bojack Horseman,” “Adventure Time” and the “Trolls” series of films.

Funches experienced endless positivity as a child, even though his family didn’t have a lot of money. He spent his first 13 years in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago, and his mom, a single parent raising two children, would enrich the family with events around the city, exposing Funches to the fun of being a performer.

Notably, he remembers a set from the comedian Shucky Ducky at the Taste of Chicago; watching the audience go ham every time Ducky recited his catchphrase “Shucky ducky quack quack” filled Funches with excitement. He later read a Bernie Mac autobiography and learned how to navigate the open mic scene and become a stand-up comic himself.

But it wasn’t until Funches’ son received an autism diagnosis that the comedy fire was relit.

“I knew when I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a comedian, [but] it took having to provide for somebody else… [to go] from wanting it to believing that I could do it and believing that it was a real job,” Funches says. “I didn’t have the highest standards for myself or high enough esteem for myself, but I had a lot of esteem for my son.”

The motivation remains strong — not even the COVID-19 pandemic could dampen Funches’ spirits. In fact, he expanded his comic repertoire during lockdown by launching a Twitch channel, where fans can hang out and watch Funches play video games or talk professional wrestling, and continuing to produce episodes of his podcast, “Gettin’ Better With Ron Funches.”

Now based in L.A., he also has spent time reconnecting to his roots by watching Chicago Bulls games from the 1995-1996 championship season. Plus, he got married during lockdown and welcomed a new son into the family.

Funches believes audiences are ready to put COVID-19 aside as a conversation topic and seek some levity.

“People want to hear silly things and want some escapism, which has always been perfect for me because that’s the type of comedy I’ve always liked to do,” Funches says. “If I’m going to be positive when things are good, I should be positive when things are bad, It’s easy to be positive when your life is going well when you’re on TV all the time and you’re making money. I think when you when things are bad is when people need positive people the most.”

However, Funches is not as optimistic about Malcolm’s chances of safely upgrading his pizza taste to deep dish without another unfortunate accident.

“You can’t recover from that much sauce,” he says, “so I’m gonna keep him at thin crust ... get some Italian Fiesta and I’m gonna have a good time.”

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