The rise of Tommy Ryman

The University of Minnesota theater grad turned standup comic steadily climbs to the top

Comedian Tommy Ryman performs at Acme Comedy Company's open mic night Monday in Minneapolis. The University of Minnesota theater graduate regularly performs at Acme and is a regular feature act for headlining comedians.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Comedian Tommy Ryman performs at Acme Comedy Company's open mic night Monday in Minneapolis. The University of Minnesota theater graduate regularly performs at Acme and is a regular feature act for headlining comedians.

Emily Eveland

Tommy Ryman learned the hard way that it’s sometimes best to keep successes a secret until they’re a sure thing.

When A&E caught up with Ryman at Seward Cafe earlier this month, he mentioned that he was once flown to Orlando to film a bit for “NickMom Night Out,” which was later removed due to a copyright issue. Unfortunately, he’d already told his dentist (among others) that he would be on the show.

 “I had to tell my dentist that I got edited out,” he said. “So if I ever write a book, it’s gonna be called, ‘Never tell your dentist you’re gonna be on Nickelodeon because it’s awkward and you let them down.’”

But Ryman has nothing to be embarrassed about. Since he graduated from the University of Minnesota’s theater department in 2005, he’s become a favorite of comedians like Nick Swardson and Maria Bamford.

“Every time [Bamford] comes to Minneapolis, she says ‘Hey, I want Tommy Ryman to open for me,’” Acme Comedy Company owner Louis Lee said.

Ryman got his start at Acme almost a decade ago at the advice of his sister, who regularly attended Acme’s Open Mic Night on Mondays. Ryman was gradually given longer time slots and then asked to be an emcee.

 Now, Ryman is a regular feature act for headlining comedians and has toured with the likes of Swardson and Bamford. Ryman is regularly featured on SiriusXM, iHeartRadio and Rooftop Comedy and released his first comedy album, “Bath Time with Tommy Ryman,” in 2011.

 Annie Ryman said her brother’s unique sense of humor was apparent to their family early on. She said when Tommy was five years old, “He was dressed up in a clown costume in the front yard, running to this big tree and letting it knock him over and then getting back up and running back to the tree, letting it knock him over [again.]”

Acme’s initial attraction to Ryman stemmed from the young comic’s creative writing skills and the unique character he devised for himself, Lee said. Onstage, Ryman speaks in a long-winded, stream-of-consciousness manner about pressing matters like microwaving burritos, the death of his wife’s pet rat and taking baths.

Ryman said he rarely writes jokes down, choosing instead to give a title to each broad idea and work from there.

“A lot of times I’ll just work it out on stage. That’s why open mics are so important,” he said.

A lot of Ryman’s humor stems from his appearance, Lee said. As his Acme bio states, “Tommy Ryman is the Matt Damon of comedy, if Matt Damon was 124 lbs and wore an eye-patch as a child.”

 Ryman often jokes about how his lesbian mother, folk singer Barb Ryman, wishes he were gay.

“She just desperately wants a gay child. She’s like come on, Tommy. You’re really skinny, kind of effeminate,” he said in a bit for Rooftop Comedy.

Alas, Ryman married a woman last year and moved to Richfield, where they live happily with their dog, two cats, and two albino rats named Pinky and the Brain.

Ryman still has his high school job at Barnes and Noble, where he currently puts in 20 hours per week, but he hopes to soon replace it with a full-time standup career. He said the first step is to get TV credits.

“He will get recognized very quickly,” Lee said. “Everybody has a different thing they’re looking for, [and] Tommy does have that uniqueness.”

Ryman regularly performs at Acme’s Open Mic Night on Mondays at 7:30 p.m.