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A powerful loss for Las Vegas comedy: Ralphie May dead at 45

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Jason Harris

Comedian Ralphie May, who began a residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas in January, died on October 6 at the age of 45. A statement from Harrah’s parent company Caesars Entertainment reads: “We are incredibly saddened by the loss of our beloved comedian headliner Ralphie May. Ralphie played a special role in this world, as he strived to bring joy to all, and over the last year became a cherished member of the Harrah’s Las Vegas family. We will forever be grateful for his laughter and friendship.”

My experience with Ralphie seems to echo what so many other comics have said about him: no matter how well you knew him, he made you feel good.

I knew Ralphie very casually. We met a few times at stand-up comedy shows and at a barbecue that his friend, opener and comedy promoter Gabe Lopez threw this summer.

Earlier this year, Ralphie saw me do a 20-minute set at the Dirty at 12:30, the anything-goes late-night show at the South Point that he and Lopez created. I hadn't shaved my head that night so I wore a baseball cap on stage.

After I finished, the first thing he said to me was, "You want to double your laughs?" Of course, I said yes. "Don't wear that hat. The audience can't see your eyes."

I remembered he made the same point in a speech I watched on YouTube, where Ralphie spoke to young comedians at Louie Anderson's comedy boot camp. I couldn’t stop watching this video. He offered those comics a master class for an hour and 40 minutes.

I thanked him for watching my set and the feedback.

“You just killed like that,” he said. “Imagine what it'll be like if you weren't wearing the hat."

He could have said anything, but chose to reinforce the positives and hearing that from him meant a lot. Lopez pulled me aside shortly after and drove the point home. “Ralphie May just watched your entire set and his only criticism was don’t wear a hat.”

I had come up with a concept for Ralphie for a television show that I was excited to develop. I'm bummed we couldn't showcase his talent in a different way, but I'm more bummed that such a good dude with young kids is gone. His talent will be missed. His energy will be missed more.

Ralphie rose to fame on the first season of the NBC competition show Last Comic Standing, in which he placed second but was clearly the top guy. Four Comedy Central specials and two Netflix specials proved how prolific he was as a writer and performer. His residency at Harrah’s led to a resurgence of live comedy in a venue that was all but defunct. Just this week, he was recognized as Casino Comedian of the Year in the Global Gaming Expo’s Casino Entertainment Awards.

Onstage or off, Ralphie had the ability to put a smile on your face, but when he was performing and in the groove, you could see how happy he was working his craft.

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