Life as Story Fodder

Ron Shock, who died at 69, drew from his varied past to entertain his own way

Comedian Ron Shock was a master storyteller. The national headliner was commanding, energetic and joyous—somewhere between a prizefighter and an improv jazz musician. His best bits—ones culled from his life experiences—could last up to 20 minutes. He built tension, arcs, ebbs and flows into these riffs, along with a multitude of punch lines. His long-form takes on stories he read in the newspaper were brilliant. He took the minutiae, dissected it, then blew it up to the absurd.

This article was supposed to be an update on Shock’s condition. But his cancer spread faster than I could write. For that, I’m sorry, Ron.

Shock was never big into selling merchandise, but just before he found out he had urethral cancer, he released a T-shirt based on one of his bits: “Have a drink …  Get stoned …  Fuck a stranger …  Eat a Twinkie … You’re going to die anyway.”

It turned out to be prophetic. Shock, a comedian’s comedian and a Las Vegas resident, died on May 17 at age 69.

The Dos Equis Man might be the fictional “most interesting man alive,” but Shock could have qualified for that title. The monologist’s tales of his own varied life were enthralling. Among the many strange escapades in his life: He studied at a seminary, he was a car thief, a jewel thief, worked on a chain gang, was an inventor, ran a lucrative publishing company and was a promoter of a rock ’n’ roll festival in Australia.

But comedy was his calling. Shock was just shy of 40 when he hit the stage for the first time in the early ’80s. Within a few years, he was headlining all over his home state of Texas, then nationally. As Shock explained, it had been in the time of the comedy-club boom and “you didn’t need credits as much as you needed to be funny.”

Then came the Texas Outlaw Comics that Shock cofounded in the mid ’80s with Steve Epstein, Riley Barber, Jimmy Pineapple, Andy Huggins and Bill Hicks. In 1991, Shock went on to be the last new comic ever featured on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He had high-profile gigs such as opening for Ringo Starr. He had his own Showtime special, Bad Gig Blues, in 1993. Shock, who lived in Las Vegas for the better part of the last two decades, frequently headlined clubs on the Strip, ranging from Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club to L.A. Comedy Club. He continued headlining all over the country right up until the cancer took it out of him in January.

Most nights, his adoring wife, Rhonda, could be found by his side. On Facebook, after Ron’s death, she posted the following: “RIP my sweet, sweet baby. I was lucky to know you. I was blessed to have shared 10 minutes of your life, much less 10 years.”

Shock’s last shows took place, fittingly enough, in Texas. A film crew recorded them along with a number of interviews that will all be put together for a concert/documentary film that promises to be as original as its subject. His art will live on. And if you knew Shock, you knew there was nothing more important to him than his art: “Comedy is the only thing I’ve ever done in my life that I didn’t do for the money. … I did it for the art. … This is who I am; this is what I do. And most of my stories, my long stories, are true. I’ve lived this life, and you can’t live a life like I’ve lived without collecting some stories in there.”

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