Even as a kid, Jeremy Ricci liked to make people laugh.

“I used to put pencils in my ears and wiggle them to make my mom’s friends laugh,” he said.

Now, Ricci is a familiar face in Manhattan’s stand-up comedy scene, performing his own sets as well as hosting many of the open mic nights around town. He said writing jokes has made him observe the world more closely and develop a sense of how to keep an audience on his side.

“I try not to get too out of control,” he said.

Ricci, a graphic designer and videographer for Champion Teamwear by day, grew up in a military family and went to Junction City High School while his father was stationed at Fort Riley. Ricci then joined the Army, too, and found himself back at Fort Riley. He enrolled at K-State for software engineering but didn’t end up enjoying that work. He started teaching himself Photoshop and other design software.

He got a job in 2014 designing posters and other products for Aggie Station, an Aggieville bar that has since closed. He then worked for Able Printing before starting his current job at Champion Teamwear in 2017.

By that point, Ricci had already found a home on the comedy stage.

Ricci went to an open mic night at Auntie Mae’s to watch a friend in 2012. He saw people trying out stand-up, some for the first time.

“A couple of beers in, I was like, ‘I could do this,’” he said. “I chickened out that night but I went home and for the next month, I tried to write jokes.”

Almost a decade later, Ricci, 38, is still writing jokes and has performed at several places around town, including Auntie Mae’s and Liquid Art Winery.

Ricci said he thinks attending live comedy shows is a good way to support the community because it’s an opportunity to support both local performers as well as the local venues where they perform.

“Investing that money in the community through local entertainment, whether that’s live music or comedians, supporting the community in that regard is really important in the age of Netflix,” he said.

He said he finds most of his material from listening carefully to people around him and observing the world. He said friends sometimes tease him when he pulls his phone out to take notes. Maybe it’s something he hears at a restaurant, like when a woman at the next table asked if the chicken was free range, meaning the chickens are allowed to roam free.

“How much joy does that chicken have to have for you to taste it?” Ricci said.

Sometimes it’s simple everyday experiences, like life with his wife, Shayla.

“My wife can sleep through a dozen alarm clocks, and I know that this marriage will last forever because she’s so good at ignoring the things that annoy her,” he said.

Ricci said he has developed a couple of different strategies for dealing with hecklers. He tries to match their energy, he said, and actually enjoys the spontaneity of addressing the situation. If they are hostile, he might be a bit more aggressive, but if they are clever or playful, he can be more playful, too. He said he tries to avoid jokes that are too personal, for example mocking someone’s physical appearance, even with more obnoxious hecklers.

“If you’re just mean about their physical traits, you lose everybody and you’re just being a jerk,” he said.

He said being aware of his own appearance and behavior can help shut down hecklers as well by beating them to a joke they might make about him.

“If you’re already aware of those things, it’s super easy to disarm it,” Ricci said.

In general, Ricci said he enjoys interacting with the audience. Whether entertaining them between comedians while he’s hosting or dealing with hecklers, he said he sometimes asks people about their jobs or something else about their life.

“Any comedian will tell you that’s very hacky,” he said. “And they’re right. But I still love it.”

Ricci said because of college students passing through experimenting with stand-up, Manhattan’s comedy scene is dynamic and often diverse. Students often bring a large group of friends with them, adding to the show’s energy.

Sometimes the group might be made up of just kids from Western Kansas, or it might be people from lots of different places and walks of life, Ricci said. He enjoys hearing from comedians from different backgrounds, he said, because it can bring a new or more informed perspective to his own material and influence how he shapes jokes.

He said sometimes people just starting out will ask if there are things they shouldn’t say or topics they should avoid. He tells them if they touch a nerve, they have to be accountable.

“You have a freedom to say whatever you want, but you don’t have a freedom from consequences,” Ricci said. “If you feel like something you’re going to say is going to get you in trouble, you’ve got to deal with that one on your own. I’m not going to stop you, but I’m not going save you.”

Ricci said many comics who have received public backlash to jokes are still selling out shows. Even if some of their jokes weren’t received well, no one is stopping them from telling them, he said.

“I’m so tired of hearing comedians complain about what they’re not allowed to say while they’re saying it,” he said. “You can’t be like, ‘I’m not allowed to say this thing I’m about to say.’”

He said over the years he’s developed a better sense of where the lines are drawn. He said reading the audience helps keep them on his side.

“I talk all the time, I’m very accountable for my mouth anymore,” he said.

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