Actor and NY bar vet to share his “Life Behind Bars” at TheatreLAB tonight
“I’m the gay guy that likes Motorhead, I just never have really fit into any category, I don’t have time,” comedian and actor Dan Ruth said in response to the new wave of the technology-obsessed, vain, millennial crowd that’s packing the bar scene these days.
Packing more than 30 years in the bar industry you’d think it would have left this man hurting like a bad hangover, but he’s returning to Richmond just as lively as ever and ready to serve up a shot of his life.
“The audience is treated to a good dose of what they’d expect of bar life in New York, bar dos and don’ts,” he said.
In his hour and 15-minute act, the longtime Richmond actor brings to life his dark, but funny monologue of stories and characters telling tales of his time spent working in New York City bars and nightclubs. It covers the old school bar scene when the atmosphere felt more like “Cheers”, to the millennial hipster takeover of selfie-sticks, iPhones, man buns and beards, the Yelp-obsessed crowd along with his personal struggles and triumphs mixed in.
“The beginning of the show is fun, there’s characters that are universal characters, they’re New York people, but universal,” he said. “I encapsulate a lot of different personalities that come in and out of me very quickly, there’s the piano bar woman from Long Island, there’s the arrogant millennial entitled money guy, there’s a health inspector, we all hate them no matter where you live and they’re intrusive and mean and like to make things up as they go along, I play my landlady…”
The edgy, but all too relatable show for many bartenders out there also mixes in many of Ruth’s personal pitfalls that came from working in the industry for so long.
“Eventually it gets down to me, my issue, my getting lost in the city, my destruction, my alcoholism, my downward spiral…” he said.
Ruth covers bar etiquette in “A Life Behind Bars”, and he’s got some tips for those out there that are still clueless when they go to belly up to the bar.
Image credits: Jamahl Richardson
“Snapping, you just don’t snap, bartenders work with their eyes and all you need to do is make eye contact, it’s embarrassing,” he said. “People in the service industry I just recently added this to my show, they’re not your slave. When you have people walk up to you asking, ‘what do you like? It’s like, why don’t you get your own personality find out what you like and get back to me in a couple years.’”
And don’t go in his bar and ask him to “surprise you” and don’t even get him started on the annual onslaught of young drunk college kids who take the city by storm during Christmas time.
“SantaCon is the ultimate disaster of the New York bar scene,” he said.
The show will be a homecoming of sorts for Ruth. A VCU theater graduate, the Pennsylvania native called Richmond home from 1984 to 1993 and spent much of his time in a sketch comedy group here.
After honing his acting chops in RVA, he thought he’d try his luck at the big time…in New York City of course.
“Specifically Saturday Night Live, I moved there with that in mind, I literally was going to cast parties all the time and rubbing elbows with plenty of people and it just didn’t happen,” Ruth said. The 90s acting scene was real cut throat, it was mean.”
Needing an immediate source of income, Ruth took up his first bar gig of what would turn into 20 years in the industry, at Curtain Up! In Hell’s Kitchen in 1994.
“It took me a year before i could get a job,” Ruth said. “I kept hounding them and hounding them, I knew someone that worked at this bar and kept going in and buying drinks and sucking up to the managers and finally they hired me.”
Curtain Up! was sold a year after Ruth began working there so after losing his job, and ultimately his Manhattan apartment, Ruth headed for Williamsburg, which at the time, was just starting to become alive.
“It was a new area, it was new territory, there would be impromptu rock shows, impromptu theater pieces, it was just this unwanted world that all these people and vagabonds wanted,” he said. “I fell in love with the whole party scene and drinking am meeting new people it was a celebration for me for a long time.”
Ruth worked in bars and danceclubs all over the city, but his biggest stint in the industry was at Brooklyn Ale House where he worked from 2000 until 2014 and had been a bar regular since 1997.
Image credits: Jamahl Richardson
During our conversation he reflected on how the ale house had changed over time-and not so much for the better which he addresses during his act as well.
“In 2000, people still really talked and had great conversation, you actually met people,” Ruth said. “The difference at the ale house people didn’t know each other, there were groups of people came together artists, entrepreneurs, poor people, musicians…they would all be together. By 2006, when I came back to the bar industry after getting sober, it was full on takeover. These new people were coming in with their phones in your face and yeah there as a lot of resentment.”
His worst experience in the industry occurred at the Brooklyn Ale House when he had to break up a female fight.
“The one thing you can’t escape in Brooklyn is the cocaine/alcohol mix,” he said. “There was a woman sitting at the end of the bar near the entrance way and one woman who near the pool table and I watched her hit her right in the face she fell off her bar stool. They started fighting the police came and went, I locked her out she came back in, it was literally the chicken fight from family guy, it just didn’t stop. She was at her on the floor beating the living hell out of her.”
That was the breaking point for Ruth, but also a lightbulb that went on his head to take what he had experienced and put it into art form.
“When did this way of making money become this awful lifestyle that you live with? You don’t go home and shower that off.”
From talking to Ruth, “A Life Behind Bars” seems to be a fun, raw, dark, roller coaster ride with twists and turns, but a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The fact that I made it through the storm and I can talk about it is the catharsis for me,” he said.
Final advice from Ruth? Know how to order, and know how to tip.
Ruth’s “A Life Behind Bars” will play at The TheatreLAB this Thursday May 19th to May 27th. Regular price tickets are $25, $20 Seniors. $15 Students/RVATA Members and $10 Student Rush (w/ a valid ID) and they can be purchased here. Show starts at 8 pm.
“I love coming back to show my family and friends what I left to pursue.”March 6, 2017
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