R.I. comedian Ray Harrington finds a new laugh track amid COVID shutdowns – Entertainment – providencejournal.com

The Four Percent

Warwick-based stand-up comedian Ray Harrington got a huge career boost in January with his appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show. But a month and a half later, COVID-19 shut everything down, leaving him “unemployed, with a really big hobby.” Harrington’s Plan B led to the launch of his web series “Undependent.”

WARWICK — For Ray Harrington, moving to Rhode Island was a laughing matter.

The Kittery, Maine, native had been doing stand-up comedy for a while, particularly during his college years at the New England School of Communications, in Bangor.

But uprooting and moving to Rhode Island became the impetus for a life-changing decision: “Do I get a day job and keep comedy as a hobby, or do I make the choice to do it full time?” he recalls.

Comedy won, and in the 10 years since then, he has been making people laugh — a career topped off by an appearance Jan. 29 on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show “Conan.”

“It was a dream come true,” Harrington says.

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Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “Within a month, everything stopped,” Harrington says. Performances were canceled, venues closed, and instead of a busy 2020, Harrington says, “I was unemployed, with a really big hobby.”

Now his “hobby” has found a place on the internet with the debut this month of a web series titled “Undependent.” The first episode became available Aug. 3 on the show’s official website, undependentshow.com, and on YouTube. New segments are released on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the month.

Made with his friend and fellow comedian Derek Furtado, the six episodes focus on the angst, anxiety, conflict — and comedy — as two comedians try to come up with an idea for a TV series.

It is a story drawn from life.

Harrington met Furtado doing standup shows in Rhode Island, “and we clicked creatively,” Harrington says.

“We go off on the same tangents, the ‘yes, and’ with each other,” Furtado says, referring to the verbal cue of improv comedy.

The friends went on to collaborate on a documentary, “Be a Man,” a humorous but also touching saga, filmed entirely in Rhode Island, about Harrington’s experiences as an expectant father.

“I grew up without a father. I was raised by my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother,” he says. When he and his wife, Kaleena, a Warwick native, were expecting the birth of their son, now 6, Harrington found himself grappling with the question of what it means to “be a man.”

The film explores many incarnations of manhood — including a boxing match with Vinny Paz — offering truth laced with humor. It was named Best Documentary at the 18th Los Angeles Comedy Festival as well as the SNOB (Somewhat North of Boston) Film Festival in 2015 before premiering on Hulu, the subscription video-on-demand service, and finding fans as far away as Australia.

During production, “Derek and I would joke about how much insanity went on behind the scenes,” Harrington says.

“The workload,” Furtado groans. “So much goes into it.”

Before long, they saw those experiences as material for an entire series. They wrote and filmed a two-episode pilot starring exaggerated versions of themselves as overconfident filmmakers pitching a vague idea for a show.

“We’re still Ray, still Derek, but we created caricatures of ourselves,” Furtado says. They titled it “Undependent.”

Veteran filmmaker Lee Leshen signed on as producer, and the pilot was filmed in New York City, where he lives. Leshen also appears as the producer who hears Ray and Derek make their pitch.

“We poke fun at all of that,” Harrington says. In real life, however, they were in contact with several potential outlets, including cable television networks.

When the virus shut that avenue down — “No one’s taking on new shows; you can’t get a crew together to shoot,” Harrington says — they got the idea to break the pilot into shorter segments and release them as a web series.

The show was largely scripted but left opportunity for improvised comedy between Harrington and Furtado, as well as other characters, including one played by Micah Sherman of HBO’s “High Maintenance.”

However, “The arc of the story is all planned out. We have some scripts written for future episodes, if that should come to fruition,” Harrington says.

Meanwhile, he hasn’t looked back on making comedy his career — or living in Rhode Island.

“Rhode Island has wonderful live comedy,” he says, which he first found at the Catch a Rising Star comedy club at Twin River in Lincoln. Comedian and actor Frank O’Donnell, who ran the club until it closed in 2014, remembers Harrington as “affable and funny. People enjoyed his act. He worked hard on his material and presentation.”

Harrington also found a “home” at the Comedy Connection in East Providence. The pilot for “Undependent” was screened there last summer, and “the response was fantastic, really special,” Harrington says.

“It’s rare to have a full-time comedy career in Rhode Island,” he acknowledges. “You have to travel more, get creative.”

He sent a clip to “Conan” to get the attention of the booking agent for the late-night show. He records comedy albums, like “The Worst Is Over” from Stand Up! Records, which debuted at the top of the comedy charts on Amazon and iTunes. Travels have taken him across the U.S., to Mexico and Canada and twice to London.

“I’m lucky to be able to do all that and have a ‘normal’ life at home with my wife and son. I never could do it without my wife,” Harrington adds.

The time is right, he believes, for releasing “Undependent” to the wide-ranging online audience. “We felt like this was a chance to put ‘Undependent’ out when people needed an escape more than ever.”

It’s a matter of laughing.

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