By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Ritch Ruiz, a Lemoore High School graduate and stand-up comedian, is looking into filming part of his movie in Lemoore this summer.
Ritch Ruiz, a Lemoore High School graduate and stand-up comedian, is looking into filming part of his movie in Lemoore this summer.
Photo contributed by Ritch Ruiz

Twenty-eight-year-old Ritch Ruiz, a Lemoore High School graduate, admits that while attending LHS, he may not have been one of the school’s most accomplished students, but the 2006 graduate earned his diploma, and then faced with an uncertain future, began his search for meaning in a complicated but welcoming world.

Ritch Ruiz
Ritch Ruiz
Photo contributed by Ritch Ruiz

At one point in his quest, while toiling at a vocation someone else had chosen for him, he decided he needed a new direction. He took a chance and was determined to reach for the stars.

While Ruiz spent a considerable amount of time on the school’s truancy list while at LHS – he was a regular visitor to his assistant principal’s office, but fortunately, his tendency to skip a few classes didn’t prevent him from earning his diploma and embarking on a journey that would take him from the auto shop to the stage, where he’s been honing his skills as a stand-up comic for nearly 10 years. (Editor’s note: The assistant principal who often met with Ruiz happens to be the writer of this article)

His current occupation is somewhat remarkable considering the teenage Ruiz was anything but outgoing. “I didn’t have a sense of humor in high school,” remembered Ruiz, “being that I was very shy and quiet. People only knew me as that.”

The former Tiger isn’t shy anymore, and he seems to have created his own unique sense of purpose, doing something that’s working for him, something that he enjoys – and now, many years later, he’s considering a return to Lemoore, and not just to visit his mother, Alice Rocha, who still resides here. His former home, the one he left behind years ago, will play an important role in his next career move. Ruiz is planning a film, loosely based on his career and life, and he wants to film part of it in his hometown.

He’s already contacted city officials who have provided him with the necessary planning documents to help bring his film to life.

Ritch Ruiz during his high school time.
Ritch Ruiz during his high school time.
Photo contributed by Ritch Ruiz

Why is this former Lemoore High School student and Lemoore resident making a movie? Because he wants to, and maybe because he just may have a good story to tell – and maybe a funny one at that.

Ruiz, a Hanford West transfer student arrived in Lemoore at the end of his sophomore year, and at one point in his youth, considered becoming a youth pastor, but instead he took the advice of his counselor, who after reviewing his high school records, suggested that perhaps the personable young man might think about a career in automotive repair.

Nothing wrong with a mechanical career, but Ruiz always seemed to have something else lurking within his psyche, something he wanted to do, but couldn’t quite summon the necessary tools to realize that hidden potential.

Somewhere in the back of his creative mind, the young Ruiz, thought that maybe he would give comedy a try, not exactly the career move the typical high school counselor might recommend. “I wanted at one time to be youth pastor,” he remembered.  “I also told my counselor that I wanted to do comedy. I also told him I like cars too, so he put me in automotive class.”

While dutifully attending auto shop, he found time for other outlets, included playing trumpet and drums in the school’s band, serving as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes president, and participating in drama programs under the tutelage of longtime drama teacher Kathy Palermo.

He parlayed his automotive talents into a short mechanic’s career in Sacramento, but that didn’t last long. A friend of his placed his name in a comedy competition. “I won the amateur competition in 2006,” remembered Ruiz. “A friend of mine put my name in, and I didn’t know about it until two days before the show.

“It was the first time I’d been on stage to do standup. I actually threw up before I got on stage,” he recalled. “And when I got on the stage, somehow it just felt comfortable.”

And Ruiz never looked back.

After performing at clubs like Sacramento’s Punchline and Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco, he figured he might as well take the plunge and change careers, so he quit the auto gig and moved to New York City, something he’s never regretted. “I worked on cars for almost a year, and then my comedy routine took off – I started getting paid for it,” he said. “I was 19 when I told myself I wanted to do this. I hated cars. Either I do this or I kill myself – so I went into comedy.”

The decision came rather easily, so at the tender age of 19, the newly established stand-up comedian quit his job and made the move to the bright lights and well-worn stages of New York City in 2007, and promptly started doing stand-up gigs at small clubs, colleges, and festivals. He’s even performed at the prestigious Apollo Theater.

Life hasn’t slowed down a bit for the young comic.

Nearly every comedian credits somebody else as his or her inspiration. Robin Williams credited the famous comedian Jonathan Winters. Johnny Carson idolized Jack Benny, and Donald Trump looks to Scott Baio for divine inspiration.

Ruiz says it was Williams who inspired him. “Robin Williams is why I became a comedian,” he said. “I thought he was just hilarious.”

He enjoys Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. “Those (guys) are my inspirations.” His own style of standup is similar. “I talk about politics, relationships, just the hypocrisies of society. It’s very aggressive, truthful, unapologetic, but people keep coming back,” he said.

The movie, as of this writing, is entitled “Big Shot,” a film based somewhat on the life of a successful comedian. Sound familiar? “It’s about a recently successful comedian who has to take a hiatus to go back home to his hometown and see the people that he said he would never (talk) to again.”

In fact, when Ruiz left Lemoore, he resisted the urge to return. “When I left, I changed my number. People didn’t see me for a long time. This movie is loosely based on my life. I wrote it and I’m going to star in it.”

In a way, while he may have been somewhat ambivalent about his formative Lemoore years, there is some reflection that those years set the stage for his blossoming success. “Everything happened in a way that allowed me to be where I am today,” he said.

“I wanted something authentic. Lemoore has a small-town feeling. Everything I do has to be based in truth.”

Ruiz expects to start filming in Lemoore in June, or at the latest, July. He’ll spend at least five days here getting shots of streets and the high school.

While he contemplates his return to Lemoore he will continue his stand-up and writing gigs, which include a variety of television shows – he recently wrote material for Russell Simmons’ “All Def Movie Awards,” an off-beat awards’ program that looks at movies that may have been overlooked by mainstream award shows.

He’s putting together an online show that brings comedians together to talk about “what’s going on in the world.”

He’s also written for Fusion TV, CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV-2 and Def Jam. Certainly, Ruiz isn’t suffering from a lack of work. In fact, he’s constantly churning out ideas for specials, comedy routines, online shows, and movies.

Lemoore has had its share of celebrities, from rock stars to astronauts, and even an Academy Award winner (the actress Jo Van Fleet, who was a librarian at Lemoore High School in the 1940s, won an Oscar for her role in East of Eden). Maybe it’s time now that Lemoore welcomes home another celebrity, one with the power to make us laugh.