Ralphie May has been incredibly busy in recent months, making appearances at comedy clubs across the country, as well as putting the finishing touches on his Netflix special, Unruly. But, as he explains, deciding to take the time to work on this photo shoot was a no-brainer. “When the call came, I was fucking all-in, dude,” he tells us.
You’ve been running around the country like a wild man lately. I never thought you’d be able to find time to do this with us.
When the offer came, it was a priority. I mean, come on, it’s fucking Penthouse. I was going to be in my Nashville house, but I flew back to L.A. especially for this shoot.
Did you have a personal connection to the magazine when you were younger, in the Bob Guccione days?
Uncle Bob changed my adolescent life with Penthouse and Penthouse Letters. Penthouse has always been one of my favorite magazines, if not the favorite. Oh, my God! In Clarksville, Arkansas, we used to pay the old guys to get us Penthouse and Penthouse Letters. As a pubescent son of the South, Penthouse was a major contributor to my making a ceramic sock. Every fucking month the magazines came out, they got bought.
You were flush with cash like that?
Me and my buddy Russell used to sell dime bags of reefer. His daddy would bring home impounded cars for auction, and we made $5 a car to wash them. We hit a button or two on a couple of these cars and found big blocks of marijuana, and we sold it. We found cash in one. It was awesome. I sold dime bags for $10 a bag. That’s how old I am. That’s old as shit.
Back then, you would buy a bag and it would be full of seeds, which were dangerous. If you missed a seed and lit one up … pop!
We used to play weed roulette with that. We used to roll three joints, because you needed to smoke all of them in order to get kind of high. Otherwise you would just end up with a headache. We would put a seed in one of the joints, and whoever would smoke it … it would blow up in their face. We saw so many prepubescent mustaches go up in flames. My buddy growing up had a full mustache at, like, 14. We were so jealous. He got the weed-roulette joint one time at a party and it blew up in his face. It was awesome! It burned his mustache good, too.
Have you ever done anything like direct a photo shoot before?
No. I liked it, though. I thought it was hot. And it’s for Penthouse, so you can do almost anything you want. But I didn’t want to just show all ’gina shots. I love the female form, and I’m a huge fan of ’gina. I would love to be in a head-to-head competition against lesbians … a lesbian head-to-head “head” competition. They ain’t got nothing on me, jack. I’m a big fan of pussy. I gotta see that monkey.
But the shoot wasn’t just about pussy for you.
They asked me what I wanted for wardrobe and I said, “Ladies, did you go over and see everything they have? What makes you feel pretty?” That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to objectify these women. And I wasn’t being dirty with them. I was trying everything to just not look at tits and not look at ’gina. I was on my best behavior. Normally I’m an animal; I would have been all over that. But I wanted the girls to feel comfortable. I just wanted to show their beauty.
What makes a woman beautiful to you?
A woman’s eyes. The rest of it will fall into place if she has kind, soft eyes. That’s what you want in a woman. I asked my wife to marry me a month after we started dating because I realized she had the softest, most beautiful eyes, and I just wanted to wake up next to them for the rest of my life. That’s what I like in a woman.
You cast the models based only on their eyes?
What I liked about Barbie was her eyes and her neck and the fact that she didn’t use hair as a camouflage. So many women don’t have long necks, don’t have beautiful eyes, and they have long hair to distract you. She eliminated the distraction and allowed her beauty to shine. With Adriana, I didn’t know she was an adult-film star and that she was all crazy in bed. I just saw a girl who had bush. We’re amidst a pussy renaissance, and bush has never been more cleaned up and shaved down than it is now. All these women in Los Angeles are sitting on little peaches … little baby peach meat. Young men today don’t even know that pussy comes with hair on it. They don’t even know.
I was wondering why you put a little “muff-stache” on Barbie in one of the pictures.
It’s just kind of an homage to comedians past. You know, the funny mustache has always been hilarious. The handlebar mustache was worn by a lot of the vaudeville comics and stuff. I thought it was theatrical, and it kind of makes fun of the girls with the shaved ’ginas now. Like they should all just put a wig on their monkey.
It was interesting that you chose a barbershop as the backdrop.
It looked so fucking cool. I remember back when I was a kid and I used to get my hair cut at a barbershop in downtown Clarksville. I’d ride my bike down there, and for a dollar, those old guys would cut my hair. And they had a calendar on the wall with pinup shots. They would cover it when women would come in to pick their kids up or something. I thought that was just awesome. I remember being, like, nine years old underneath that robe with
a little baby boner, looking at that girl and thinking, Holy shit, I’d like to tag that.
You made the shoot personal.
Why not? A barbershop is such a male space, and I thought the juxtaposition of having nude women there would be an interesting thing for the eye and for the mind. I really wanted to show people that they are brave women … that in a male space, they are the dominant ones. They are commanding this space that’s usually reserved exclusively for men. It’s like they are live pinups. While you’re in there, you’re sitting and thinking about women. In most barbershops, all they do is talk about women. And I can’t say I blame them.
How does coffee fit in to your vision?
I got into a pickle a while ago. I was in Miami with my buddy Ricky Cruz, and he took me to a Cuban spot for some food. It was a great restaurant called Versailles. He said, “Ralphie, would you like some Cuban coffee?” Now, I had never had Cuban coffee, but I like Cubans, and I like coffee. I’m going to get me some Cuban coffee. The waiter came out with a little baby-doll-tea-set cup of coffee. And I was like, What the fuck is this? I’m a grown-ass man and I need man coffee. I was tired, I was hungover, and I handed him a Starbucks thermos, which was like a Venti, and I said, “Just fill this up because we’ve got to go.” It took him 27 minutes to make enough Cuban coffee to fill 20 ounces. I fucking loved it. But I should have known something was up when I poured in cream and it didn’t change color … that’s a bad sign. It took me 30 minutes to drink that coffee, and in that 30 minutes it was amazing. Like, I could see into the future. But when I went to stand up, and with zero warning—no preamble, no cramps, no tell that it was going to happen—I … I just … I just shit myself.
That’s hilarious, but I’m struggling to find the connection between you shitting yourself and your vision of what makes a girl hot.
Something about me is that I’ve never allowed anyone to tell a story about me being dumb that I didn’t tell first. I wanted to be in on the joke. If I do something stupid, and it’s funny, then I want to tell everybody.
I think I get it. You had a choice. You could be detached from the shoot and just go through the motions, or you could make it more personal. Add mustaches, reference Cuban coffee, make it a more honest representation of who you are.
Right. That’s right.
Do you think the photos do a good job of communicating that?
Holy moly. They exceeded my expectations. I mean, they are amazing. They are really beautiful. The girls are shown in such a wonderful light, and the photographer has such an eye. I am just over the moon about these photos. I’m glad I can showcase my favorite photographer in my favorite magazine.