When Corner Brook native Trent McClellan first started doing stand-up comedy, he was basically all on his own.
The former class clown would try out his material in school and on his grandmother, but never had the opportunity to jump up on stage and deliver his material, or take in workshops with more experienced comics, because there just weren’t that many around.
“We always had Shaun Majumder and Mark Critch and Mary Walsh and all those guys, but they had gone away and blew up with ‘22 Minutes’ and that kind of stuff. In terms of a stand-up comedy scene, there really wasn’t anything at all.”
With a Yuk Yuks comedy venue in town as well as the St. John’s comedy festival, a pool of stand-up talent has developed over the past six or seven years, and McClellan is glad to see it. So glad, that he wants to support it in any way he can — including giving newer performers the opportunity he never had.
When he brings his “Sit, Listen and Laugh” tour to Holy Heart Theatre Oct. 5, comics Sarah Walsh and Steve Coombs, both local comedy festival alums, will open for him.
“It’s so cool to follow their careers,” he says of some local performers he’s had the chance to meet through the festival. “Every time I see them, they’re better and better.”
McClellan is a MUN graduate who moved to Alberta 10 or so years ago to find work. He took part in an amateur night at Yuk Yuks club in Calgary in 2004, and realized as soon as he left the stage that he had found his ultimate career.
Since then, he has toured the country, performing at various comedy festivals — most recently the Calgary Comedy Festival, just a couple weeks ago — doing corporate gigs, and TV specials. He has opened for the likes of Bob Saget and Gerry Dee.
Earlier this year, McClellan was featured on CBC’s “Canada Reads,” an annual battle of the books competition where five celebrities choose and champion a book from various regions of the country. McClellan’s choice was Lisa Moore’s “February,” a novel about a woman whose husband was among the 84 victims of the Ocean Ranger disaster on Feb. 15, 1982, which ended up winning.
McClellan has called it “the most stressful and proudest moment” of his life.
Given the exposure he got from “Canada Reads,” McClellan figured it was a good time to organize a tour. It’s the first theatre tour he’s ever headlined.
It was pretty scary, he admitted.
“You never know. If I did the Holy Heart show and only 12 of my buddies showed up, it would be pretty embarrassing,” he said, laughing. “We’ve already sold 700 tickets, and we’re well into the balcony. It’s really surreal, it’s something I imagined, but never really thought would happen.”
When he first started out, McClellan only had so much material, and it’s what he did, whether his audience was a group of college kids or seniors. Now, he’s got the luxury to pick and choose what jokes to perform.
A lot of his material is based on what he knows — jokes about growing up black in Newfoundland, a bit of nostalgia over his childhood — and he has made a name for himself in certain parts of the country with jabs at the Newfoundland dialect. Two of his bits — “Do You Like Six?” and “Jesus at Sobey’s” — are YouTube hits.
“I met Bill Cosby three or four years ago and got to talk to him for 20 minutes backstage. He was just so humble,” McClellan said.
“He’s one of those guys that I admired so much. That’s what I related to, when he’d be talking about those real situations, and it didn’t matter if you were young or old, you’d go, ‘Yep, that’s my dad,’ or ‘That’s my uncle.’ When people go home with that stuff, there’s a deeper layer, as opposed to making off-the-cuff observations about whatever it is. It’s more heartfelt, I think. They know you’re not just making it up.”
With this tour, McClellan is saying goodbye to some of his older material, making way for new bits to evolve. He’s a newlywed and a new dog owner, and both aspects of his life have found their way into his live shows, naturally.
When he’s not on stage, McClellan is working on some TV opportunities.
He declined to elaborate, but said it’s a path he’s definitely interested in pursuing, even though it’s far removed from the stage.
“I heard a saying last year, ‘a horse built by committee is a camel,’” he said. “The vision goes from one thing, in a completely different direction as more people put their hands on it. But something I want to do is collaborate with people.”
Tickets for McClellan’s “Sit, Listen and Laugh” show in St. John’s are $30 and are available at the Holy Heart Theatre box office, by calling 576-4424 and online at holyhearttheatre.com.