If you Google search “John McClellan,” you’ll find the late Democratic senator from Arkansas and the 19th century chemist. So what is comedian, Akron native and onetime Cincinnatian John McClellan — who brings his "Punk Rock" stand-up tour, the Fuck All Comedy Ball into Northside's tiny music club/bar, The Comet, this Saturday — doing to distance himself from his fellow McClellans?
“None of those guys are funny,” says the funny McClellan. “That’s why I had to get boozecoma.com, because some guy already had johnmcclellan.com, and asking people to spell my last name was a chore. They’re working on old cars or selling real estate and I’m just out there trying to bring the jokes to the people.”
McClellan’s current joke delivery system is the Fuck All Comedy Ball, essentially his standard show booked into Rock venues. Although the difference is subtle, there are shifts from McClellan’s usual routines.
“It’s the venue and the vibe,” says McClellan. “It’s kind of a Rock & Roll show. Sticky floors, man. We‘re not going to confine you to seats with people you don’t know and exorbitant prices and worry about offending people. The title of the show should tell you what you’re in for. We’re leaving the in-laws at home so they can bail us out in the morning.”
McClellan’s been doing stand up for over 20 years, so he has more than a little experience in the inner workings of the comedy club circuit. It’s that intimate knowledge of the comedy system’s flaws that inspired the Fuck All Comedy Ball.
“I’ll go to comedy clubs and they’ll go, ‘Well, we have a church group here tonight.’ What the fuck are they doing here? ‘You’re going to have to watch it.’ No. I’m not watching anything. You paid me to be here, this is what you’re getting. That’s why I wanted to take this to Rock clubs, to equal everything out.”
McClellan’s act is about contemporary observation but not necessarily the headlines of the day unless, as he notes, it’s something cool. His most recent topical joke concerned Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav (“I don’t know what he did, but I do know it’s not hard to get arrested for a crime when you’re wearing a 50 lb.
“I don’t want to bring the pressures of the world down on people,” he says. “ ‘Hey, let’s go to the comedy show and hear about how horrible things are.’ No thank you. I can open a window and get a whiff of that.”
McClellan was born and raised in Akron, began his stand-up career in Dayton and then moved to Cincinnati in the late ’80s, when the comedy atmosphere was pretty healthy, citing local friends like Bert Challis, Michael Flannery and John Riggi (in fact, Challis’ son Thad is McClellan’s opening act for the FACB; “If I could cyberdesign a comic, it would be Thaddeus Challis...”). He subsequently moved to Chicago and then to New York, his current home, but he still feels a definite affinity for his home state and the environs he called home … to a point.
“For me to be the most famous person in my high school, I have to kill 48 people,” McClellan says. “Chrissie Hynde went to my high school. The Black Keys, Rachel Sweet, Olympic diver Phil Boggs, Melina Kanakaredes from CSI all went to my high school. I’d have to be like a supervillain with the mask and the claws.”
During his Cincinnati period, McClellan did several opening slots at Bogart’s, warming up music audiences. Through good and bad experiences, he learned plenty.
“You have to sieze and maintain control,” McClellan says “I opened for David Lee Roth and had 1500 people booing me, ten minutes into a 30 minute set, because they’re thinking, ‘We get this guy off and Dave will come on.’ I got news for you, Dave isn’t backstage going, ‘Oh my God, the comic’s in trouble! Come on, guys, let’s bail him out!’ He’s coming out when he’s ready. I was like, ‘Listen folks, you don’t like me, go to the bar and have a drink. You like me, watch the show. I’m not leaving. If I leave early, I don’t get paid.’ It was the worst show in my life. Then I go out because I want to see the show, and I’ve got girls all over me! I’m like, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m the guy you were yelling at five minutes ago; it was like I was married to 1500 girls.’ And people are going, ‘You were hilarious, we loved you!’ And I was like, ‘Where were you, man?’ And they said, ‘Dude, we laughed but the wave of boos was too strong to overcome.’ I could respect that.
"What I learned was you don’t go to them, you bring them to you. My will and my jokes have to be stronger than your will not to laugh.”
With shaved head and black leather jacket-T-shirt-jeans wardrobe, McClellan looks like Michael Chiklis channeling the Sam Kinison’s rage and Lewis Black’s outrage. He’s quick to clarify the frequent Kinison comparison.
“It’s flattering, but I don’t want to seem like a knock off,” McClellan says “There is screaming and yelling, folks. Beware. But I’m not the Rock and Roll Comic. I don’t want to be the Science Comic or the Bicycle Comic, because those comics suck. ’He’s the Shoe Comic.’ No! I don’t want to be that guy.”
McClellan still gets recognized for his role on Bravo reality show Millionaire Matchmaker, where he was a potential date for iconic Simon & Schuster book editor Judith Regan (“I was trying to fuck my way into Wikipedia…"”), proving television is still a powerful comedy force.
“When I first came out, you got on The Tonight Show or Letterman,” says McClellan. “That doesn’t mean as much anymore. It’s still nice, but getting on a show to do stand up, that’s six minutes. I was on (Millionaire Matchmaker) for 12 and a half minutes.”
After that bit of television soapboxing, it seems only natural to ask if McClellan ever made it to the late night stand up showcases.
“No! Are you kidding? You’d be talking to my publicist,” McClellan jokes. “You’d be talking to the girl fetching my green tea. ‘Who’s calling? CityBeat? You had your chance before I was on Letterman …’ ”