The second person that I’ve chosen to profile in Calgary’s Funniest People is Trent McLellan.
The first time I met Trent he made me feel very welcome in the comedy community, with a “welcome to the fraternity” greeting when I told him that I was new to comedy. I’ve had a great deal of respect for him since our first meeting, and was excited to pick the brain of a fellow frat brother.
So on a standard June day in Calgary (windy and 15 degrees Celcius, yes world, you can be jealous now) we met for a coffee at one of my favourite cafes, Kawa.
We had a great chat about life, comedy, and passing girls. Our conversation was fantastic, and we picked up zero girls’ phone numbers. If anyone’s keeping score, that is Comedy: 2 Girls: 0 while interviewing Calgary’s Funniest People.
BP: I saw that you were on the radio this morning, what were you talking about?
TM: Well there’s a bullying incident going on in rural Newfoundland which is centred upon racism in small town Newfoundland. I grew up in Newfoundland as a black male, and of course I ran into racism. It’s a tricky issue. You can find racism everywhere; however, you can also find great people everywhere. Newfoundlanders don’t like to talk about this issue, because they feel like it tarnishes their image as the friendliest place on earth. However, by not wanting to talk about it they are just trying to sweep the issue under the rug, which makes them look racist, even if they’re not.
BP: How has being a black Newfoundlander affected your comedy? How do you use it?
TM: I think you have to address it. The audience, as soon as they see you, have made up their minds about what you’re going to talk about. The longer you don’t, the harder it is to grab them, because you haven’t lived up to their expectations. However, I like to address it and carry on. I’ve never understood how a person uses one characteristic as part of every joke. Is the only thing a lesbian comedian finds funny is the lesbian world? Doubtful. So why not address it and carry on?
BP: Damn. We’re talking about some pretty serious issues here. Anything lighter we can talk about?
TM: How about putting a condom on the Northern Gateway pipeline?
BP: OK. That sounds hilarious, but why would we talk about that?
TM: Because I had to defend the Northern Gateway pipeline on CBC’s “The Debaters“. This episode of the debaters was being recorded in Victoria, BC. I had to defend a pipeline which all of the Victoria hippies hated. How was I going defend that topic and have them on my side? So the angle I went with was being over the top salesman-y with it. I told them that a giant condom over the whole thing is foolproof, and that without an oil spill every once and a while we wouldn’t have new species. You know, like how the crow is just an oil covered sea gull. It worked; which was awesome considering the tough position I was defending.
BP: Very cool. I’ll have to take a listen to that episode. Going a different direction, you’ve made a successful career in comedy, what has helped get you to this point?
TM: Fear of an office. They’re creepy. I mean you have to go into work for 8 hours a day, work with people you may or may not hate, get paid just enough to not quit, and beg for time off. A normal job offer shows you how much they will pay you to be forced to come in and work, and you will negotiate how much time you can take off from that job and do things you love doing. With comedy, you are told you’ll be paid nothing for probably the first three years, and you’ll have to fight to work. Most sane people look at this like it’s too risky, but I think it’s too risky to go to work everyday to a job I don’t like so that at 65 I can start doing things I love. I love comedy, and that passion is what has helped me get to this point. Oh, and uhh the love and support of my wife of course.
BP: And what does she think of your comedy career?
TM: You know, I met her when I was already a comedian, so she knew what she was getting into. My end of the deal is that when I’m at home I spend time with her, and make sure she knows I care; you know, the little things. She’s incredibly supportive, but I have to be showing her that I am working at it. If I’m not working to push myself, she knows, and she busts her ass at work all day, so the least I can do is bust my ass to be the best I can be. That’s our agreement, and it works.
BP: Very cool. What are some rewards, other than the fame and millions of dollars, which keep you excited about comedy?
TM: When you get on stage, people are trusting you with their time. They want to escape from the dullness of daily life. Making people laugh is powerful. It can make a person’s day, and that’s pretty awesome. One example which really sticks out in my head was from a show a while back where a couple had their first night out since their son died. They came up to me after the show, and just thanked me for making them laugh for the first time in a long time. That’s powerful. We sometimes forget as comedians how powerful this art-form can be. You don’t forget moments like that.
BP: Is that what motivates you to keep getting better?
TM: I have a huge respect for my audience. They’ve paid good money for me to make them laugh. That’s a responsibility, but it’s also a privilege. When I go on stage I want people to feel like they’ve received their money’s worth. I also want to keep striving for the top. Until I find an audience. That’s all a comedian needs: a group of people who follow them. If you have an audience, you can make a living doing this. Making a living doing this will allow me at the end of my life to be proud of the body of work which I’ve created. Creating something is a beautiful process. I’ve found that creative process through comedy, and having an audience allows me to create my art.
BP: What do you think my chances are with the two hotties who just walked in?
TM: I think they should be your motivation to be a better man.
BP: Noted. Back to work I guess.
Big Thanks to Trent McLellan for chatting with me. I had a lot of fun picking his brain, and learned a little too. If you have a chance to see Trent, go see a show. We all know you want to hang in the presence of a black Newfoundlander comedian.
If you liked this article, check out my recent interview with Trent’s good friend, Chris Gordon.