This Hour Has 22 Minutes newest star Trent McClellan comes home on tour

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One of the most popular sketches in This Hour Has 22 Minutes this season revolved around a so-called pot sobriety test.

The sketch went viral this year on YouTube and the CBC website.

It had Mark Critch playing an RCMP officer who happens upon a car filled with smoke and a pot-addled couple played by Trent McClellan and Susan Kent. The officer administers various tests to measure how easily they get the giggles and whether or not they were suffering from marijuana-induced “munchies.”

It was shot in a quiet neighbourhood in Halifax. Critch was dressed in a full police uniform. A dry-ice machine was in the back of the car so that smoke would billow out the windows when opened. Meanwhile, the baldheaded McClellan was fitted with an unruly, frizzy-haired wig.

“In between takes, I looked out the window and there was a real police officer in the intersection directing traffic for us,” says the Calgary-based comedian. “Mark is impersonating a police officer and we’re playing these two stoners. I thought ‘This is such a surreal situation.’ We’re getting paid to do this? He’s just looking over at us laughing.”

It was one of many surreal moments for McClellan, who joined the cast of the venerable CBC comedy show for its 2017/2018 season. For six months, he chased the news for comedic fodder, performed in sketches and generally lived the hectic life of a prime-time player starring in a topical, fast-paced TV series. This Hour Has 22 Minutes has been renewed for another season, but McClellan doesn’t know yet if his contract will be picked up. He will likely find out in a couple of weeks.

If it is, he said he would like to see his unruly coiffed pothead become a regular character.

“I think it would be really cool to bring those characters back, especially as pot gets legalized in July,” says McClellan. “It would be cool to have these two wandering through life in different situations.”

It is the type of humour that McClellan has specialized in on the standup circuit for the past 15 years. While This Hour has 22 Minutes often has a political bent, McClellan’s standup has always focused more on the absurdity of everyday life.

Born in Corner Brook, Nfld., in 1972, McClellan became a comedy convert as a teenager watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. But Newfoundland was not exactly a hotbed for comedy at the time. He didn’t try standup until arriving in Calgary in 2004. His first time at the mic was at the old Yuk Yuk’s at Hotel Blackfoot (now The Laugh Shop) on a Tuesday night, which was set aside for amateur comedians.

“I figured I’m only a few months into a new city, no one knows who I am and if I go up and die a horrible death it would be of no consequence,” he says with a laugh. “Luckily it went well. I was hooked after that. I often wonder what would have happened if my first set hadn’t gone well. Would I have had the courage to go back? I don’t know. But I got lucky and got laughs on my first set.”

He has been getting them ever since. He soon began booking gigs at comedy festivals in Winnipeg and Halifax and Montreal’s Just for Laughs and opening for comedians such as Gerry Dee and Bob Saget. Now, thanks in part to his profile-boosting stint on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, McClellan has graduated to soft-seat theatres. His Stand Up and Sit tour includes a hometown show on May 30 at the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University. A lifelong soccer fanatic and former university player, he’s also playing a side gig May 26 at the Foothills Soccer Club’s Legacy Night Fundraiser at Spruce Meadows.

McClellan’s early comedy often revolved around his square-peg early years in Newfoundland. The son of a travelling African-American musician father and white Newfoundlander mother, McClellan was one of the few people of colour in Corner Brook.

“When that’s your situation, you get used to being the centre of attention whether you want to be the centre of attention or not,” he says. “For most people, getting stared at all the time makes them uncomfortable but I got pretty comfortable with it pretty early in life. When you walk in the room, heads are turning. As a kid, all you want to do is fit. But after a while, you realize that your path is going to be a little different than everybody else’s. So I had to learn to embrace that pretty early. That theme, especially in my early standup, came into my act quite a bit.”

As his comedy evolved, it began to include more of the people he met in Alberta. One of his more popular routines involves the confused attempts of a jovial and inebriated “oil rig guy” to pass along a joke he wants McClellan to use in his act. During his tours of Alberta, McClellan would often come across people and situations like this.

“I think it was in Fort McMurray the first time I did it in front of an audience and it was dead quiet for the first 10 seconds after the bit,” he says. “And I thought ‘Oh no, I’m going to get beat up after the show.’ Then one person laughed and there was this big wave. It was like ‘OK, we get it.’ I’ve had a lot of folks come up and say ‘I know that guy’ or ‘that’s my brother.’ There’s an element of truth in that and those are my favourite ones.”

Audiences can expect McClellan to continue riffing on the every day with his standup act on this new tour. He says his job is “to notice things that you probably deal with on a daily basis but it’s probably the first time you’ve heard someone say it out loud.”

“My wife will come home and say ‘What did you do today?’ ” says McClellan. “I say ‘Well, I watched a spider for like 30 minutes.’ She’s just shaking her head. But, I’m like ‘Hey, that joke might pay for the mortgage some day, so don’t go knocking my spider observations. That could be a new car in two months time.’ Ideas are valuable. They have tangible currency. Yeah, my first job is to notice things and after that, it’s looking at it through a comedic lens.”

Trent McClellan plays the Bella Concert Hall on Wednesday, May 30 at 8 p.m. The show is for those 18 and over. Visit The podcast The Generators with Trent McClellan is available on iTunes.

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