Pat McGann may have entered the comedy scene later than most, but late is always better than never – especially since his stint Friday night on David Letterman has finally given him the widespread recognition he deserves.
Who is Pat McGann? I found out a couple months ago before his late night TV success, and my time has never been better spent. Comedian, father, friend, and businessman: McGann’s unstoppable.
Read on to see why you want to know about this comedic connoisseur.
It’s Sunday afternoon and Pat McGann is arguing with his pint-sized daughter Josephine, over the existence of Band-Aids. Sunk comfortably into the loveseat in his open living room, he shows a fervent Josephine the empty paper packaging. Just shy of two, Josephine’s whines and pouts evaporate almost instantaneously, and her attention shifts to the curtains on the wall.
It is moments like these that McGann has been treasuring because his touring schedule has included stops all over the country. Considering he flew back home just this morning after being away for three days, he’s pretty happy.
“I’m like in dad mode, which I love,” he says. The newest addition to the family, four-month-old Elliot, is sleeping in another room of the house, reflecting the cozy atmosphere of his charming home on the South Side of Chicago.
McGann takes advantage of his fatherly switch as he jumps head first into 2014. In addition to being the house MC at Chicago comedy club Zanie’s for the past three years, McGann’s electrifying sense of humor is in demand by corporate groups to club owners across America. He’s earned a spot opening for Rocky LaPorte this February. The upcoming sold-out Grand Rapids Laugh Fest in March? He’ll be there, too.
McGann’s video response about Chicago pizza was even featured on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (video below). Oh, and he hosted last year’s Chicago Emmy’s, so there’s that.
McGann’s growing popularity can be attributed not only to his welcoming personality but his method, which involves personal experiences and day-to-day observations. “That’s the way you can be most original,” McGann advises. “No one’s gonna steal my material ‘cause they’d have to take my whole identity.”
You probably wouldn’t blame anyone for craving a day in McGann’s shoes, though: Appearances on the Chicago TV program “Windy City Live” paired with his Emmy-nominated show “The Chicago Stand-Up Project” on WTTW, prove he can promote both himself and aid others interested in the comedy scene. While trying to get “Stand-Up Project” off its current hiatus, McGann seems to have a sturdy grip on the balancing beam of business and family, with an emphasis on the latter at the moment.
“I missed the heck out of them,” he sighs, a smile shooting through his fatigue.
“You need to come to L.A.!” Cameron Esposito begs McGann after her headlining show at Zanie’s. Esposito, a Chicago native herself who’s been featured on Chelsea Lately, wasn’t shy about her enthusiasm, telling the crowd before her set, “He’s amazing!” And she makes a point: McGann’s time on stage was the shortest of all the feature acts and Esposito’s, yet he was the only one whose every line got a howl from the crowded, cozy audience.
Stepping into Zanie’s feels more like entering a friend’s apartment than a comedy club, if that friend provided quality table service and live entertainment. Sipping on hot tea as the bitter Midwest wind blows outside, you can forget you’re not on your couch watching stand-up videos online. A seat in the back of a filled venue usually isn’t favored, but Zanie’s offers a unique experience from any part of the room. The hundreds of autographed photos from the club’s alumni, including Jay Leno and SNL’s Vanessa Bayer, hang corner to corner on every inch of the walls.
Combined with clippings from magazines and a banner celebrating Zanie’s 35th anniversary, the room is like a proud mother who plasters her child’s best work on the refrigerator.
The dimmed lights make way for McGann’s hosting to begin, and not a pair of eyes look anywhere but the stage once he begins to deliver a series of laughs. A black sweater and blue jeans aren’t anything special, but McGann is far from ordinary on stage. Sharp responses to audience participation, such as calling out the woman on my right for yelling “Manhattan!” when asked where people were visiting from, are seamless and unmatched to the rest of the lineup.
This was the guy who six years prior was working a secure paper sales job. Picture Jim Halpert’s multiple fake deaths from boredom on “The Office” – and you wouldn’t be far off, McGann recalls. Though grateful for travelling to cities such as Vegas and Hong Kong, he didn’t enjoy being the middle man. It was around his transitional period from salesman to comedian that McGann met his wife Sarah at an annual St. Patrick’s Day bar party on the Northside in 2007.
“Remember that night, Sar?” he asks loud enough so she can hear in the next room.
“Barely,” she jokes. McGann says she was the one who really encouraged him to go after his dream of comedy – one he now lives each day. Andy Woodhull, fellow comedian who’s known McGann for over four years, points to McGann’s charisma for his great relationships and booming career.
“You feel like you’re friends with him and while he’s on stage, everyone is in on the joke,” Woodhull says. “It’s like he’s hosting a weird party that is super fun, but for some reason no one else is allowed to talk.”
As strange as that sounds, Woodhull is spot on. Tonight, McGann was steering the crowd toward a night full of memories and bold statements. He ends his opening bit after an unexpected lull hits when announcing he and his wife recently had their second child, acknowledging it’s not as big of a deal as when you have your first.
“That’s okay, we don’t really care either,” he quips nonchalantly.
Finding a voice early on wasn’t much of a challenge for McGann, whose entire life in the Southside of Chicago included the signature close family bonds and Catholic schooling. “I think the Southside Irish thing is a bit overplayed,” he states, “but there is some truth to the fact that we are storytellers and bound by humor.” The humor McGann possesses is three-dimensional, ranging from not-so-subtle dirty innuendos to polished jokes. Such a spectrum can be difficult to nail, but taking part in nearly every sport offered in school had a larger takeaway than a three-point shot. “I’ve always been very social, like a common denominator between groups of friends,” McGann says. Bringing friends together since youth was his forte, which now works in his favor each time he jumps on stage.
Yet long before stand-up came into the picture, McGann had to tackle the reality of leaving behind his beloved high school experience for a new home at the University of Dayton. He ended up loving college just as much, warming up to the idea of an open future but not so much the curriculum. Flipping between pre-law to history to teaching, McGann just wasn’t feeling it. He stuck it out for his history degree, unsure of the next step. People envisioned him as a salesman, landing him a short stint peddling tires for his uncle. Soon he was moving up the ladder to a more custom product version of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. Seven loyal years felt like enough, switching gears for a humble start in the comedy scene.
Successfully roasting Rosemont mayor Bradley Stephens this past July proves the quick wit was always there. The true obstacle was overcoming stage fright and writing quality material for open mics — that took preparation and a handful of self-confidence when entering the playing field.
“I was terrified,” McGann admits. He had never set foot on a stage previously, so it was a feat to be in front a crowd while the light blinded him from seeing any faces, he recalls. The hoard of comics on an open mic night, McGann says, can be “brutal and unwatchable” — almost as tough as actually making a living as a professional class clown. “To get from starting comedy to full time… it’s long and painful,” he states. Though his journey may have had speed bumps, it’s become clear that McGann likes a challenge.
“He refuses to be intimidated by anything,” his colleague Jim Flannigan says. “His brain works a little differently from everyone else’s.”
Zanie’s in Rosemont Vice President Cyndi Nelson stresses how crucial it is for a club MC to continually keep the crowd entertained, in order for the night to be a success. It isn’t easy, yet McGann does it with ease. Not to mention his warm personality, she adds.
“You can be great onstage but if you’re a jerk offstage, you’re not going to go very far,” she says. “Pat’s extremely likeable offstage in addition to onstage, which means volumes for him.”
Nestled back in the living room, McGann underlines the importance of throwing a bone when you spot any kind of opportunity to meet people. “You never know where somebody is going to end up,” he says. “Always network and be nice.” Pretty good advice from someone who has Val Walner and Ryan Chiaverini on speed dial.
To pack up and leave the Windy City could be part of the future, though not without a plan. A desire for stardom could simply be a pipe dream if pleasure isn’t balanced with knowledge of the business side of the comedy world. This is something McGann has come to understand as he continues to catapult to the top.
“If I were to move to L.A. or New York, it’d be like hitting reset,” he says. “I think I would have to have an opportunity bring me to one of those cities.”
When pressed for a specific definition of what would determine success through his own eyes, he grins and answers without missing a beat, “Letterman is my dream.”
And now he’s reaping the benefits of dedication and a positive mentality.
One milestone down, countless to go.
For more about Pat, visit his website www.patmcganncomedy.com.