On the first of March, Jeremy McLellan, stand-up comedian and Education Coordinator for the Disabilities Board of Charleston County, took the stage as host of an open mic at Gala Desserts in Avondale. He wrapped up pretty much everything you need to know about him in a lovely few minutes of comedy when he shared a recent run-in with uneasy TSA agents over his business cards, which feature a grenade—“You know how terrorists usually carry business cards?”—and wove it into an experience about coaching an autistic Middle Eastern client for a trip through airport security.
There it was: absurdity, topical issues, his work with mental disabilities, and real life filtering into his act. For McLellan, a 30-year-old Charleston native and back-to-back/reigning champion of the Charleston Comedy Festival Stand-Up Competition, everything is fodder for his comedy.
And it’s working. He is three years into a life devoted to standup—he says his friends call him a comedy gym rat—and is poised for his biggest year yet. The TSA experience came during a trip to DC to open for Pussy Riot at the International Students for Liberty Conference. He performed for about 1,700 people—easily his largest audience to date—crushed it, and will likely parlay the positive response into more bookings. He’s set to perform extended sets for big crowds at Brew HaHa in June, and additional shows are stacking up. Jeremy McLellan Comedy, his Facebook page—52,450 likes as of this writing—is a brilliant and frequently updated showcase for his political humor. A recent post: “Bernie Sanders said the Republican candidates are all mentally ill. That’s insulting. How dare he imply that mentally ill people are dangerous.”
McLellan's work with the mentally disabled changed what he expects from crowds. A long time ago, he accepted that he couldn’t change his clients. He could simply help them live better lives. His career in standup is similar. “I’m not trying to control crowds. I have an agenda, but I’m not trying to push it. I have very little success in getting people who disagree with me to turn around.”
Before standup, McLellan had a head filled with chaotic witticisms and half-cooked vitriol on hot-button issues that he’d unload on partygoers and bar patrons.
Then standup gave shape to his thoughts.
“If I wasn’t a comedian,” he says, “I would be spending 2016 exhausting myself with angry Facebook posts and arguments in bars, then wondering why no one liked me.”
Words by Joseph Gartrell
Photo by Andrew Cebulka