Alumnus of the Month - Trent McClellan


TrentI’ve been extremely lucky to be honest and been able to do lots of cool things in comedy like the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, Winnipeg Comedy Festival, St.John’s Exit Realty Comedy Fest, the Moncton Hup Cap Comedy Festival, the Edmonton Comedy Festival, and YYC Calgary Comedy Festival. I recorded a comedy special for CTV and the Comedy Network a few years back that still airs on your television. I say I’ve been lucky because even though I’ve worked hard, so have other comedians. Any time you get booked anywhere it simply means the people doing the booking enjoy your stuff. It doesn’t mean you’re the greatest comedian in the universe it just means those bookers would like to have you coming to their festival, event, or show. Maybe the thing I’m proudest of was the time I spent on Canada Reads defending the incredible book February by Lisa Moore. It’s as nervous as I’ve ever been but was also an incredible sense of accomplishment when the book was chosen to be the winner. I was pretty serious on the show because I wanted to show people that comedians aren’t always what you think we are. Comedians are often deep thinkers and they question the world around them on a daily basis. We are not always “on.” Quite often that gear is reserved for our own shows and quite frankly makes us far more bearable.

Trent McClellan will be appearing at Memorial for one night only on Oct. 18 at the School of Music. Tickets can be purchased here.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your undergraduate degree?

I was a little lost out of high school to be honest. Many of my friends were attending Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in my hometown so I felt that’s what I should do. However I knew the St. John’s campus offered more academically and I had also been recruited earlier to play soccer with the Sea Hawks. I went with an open mind with the hope that I would find something that really interested me.

Do any particular memories stand out from your time here as an undergraduate student?

I remember living away from home for the first time was a huge change for me. The freedom I felt with my roommates in our little apartment made us feel like kings! We could eat ice cream for supper and no one was there to correct us! So we did! Life changed drastically in that moment. I also remember the social aspect of it and that time of trying to figure out life. I was still a kid but starting to realize that the world was so big and that there were so many people with different ways of thinking and experience out there. I also absolutely loved my time playing soccer for the Sea Hawks. I got to captain the team a few years and have a ton of great memories on and off the field. I got to visit other areas of Atlantic Canada and now have life long friendships that started as just being teammates.

What drew you to study history?

I loved the idea that all these events were just the product of people’s actions and belief systems. I see history as much more than wars and old buildings. It’s more of a timeline of human interaction and that was fascinating to me.

How does your study of history inform your work as a performer?

I think in history you learn to think critically. In high school I took every thing as fact. At Memorial I learned that these books I was reading were just someone’s opinion of events and that there were other opinions on these same events. I then learned that my opinion was as important if I did research. As a comedian I have to take so called facts and approach them in a critical way. I have to change the perspective to find the funny in it. Also, in both History and English there were a lot of papers and reading so I learned to appreciate words and their importance. I also had to present papers in front of my peers so there was definitely a performance aspect to that. There I learned to push through nervousness and accept adrenaline as fuel.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

No one cares more about your career than you. No one!

How did you go from history graduate to performer? How do you deal with the unpredictability of life as an artist?

I bounced around from job to job and always felt I had never found what my purpose was. I planned to move to Calgary to find work but looked up a comedy club there first. I wanted to try it at an open mic for the first time. I told no one. I performed and it was as if I was floating on a cloud. Everything in my life made sense in that moment. I just knew that I had found my thing. The laughter just energized me beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

I then worked two jobs and did stand-up part time. After three years I started a full time comedy career. It was terrifying! I now had to rely totally on my talent and hustle to make a living! I was learning the craft and the business as I was going. It speaks further to the “not seeing the full staircase, only the first step” analogy. I just knew this was what I was supposed to do and that if I kept working hard and smart I would find my way. I had and still have no idea what each year brings but I embrace it and enjoy the ride. I’m so happy I got on that stage all those years ago.

In 2013 you successfully defended Lisa Moore’s February on CBC Canada Reads. Can you comment on the importance of reading fiction in your life and why you choose to participate in that national discussion?

When I was approached about the show I thought this is way out of my comfort zone. I’m a comedian. I don’t analyse literature. Then I remembered my time at Memorial and the hours spent looking for themes and motifs etc. So I thought why not take this chance and push through the initial fear. I love the quote that I saw once “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” So I decided to keep that in mind going forward in my career and life. Lisa Moore could not have been more comforting in that she let me make the book mine. She trusted that I would represent the book in a genuine way true to my own life experience. It relieved a lot of pressure although I still felt a great deal of responsibility defending her work in front of the world. Honestly, to this day February winning Canada Reads is the proudest moment of my career. It was extremely emotional for me. I think it holds that place because that journey started with me leaving my comfort zone, working hard, dusting off my old university skills, and trusting my instincts all to help promote someone else’s incredible work. Perfect!!

What has your biggest professional challenge been to date?

I think there’s a big misperception about a career in stand-up. People think we sit around all day, work for an hour, and everything is great. The amount of hustle and sacrifice needed to make it in this business is colossal. You have to constantly create material, book shows, travel a ridiculous amount, be away from family and loved ones, all while trying to find some kind of balance in your personal and professional life. No two days are the same and you have to embrace the uncertainty and trust that you’ll figure it out. I’ve learned talent is not enough. Risk has to be a part of your daily diet no matter how uncomfortable that is at times. Hard work and above all persistence take you where you want to go.

In a perfect world, what initiative (building, service, cultural offering, etc.) would you add to Newfoundland and Labrador to make it a better place?

I think Newfoundland needs to really embrace its beauty and start injecting more efforts towards tourism. As a Newfoundland and Labradorian who travels quite a lot I hear people talk all the time about how beautiful our province is and what a great experience they had there. In traveling I also see how other cities and towns really highlight their natural beauty like a harbour for example. My hometown of Corner Brook should have the most bustling harbour district with shops, stores, pubs, etc. It should be a beehive of activity even if just in a seasonal capacity. It takes vision, risk, and an ultimate belief that the next steps will appear on the staircase. Any areas with water access should be promoted extensively. Most folks anywhere in the world want to have a costal experience. Our province should make it a business initiative. “Let Us Be Your Host On The Coast With The Most- Newfoundland & Labrador!”

In what ways has studying humanities/social sciences affected your world view? What do you say to those who question the value of an arts degree?

Again, I learned to think critically which I feel now is more important than ever. We are bombarded with so many news channels, pundits, inter-net news, social media claims, etc that we need to learn to dig to find facts and formulate our own opinions. My arts degree challenged me to not follow but to think for myself and I do it daily. It taught me that the world is not so black and white and that the true beauty and understanding is nestled in the gray.

What advice would you give a student who is unsure of what to study?

Take your time. This is your life! If you need to take time off to figure it out then do it. It will arrive when it arrives and then plunge in and work hard. You’ll have nerves but any new adventure makes you feel more alive than doing what you’ve always done. You will be challenged and that’s how you grow.

What’s your favorite place to visit?

I love Victoria,BC and San Diego. Being an island boy, Victoria offers a real quaint coastal beauty that I miss from home. San Diego has incredible weather and is just a city headed in the right direction.

What are you reading and listening to, looking at these days?

I’m reading a lot of Brene Brown right now who is a shame and vulnerability researcher. As a person and performer I feel like vulnerability is the greatest currency we can give one another. To take off you armour and be real with some one can be a rare find these days. Musically I’ve been listening to a lot of City and Colour. I love that guys voice and lyrics. Again, there’s a vulnerability there I really appreciate and connect with. “Little Hell” may be the best song ever written.

What are you most looking forward to within the next year?

I can’t wait to just risk more and see where it takes me. I’ve been exploring more opportunities in the US and that has never ending possibilities. I’m also leaning to enjoy “now” more and not be so concerned about where I’m headed. Every day breathing and laughing is a great day in my mind.