Tom Clark has learned to overcome tough crowds during a stand-up comedy career that has taken him to stages nationwide, as well as TV shows including “Conan,” “The Late Late Show,” and “Premium Blend” over the past 20 years. While the Milwaukee native always managed to make his classmates laugh while growing up in Catholic schools, he only decided that comedy was his calling while working with troubled and impoverished teens in Mexico.
“After I graduated from college, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, and I had considered the Peace Corps but didn’t want to do the two-year commitment,” recalls Clark. “Our parish priest gave me a pamphlet about a program in Ciudad Juarez that was a recreation program for ‘at-risk youth.’ I ended up working with hardcore gang members—cholos.
“They hated me at first and I can’t say I blamed them because the U.S. was polluting the border with their factories and paying horrible wages,” he continues. “I would sing classic rock songs or really hardcore Nirvana songs on guitar and they got a real kick out of it. That was my first taste of performing and making people laugh and I loved it, and their commitment to their lives has taught me to be totally committed onstage. When I got back to the U.S. six months later, I figured if I could entertain hardcore cholos, an audience of Midwestern folks would be a piece of cake. I took a comedy class in Milwaukee and the rest is history.”
Not Necessary to be Nasty or Crude
Clark is indeed trying to earn his place in comedy history with the impending release of his first stand-up special, “Outraged,” currently streaming on iTunes and Amazon and also available for purchase on iTunes. Taped at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood in May, the special finds Clark bringing his unstoppable physical energy and admittedly “goofball” perspective to topics including his life as a recently married man, to a ridiculous movie he’s pitching and improvised songs on guitar. He is currently playing shows across the country including a performance November 9th at the world-famous Ice House comedy club in Pasadena.
“My humor around my friends has always been rather silly and didn’t really rely on being dirty,” says Nichols. “I always made fun of myself. I think that having a self-deprecating sense of humor does come from my Catholic upbringing though. I definitely talk about growing up and my parents, but not so much about being Catholic. Although I’m sure that might come across in some of the stories I tell. Like how odd it is doing the Sign of Peace in church when we spend most of the mass ignoring each other until that moment.”
“One time when I was little we got to go on a tour of the Lincoln Memorial and during the tour told us how tall Lincoln was standing up,” he recalls. “Later on we went to a church and during the homily, the priest asked if we had any questions. I noticed there was a picture of Jesus sitting at the Last Supper and I asked the priest how tall He was standing up. That was probably the first big laugh I ever got and it was by accident.”
‘Outraged’ framed by its own faux-ness
Though the special is called “Outraged,” Clark refrains from being political in the special. He opted for the title as a humorous reflection of his seeing America as being a nation “right now where everyone is upset by everything.”
“I decided to do the standup special because it’s easy enough to do now on your own,” explains Clark. “I wanted to be in complete control of things and do things the way I wanted to do it. I used the smaller theater at El Portal. It’s only about 100 seats, which I love because it makes the show more personal and allows for more interaction and you’ll see that in the special.
“For example, a drunk guy got up in the middle of my show and walked across the stage, right past me, so he could go use the bathroom,” he continues. “I loved that moment because it’s really what standup comedians go through on a nightly basis. It’s never perfect. I think that’s why I’m really proud of this special because I left those awkward moments in and they end up being really funny moments that you just can’t plan.”
Clark’s wife is fellow comic Stephanie Clark, a rising star on the Los Angeles scene whom he credits for giving him a greater motivation in his career. His favorite current joke is, “My wife is a bartender, so we never argue. Instead, I just leave her bad Yelp reviews. So the review will be: Food was good … she could listen more.”
Not Easy, but it Keeps Getting Better
The couple writes, produces and co-stars in the YouTube web series “The Clarks,” about their life together. They also travel together to his frequent headlining gigs nationwide, a situation that marks a perfect fit for him because “she’s my biggest supporter and my biggest critic.”
“I think after 20 years you can become complacent, but I love what I’m doing now and I’m really motivated in my career,” says Clark. “I only see more opportunities on the horizon. I have a script I wrote called ‘Brew City’ about a struggling brewery in Milwaukee that’s been doing well in some script competitions. I really want to shoot the pilot. I think there’s not much middle-class, blue-collar comedies out there right now.”
Tom Clark’s special “Outraged” is currently streaming on iTunes, Amazon and other major platforms. You can visit www.tomclark.com for more information on upcoming shows.