The world of standup comedy is usually entered by people barely over drinking age, eager to reach fame and fortune by making people laugh. But Pat McGann took a different path.
The forty-six-year-old Chicago native spent his twenties working as a packaging salesman, selling things like custom-printed bags. It wasn’t until he was thirty-one that he answered a long-harbored yearning to take the stage, and the bold leap has paid off.
McGann performed on David Letterman’s show, as well as for Stephen Colbert, in addition to acclaimed appearances at the world’s biggest comedy fest, Just For Laughs in Montreal. He now headlines clubs across the country, but he’s making another big leap on April 22 when the hometown favorite stars in two shows at the 3,600-seat Chicago Theatre.
“This is definitely a big leap for me. It’s monumental,” says McGann. “I have a theater run I’m announcing next week, I’m going to be doing smaller theaters and performing art centers around the country, but none of them are 3,600 seats. So this is huge for me and kind of surreal.”
McGann grew up as the youngest child of three in a large, boisterous family that loved to laugh. He recalls his parents going to New York City to see comics at the biggest clubs in the world, and his mother fanatically watching the late-night shows for their standup performers.
He long had a hobby of writing jokes and funny ideas in journals, but wondered what to do with them “because it was a lot harder to find places in Chicago to publish funny stuff than to find stage time.” He parlayed a strong first attempt at the now-shuttered Chicago Center for the Performing Arts into a strong business performing shows at Catholic parishes throughout the city and suburbs, which he notes was key for developing his enormous fan base in the city.
He became house MC at Zanies six nights a week, for up to nine months at a time, which taught him how to find comedy gold playing off audience members. It was also where he met rising superstar Sebastian Maniscalco, who took him on tour as his opening act.
His greatest breakthrough came when he fulfilled a lifelong dream of performing on the Letterman show, which he recalls as “the most validating experience of my life.” As a history buff, he was stunned to be performing on the same stage the Beatles had played on when they made their American TV debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“When I get to do something, I like to soak it in,” he says. “Then I got to do it a second time and that made it even better, because I got to appreciate it even more and really lean into the moment. It helps legitimize you and make you feel like you should keep going.”
Now the father of three young kids of his own, McGann jokes a lot about being a father as well as everyday annoyances and odd situations. While he’s often away on the road, he’s also grateful for the ample free time his career affords him to be a dad between his weekend gigs.
“You’re never too old to follow your passion and spend time on things that give you fulfillment,” says McGann. “Mine happens to be one where I’m making a living off it. I definitely think you have to listen to yourself, let that inner voice speak, have some confidence in your instincts because I thought like a comedian even before I became one. Just trust yourself sometimes.”
Pat McGann performs at the Chicago Theatre, 175 North State, Saturday, April 22 at 7pm, with a few remaining tickets at $178.50 and $303.50. He performs at 10pm for $29.75-$39.75. Visit ticketmaster.com.