Fancy Ray “The Best Lookin’ Man in Comedy” McCloney is, let’s say, an acquired taste. Not so much his chuckalicious assortment of television commercials, the most recent being a spot for Hy’s Pawn & Jewelry where he literally tries to sell you the kitchen sink, the most famous being his hysterical send-off of Prince for Nicollet Village Video (now Filmzilla). No, folk pretty much warm to Fancy Ray the pitchman right off the bat.
It’s his stand-up. Yeah, if you didn’t know, that guy you see selling stuff on TV with all kinds of crazy charisma spends his time off-camera at the microphone in comedy clubs. And it can take some getting used to when a fellow drops the punch-line, “I am the best lookin’ man in comedy” — emphasis on the word “best” — at least a good half-dozen times a night.
But, get used to it one does. Whether or not he’s truly the most handsome funnyman in the business, he sure is a premiere performer.
Without resorting to the gratuitous vulgarity that’s come to virtually characterize Black stand-up, McCloney has earned an enviable track record on the strength of harder-to-come-by traits. Such as, oh, skill. You know, great material, pinpoint timing, that sort of thing.
The veteran ace’s career includes guest appearances on The Tonight Show, America’s Got Talent, Last Comic Standing, Entertainment Tonight and The Jenny Jones Show. In-concert performances include opening for Richard Pryor, Little Richard and Chris Rock.
For good measure, he starred in the film Junkyard Willie and has done television stints in England and, of all places, Sweden. For what he’s up to lately, check www.fancyray.com.
You’d think anyone so vastly accomplished, somebody who makes no bones about being sold on himself, would be a pain to interview — that you’d have to vie with him for his own attention.
Wrong. Paradoxically, Fancy Ray (FRM), in an off-the-cuff conversation, manages to be both arrogant and humble at the same time. He spoke at length with MSR, reflecting on his lineage, spirituality, craft and career.
MSR: What do you think of being referred to as the Little Richard of comedy?
FRM: I like it better than being called the Cicely Tyson of comedy. If folks see one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived in me, I’m honored. Richard was and is a huge influence. He’s my personal friend, and I love him. But, there is more to Fancy Ray.
MSR: Fancy Ray is your stage name.
FRM: No, that’s me. My name. Write a check to Fancy Ray McCloney and see if it doesn’t get cashed. Without any problem.
MSR: Okay. Still, one would hazard a guess your mother didn’t put that on the birth certificate. She didn’t tell the doctor “Fancy Ray.”
FRM: [It came from] my grandfather, the legendary, wonderful Fancy Wade. William M.L. Wade. He was a pro athlete from Omaha, Nebraska. He played [baseball] in the Negro Leagues, played pro basketball. A pro boxer, too. And wrestler. Total athlete. Sharp dresser, dapper man. A real ladies’ man. And was called “Fancy.” That’s how he got the name Fancy Wade.
In growing up, he was my father figure. Spent a lot of time with me, nurtured, taught me. Educated me about life. And Africa. He called himself African American long before anyone ever heard of the term, man. Proudly proclaimed his African roots.
He talked about [how] Irish Americans were proud of being from Ireland and [English] proud of being from England. [But] Black folks didn’t claim and hold on to their heritage. A lot of them tried to distance [them]selves.
He instilled information in me. The pride of being Black. He instilled knowledge on me, and really pushed the value of education. [And] he lit up a room.
MSR: Any more about Fancy Wade?
FRM: Yeah. When he died, in 1984, I got his music collection: Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Caruso. On a cassette tape was a guy I listened to with him, Little Richard. Listening to [that] changed my life. The first time [Little Richard] and I had a conversation, he said when he sees me he sees Reverend Ike. That’s what he said.
MSR: Alright. That segues. As well as killing at comedy, you aspire to the ministry and officiate at weddings. Talk about that.
FRM: Yes. I’ve been taking religious classes and [I’m] about to embark on ministerial training. Water rises to its own level. I’ve been on a spiritual journey for a long time. Always been a positive thinker. It’s not limited to Christianity. In fact, at the church I attend, Our Spiritual Center, you’ll find folks that are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu. All are welcome. It comes down to two tenets: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” and “Be you renewed by the renewing of your mind.” Amen.
MSR: You add no small portion of wit.
FRM: They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I say the journey of a thousand miles begins with picking out the right shoes. They say you reap what you sow. I say you reap what you know. What’s in your brain is what [you’ll] bring into reality. Change your thinking, you’ll change your existence. When you want something better, lift it up.
MSR: What’s the deal between you and Twin Cities newspaper gossip columnist Cheryl Johnson? She never misses a chance to run you down but gives you plenty play.
FRM: I don’t call her that name, thank you very much. I call her C.J. Well, you know, the truth is she has a huge, uncontrollable desire for me that she denies. The same way I feel toward my mirror, she feels about me —except I can touch my mirror.
It’s frustrating for her. Like that woman’s on a diet. She’s looking at that doggone banana-cream pie — wants some and can’t have it.
MSR: Okay, let’s wrap this up.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.