Legendary comedian talks surviving, thriving for 36 years

Courtesy of Facebook/Fancy Ray McC Fancy Ray McCloney

Fancy Ray McCloney releases debut comedy album

Fancy Ray McCloney could sell the devil snowshoes and an overcoat. Or so you’d think. Comedian, television personality and product pitchman, not to mention self-proclaimed “Best Lookin’ Man In Comedy,” he has packaged a winning smile and giant, economy-size ego into one singularly successful career.

March 27 inaugurates Fancy Ray Day in the Twin Cities, celebrating 36 years of entertaining in his own inimitable fashion. The date also marks the release of his album debut titled—what else—“The Best Lookin’ Man In Comedy” (Stand-Up! Records) produced by Grammy Award-winner Dan Schlissel.

When McCloney blows his own horn, it’s as the old saying goes, “No brag, just fact.” Fancy Ray’s reach as an on-camera salesman is, to say the least, extensive, touching among other markets–San Jose, Phoenix, Memphis, St. Louis—and starring in a Super Bowl ad for Taco Bell.

His national television, stand-up appearances include “The Tonight Show,” “Last Comic Standing,” “Dick Clark’s Puttin’ on the Hits” and “America’s Got Talent.” He’s worked in concert with the likes of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and Little Richard.

Early on, he produced, directed and scripted “Get Down With It” (Minneapolis Telecommunications Network), hosting local luminaries, including late Twins’ slugger Kirby Puckett, activist Spike Moss and, when they swung through town, national names like Whoopi Goldberg, Bootsy Collins and Gloria Steinem. There’s more but you get the idea.

“The Best Lookin’ Man In Comedy” is classic Fancy Ray, talking tall trash and showcasing his trademark, over-the-top delivery. Refreshingly, characteristic of his live performance, it’s all good, clean family-friendly fare—no cussing or vulgarity. Just an uninterrupted foray into unabashed self-admiration.

Earlier this month, he sat down over brunch at a South Minneapolis eatery to chat with the MSR. “My first interview for this project, I’m glad to do with Spokesman-Recorder, for our community, which is my foundation. [Former publisher] Norma Jean Williams was the first person to put me in a newspaper. So, I’m truly honored,” said McCloney.

See an excerpt from the rest of our conversation below.

MSR: To cap off all your accomplishments, there’s a comedy album. As you would say, “My, my, my.”
FRM: It’s the best album of the decade, maybe the century. It’s a party record, mind of Redd Foxx, but at the same time you can feel that modern vibration. If you’ve enjoyed me over the years, get this record and get your laugh on.

MSR: What came first, the chicken or the egg, stand-up or commercials?
FRM: At First Avenue, in ’84, is when I first stepped on stage. Initially, I did lip-syncing, impersonating people like Little Richard, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and James Brown, which showed me I could make folks laugh.
So, around 1989, stand-up was a natural extension of that. I had influences: Rudy Ray Moore, Richard Pryor, George Carlin. But, I kept my own style [and] voice, my own ring, my own sting.

MSR: So many stars don’t manage their money. How do you hold down the business side of your success?
FRM: I get the client, [create] the commercials and hire a crew to edit it. Also, I place the ad. For both television and radio.

MSR: Who has the books?
FRM: The bookkeeper. My accountant.

MSR: What if she decides to run off to Aruba with your dollars?
FRM: I sign the checks. If she runs to Aruba, I’ll be steering the boat.

MSR: What was running for governor about?
FRM: In 1998, I ran against Jesse Ventura to articulate a message. One, that the whole election was a joke so why not have me, a professional comedian. Another, being serious, was to address concerns, because no one was talking for poor folks and Black folks. I took it upon myself to bring issues like affordable housing, and the education of kids in poverty.

MSR: How does it feel to have kept at it this long, not just surviving in the industry but prevailing. After all, the product you sell best is you.
FRM: It feels great. Absolutely. On top of the world. It don’t get no higher than this, man. When you see me on TV, hear me on the radio, this much is true. You know one thing–God’s winking at you. I’m trying to lift your vibration up. My whole thing is to put joy into the world. I’m trying to touch people’s lives and inspire them into a higher consciousness of love and beauty and self-realization.

MSR: God’s winking. Actually, you’re an ordained minister.
FRM: I have that honor. At the Center of Spiritual Living. In Minneapolis. I speak there on holidays and perform weddings and other services as well.

MSR: Anything you care to add?
FRM: I’m from North Minneapolis, raised there. I’m part of this community, have the love of the community. So, my whole thing is to touch lives with joy. No matter what I’m selling or what I’m saying, I want you to know there’s a power that loves you.

For more on Fancy Ray McCloney, visit www.fancyray.com. To order a copy of “The Best Lookin’ Man In Comedy,” visit bit.ly/BLMIComedy.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.