“Who made God?” and other questions with Pat McGann

Pat McGann is a hit with audiences of all sizes, from his three kids who are ages six, five and four to sold-out arenas where he opens for Sebastian Maniscalco. On the Late Show with David Letterman, Pat got the audience roaring with laughter over his role as clothes-washer-in-chief, the dampening effect on his love life and other familial duties. It went so well that Letterman asked him back a second time. Appearances followed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Windy City Live, WGN, WCIU,  Gotham Comedy Live and at comedy festivals around the country. His album Sounds Good can be heard on Sirius/XM radio and Spotify.

Pat McGann

The Beverly native also created and hosted one of the most engaging, entertaining television shows of all time, The Chicago Stand-Up Project. Over two seasons, he convinced local celebrities like Val Warner and Jarett Payton that they could do stand-up – on stage at Zanies, no less – and helped them find and deliver the laughs in their most personal stories. (Note to TV execs everywhere: with reboots in vogue, this is the show to bring back.)

Next month, it’s Madison Square Garden where Pat will open for Sebastian Maniscalco for four sold-out shows. But no need to google air fares yet. Over this next week, Pat will be at his home club Zanies with shows in Chicago, Rosemont and St. Charles. You can usher in 2019 with him on New Year’s Eve at Zanies in Chicago where his quick, relatable, sometimes sarcastic, always hilarious comedy is guaranteed to get your year off to a very funny and happy start.

Pat kindly spoke with me about comedy, parenting in good times and in very hard times, Letterman, Colbert and Maniscalco, and what he’s looking forward to most in 2019.


Teme: How did your comedy career begin?

Pat: I started going to open mics in 2007 and got an opportunity to showcase for Zanies the following year. Then Zanies asked me to be a house MC.

Teme: What made comedy a good fit? What did you like about it?

Pat: I always liked to write, but I realized that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for comedy writing in Chicago, so I thought I would try stand-up.

Teme: Which part of your personality is most helpful as a comedian?

Pat: Growing up, everyone around me was pretty sarcastic and humor was always a big part of my life; especially trying to make my family and friends laugh.

Teme: Is there any aspect that’s not as helpful? For me, I don’t like public speaking, so that’s a problem.

Pat: That was definitely something I had to overcome. I did not enjoy getting up in front of a big group. Then there’s the self-criticism. I carry a lot of Catholic guilt, too, so sometimes I’m like, “I’m not going to say that!”

Teme: How did you get past it?

Pat: Just by doing it over and over. I’m no longer scared to get up in front of a group. I think that if you’re working in the arena of truth it’s easier to talk about anything.

Teme: The honesty is one of the things I love about comedy. You can count on comedians to tell the truth in a way you can’t with anybody else.

Pat: I feel like that’s the biggest shift in comedy since I started. It’s always been there, but more than ever it seems to be the only place where people really do tell the truth.


Teme: You are great with crowd work and hecklers. What is the key to thinking fast on your feet?

Pat: When we were growing up, my buddies and I were always trying to one up each other. You had to be quick with the comeback. I was always the smaller guy, so I also developed that sarcastic wit as a defense mechanism.

When I started doing MC work at Zanies, they wanted me to interact with the crowd. They wanted me to welcome people, find out who was celebrating and who was in from out of town. In the beginning, I was really scared because I just wanted to hide in my material. But I got so much stage time – fourteen shows a week – that I got really comfortable with crowd work. I enjoy it because it makes every show unique. It’s a lot of fun. I still try and sprinkle it in a little bit, but I don’t do it as much because I think that [writing] material is the way to keep growing.


Teme: There are so many TV reboots these days, The Conners, Murphy Brown, but the reboot I want most is The Chicago Stand-up Project. Is there any chance it could come back?

Pat: I would love to do it again. I was so new in the comedy world at the time. I really felt the show was getting better and better. I have not had any conversations about doing it again. It would be a lot of fun. Maybe down the road.

Teme: It is one of my favorite shows. I still have episodes on the DVR because I refuse to let go of them. What was your favorite thing that happened during the show?

Pat: Well, first, thank you. I felt connected to everyone I worked with and have stayed in touch with just about everyone. My favorite part was Shani Davis. I realized how misrepresented someone could be in the media. Shani was an Olympic speed skater and gold medalist. I had read articles about him and they were not at all how he was in real life. I keep that in mind now. When you hear people get slammed in the media, it’s not always true. And my wife is thrilled that I met [jewelry designer] Lana Bramlette who has become a great friend.


Teme: What is your advice to up-and-coming Chicago comics for building a successful career?

Pat: If you’re starting in Chicago, you’ve already got a head start because there are so many opportunities to get on stage. That’s really all you have to do. Write and get on stage. I don’t think there’s any other way. If there was a shortcut or a secret, we’d all be doing it. It’s always a battle when you’re putting out new stuff and finding what’s going to work. I still struggle with new material. You just have to get on stage and do it.

Teme: How do you work out your material? Do you still do open mics?

Pat:  Maybe not as much open mics, but I’ll do guest spots at Zanies and there are showcase rooms in the city that are really great, and they’ve been good to me. The whole scene is really welcoming. I think it’s one of the most interesting things about comedy. Comedy is competitive. There is jealousy. But more times than not, comics are supportive of other comics because we all know how tough it is.

Teme: I admire that about comics, too. Why do you think comedians are so supportive of each other when that’s not the case in other professions?

Pat: Because you’re putting your soul into it. It’s your name, your face. Comedy is just you. Any time you see someone go up you admire them because you know how hard it is. I love seeing someone going up for the first time. I will never forget those first times and how it felt … feeling nervous before you go up. Looking at the crowd. Any time you see someone doing that, you can’t be overly critical. I think that comics are critical of stealing material or of not being genuine. But beyond that, it’s the most supportive community.


Teme: I read how you and your wife were inspired to host Stand Up for Childhood Cancer by your son’s battle with leukemia. When he was sick, how did you stay funny and keep your sense of humor during such a hard time?

Pat: It was tough. At first, it was hard to do shows. At that time I was talking about everything going on in my life. Then very quickly, that became the only thing I was worried about in my life and it wasn’t easy to find jokes there. Actually, I did do some jokes about the experience, but never making light of the situation, obviously. And then I felt uncomfortable even doing that. But I think it also was an escape for me. Often when you go up on stage, you are just in that moment.

I don’t think I realized how much of an impact it had because you’ve got to have tunnel vision when you’re going through something like that. But now that we’re on the other side of it, he’s doing so great and we’re not going to a clinic three days a week, I feel like we are awake again.

Teme: What is your advice to anyone going through something difficult like that?

Pat: You know, I think it’s just inevitable. Eventually, you’re going to go through hardships. It stinks, but you just kind of grind through it. I’ve thought about how as you grow older more stuff is gonna happen. If it works for you, find a way to talk about it. Be in any environment that makes you feel great. Like I love walking into a comedy club. I love being around other comics. For me, that was therapeutic at times. Immediately [when something happens], it’s really hard. It’s very hard to do the first show after something like that. I was pissed off. I had some anger. I had sadness. After a time, I realized that I still needed to work and I still needed to get lost in something every now and then.


Teme: How did you and Sebastian Maniscalco start working together?

Pat: I met him when I was the house MC at Zanies. He was already drawing people to Zanies in Chicago, and then the next year he got even bigger. The following year, Zanies opened a new club in Rosemont, a much bigger venue, and he still sold it out.

He was always super nice to me. He gave me opportunities to open for him in the Midwest. Then he reached out again a couple years ago. I opened for one of his Showtime specials at the Harris Theater. He had been using comics in different cities, but then he asked if I wanted to be his opener. It’s been a great opportunity for me. It’s inspiring to watch him work and see how he is constantly developing material. You realize that the people at that level work so hard.

Teme: And you guys have shows coming up at Madison Square Garden in January?

Pat: Yes. He sold out four shows. Again, it’s one of those situations where I’m just lucky to be riding this wave with him in a real small way. He’s made me feel like a part of it. When we shot his Netflix special at Radio City, Robert De Niro was there and he invited me into the dressing room to meet him. It’s a great example of how he is as a person. He’s been very supportive. He mentioned me in his book, which was so nice.

Teme: What is it like to look ahead to Madison Square Garden?

Pat: I don’t want to downplay it because I’m going to be really hyped up and I can’t believe it either. I’ll believe it when I’m walking in there that night. The good thing is, we’ve already done a couple of arenas, so I’m not as concerned about the number of people. It is a little different because it’s in the round. He’s so physical, so it’s a different story for him, but I don’t move around as much. It’s a little bit of a challenge to fill that space, but I’ve gotten more comfortable. To be doing this … it’s just amazing. It’s going to be a blast.

THE BEST (and worst) SO FAR

Teme: What would you say are the best and worst stories of your career so far?

Pat:  I think the best will always be my first appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. He was always my guy growing up. I still can’t believe I got to do that show. I actually got to do it twice, and it was a real highlight.

I don’t know about the worst. The worst shows are the ones where you learn the most so you can’t discount them.

Teme: When you were on Letterman did you get a chance to talk to him?

Pat: A little bit afterwards. Not at length, which I hear is typical. It’s just his style. But he was genuine. I remember he complimented my suit. The second time I was there, he said, “Welcome back” and was really nice about it.

Teme: How about with Stephen Colbert?

Pat: By the time I was on that day, he had been doing the show for an hour and a half. Jon Stewart was on as a special unannounced guest. Sean Astin was a guest and there was an actor from The Walking Dead. Carol Burnett wasn’t on my episode, but they were pre-taping and it was a long interview. So it had been a long work day for him. But he came over and said, “Hey, that was a great set and I love saying ‘Zanies’ again.” He had plugged my upcoming appearance there and he said, “I miss being in Chicago. Love that Old Town neighborhood.” Again, another warm exchange. Genuine. But it was quick, and he had to go back to the desk and wrap up the show.


Teme: When you were on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert you talked about questions your kids ask. What questions are you getting now?

Pat: Now they’re asking me about God. “Who made God?” That’s a tough one.

Teme: I wonder about that, too!

Pat: Exactly. Nobody’s figured that one out yet.

Teme: As dad to three little kids, what is a typical day like and how do you fit in writing time?

Pat: I try to write when they’re at school. I don’t have set times. I should be a little bit more disciplined in that, but if I’m struck to write then I’ll write. I think about material constantly and I’ll jot it down in my phone. I seem to come up with a lot of things when I’m driving. You see the open road, you’re not in traffic, and your mind relaxes.

Our typical day is I wake up the kids and get them ready for school. I try to help out as much as I can because I’m gone so much. When I am home I try to make the lunches and get breakfast ready so my wife can get ready for work. Then I pick them up from school and we hang out. This time of year we’ll hunker down inside. We do homework. It’s amazing how first grade homework is difficult. They’re doing this Common Core and I’m lost on it. Never a dull moment. They’re still at the age where they need attention and want a snack every two minutes. It’s going full tilt until they go to bed.

Teme: I’m thinking especially on New Year’s Eve, people are going to need the best tips for getting kids to bed. What’s your advice?

Pat: I have a joke about that. I always say you have to lie to ’em. Say, “Big day! Gotta get some rest! You’ve got a big day tomorrow!”


Teme: What was the best thing about 2018?

Pat: My family went on a Disney cruise. My wife and I were both a little skeptical, but for kids it is truly a magical place. It was awesome. It was on the heels of a lot of [work] travel and we just had a great time.

Teme: What are you hoping for and looking forward to most in the next year?

Pat: I’d love to get a special out there. That’s my goal right now. I’m trying to put together an hour special that I would be proud of and excited to share.

Teme: I will definitely look forward to that!


Teme: What would you like people to know about your shows at Zanies over the next week and on New Year’s Eve?

Pat: They’re going to be a blast. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of the best times for comedy. People are in a great mood. They’re relaxed. A lot of people are taking time off and a lot of offices are chill. Teachers are off. People are using their last vacation days. It’s a great time and a great environment. And Zanies rocks. It’s going be a lot of fun.


Celebrate this holiday week and New Year’s Eve with Pat at Zanies:

Zanies in Chicago:

Thursday, December 27: 8:00 p.m.

Friday, December 28: 8:00 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.

Monday, December 31, New Year’s Eve: 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Zanies in Rosemont:

Saturday, December 29: 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Zanies in St. Charles:

Sunday, December 30: 7:00 p.m.

More about Pat at: patmcganncomedy.com.

You can hear Pat McGann’s album Sounds Good on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow links for The Chicago Stand-Up Project: Season 1 and Season 2

Stay up to date with Comedians Defying Gravity by typing your email address in the box and clicking the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam, spam, spam, spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Leave a Reply