Tom Clark has learned to overcome tough crowds during a standup 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 Corp, 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 US 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 US six months later, I figured if I could entertain hard core cholos, an audience of Midwestern folks would be a piece of cake. I took a comedy class in Milwaukee and the rest is history.”
Clark is indeed trying to earn his place in comedy history with the impending release of his first standup special, “Outraged.” He is currently playing shows across the country, building anticipation for the special with a string of shows that includes a performance tonight, Nov. 9, at the Ice House comedy club in Pasadena.
The special will stream on ITunes and Amazon starting Dec. 8, but will be available for pre-purchase on iTunes starting Nov. 15. 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.
Though the special is called “Outraged,” diehard Democrat 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.”
The couple writes, produces and costars 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 many middle class, blue collar comedies out there right now.”
Tom Clark will perform as part of the “Stand-up All-Stars College Night!” show at 8 p.m. tonight at the Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $15. Call (626) 577-1894 or visit icehousecomedy.com.