A pearl in a sea of television comedies, Canada’s longest-running comedy series, the Halifax-shot This Hour Has 22 Minutes, has returned for its 30th season. Marking the milestone, the weekly current affairs satire will present a retrospective episode on October 11.
When you’re from Newfoundland and the East Coast in general, you don’t take yourself too seriously, and you sure as hell don’t take anyone else too seriously. – Trent McClellan
The Newfoundland transplant, now living on the prairies, McClellan officially joined the show in its 25th season after serving as a guest writer and performer.
“Each time I came back to write, they put me on camera,” says McClellan. “They would give me a microphone and send me along Spring Garden Road to talk to people, whether it be about snow clearing or something else. It seemed to go really well.”
Thinking that it would perhaps lead to a permanent writing gig for the show, little did he know they would instead want him to join the cast. The significance of landing a job at what has become a Canadian institution is not lost on McClellan.
“I often compare being on 22 Minutes to being an astronaut,” says McClellan. “In a lifetime, there are only so many astronauts. So when you get to be part of this special show, you’re in some pretty rarefied air.”
McClellan joins a long list of Newfoundland comedians who have established their careers on the show, including 22 Minute OGs Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, and Mary Walsh.
“Because Newfoundland is such a small place and so isolated, to see the original cast have that big of an impact on the national scene meant a lot to us as a province,” says McClellan.
McClellan attributes the storytelling culture and the use of humour to help get through tough times on ‘The Rock’ as a breeding ground for comedians such as himself.
“When you’re from Newfoundland and the East Coast in general, you don’t take yourself too seriously, and you sure as hell don’t take anyone else too seriously,” he says.
With everyone a potential target, it is a formula McClellan believes “lends itself to good satire and high-quality comedy.”
The irony for comedians like McClellan, though, was Newfoundland’s lack of opportunities for stand-up, leading to a move to Calgary in 2003.
“You had shows that came through now and then, but there wasn’t a comedy club or stand-up lane per se,” he says. “So when I moved to Alberta, I thought, what a great time to do it. You move to a new city where nobody knows you, and you go up on stage and roll the dice. And when I did, it changed my life. I was all in.”
That “all in” attitude would eventually lead McClellan to 22 Minutes. And while making it onto the show was not necessarily aspirational, it was an idea that was always in the back of his mind.
“I don’t know if I was so confident that I knew I was going to be there, but I always had it on the radar,” he says. “The longer you are in the comedy community the more you start to know people who work on the show. So as I began to get a little peak inside the sausage, I thought it would be the most amazing job in the world.”
Now five years into his starring role, McClellan says while there have been many memorable moments during that time, it was walking onto the 22 Minutes set for the first time in Halifax that remains with him.
“It was surreal,” he says. “I had one of those moments where you step outside yourself, and all I could think about was that I had to reel myself back in.”
Being part of such a lasting institution isn’t lost on McClellan, who says the 22 Minutes’ secret sauce comes from its ability to stay current and relevant.
“We’re always trying to stay on top of whatever is going on,” he says. “And there is this whole contingent of viewers who tune in just to see how we are going to handle a major news story that week.”
In addition to his work on 22 Minutes and his stand-up, McClellan is also the host of The Generators Podcast, which has previously included such guests as David Suzuki, Ron McClean and the late Bob Saget.
“I’ve been very fortunate, and I just enjoy having good conversations with intelligent people,” he says. “It was hard to juggle the show, stand-up tour dates, writing and the podcast. So I took a little break for a while but it’s gonna be coming back real soon.”