Telling a joke — you know, like a really good joke — is hard enough as is. But to disarm a comedian of their favorite profane word or saucy premise is almost as bad as throwing them on stage without a mic. Unless you’re local product Jan McInnis that is, who shared the origins of her trademark “clean comedy” with the News-Press leading up to her show, the Baby Boomer Comedy Show, at George Mason University later this month.
McInnis was born with the funny bone, but wasn’t able to make a career out of it until later in her life. Though a class clown throughout school and a hopeful comedian after graduating from Virginia Tech, McInnis didn’t want to break the news to her parents that comedy was her ideal occupation.
So she worked marketing jobs in Washington, D.C. for about 15 years until an open mic night at the old Comedy Cafe gave her the confidence to pivot careers.
“I got hired after my first open mic,” McInnis said, adding that one of the open mic’s organizers tagged her to be a Master of Ceremonies for upcoming shows while allowing her to do comedy as well. “I ended up leaving my day job about two and a half years later, and because I was a marketing person, I had seen [comedians at] corporate events. So when I went into comedy clubs, I knew there was this other thing out there.”
The longtime comedian and novice performer went on to butter her bread in the convention center circuit, performing for corporate outings and retreats across the country. A commitment to clean comedy — which McInnis says lacks lewd, sexual or graphic remarks and punchlines — made her a solid bet for company shows that host a wide range of employees with varying sensibilities.
Keeping her routines clean has always been McInnis’ style. And she saunters through them in a way that her delivery is still potent and edgy, much like any of your other favored comedians. When referring to an old boyfriend’s teenage children in one bit, McInnis asks “What do you mean you won custody? If they were the prize in a lottery, no one would be buying tickets.”
But McInnis did have urges to intersperse some raunchiness into her early career comedy — especially since vulgarity and rawness in opinions is equated with truthfulness in comedy nowadays — until being redirected by a sponsor to stay her course.
“I used to work at a club in Virginia Beach and I did throw in cuss words one night, thinking, ‘I’m gonna spice it up a bit,’” McInnis continued. “The club owner came over to me afterward and said ‘You have a very strong act, you don’t need use cuss words,’ And I never did again. [Clean comedy] really makes you write, and really makes you sit there and say ‘What’s funny?’ If you want to write strong material that’s funny on paper as well as [on stage] you need to write it out with a strong punchline.”
With the fallout of sexual misconduct allegations all across the entertainment media — including notable comedian Louis C.K. — coming to fore and giving people second thought about the “exaggerated” contexts of their jokes, maybe a resurgence in clean comedy is on the rise.
McInnis didn’t feel comfortable making such a declaration, but if the success of her act is proof of anything, it’s that audiences still enjoy good humor that stays within the lines of (mostly) polite conversation.
The Baby Boomer Comedy Tour will be at George Mason University’s (4400 University Dr., Fairfax) Harris Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at tinyurl.com/BoomerShow.