In the overpopulated and often uninspiring world of stand-up comedy, Anthony Clark distinguishes himself from the comic masses.
With infectious enthusiasm, an engaging Southern accent and boyish charm, Clark effortlessly develops an amiable rapport with his audience as soon as he takes the stage. Clark sometimes even laughs at his own jokes, apologizing profusely and easily winning the forgiveness of the crowd.
Clark cannot help but laugh as he shares with his audience "a good way to freak somebody out" in a suburban laundromat. Sprinkling soda water on his face to simulate nervous perspiration and biting his nails viciously, Clark asks, "How are you guys at getting blood out of things? No, I mean a lot of blood. I can get it off the wall and all..."
The audience laughs uproariously, Clark smiles and buries his head in his hands. Early in his act Clark closes the distance between entertainer and entertained.
Hailing from Lynchburg, Virginia, Clark now spends five to six months of the year in Boston, where he has built a tremendous following through numerous regular appearances at local comedy clubs. He divides the rest of his time between highly successful tours of college campuses and his promising acting career.
Clark began showcasing his comedic talents while studying acting at Boston's Emerson College, alma mater of fellow comedians Steven Wright and Jay Leno.
After graduating in 1986, Clark won the American Collegiate Talent Showcase and was named the best college comedian in America. The next year Clark reached the finals of another prestigious comedy competition, the WBCN/Stitches Comedy Riot.
These impressive achievements earned Clark his own show at the now-defunct comedy club Play It Again Sam's as well as headlining appearances at the major comedy clubs of Boston. Clark's success is particularly remarkable considering the number of aspiring stand up comics in the area.
"The Boston market is very competitive," he says, "but that's what makes it one of the best. When you can do it here, you're ready for New York and then Los Angeles."
Paul Barclay, owner of the Comedy Connection clubs, considers Clark one of the best and most likeable comics around.
"The kid's magic," says Barclay. "He's so personable and friendly. There's very few people who have the charisma of Tony doing what he's doing."
"Anthony gets a good response from the crowd," says Frank Ahearn, manager of the Comedy Connection at Faneuil Hall. "People like him. They take to him right away."
According to Ahearn, Clark is well-liked andrespected on the professional level as well.Unlike other standup comics, "Anthony doesn't havea bad attitude or big ego."
In addition to extensive club performances,Clark has also appeared on many cable comedyprograms, including Showtime specials and A&E'sAn Evening at the Improv. Perhaps the mostsignificant in terms of his current success andcareer direction have been his four appearances onMTV's Half-Hour Comedy Hour.
"MTV made me very recognizable," Clark says,"especially to college markets."
Though Clark maintains that "there's not amarket that I really don't appeal to," heacknowledges the importance of his collegefollowing.
"I find them willing to go out with you onmaterial that's pretty extreme. I think they'remuch more willing and open to new ideas."
Much of Anthony Clark's current comedic successcan be attributed to his universal accessibilityand simple, unoffensive nature of his material.
"Comedy comes from real life to me," Clarksays. "I see it every day. I can sit in a mall andwatch people for an hour and a half and laugh myass off because I think people are so funny."
Barclay also praises Clark's easygoing comicstyle. "There are comedians who lecture theaudience about what's right or wrong with ourworld, but Anthony takes a more relaxed look atlife and laughs at it. He's not cynical like a lotof comics. He's silly."
Clark brings humor to even the most mundanesituations, such as the process of selecting astate motto.
The state motto of Oklahoma, I swear to God,they print it right on their license plates, is'Oklahoma is OK.' You gotta wonder what theirchoices were to come up with this piece ofshit....
"We got our five final choices for Oklahomastate license plate. Billy Bob, you wanna read 'emoff?"
A. Oklahoma is OK.
B. Oklahoma. The circus has been heretwice.
C. Oklahoma. Some people say we don'tsuck.
D. Oklahoma. Trees are made of wood.
E. Oklahoma, Oklahoma. There, I said ittwice."
Clark also derives comedic material fromobservations of political and social situations inthe news.
He delivers a unique twist on the placement ofa five million dollar pricetag on the head ofSalmon Rushdie, author of The SatanicVerses.
In America, we have this thing calledfreedom of speech. You can say what you want, whenyou want, as loud as you want.
It's a great thing, you know, but then yougotta think, FIVE MILLION DOLLARS.
I'd hit my grandmother over the head with aweedwhacker for five million dollars!
"I try to say something in my comedy," Clarkasserts. "I don't only try to make people laugh, Itry to have a message in some way."
Troubled by the destructive nature of theracism, sexism, and homophobia prevalent in modernsociety, Clark tries to "stress love and nothate--that everybody, when they're cut, bleedsred." Thus Clark never attacks any particulargroups in society but instead focuses on themesand experiences common to everyone.
"I don't think he turns off any part of thepopulation," says Barclay. "There's nothing abouthim that's offensive."
Though Anthony Clark is presently best knownfor standup comedy, he has found success indramatic roles on both stage and screen.
Clark performed in the Broadway play TheGrapes of Warth, which received the 1991 TonyAward for best play on Broadway. His comedic andacting abilities impressed NBC enough to earn hima role in the pilot "Social Studies," thoughultimately the series did not get picked up.Recently Clark was offered another television rolein a local pilot to be filmed here in Boston.However, despite the success that comedians suchas Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Lewis have found inthe sitcom genre, Clark does not really see muchtelevision in his future.
"I think I just want to see what's going tohappen with film and stage. I would love to doanother stage production in New York, evenoff-Broadway, just to get back into the theatersetting."
Clark's break into film came last year with asupporting role in the critically acclaimed butcommercially disappointing Dogfight.Directed by Nancy Savoca, whose directorial debutTrue Love won top honors at the 1989 U.S.Film Festival, Dogfight stars River Phoenixand Lili Taylor in a story of a most cruel datinggame.
Clark portrays Buele, one of four inseparableMarine buddies engaging in drunken comradery ontheir last night before shipping out overseas.Though his accent and humor still come through inhis role as Buele, acting in Dogfightprovided Clark with an exciting new medium for histalents and a welcome change from the comedy clubstage.
His role in Dogfight also enabled Clarkto learn from his highly successful costar, RiverPhoenix.
"His whole demeanor and his whole attitude areso positive and so giving," Clark comments. "Ijust learned from him that you just have to makeit as real as possible at the moment."
For Clark, "acting is all a feeling in theheart. It's believing that you are theperson you're portraying, for a little while."
Though Clark appreciates the significant roleof standup comedy in establishing his career, headmits that acting is his true passion.
"I love acting--that's what I studied, it'swhat I want to do. That's eventually where I wantmy career to go--more stage and more film."
But don't expect Anthony Clark to merely movehis comedy routine from club stage to screen.
"I do comedy all the time so I like to try andstretch my abilities and do serious stuff.
"I'm sure there will be comedy roles in myfuture, in acting in one way or another, becausecomedy does seem to be a natural source in mylife. I have no objections to doing comedy, butI'd rather, right now, do more serious roles."
Barclay, who's seen many young comic talentscome and go, predicts a bright future for AnthonyClark in whatever medium he decides to pursue.
"Anthony has a better chance because he makeshimself available to so many differentopportunities," Barclay explains.
"Without a doubt, he's going to be the next bigstar to come out of Boston."