The veteran stand-up worries it’s dividing Americans into groups based on age and ethnicity.
“America has gotten very ageist in their comedy,” McGrew says. “When I work in London, everybody’s welcome on stage. There’s an 80-year-old guy that’s still doing stand-up from years ago, and the kids love him.”
And while McGrew recalls the integrated comedy landscape of his youth, featuring TV hits like “Good Times” and “Sanford & Son,” those shows would get a different reaction today … if they made it on the air at all, McGrew says.
“It’s almost like we’re being trained here to be pockets of people. If you’re black, you should only laugh at a black act,” the Denver-based comic says.
The self-described “Hellbent Southern Gent” just wants to make us laugh. But holding right-of-center views makes that a bit harder these days.
It also did him few favors years ago.
McGrew recalls how HBO executives circled his stand-up act in the ’90s for a possible comedy special. It’s the kind of platform for both established talent and rising stars. The comic was hitting President Bill Clinton hard on stage back then for his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“I was very much against Bill Clinton. Not so much him but just the lies. ‘I did not have sex with that woman.’ Yes, you did. Just say, ‘My wife and I are having trouble, we’ll work it out.’” McGrew says. “When you start lying, and the perjury, that bothers me.”
That bit bothered HBO. Officials from the network “walked out” of one of his performances, he says.
“They told my agent they would not give me a platform for my hate speech,” he recalls. The “hate” of late, as McGrew sees it, is coming from the left.
“I think that’s why the Left is so angry. They see that they’re losing their grip,” he says, which explains why some so easily label conservatives “racists” and “homophobes.” “You don’t have to hide from the fact that you’re conservative [now].”
If you’re excited for the new #Ghostbusters movie. You’re part of what’s wrong with America
— Steve MUDFLAP McGrew (@stevemcgrew) May 20, 2016
McGrew hopes his audience doesn’t take the Texas native’s “Mudflap” moniker as a sign he works the Blue Collar Comedy circuit.
“People throw me into the country comedy thing, but I never considered myself a Foxworthy or Engvall,” he says.
He is unabashedly male, though, something he celebrates with his “Re-Masculate Podcast.” The comedy show finds McGrew embracing male virtues sans apology along with his observations on life, culture and politics.
McGrew started his career not with jokes but a pencil in hand. He left college two years early to created cartoons for a Houston newspaper, thanks to his friendship with “Tank McNamara” creator Bill Hinds.
“I used to hang out with him and watch him [work],” McGrew says. He even occasionally inked some of Hinds’ panels. He says Hinds recommended him for the newspaper’s cartoonist gig. Later, McGrew hung out with Hinds and some of his pals around the local comedy clubs.
“I got the bug,” he says. His first comedy club gig wasn’t memorable, but it was good enough.
“If I would have really sucked the first time I would have never done it again,” he says.
Good Morning. Drink your coffee and don’t be afraid to defend your values. They aren’t.
— Steve MUDFLAP McGrew (@stevemcgrew) May 18, 2016
McGrew incorporated his art into his routine. He brought a large sketch pad and easel on stage and drew the latest headlines. He later dropped the art shtick for more “relatable” routines, the kind that clicked with ’80s audiences.
“What if a cockroach was a gang member … it would go something like this,” he cracks.
Now, his act is much more personal … by design.
“I write what I know. No one can really take it from me,” he says. “It’s based on everything I see and do … my parents, ex-wives, kids.”
Along the way, McGrew transitioned from the comedy stage to a microphone. He initially resisted bringing his brand of humor to radio.
“I’d been offered a morning radio show in St. Louis. I said, ‘No, I’m a comic. That’s not what I’m striving for,’” he says.
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At the time, his career seemed on the verge of a national breakthrough. He sold a sitcom to Disney and crushed it at the Montreal Comedy Festival, a major event in humor circles. Then the sitcom deal died and he didn’t get the career boost he expected from the festival.
He’s not itching for a new radio gig now. He’s happy traveling with his act and sharing via his podcast. And, all the while, reflecting on what he learned back home in Texas.
“I was always raised that your word is all you have,” he says. That and the kindness you show to friends and strangers alike. He had the latter reinforced while opening for Dolly Parton.
“It was the greatest year of my life,” he says of the gig. He opened for the country superstar and sang “Hound Dog” as Elvis Presley during her set.
Dear people of earth. Words are specific. You can’t change them to feel better about your lack of education, exercise, or willpower. #truth
— Steve MUDFLAP McGrew (@stevemcgrew) May 10, 2016
Parton proved to be as kind as her reputation suggests. That didn’t escape McGrew’s attention. even if his peers proved otherwise growing up in Texas.
“I got into fights in high school. I had long hair and wore John Lennon glasses. I was the outcast and I knew I needed to leave,” he says. “I read and loved foreign films. I didn’t fit the mold.”
He’s not an outcast anymore. And, as a stand-up, it’s his job to notice what the rest of us miss.
“I love to analyze things … to watch things. It’s almost like being a detective, putting two and two together,” he says.