Radio personality Clint McElroy may be the “Funniest Man in Huntington,” but there’s much more to him than meets the eye.
By Rick Mayne
He may not be faster than a speeding bullet, but his wit is certainly quicker than one. He’s not more powerful than a locomotive, but he does have loads of jokes that poke fun at someone’s caboose. And while he cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound, he can bring a building full of people to their knees with laughter. Meet Clint McElroy, radio personality and comedic superhero that many say is the funniest man in Huntington.
But there’s so much more to McElroy than his ability to bring laughter to thousands of people in our region as the co-host of WTCR Radio’s morning show. He’s also an actor and director in local theater productions. He’s a writer, singer, comic book illustrator and adjunct professor in the Department of Theatre at Marshall University. Finally, there’s Clint McElroy: devoted family man. And that might be his greatest talent of all.
I first met Clint McElroy, or Mac as I like to call him, during my freshman year at Ironton High School in Mrs. Greene’s English class. The “new guy” in the back of the classroom was getting the girls to giggle as we slogged through the intricacies of The Cask of Amontillado. It’s not easy getting boffo laughs from an Edgar Allan Poe story about a man being entombed alive, but that’s Clint’s sense of humor in a nutshell. His quick wit was getting lots of laughs not only from the girls, but also from the boys and even the teacher. That was my introduction to Clint McElroy.
“Being funny helped break down barriers,” Clint says. “I feel like I have been around people with a sense of humor all my life. My dad, as a radio personality, was very funny and very influential. My mom has her own sense of humor, too. I remember Dad telling me the key to entertaining people, to capturing their attention, was to ‘read the room.’ Figure out what people want and, more importantly, how much they’ll put up with.”
Clint navigated nicely through his high school years, dabbling in the school’s drama club and nabbing two “Best Actor” awards his sophomore and junior years. He was elected senior class president — at least that’s what he claims.
“Nobody ever believes that story,” Clint laughs. “I have people who graduated with me who swear they don’t remember me being elected.”
More than just the class clown, Clint earned membership in the National Honor Society. His high school days also included his first foray into electronic media, on local cable TV with a show named Bright Side. I had the pleasure of working with Clint on this live production, which we taped in the Ironton High School physics lab. It was broadcast to six people, including our mothers. We’re still waiting for them to laugh.
The formative college years with Clint — first at Ohio University’s Ironton branch and then at Marshall University — were a real grab bag of opportunities to laugh a lot and observe my friend as he sopped up thousands of bits and pieces of the human experience. He would later translate those experiences into comedic characters, skits, parodies and — one of his most spectacular traits — spontaneous, improvised, physical humor. Jack Cirillo, Marshall University Theatre Department professor, has known Clint for more than 13 years and recalls that upon their initial meeting the two “connected instantly.” Cirillo found that Clint had an immediate “understanding of the entertainer.” He says Clint’s gift for improvisational comedy is the product of “sheer confidence,” not only in his own abilities, but also in his grasp of the comic genius of favorites like Mel Brooks, Lucille Ball, the Marx Brothers and Monty Python.
Clint’s “phosgene gas” routine in college is a prime example. His roommate, a pre-med student at Marshall named Lee Bryant, was reading about phosgene gas one night when Clint came up with one of his gags by pretending he had been exposed to the deadly toxin. It began with a reactionary stage cough, then tremors and finally an all-out convulsive fit. He later refined the bit by “palming” a piece of raw meat before raising both hands to his mouth and letting the prop fall to the floor as evidence of having spit up a vital organ. The routine became a college group favorite, repeated often with hilarious fits of laughter and more than a little nausea.
“I would have to say during my senior year at Marshall, I pretty much did nothing but laugh,” Clint says with a smile. “It would have to be the single funniest year of my life. I can remember sitting down to a pitiful little typewriter at 6:40 one evening to type a term paper that was due at 6:30 — 10 minutes earlier.”
In spite of comedic digressions that occasionally interfered with his course work, Clint did manage to balance his studies, his social life and his work — at campus radio station WMUL and at the news department of WKEE. He says he remembers discovering the outrageous humor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live during his college years — all lasting sources of comedic inspiration for him.
“Clint has studied and understands comedy,” Cirillo says. “He is very intelligent. In regards to comedy and acting, he is self-taught; he is one of the most creative people I know and is a great collaborator in theater production.”
Beau Smith, popular comic book writer of such titles as Wynona Earp, Parts Unknown and DC Comics’ Warrior, has collaborated with McElroy on several projects and says he will never forget how the two met.
“It was the mid 1970s, and I was at Marshall when I overheard some guys talking about Superman, Spiderman and other superheroes,” Beau recalls. “I interrupted them and said, ‘Hey, I heard you talking about comic books. Do you have some?’ This one guy with a head the size of Frankenstein paused for a moment and, in a semi-suspicious tone, said, ‘Yeah…I do. Do you like comics?’ We compared our backgrounds and interest in reading comics, and I was invited to the student union with Clint and his buddies. I later found out that this Clint McElroy guy was not only a comics collector, but pretty darn funny as well. He was like a Saturday Night Live skit, a Monty Python show and a Jonathan Winters sketch all rolled into one giant head.”
Clint’s courtship and marriage to his first wife Leslie rivals the storyline of Rob and Laura Petrie in the old Dick Van Dyke Show. Clint recalls one of their early encounters — although perhaps for the wrong reasons.
“I was trudging along the side of the road at Lawco Lake,” Clint says, “and Leslie came ripping around a blind curve in her mother’s humongous Lincoln Continental, barely missing me. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being road kill. But she did stop to give me a lift, and we somehow moved on from there.”
The two dated steadily over the next couple of years and were married in 1977. “I was a horrible boyfriend, but Leslie made me a good husband and a good dad to our boys,” Clint says. “She made me a better all-around man.”
Clint’s three sons, Justin, Travis and Griffin, learned a lot from their mother as well, and even a couple of life lessons from their old man. Justin recalls learning his dad’s philosophy on the importance of family at a young age.
“It’s funny — when we were growing up, as much as he loved performing, we used to ask him why he never went to a big city to pursue a career in TV or movies,” Justin says. “He always used to look at us with this real big smile and say, ‘I love my life, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.’ I think more than any lesson my dad ever taught me, that was the most inspiring message I ever got from him. I hope I’ve lived my whole life in such a way that I’d be able to say that to my kids someday.”
In the late 1970s, Clint and Leslie moved to Florida where Clint worked as a news and sports reporter for the top radio station in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market.
“He was so funny there,” says Clint’s older brother Dave, who lived near Clint and Leslie in Florida at the time. “One night we were at a restaurant with our brother Mark and our mom (Donna). Clint had us laughing so hard that we couldn’t eat. We actually had to move to a different table to get away from him and finish our meals. Sounds cruel, but it’s true. I’ve never known anyone with as much natural comedic talent in my life.”
Clint eventually returned to Huntington and teamed up with Steve Hayes, first at WKEE, then later at WRVC. The dynamic duo kept Huntingtonians in stitches throughout the 1980s and ’90s. It was during this period that Clint unveiled a veritable parade of on-air characters that spawned countless giggles and guffaws — both with finely tuned sketches and with joyrides through the unexpected. Some of his biggest stars include radio station sanitation engineer Ducky Crabtree; Spud Rimshot, the lovable vagrant and raconteur; Master Sergeant Surly Bottoms, the grizzled old veteran from down at “the Hall”; Coach Redd Ruffinsore, gridiron grouch; Cowboy Carl Carmichael, the last of the Singin’ Cowboys; and The Rampaging River Rat, the Tri-State’s only costumed superhero. Clint has always been an expert at navigating us through radio’s age-old “theater of the mind.”
Over the years, Clint has willingly taken part in an endless array of crazy stunts as part of his work. There was the time he and Steve Hayes did an entire morning show while riding horseback through Huntington to promote the police department’s need for a mounted patrol unit. He agreed to be placed in a block of ice for 48 hours at Dutch Miller Chevrolet to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House. And in one of his most wigged-out stunts of all, Clint broadcast for four straight hours in scuba gear from the bottom of Olympic pool in an effort to prevent the beloved summertime haven from being closed.
Clint, who has performed in numerous local musicals and plays, says he didn’t get into theater until his three sons were involved.
“When Justin was in the first grade, he was cast in the Marshall University production of South Pacific,” he recalls. “After that, we all got involved — Leslie, the boys and me. We all just fell in love with the whole process.”
C.E. Wilson, a fellow member of the First Stage Theatre Company’s Board of Directors, recalls an early encounter with Clint during tryouts for the Huntington Outdoor Theatre’s production of The Music Man.
“During Clint’s audition he was singing a song titled They Call the Wind Mariah from the musical Paint Your Wagon,” Wilson says. “As he reached the chorus he drew a blank, and instead of singing the correct words — ‘Mariah, Mariah, they call the wind Mariah,’ he sang without missing a beat, ‘The lyrics, the lyrics, I should have learned the lyrics!’ I thought, ‘There is one crazy, quick mind in that head right there.’ I laughed about that all night and still do when I think about it. And, as usual, he got the part he wanted.”
Apparently Clint wanted a lot of parts. He played John Adams in 1776, Oscar in The Odd Couple and Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls. He even played God in Children of Eden, which probably did nothing for his ego. There’s been a lot of directing as well: Seussical the Musical, Bye Bye Birdie, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, just to name a few.
Now he’s taking to writing his own plays. He has contributed plays to the Marshall University Department of Theatre’s New Works Festivals and is currently working on a musical based on the life of Collis P. Huntington.
Other creations have been of the four-color kind. Clint is a published comic book writer with a r�sum� that includes Deep and Wyde: Blood is the Harvest, Green Hornet: Dark Tomorrow and King of the USA, among dozens of other titles. You might think having a dad who was a popular comic book writer would impress his kids. “Not so much,” says Clint.
However, the McElroy boys can think of a couple of times they were impressed by their dad.
“I always felt an unspoken pressure from my dad to be less of a nerd and more of an athlete,” says Clint’s youngest son Griffin. “After years of giving the ol’ college try at basketball, baseball and football, my dad finally saw my misery and mercifully allowed me to bow out. My time would be spent where my true talents lied — at home, in the attic, on the Super Nintendo. I thought of it as a kind of compromise; there were plenty of video games Dad and I could play together. We spent hours playing Secret of Mana and Super Mario World. Still, I couldn’t help but worry that he’d rather spend our bonding time in the backyard, working on my free throw shot. One day, I came home from school to discover my father in the attic alone, hacking and slashing his way through Secret of Evermore. I was overjoyed to learn that my dad was just as big of a nerd as I was. Whether playing games with his sons made him that way, or whether he was a nerd all along, wasn’t really important. What was important was refreshing our supply of RC Cola and taking turns trying beat each other’s high score.”
“A family highpoint for me was the time my dad beat us at Clue in one round,” recalls Clint’s second son Travis. “It was at that moment that I realized that my father is the most clever man on the planet. Notice that I didn’t say the smartest man. We’re talking about a man who, until he woke up on the basement floor several hours later, didn’t see anything wrong with dumping excess kitty litter and bleach down a sink at the same time in a poorly ventilated room. Being smart is easy, but being clever means being aware of so much at any one time that most people can’t keep up. It’s being able to foretell the end of movie before the end of the opening credits — which my dad does with disgusting accuracy. It also means being able to perfectly time a finely tuned four-word sentence that brings the room to tears with laughter, without breaking a sweat.”
In 2005, after nearly 28 years of marriage, Leslie — a beloved wife, mother and the heart of the McElroy clan — passed away of cancer. The four McElroy men struggled to carry on.
“I was lost,” Clint remembers, “just lost. I just kind of wandered around in a weird zone for a long time after Leslie passed away. It was the worst period of my life.”
Eventually Clint’s sons decided it was time for Dad to get back in the game of life. That’s when Clint’s second wife Carol re-entered his life. Carol, a nurse at Cabell Huntington Hospital, had been a classmate of Leslie’s at Ironton High School. During Leslie’s fight against cancer, Carol often saw Clint at the hospital sitting by Leslie’s bed. But it wasn’t until Travis, who lived in Oklahoma at the time, came home to see his ailing mother that it dawned on Carol just how ill Leslie was. It all hit home when another coworker informed Carol that Leslie had passed away on a Saturday evening.
Some time later, after a chance communication through MySpace, Carol shared some advice with Clint. She told him: “You’re probably a very eligible bachelor now. Let me tell you what to do about blind dates. Don’t go on them! Especially if she is nice and has a nice personality! Run!”
“My response to that was, ‘Maybe I should go out with somebody I know,'” Clint recalls, “to which Carol replied, ‘Well, yeah, maybe you should do that.’ It went right over her head. Boy, was I smooth on that one!”
Carol eventually accepted a request for a date from Clint. Her thoughts? “Best. Date. Ever. In my whole dang life. Ever! Ever! He is the best kisser — you can write that down.”
After a year-long relationship between the two, the best kisser asked Carol for her hand in marriage — in a most unusual setting.
“We were shopping at Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati,” Carol recalls. “Clint was acting kind of weird when we got to the check-out line. Then he just looked at me. ‘What? What is it?’ I said. He told me, ‘I forgot something. I forgot to tell you I love you today.’ And then he dropped to one knee and pulled a ring out of his pocket. I screamed and eventually said ‘Yes!’ Everybody started cheering. They announced it on the store’s PA system.”
The two were married in February 2010. Today, the happy couple devotes a lot of time and laughter to their families, although Clint still manages to share some of that joy with his listeners on WTCR.
“Clint McElroy’s talent and sense of comedic timing is amazing,” notes Judy Jennings, vice president & marketing manager for Clear Channel Radio, the parent company of WTCR. “He derives humor from everything, and everyone in his life is fair game. His parodies of well-known country songs rival Cledus T. Judd’s, and most of our listeners love Clint’s more because he’ll write about things in the Tri-State area. Clint is as funny as Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien or David Letterman. We are fortunate that he has decided to remain in his hometown area.”
“My time on radio has afforded me a lot of opportunities and opened a lot of doors,” Clint says. “I’ve gotten a chance to meet celebrities like Hank Aaron, Reba McEntire and Neil Patrick Harris. I have covered the Tony Awards and been part of a crew that won a Radio Station of the Year Award from the Country Music Association. Not bad for a guy who didn’t want to work in radio because his dad and brother were in the business.”
But, he says, the landscape of radio has changed.
“Radio humor like the old Bob and Ray routines or Gary Burbank of WLW Radio in Cincinnati just isn’t expressed in that manner much anymore,” he says. “Today there aren’t many radio characters or sketches.
I consider it my good fortune to be on the air for four hours a day sharing these vignettes. It is nice and still rewarding to hear from listeners who say they have been listening and laughing for years.”
Clint says one of his life’s greatest rewards has been watching his sons develop their own talents and senses of humor. Justin, who lives in Huntington, works for AOL’s video game website Joystiq. Travis lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he is the technical director for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. And Griffin is in Chicago, Ill., where he works as a video game journalist. Despite living hundreds of miles apart, the three produce a weekly podcast called My Brother, My Brother and Me, and this summer they will have an opportunity to produce the podcast from one of the Second City TV studios in Chicago, where folks like Bill Murray, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and others developed their comedic chops.
Back home, on-air personality Judy Eaton rides shotgun with Clint on WTCR every morning. The pair have partnered on the wake-up shift for the popular country music station for 16 years.
“What is so crazy is that we spend so much time together and it’s never boring,” Eaton says. “We laugh nonstop all morning long, on and off the air, and of course the funniest stuff is off the air! A guy with his talent has had many opportunities to move up the ladder to bigger markets. But he loves it here, and we are so glad he has stayed. It’s amazing what he thinks of. He is just so talented, and he has a gift of knowing how to make normal things funny and perfect for radio.”
Last year, Clint’s talent, hard work and dedication to the community were rewarded when he was inducted into the Greater Huntington Wall of Fame. His plaque now hangs on the wall at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena alongside such local dignitaries as A. Michael Perry, Jim Tweel, Bob Pruett, Soupy Sales, Dagmar, Chuck Ripper and Chuck Yeager. I should probably note that Clint lobbied hard for the honor: years before he was inducted, he actually snuck into the arena and hung a homemade plaque of himself on the wall, where it stayed for several months before someone finally removed it.
Back in high school, Clint and I collaborated on our own series hand-drawn comics, but over the years I somehow managed to lose them. Lose them! Can you believe it? But the one thing that I haven’t lost are my memories — memories of time spent with my pal Mac and the millions of laughs we shared. I’m glad Clint went on from Ironton High School to become an entertainer, because that is what he was born to do. Instead of making a few girls giggle in the back of the classroom, he is now bringing smiles to the faces of thousands of people year after year. From crazy characters on the radio to Huntington theater performances to comic books and everything in between, that has been the essence of Clint’s life — making people smile.
Way to “read the room,” mi amigo!