Jeremy McLellan always had something to say. He just never knew exactly how to say it before running across a comedy open mic night four-and-a-half years ago at the Tin Roof in West Ashley.
"My friend had been telling me to try stand-up, so I did and I got the bug," says McLellan, a Charleston native who graduated from West Ashley High School in 2003. "I like comedy just like a normal amount. I wasn’t like obsessed, but I was really passionate and clever and didn’t have a creative outlet for all of my opinions. So, comedy became that sort of way to put all of my opinions into an art form that would be appealing to people rather than me arguing with people."
And those opinions McLellan manages to work into his stand-up sets include some controversial topics, such as religion, foreign policy, police brutality, feminism, marriage equality and more. In fact, many of these topics have garnered the Christian comedian attention from the Muslim community.
"The things I like talking about are also things the Muslim community cares a lot about and talks a lot about," says McLellan. "I take religion seriously, and because of that, I got a big following pretty quickly. And once I started doing shows for different Muslim festivals, the word traveled fast."
McLellan has performed at a variety of Muslim Students' Association events at universities across America, in front of Syrian refugees and for the Council on American-Islamic Relations' annual banquet, among others.
He describes a variety of perks about having a large Muslim audience, including the lack of drunk hecklers.
"Most of the time hecklers are people who think they’re helping, like they're usually drunk people who think they’re funny, too," says McLellan. "But, I don’t get that a lot. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of Muslim shows and they’re usually sober. That’s one of the best things about having a lot of Muslim fans; there’s not as much heckling."
He recently returned to the United States after touring Pakistan, where he had some of his favorite shows in Lahore and Islamabad.
"I had a friend leading a team of dentists to Pakistan to do free dental work, and he knew I wanted to go so he invited me to come with him," says McLellan. "I trained to assist him in basic dental work and announced on my Facebook page I was going to see if anyone wanted to get in touch with me to do shows."
McLellan has known Pakistani for a while and wanted to go, so he jumped when the opportunity arose. In fact, he jumps on almost every opportunity that comes his way, which he says has led him to some unique positions, such as being selected as one of the New Faces of Comedy at Just For Laughs, the world's largest comedy festival with superstar names such as Trevor Noah and Jerry Seinfeld.
"I just said yes to everything that came my way and here I am," says McLellan. "I mean, sometimes it’s overwhelming."
Another potentially overwhelming piece of his story is his Southern Christianity alongside his devout liberalism. However, McLellan has never seen it like that. He's always had strong opinions about large issues, and his goal from the beginning was to tackle them somehow.
"That’s where I started, wrestling these big issues, and then comedy was my creative outlet to explore those issues," McLellan says. "It's not like I'm doing jokes about hats and then I'm like, 'I’m also going to talk about genocide.' No, it's not like that. But it's always been my purpose in life to confront these issues, and comedy was my way of not going crazy from all of it. So, no matter what kind of topic comes up, I’m going to do jokes about it."
His outspokenness now has led to another unique opportunity. His Charleston show on Oct. 12 at Theatre 99 is being filmed by PBS as part of a three-part documentary on the Constitution and freedom of speech.
"There’s lots of debate about free speech in comedy," says McLellan. "If you’re a comedian, you might be thinking, 'we’re the last of our kind,' just like if you're a journalist."