Granite State comedian Juston McKinney toes the line between funny and offensive

Special to the Union Leader
December 27. 2017 3:02PM

A former Maine deputy sheriff who’s traded scofflaws for guffaws, comedian Juston McKinney brings levity to life in the Granite State.

Using wry, sarcastic humor that pokes fun at New England’s eccentricities, McKinney, who was born in Portsmouth, has cracked jokes slamming New Hampshire’s state motto (calling it “Live, Freeze, Then Die”) and brought attention to the “wolfman” character roaming Clark’s Trading Post. (It’s all in jest).

“I’m not up there bashing anybody. I want to entertain people and have everyone have a good time,” he said of performing.

But comedy doesn’t always fit into the “did you ever notice?” style of observational humor. Sometimes comedy can be ugly. Shocking. Raw. When touchy subjects come up, McKinney said, it’s all about walking that line between being offensive and being funny.

Case in point: politics.

McKinney knows the 2016 presidential election is a sticky, even downright contentious, subject.

“Politics is very tricky this year,” he said. “Last year, I was able to do a lot more politics, because I think it was still funny to people. But this year I feel like the climate has changed — like it’s not as funny anymore. It’s like people are really upset and divisive right now.”

And McKinney said that can be a tough tightrope to walk when he’s behind the mic.

“It’s a delicate balance to be able to talk about what has happened this year without picking sides and offending people. But that’s what I aim to do,” he said. “I try to leave my political opinions out of it.”

That means he’s an equal-opportunity joker, one who is not immune to political divides within his own family.

“I have Trump people, I have conservatives, and Democrats in my own family. And so I try to just not get anyone too wound up,” McKinney said.

Sometimes it comes down to weighing how many audience members get upset at a joke, versus how many laugh at it.

“Even though it’s about something funny that Trump said, just doing a joke about Trump could offend some people. If I was to do a joke about Hillary Clinton, about something that she said, then that could be enough to offend some people,” McKinney said.

So McKinney says his goal is to make sure more people enjoy his show than not.

“You’re always gonna offend somebody in this climate, I feel like. So I just try to minimize it and just try to be funny. (I’m) trying to get as many people as I can to laugh,” he said.

Still, juggling jokes that balance news events with everyday quirks of life can be tough.

“I don’t like the idea that I could be talking about something as harmless as snow delays, a two-hour delay, and then I’m talking about something that’s completely on the other side of the spectrum,” he said.

He mentions, as an example, a couple of highly-publicized, high-profile incidents that involved crude behavior and/or language. McKinney acknowledges these topics can make people squirm in their seats.

“And I do get edgy. There’s no doubt I get edgy. But ... I’m not vulgar. Does that make sense? I don’t use a lot of profanity. I don’t throw the f-word around a lot. In fact, I might say (it) once in 70 minutes. But I will use other adult language and I’ll do adult topics.”

Reports of men in high-profile positions being accused of sexual assault is another minefield, McKinney said.

“That’s another very delicate thing. So, it’s weird. It’s like if you do a joke about it at all, it’s gonna rub people the wrong way.”

But he accepts that he can’t please everyone, saying in an email: “It is not easy being a middle-aged white guy doing comedy. That comment probably just offended someone.”

Aside from his annual year-in-review shows this month, McKinney recently finished a one-hour special called “Parentally Challenged,” and he rubbed shoulders with New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski for McKinney’s upcoming Showtime special.

He also performed for “Comics Come Home” to raise money for the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care.

McKinney’s upcoming shows, “Year in Review 2017” at the Music Hall in Portsmouth Friday and Saturday will be a mix of old and new material.


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