Fancy Ray McCloney can't sit still.
He is being interviewed in a hotel lobby bar, but he insists on giving a pitch to every passerby about his comedy act that's about to start in a few minutes.
Fancy Ray is not shy. He is louder than an AC/DC concert, more blinged out than Sammy Davis Jr. and more made up than any dude ought to be.
He is a Twin Cities celebrity, but many people have no idea what he does. "I've become like the Paris Hilton of Minneapolis. I'm famous, but why?" said McCloney, never hesitant about self-promotion. "I'm like Paris with a pretty tan."
Actually, he is a comedian, celebrating 20 years of standup with his Friday-Saturday gig every weekend this month at Scott Hansen's Comedy Gallery in the Holiday Inn in east St. Paul. He also is a TV pitchman, doing commercials for everything from homeopathic health-food stores to adult bookstores. And he runs a full-service ad agency, which is how he makes his living. He stopped doing his cable-access TV show, "Get Down With It," in 1999, but it still may be what he's best known for.
Five years ago, Fancy Ray moved to Los Angeles hoping to land a sitcom or a major movie role. Neither happened, but he did appear in a couple of small movies and on "The Tonight Show," "Last Comic Standing," "America's Got Talent" and a Swedish TV show. He still divides his time between Hollywood and Minneapolis, but hometown and his 12-year-old son get the majority of his time.
A typical day involves meditation, a couple hours in the gym and a few hours of advertising work, from his car, a bar or anyplace he can call his office. He gets his hair done once or twice a week (it takes three hours).
"Every day I write jokes; every day I write poetry," he said, lowering the volume and the hype.
Fancy Ray, who insists he's still 29, is a serious student of entertainment. He can discuss details about the careers of Richard Pryor, Liberace, Gorgeous George, Muhammad Ali, Little Richard, James Brown, Prince and others he has admired. He opened for Pryor, one of his career highlights, and has become friends with Little Richard, but he has never met hometown hero Prince.
As a second-grader, Ray did a ventriloquist act, traveling summers with the Rev. Billy Graham. He won two Twin Cities lip-synch contests (I was a judge for both), leading to a 1987 appearance on TV's "Puttin' on the Hits." Two years later, the Minneapolis West High School grad started his cable-access show, which featured not only interviews with famous entertainers including Whoopi Goldberg and Tiny Tim, but also serious discussions of race and politics. He launched his standup career with five minutes on open-mic night at Pepitos in south Minneapolis.
Fancy Ray's comedy act is a little black (he talks about race) and a little blue (he talks about sex). He talks politics a bit (he ran for governor in 1998 but lost to Jesse Ventura) and spends a lot of time interacting with the audience.
Whether a punch line connects or not, he invariably shouts his mantra at full lung power: "I am the best-looking man in comedy." It is so disarmingly funny or absurd -- take your pick -- that the slate is cleared and you're ready for whatever comes next.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719