Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 42-year-old Urbana resident CLAY FOLEY, a comedian and a former Champaign County Humane Society staffer who loves animals, chats with staff writer Paul Wood.
Are you on the road a lot?
When not touring, I divide my time between Champaign County and Montrose, Iowa (where I grew up).
How did you become a comedian? Were you funny when you were a kid?
I was always that guy in the office who made witty cracks. I would occasionally tell a joke to a group of co-workers, then return a minute later saying, “Ya know, it would’ve been funnier if I’d worded it this way.” (For the record, the co-workers never thought it was funnier the second round.) Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was writing and editing like a comedian. Three years ago, I tried stand-up at a local open mic. It wasn’t long before I sought to perform outside the area and in other states. The Champaign comedy scene is extremely supportive. I’m lucky to have learned the craft here.
What do you like most about making people laugh?
Oh, gosh. It’s all good. The alternative is them not laughing. And that’s brutal.
You worked in the field of animal welfare, cruelty investigations, humane education, fostering. Incredibly rewarding work. Was that taking a bit of a toll on you?
I worked in that field for 10 years. The toll was self-inflicted. Like many animal welfare professionals, I didn’t balance work and personal time. It led to burnout. That said, it was easily the most fulfilling career of my life. Bless those who do it. In the beginning, I didn’t talk about animals on stage. That’s changed though. Animals are too hilarious. It’d be a crime not to share some tales.
One of your volunteer efforts is transporting homeless dogs. Tell us about a move of 1,100 miles from an overcrowded shelter in Conroe, Texas, to the Allen County SPCA in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The effort marked my return to animal rescue as a volunteer. And what a return. Thirteen vehicles (all Subarus thanks to a sponsorship) caravanned the 2,200-mile round trip. In all, 72 dogs and five kittens were driven from Texas to Indiana to be adopted. Animal transfer/transport is not a new idea. It happens every day across the country. What made this effort unique was its scope and the involvement of sponsors like Subaru. It was a huge success and will become the model for other efforts, no doubt.
Where did you grow up? Do you have any funny stories?
I grew up in Lee County, Iowa. I call it “The Florida of Iowa.” Look at a map and you’ll understand. Similar shape. Similar police-blotter content, too.
What brought you to Champaign? What do you like about it?
I moved to Champaign in 2006 after living briefly in San Diego. It was good returning to the Midwest. San Diego was beautiful and interesting, but it didn’t feel like home. My place is among like-minded folk who believe fish tacos are an abomination.
What interests you most right now?
Stand-up comedy. That’s it. I don’t really have hobbies. I have obsessions. It’s not a healthy way to live, but it works, until it doesn’t.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
I have one cat named Ivy. She was an orphan that I fostered and ultimately adopted. That’s lovingly referred to as a “foster failure.” Ivy isn’t particularly incredible. She’s a brown tabby with an average personality. But she’s my brown tabby with an average personality.
What would you order for your last meal?
Indian food. Samosas and chutney would suffice.
What’s one of the happiest memories of your life?
I recently performed in Danbury, Conn. After the show, I drove the headlining comic back toward his apartment in New York City — my first visit to NYC. At midnight on a Friday, I white-knuckle drove the streets of Lower Manhattan with the headliner giving directions. “Don’t hit that homeless guy,” “Run this red light,” “See those prostitutes? That’s where The Daily Show is filmed.” Afterward, we ate the most delicious fresh falafel and hummus at 2 a.m. Life consists of chapters, and I’m happy to be living through a very interesting one.
What’s your best piece of advice?
No one cares more about your success than you. Don’t wait for others to give you opportunities. Create your own. Life is short. Do it now.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
Detasseling corn at age 14 was like a scene ripped from “Lord of the Flies.” A bunch of teens performing field work in the sweltering Iowa heat. The only adult present was the sleeping bus driver. My supervisor was a mere two grades older than me, always berating us for missing tassels. I thought, “You’re my boss now, but when summer ends, you’re back to just being my sister’s boyfriend. Stop yelling at me, Mitch.”
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
Being 42, I’m not marketable as a “fresh new comic.” Since audiences expect someone my age to be a veteran comedian, that’s what I strive to portray on stage. “Act like the king before you get the crown.” Good advice in any profession.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
Typical comedian answer: Find the humor.