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Juston McKinney’s ‘Parentally Challenged’ coming to Portland

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Juston McKinney’s ‘Parentally Challenged’ coming to Portland (photo courtesy of Juston McKinney)

PORTLAND - Comedian Juston McKinney has racked up several career highlights in 2017, including a prestigious show at Boston’s TD Garden, a Showtime special filmed at Gillette Stadium’s Patriot Place with the New England Patriots and a new comedy special shot last month in New Hampshire. The former Maine deputy sheriff will bring his new show - titled “Parentally Challenged” - to Portland’s Aura on November 24.

“My new special is pretty much all about being a parent,” McKinney told me during an interview last week from his home in New Hampshire. “I have a second-grader and a fourth-grader.”

The comedian, who has made multiple appearances on The Tonight Show, says he has accumulated a wealth of new material.

“When I return to a city that I’ve played before, I try to turn over about 80 percent new material,” he said. “In my current shows, including the special, I do quite a bit of material about parenting but there’s plenty of topical stuff in there too.”

He admits that he has to walk a fine line when incorporating topical material in this era of divisiveness.

“I feel like half the population is pissed and the other half is pissed,” McKinney joked. “Honestly, it’s very divisive right now and you’ve got to be careful how you play that. I don’t take sides. I try to point out what’s going on, do some comedy that’s funny and hopefully everybody is there with me and they know where I’m coming from. But it is a tricky climate for comedy these days.”

One of the topical subjects McKinney has been addressing in his recent shows concerns the sexual harassment allegations which continue to snowball in the wake of accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“I talk about how I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the sexual harassment stuff,” he said. “I can’t really relate to it. If my wife wants me to do something, I say ‘Are you sure? Do you want to call a friend?’ I try to talk her out of it!”

McKinney spent seven years as a rural deputy sheriff on the border of Maine and New Hampshire and was one of two officers responsible for a beat encompassing 14 towns.

“As a police officer, I used to protect George H.W. Bush. I was part of his Presidential detail in Kennebunkport,” McKinney said. “I have a picture on my wall from 1992 where I’m shaking his hand. Yesterday, a woman claims that he sexually harassed her in 1992.”

McKinney says he addresses the allegations against the former President in his current shows but that he strives to handle the situation delicately.

“You’ve got to be sensitive to the people who say they were traumatized,” he said. “And now there’s all this stuff about Al Franken. It’s just getting crazy. If Bill Clinton makes it to his 90s, and he’s in a wheelchair, who knows what he’ll be capable of? If I make fun of a Republican, I’ll also make fun of a Democrat. I keep it balanced.”

In July, McKinney was tapped by Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots to be part of a new comedy special for Showtime due in January.

“It was shot at Patriot Place in Foxboro,” said McKinney. “It’s called ‘Unsportsmanlike Comedy.’ Gronkowski hosts it and I’m one of five comedians on the special. He actually went up there and told some jokes himself – just being ‘Gronk.’”

A few weeks later, McKinney received a call from comedian Amy Schumer.

“That was a special night. Amy reached out to me to do this show that sold out in 40 minutes. It was a benefit for the family of Heather Heyer, the girl who was killed in Charlottesville.”

McKinney recently performed a benefit comedy show in Waterville for the Sawtelle family of Vassalboro. 4-year old Connor Sawtelle is fighting Chiari malformation, a rare and incurable condition which causes the brain to descend into the spinal column.

“I love doing comedy in Maine,” he said. “I was in Caribou last weekend. It’s five hours and 42 minutes from my house. You can do it in five hours and 41 minutes if you don’t get stuck behind someone on Route 1.”

The day after my interview with McKinney, he was onstage at TD Garden in Boston with comedian Denis Leary for his annual “Comics Come Home” benefit for the Cam Neely Foundation which raises money for cancer research.

“I’m very excited about it,” McKinney said. “This will be the largest audience I’ve ever performed for. As career highlights go, it will be right up there. Only in this business can you be in Caribou, Maine one weekend and TD Garden in Boston the next.”

(Tickets for Juston McKinney with special guests Ian Stuart and Colby Bradshaw, at Aura, 121 Center St. in Portland, are available at www.AuraMaine.com.)

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