Make no mistake. Anthony Clark is not Boyd Pritchett. The star of NBC's Boston Common, a somewhat successful and now syndicated 1996 sitcom, may have lent his life story to the show about a fish-out-of-water Southerner on a big-city college campus. But life stories change. At some point the fish out of water learns to swim in the air.
Clark grew up on a tobacco farm outside Lynchburg, Virginia, and like most small-town dreamers, he just wanted out. It wasn't until later after he'd gotten into Boston's Emerson College comedy factory that he learned to appreciate his rural roots. In the city that spawned such comedic powerhouses as Denis Leary, Jay Leno and Paula Poundstone, Clark's boyish face, Southern drawl and friendliness helped him stand out against a backdrop of angry, bitter, in-your-face city comedy. It even got him a sitcom gig.
But Clark's swimming lessons weren't easy. After debuting between Friends and Seinfeld and ranking No. 3 in the Nielsen ratings, Boston Common was canceled a year and a half later. It was then that Clark made his way over to ABC, where he played an inept but earnest assistant minister in the lame Dan Akroyd-as-preacher comedy Soul Man, a show that didn't last even as long as Boston Common.
These days, though, it seems that Clark fits right in with the big-time. His voice has lost some of its twang. He doesn't have much time to talk because he's on his way to a meeting with ABC. And he deftly avoids his previous pigeonhole of Southern comedy. "I have a positive urban edge," he insists.
Perhaps shedding some of his hillbilly skin will bring Clark better luck in the sitcom world. His meeting with ABC is to discuss The Duplex, a television series in the works that will feature Clark and Canadian stand-up Jeremy Hotz as an "emotional Odd Couple." Hotz will offset Clark's "positive urban edge" with a fatalistic doom-and-gloom comic sensibility. "I'm trying to find meaning and fulfillment in my life," Clark explains, "and Jeremy's trying to move a box down the stairs."
All of the networks, according to Clark, have offers on the table for the new series. But will the Boston Common rerun fans of the world forgive the comedian his new urbanity? And more important, what will it mean for his stand-up routine? Clark is divulging no preshow information. He only reassures us in a slightly Boyd Pritchett way that "it'll be funny."
Anthony Clark headlines at the Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray, August 12 through 15. Showtimes are Thursday at 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 8 p.m. Call (713) 524-2333 for tickets.