When comedian Juston McKinney talks onstage about how New Hampshire residents take the “Live Free or Die” license plate credo seriously ― liquor stores on the highways, no seatbelt or helmet laws ― the people who live here recognize their own lives.
They don’t take it too seriously, though. That’s because McKinney lives in New Hampshire, too.
The audience will most certainly identify with and have fun with McKinney during his live standup show, appearing Saturday, Nov. 17, at Keene’s Colonial Theatre.
McKinney was raised both in Portsmouth and just across the border in southern Maine and tested his comedy routine locally while working a full-time job as a deputy sheriff patrolling the New Hampshire-Maine border. He began doing open mics and stayed on part-time as a police officer before making the move to Queens, N.Y., in the late ‘90s.
Right away he was invited to do sets at comedy clubs in New York City, including Comic Strip Live, Stand-Up New York, Dangerfield’s, Gotham and Caroline’s on Broadway.
“I thought I would be somewhat successful,” said McKinney in a recent phone interview with ELF from his home in New Hampshire, where he returned in 2006. “A lot of my early stuff was based on being a small-town cop.”
McKinney was first bitten by the comedy bug growing up.
“I remember my dad would watch Johnny Carson and I’d hear the jokes and I remember thinking the same things they were saying on the show,” he said.
In 2004, McKinney made his own appearance for the first time on The Tonight Show ― with Jay Leno. That was followed by many more appearances on the show, as well as on the sitcom “King of Queens,” along with spots on “The Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien and the “Blue Collar Comedy: Next Generation Tour” with Bill Engval.
He has his own Comedy Central specials and weekly show on Sirius/XM radio, “Live from the Woods with Juston McKinney.” This year he appeared on the Showtime special, “Unsportsmanlike Comedy” with Rob Gronkowski and he has also been part of the Comics Come Home Tour with Jimmy Fallon and Denis Leary at Boston’s TD Garden.
He regularly sells out theaters in New England, which he said has allowed him to stay at home 90 percent of the time with his family and two rescued chihuahuas.
His latest standup special, “Parentally Challenged,” highlights some of what’s confusing about raising children.
“I had a dysfunctional family,” said McKinney. “I compare my life to my kids ― they have no idea how good they’ve got it.”
His stage show, which he said is about “life and everything else,” can get very real at times, but he is able to find humor in anything.
“My dad was a homeless alcoholic for 10 years, but my kids have never known him as a drinker,” he said. “Now he teaches karate and does this eye peck move. I say it’s the stuff he learned when watching the birds go at it when he was living under a bridge.”
He also aims to find humor in what he described as divisive political times.
“It’s hard to bring up anything,” he said, talking about a show he did six months ago. “I started talking about Trump and this guy told me after the show he took a cigarette break. He assumed I was bashing. It’s sad because we I want to make fun of our leaders, but I don’t have the luxury to alienate my fan base.”
He now opts to leave out the majority of political talk from his routine.
“People are bombarded all day every day,” he said. “I want to make people forget ― I don’t want my show to sound like Thanksgiving dinner.”
He will normally tailor his material at each venue to the town in which it’s located.
“I had a bit about the pumpkin festival in Keene,” he said. “Now I’m working on a joke about the over-abundant squirrel population this year.”
The joke starts with how much he loves fall fair season in New England, and his experience with his kids riding in bumper cars.
“I say all three of us ran over squirrels,” he said.
He enjoys living in New Hampshire, where he said there is far more opportunity to work out his jokes onstage than there would be in New York or Los Angeles.
“There may be six people in the audience sometimes, but I love doing it,” he said.
Juston McKinney appears Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. at The Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene. Tickets are $29.50 and can be ordered by calling 352-2033 and at thecolonial.org.