Ninety five years old and Mac's trying something new in Freeland

Leland 'Mac' McCloskey sits for a moment in the sun outside the Maple Ridge Assisted Living Community facility where he lives.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

At Maple Ridge Assisted Living Community in Freeland there is a map of the United States marked with the places of everybody's first kiss.

Bill's was in Cohagen, Mont., Liz had hers in Los Angeles, while Denny remembered his in Bennington, Neb.

Leland "Mac" McCloskey didn't remember where his first kiss took place. Perhaps that auspicious moment will come to him while he's improvising onstage with Side of Fries.

Side of Fries is the newest improv group in town. McCloskey began "working out" with the group recently, though he's never been onstage in his 95 years.

The group, directed by Michael Barker, is the second to be formed for competition after Wake Up Laughing, Barker's first improvisation team. Both teams will meet in battle at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12 and Nov. 26 at South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore in Langley for two evenings of entertaining theater improv games.

"He is the funniest guy at Maple Ridge," Barker said of McCloskey.

"And when he performs with Side of Fries he generally steals the show in his own inimitable way."

Side of Fries borrows its rehearsal space from the Freeland assisted living facility and Maple Ridge resident McCloskey just happened to find himself one day thrown into the farcical fray.

"He's hilarious, absolutely hilarious," Maple Ridge community relations director Kris Barker said.

Mac's wit preceded him and before he knew it, he was asked to join the group.

Mac is the oldest member of the group, hands down and he has won the right to sit down whenever possible.

"I prefer the games where I can be seated," McCloskey said.

"Working out" is a good way to describe modern improvisational comedy, which falls into both two categories: short-form and long-form.

Short-form improv, which is what McCloskey has been practicing for a few weeks, consists of short scenes usually constructed from a predetermined game, structure or idea and driven by an audience suggestion. The short-form improv comedy television series "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" familiarized American viewers with short-form improv.

For his part, McCloskey said he doesn't really know what all the games are that he practices with Side of Fries, but he said he certainly enjoys the interesting discussions in which the group engages.

"We work out solutions for things," he said.

"You have to be fast and pick it up!" With that he lifted his shoulders with a start and settled back down into his chair.

A resident of California for about 60 years, the former shipyard sheet-metal worker said he came to the island on the advice of some friends after his wife died. He has served on the board of Good Cheer Food Bank and, at one time, was a frequent customer at 1504 Coffee in Freeland, and Kris Barker said wherever he goes, people seem to know him. Barker thinks he should be named "Man of the Year."

McCloskey says he's just happy to be here.

"It's a very friendly place," he said.

Mac had no big words of wisdom for the secret to a long life, although having been born in 1915, he admitted to having seen a thing or two in his lifetime.

"I just take it day by day, try to fit in and just go with the flow," McCloskey said.

"I don't push it."

The soon-to-be centenarian said he's grateful for the acquaintances he's made at Maple Ridge and enjoys being a part of a group that will offer him the first chance of his life to be onstage.

Ostensibly, McCloskey steals the scene every time.

Barker said, "Babies, dogs and Mac are those you never want to be onstage with. But he's truly a local hero and will also make you fall out of your seat!"

Of Barker he said he pays attention to the things he says and otherwise tries to get along with his fellow improvisers. But he has no great expectations about his performance.

"At my age, I'm just thankful to be living day to day," he said.

Admission to the events is free. Seating is limited so pick up a free ticket at the coffeehouse in advance. Donations are welcome and will go to WISH, the Whidbey Island Share A Home nonprofit organization.

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