Josh Sneed, to borrow a line from a famous dead comedian, doesn’t get any respect. Locally, anyway.
The comedian from Saint Bernard has two Comedy Central specials under his belt — a 6-minute set on Premium Blend and a 30-minute special of his own — and tours across the United States doing more than 160 comedy shows a year. Yet he lives in almost completely obscurity in his hometown.
Maybe you’ve seen Sneed on TV or caught him at one of the many shows he still does locally. Maybe you downloaded his first comedy album, Unacceptable, from Amazon.com or through iTunes.
His deal with Comedy Central Records, the largest comedy record label in the world, will allow the CD to be placed into retail outlets around the country if he gets 5,000 paid downloads first. Still, he wonders how many people Sneed in his hometown will hear his jokes, which were recorded at Go Bananas in Montgomery, his home club.
Sneed likes being able to live here and not get bombarded at the mall, but he wonders why the local media have taken a pass on his success everywhere else even though he brings it home every chance he gets.
But the 31-year-old comedian has started to make himself known in the apparel business even though most don’t know it’s him. He and his business partner Darin Overholser, another local comedian and artist, create screen-printed T-shirts, adult pajamas, women’s shirts and baby onesies through their company Look At Me Shirts (www.lookatmeshirts.com). Their retail store and offices are in Dayton, Ky., expanding now to three storefronts from one when they started in July 2006.
Among the more than 300 designs are several that take a potshot at his hometown, always with a loving tone.
Take shirt designs that say things like “Downtown Scares Me” in large letters with “West Chester” in small, barely readable letters. Or “Cincinnati Hurricane: A City in Crisis 2008” or “Nick LaCHE” with the face of Nick Lachey imposed on the face of Che Guevara. Or “Bring Back Rich Apuzzo” or “Oakley Is Not Hyde Park.” You get the idea.
“I feel more connected than I have ever to Cincinnati,” Sneed says. “I never moved to Los Angeles. I stayed here.”
The 1995 graduate of St. Bernard-Elmwood Place High School said his T-shirt business is doing well — paying for itself and its three employees — but isn’t making much extra cash. Thankfully he and Overholser have their other comedy work to help pay the bills.
Things are trending in the right direction, however. I imagine it will continue as long they keep churning out great designs, like the one with a house and giant cicada on top of it or the red shirt with the picture of a Saint Bernard dog and the words “Never Forget.” If you’re from Cincinnati or have lived here for any length of time, neither shirt needs an explanation.
“We put out what we think is funny,” Sneed says. “We just hope other people like it. Sometimes we hit the nail on the head. Sometimes we think we have it and no one buys it.”
What sells and what doesn’t sell doesn’t matter much to Sneed. He’s shamelessly proud of his home town.
“I have undying love for Cincinnati, but I like to try to be truthful about (the city),” he says. “It’s kinda like the comedy. As long as you’re not being hurtful, not trying to hurt someone’s feelings, then you kind of expect them to have a sense of humor about it.”
I can’t figure out why more people don’t see Sneed as a local hero of sorts. Like any Cincinnatian, I love me some Pete Rose. No matter how controversial he is, I like Jerry Springer. Larry Flynt — nearly entirely for his protections of the First Amendment — is another locally connected person I admire.
But are they really the people we want as the poster children for Cincinnati? I hope not.
On the other hand, Sneed is a guy already making us proud and we’re almost turning our collective back on him.
“I love it here,” Sneed says. “I live and die by the Reds and Bengals. More die than live.”
There’s all the proof you need. He’s one of us.
CONTACT JOE WESSELS: firstname.lastname@example.org. His column will be on hiatus the next few weeks as CityBeat presents our election endorsements. Look for Wessels’ return on Nov. 5.