Off the Cuff: John Hancock and Michael Kelley
Saying politics are divisive would be the understatement of the year. But being on opposite sides of the aisle hasn’t stopped John Hancock and Michael Kelley from forming a remarkable friendship. For more than a decade, they’ve provided St. Louis with civilized political discourse on radio and TV.
You are one of the few radio shows that can make the claim that everybody listens. What is that like?
John Hancock (JH): It is different. I think it’s refreshing because everything is so polarized. Michael and I disagree about most things politically, but we genuinely like each other. He’s my best friend. I think people enjoy that you can have these political disagreements without name calling and personal attacks. I think it harkens back to how politics used to be when I started 40 years ago. You’d go out on the floor of the legislature and holler and scream. Then, you’d go out and have a drink. I’ve heard the show described as eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation at the bar.
Michael Kelley (MK): We didn’t become best pals overnight. I knew John first as my adversary. He was running the Republican Party and was an institution in Missouri. Here I was, this young kid coming up. With the way people on my side of the aisle talked about him, I almost saw him as Darth Vader. We found out we had a lot in common. We both come from North County, St. Charles backgrounds and similar style families. We both went to UMSL. Our pathways were similar, but our thought processes are different. It comes down to understanding the humanity of the other person. I love this guy. He’s the most politically misguided person I’ve ever met in my life, but he is a solid human being. When my father passed, he was the first person I called. It’s a friendship that has evolved, and you have to accept that the other person is kinda screwed up.
The difference between you and other pundits is that you disagree in a civil manner that mainstream America appreciates.
MK: I do remember that when Steve Moore called us from KMOX and asked us to do this, I said to John that I really want to participate in the CNN Crossfire-style, red-faced people yelling at each other debate. It wasn’t easy and took us a little while to learn. You want to be the person to get the last word in, but once we created a partnership, that desire went away. It went away with other aspects in my life. Because of my relationship with John, I learned that when somebody is lecturing me about politics, just listen to them—even if they don’t know what they are talking about.
JH: Like any relationship, you grow and evolve. One of the things that really helped us is that we both were at a place in our lives where we were going through a bunch of personal crap. We worked through each other’s stuff together. There’s a certain bonding that comes from going through the cuts and bruises that life sometimes throws at you. I don’t agree with Michael’s approach to politics, but I understand it. I don’t think he’s evil or trying to turn America into a socialist state. He believes fundamentally in a different, larger role of government than I do. That’s our fundamental disagreement.
What are three things you definitely agree on in life, politics, the whole nine yards?
MK: Politically, we agree that term limits are a bad idea and are causing a lot of the lunacy that we are seeing right now. Regional governance in the St. Louis area is the most antiquated thing. The amount of waste in government we have compared to similar regions doesn’t make sense. If you’re a progressive or liberal, the money you want to see invested in programs is going to administration. Believe or not, another area where John has swayed me and I’ve swayed him is on tax policy.
Who is the one American that you two don’t care for?
JH: In 2016 when there were 17 Republicans running for president, the nominee was my 17th favorite. I don’t think that my personal opinion of the 45th president of the United States is fundamentally that much different than Michael’s.
Who is the person you both like?
JH: We’re both huge Ronnie O’Sullivan fans. He is the greatest snooker player in history.
MK: He’s unhinged. He has a Howard Stern-like personality. It’s over the top and will suck you in. I learned about Ronnie O’Sullivan five or six years ago because of John, and I follow the guy on Twitter now and watch his matches. I really like him.
Your go-to restaurant in St. Louis?
MK: It used to be Shannon’s even though they charged New York City prices. I helped put a couple plaques on that wall; I can promise you that. Right now, my go-to place is probably Café Napoli, both locations. Either that or Dominic’s on The Hill.
JH: I’d put in a heavy solid for Paul Manno’s. Napoli is great, too. My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary there.
Where do you like to go eat together?
MK: The place where we spent the most time socially eating and drinking together was the ballpark. Of course, Hancock doesn’t have tickets, but I do. We’d sit in my seats and drink beer, and he would annoy all the people around us because he’s trying to be Mike Claiborne and doing the play-by-play.
Who is the best cook under your roof, and what is their best dish?
JH: My wife, Georgann, hands down the greatest cook. I mean, look at me. She is phenomenally gifted in the kitchen. She’s Greek, and I would say her best dish is her spanakopita.
MK: There ain’t nobody under my roof except me, but I would say my mom and any of the pies she makes.
John, who gets the credit for your attire when you step out of the house: you or your wife? And what is the one thing in your closet that is a must?
JH: My wife gets credit. She buys almost all my clothes. Back during the Bush administration, I bought a Christmas tie that I wore to the White House Christmas party. I only wear it a couple times a year, but it’s my favorite tie, so that’s my must.
What about you, Kelley?
MK: Whenever I have real issues, I will FaceTime one of my five sisters and ask if what I’m wearing matches. The must in my closet is linen shirts. I love them because they’re soft and easy, and you can sweat in them without getting yucky.
COVID-19 has been a game changer for everyone. What have you gotten better at and where can you still improve?
MK: I’ve gotten better at drinking. I’ve also been painting a lot. I need to work on exercise. Before COVID happened, I had dropped about 30 pounds, but during the pandemic, I’ve thought it’s been fine to add a little Baileys to my coffee or order pizza. Next thing I know, it’s 25 pounds later.
JH: I think my pool game has improved. Michael has a table in his office. I’ll pop in over there every now and then, and we’ll play a few frames and see what happens. For improving, exercise. I’m the worst.
Drink of choice?
MK: Vodka water.
JH: It’s a drink I actually invented with Michael down in Florida. It’s the Alejandro Palmer: lemonade and a double of tequila.
You’ve known each other for a long, long time. Give me one thing that Hancock can say to Kelley that he didn’t already know.
JH: Did you know that I worked in the cafeteria in Mizzou doing dishes?
Kelley wishes he were better than Hancock at what, and vice versa?
MK: I wish I was better at pool than Hancock because I’m so sick and tired of getting killed. It’s like back in the day when you play with your little nephew and have to let him score. That’s what he’s doing. He lets me have a couple of shots. The other thing is on the golf course. I’ve been playing golf my whole life. I’ve gotten as low as a six handicap. I’ve never gotten a hole in one, and this idiot who has played golf one time has.
JH: Michael is incredibly good at thinking on the fly. We’ll be in a meeting, and he’ll say something that makes me go “wow.” When I ask where it came from, he’s just making it up. He’s got a very quick mind.
The most underrated and overrated things about St. Louis.
MK: The most underrated thing is the food. Both John and I, and you too Mike, are fortunate enough to travel a lot, and I’ve been to some really great restaurants, but we’ve got it all here. The most overrated thing is people from St. Louis who have an obsession with St. Louis. Hear me out. When you travel somewhere else with someone else from St. Louis and you go somewhere cool, they’ll point out that there’s something like it here. Do they think people care? When’s the last time someone from Philadelphia walked in and went, “We’ve got an ice cream shop just like this in Philadelphia?”
JH: I would say the most underrated aspect is our philanthropy. This is a very giving community. I raise political money as part of my job. I don’t know where it’s from, but there’s a culture here that’s very generous. Overrated, OK this is going to sound bad, but this whole thing about the best fans in baseball. We have a great fan base, but I grew up in the ’70s when we were definitely not the best fans in baseball.
For the holidays, what’s the one gift John Hancock thinks Michael Kelley should have and vice versa?
JH: My buddy needs a snooker table. Then I could really hang out over there.
MK: I would give him more travel. Some of the best times I’ve had with John have been when we travel. Most of the time we spend together on the radio is talking politics, but when we’re traveling and drinking Alejandro Palmers, this guy has me in stitches. He’s a great wingman.