INTERVIEWS

Christopher Titus: A Full Glass of Juice

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ChristopherTitusHeadshotHad a hard day? Think you’re life is so out of control you don’t know how you will possibly continue on? Unless you’re from Darfur, comedian Christopher Titus probably has you beat in the boo-hoo department. His personal history reads like a mash-up of Charles Dickens and Maury Povich. And yet, Titus has managed to transmute the lead of his life into comedy gold. Hot on the heels of his latest tour The Angry Pursuit of Happiness, Titus is fired-up, fed-up and finally, happy?

DNA: Hello

Titus: Hey Christopher Titus calling

Hey Chris, this is DNA in Santa Cruz, how are you?

I’m doing good buddy, how’s life?

I live in Santa Cruz, what am I going to complain about?

You better only answer “great” because you live in freakin’ Santa Cruz.

I know. It get’s hot here for an hour a day. Who would want to hear me complain about that?

I’m on the East Coast, in North Carolina and I jumped in the ocean, I had never done that before.  If the West Coast had a warm ocean it would be amazing.

You’re a grown man and you had never been in the ocean on the East Coast before?

Look man, I grew up in California, I’m California 100%!

I’ve never heard of anyone that had a beef between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

I definitely do man. I’m throwing down like the rap wars of the 80s.

We have sea lions. The East Coast doesn’t have that. Fuck the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s what I’m talking about. There’s this one beach we found driving down the 1 on the PCH and it’s rare that you can just stumble across nature like that. California fucking kicks ass.

My wife is from San Jose so I was trying to explain to her that you have to pay to go to the beaches in New Jersey. They’re a couple of hundred feet wide and you need a badge to be on the beach.

Are you kidding me?

You have to pay to go to the beach. New Jersey can ruin anything. You excited about your show in Santa Cruz?

Santa Cruz is one of the first places I worked when I first started doing one-nighters at this crappy bar that was just great. The audiences are always smart and that why I always want to go back.

Was it the Crows Nest?

I don’t remember man, this was in ’87.  Maybe, have they been doing comedy that long?

Thirty years, although Jon Fox booked another place before that, The Albatross. 

Yeah man, it was at the Crows Nest and the headliner was a guy named Frank Lunney who was headlining, I was the opener, it was that long ago.

That’s still a interesting room, nothings changed.

Santa Cruz was also one of the first times I ran into my horrible ex-wife, so I kinda have a love/hate thing for it.

Is your ex from Santa Cruz?

No, no, no. She just happened to be dating the opener that night. That’s always the nightmare man. Here’s a tip, never go out with a woman who would dump the headliner for the opener. She obviously has really horrible judgment.

That really is the penultimate comedian nightmare. It’s not performing in the nude, it’s having your girl dump you for the opener.

Yeah, that’s when you’re like, “I gotta quit this business.” Hey man, my home is up in the hills, I’m losing you on the cell can I call you back on the landline?

Yeah, yeah. (New phone call)

Hey man, it’s weird, I sit in the exact same spot every time with my cell phone and you would think that reception from the cell phone tower would be locked down and it wouldn’t change but every five minutes it starts to fade on me—so, landline now.

It sounds a lot better. I was wondering when you first performed at The Punchline, was it the same deal now where you had to wait in the audience for 6-12 months before you got onstage?

Is that how it is now? Wow. When I first did the Punchline, I was 18 years old. I went and hung out first and watched one night. I knew that I wanted to be a comedian since I was 5, but I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I remember watching and thinking, “I’m already funnier than half these comedians.” That’s the arrogance and delusion of a comic. So I went and wrote a bunch of material and worked for four weeks and got my name on the list at the club. It took me four weeks, man, now it’s a long wait. And, I think it depends on who is running the front door. Back then there was a great guy named Hutch. Hutch was a great read. He could tell if you were just some dude who hated his teaching job and wanted to try new dick jokes. Or, if you had a heart for it. He also didn’t take any crap. I got good pretty fast and started featuring. At open mic nights he would say, “You got seven minutes” and I would go and do fifteen. I did that twice and Hutch banned me from the Punchline for three months. He was a good dude. If you really cared about it and did a good job he would put you up all the time. But if you screwed up, you were done. Most comics have half a glass of juice and half a glass of juice comics are the worst. People that know they got their life rocking and they got a full glass of juice, usually the nicest people in the world. It’s the half a glass of juice comics that ruin it. “I try the open mics and I know it will take me a year to make it.” Yeah, right.

Who were you coming up with back then in the early 80s?

When I started? Jake Johannsen, Robert Hawkins and its amazing how many guys just disappeared, fell off the face of the Earth. But I remember working with Geof Wills who now runs Live Nation, at that time he was Fox’s assistant. I never had a clique. Doug Kehoe and these guys used to hang out at The Holy City Zoo and stuff. Besides being totally and horribly insecure at being a comic and not fitting in, I would go home and write. They would go to the Holy City Zoo and drink and I would go home, stay up until four in the morning writing new jokes. I never hung out with a clique. Chris Hardwick said that to me the other day on his show, “You know Chris, nobody really knows you. You don’t hang out with anybody. You do your own thing.” I didn’t know if that was an insult or a compliment, I wasn’t sure how to take it.

Was Jon Fox instrumental in helping you?

The thing is at that time, Jon Fox was the king. He was just the king. He ran the comedy competitions when they were in the 2500 seat theatres. Those were the semi’s. Without him and Ann, I wouldn’t be here. They gave me a shot really early. Without them or Hutch, I don’t know. It was a time of excess my brother. It was huge time of excess.

Were they really salad days? Did success and fame come for you quickly?

No. The thing with me is that my dad had a strong work ethic. I always had something going. Back then phone calls used to cost money to call long distance. I would have a $750 phone bill because I was calling Maine and Florida and busting my ass driving across country. I didn’t stay in the local clubs. I made just enough money to get to the gig, pay for my food and drive home. But, I knew that it was like paying for college for me. I knew I wasn’t going to go to college. I was 50 grand in debt up until I got Titus, actually.

So, back in the day you were a lone wolf, touring and soloing by your self. Did you ever partner up with a running comic buddy?

Warren Thomas. We ended up getting thrown together on a bunch of one-nighters and those were the couple of times I really remember having a blast. Warren Thomas was a crazy dude. When we would drive to gigs in my car, we would find the lamest radio station possible. We called them queer songs. So we would sing queer songs all the way from when I picked him up to the gig. Horrible songs. Do you like pina caladas, anything by the Captain and Tennille. . .lets get physical. We were singing in the car the whole time, looking like two douche bags. Comedy for me is something I take real serious. I try to treat it with the respect it deserves. I look at Cosby and Carlin and to this day Patton. When I need to get inspired I’ll listen to Werewolves and Lollipops. It reminds me words are important and that I need to pick the right words, douchebag. And then are some guys styles who I really respect, like Birbiglia. I just heard Sleepwalk with Me. And I thought it was the best thing I’ve heard in comedy. I don’t have that thing where I ever think I’m the best comic ever. I really respect what other people do. Anybody who has the balls to get in front of a room full of strangers and try to make them laugh gets my respect.

Is there a size of an audience where you feel unable to connect with?

I toured with Kenny Loggins pretty early. I’m also pretty crazy so I got big gigs early with absolutely nothing to back them up. You know who taught me a lot about comedy? Dana Carvey. Dana did one of my benefits a few years ago and doesn’t remember telling me any of this stuff, but I remember it like god handed it down. He said the bigger the room the bigger crowd, you got to walk onstage and perform to the back wall and make sure they hear you. I saw Leno on tour before he got the Tonight Show. It makes me mad when comics rip on Leno because they never saw him live. Even today, live, you’ll leave with your tail between your legs, he’s still that good. But Leno would walk onstage, I saw at The Marin Civic Center, and the room filled with him. And I realized you have to own their attention in a way that they cannot look away from you. That’s why I’ve never been a stand-at-the-mic comic. I love Robin Williams. He’s one of my favorites of all times. My first comedy album was Reality. . . What a Concept. I would watch Robin and he would be all over the place. It was too unfocused for me because I had to write bits. But man, he knew how to own the audience. So, it is something you learn to do. When you walk on stage what do you feel like?

Me?

I’m asking you, how do you feel?

It depends. There are times when I am in the groove and I cannot do anything wrong. It’s an empowering great feeling. For me, that’s not every night.

Not for any of us. I just did five shows at the La Brea Improv. I always say whenever you do five in a week, there is always going to be one weird one. And man, that first show Saturday was the weird one. They were very PC Orange County people. There’s this borderline razor edge you have to walk as a comic where you think, “Screw these people. They are not on the stage. I’m entertaining them. They don’t get to judge me.” The other side is I gotta love these people so they like me. So you have to walk this line where you don’t care and you also care 100%. How long have you been doing comedy now?

I’ve been doing the mic for seven years.

OK. So you’re getting to the point where you really know what you’re doing. The key is when things are going your way and its great and its rolling and its easy you also have to figure out when its going badly how to turn it into that. You have to find things to turn it around. My wife knows when I’m doing badly because I’ll go “Wheeeee” onstage, then I just start pounding on them. Look, I love this job. That’s why you’ll never see me do like an anal rape bit or five minutes on farting because it’s a waste of time to me. It’s a well traveled road, hell, it’s a five lane freeway—why would I go there?

I just saw Brian Posehn and fart jokes are his signature. From some comics you get material and from other comics you get somebody trying to shine the light on the spiderwebs–I just saw Stanhope the other night, it was an amazing ride through that guys brain.

Stanhope is another genius. I would put Stanhope in the Lenny Bruce vein. If we all got a note tomorrow that Stanhope died, we would all go, “Ah, well, we knew that was coming.” My girl used to book comedy clubs too and she used to book Stanhope several times. She said it was brilliant, and disgustingly brilliant, out of control but always insightful. Stanhope is so smart. I have to work really hard to be that smart, write it down and make it work as a joke. Stanhope can riff it.

When I saw you, you riffed with the crowd. Is it a balance for you between material and crowd work?

It depends on the crowd. You have to learn to take a bad crowd into a good crowd. I try to never do “Where ya from?” But I will start making fun of them. I always feel like I’ve been doing this a long time, I know I’m good, now how about you? When I’m out in the country I say, “You guys have a problem, let’s talk about it.” And then I become this weird therapist talking about their problems. I’m not a big fan of crowd work. I used to be so afraid to be free onstage and make stuff up as I went. Probably through my first two albums. Everything had to be written down word-for-word. Then Love is Evol happened. I found out my ex was cheating on me with two other guys the Friday afternoon before the first show. So I went up for the first show and I just did my normal act but I couldn’t connect with the audience. It was the only time onstage where I felt like I was offstage watching myself. Between shows I contemplated suicide. I thought that is a great way to be remembered, kill yourself in the green room of a comedy club. Then I had a realization. I heard my dads voice inside my head saying, “Get off your ass and get on that stage do your fucking job.” I went up on that second show and during the first 8 minutes I riffed and told the audience what was happening. I said, “Look here’s what happened to me this afternoon.” And I told them about my life. And I told them about what she was doing and the two guys she was seeing. It was a weird moment. Because I was ranting and the audience was howling. I’m literally in pain, my guts were inside out, but I realized if you’re honest you can riff on anything. But you have to be honest.

Do you feel like you have to manifest adversity in your life to have something to bounce off of?

Yes. Yes. Here’s the sad thing. That’s why I wrote this new show The Angry Pursuit of Happiness because I had to face the fact I was happy. I met this great women and my kids were turning out OK and my job was going well and it’s a great job. I  thought, “Oh shit! I hope I get prostate cancer so I have something to joke about.” The good news is the world is so fucked up there’s always going to be something I can talk about.


See Christopher Titus rock The Rio Theatre on Saturday July 12th!

Get your tickets here.

 

Interviews, Uncategorized
07/01/2014

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