One of the best things about being a journalist are the few times that you get to interview people who you really respect about the craft you love. Talking comedy with some of the world's great comedians has been a blessing and a curse (I’ll explain later); but rarely has it been as cool as a recent phone conversation I had with Christopher Titus.
Even before we got down to the questions Titus was clearly a lot more personable then many people who have 4 albums and several seasons of their own television show still remember to be. We were getting to this late, and he had called me directly, full of apologies, none of which were necessary. This was worth waiting for. He also took a second up front to thank me for my kind words about his latest special. I was a “comedy guy” and that mattered. I felt like an architect being thanked by the guy who made the Empire State Building about my opinions on his work. But it was a nice complement. So we dug into it...
First, I asked about his recent special, and how it diverged slightly from his normal comedic stomping grounds of family in favor of a more national scope.
“Its about all of us... this whole show came out of that one day at the DMV (a reference to a bit in the special where a kid causes chaos in the DMV line)... I really got this overwhelming insight that, oh shit! We’re about to go extinct! If this is the next generation, and each generation is going to raise kids, then in three generations we’re going to be living on a f**king smoked rock... like the most horrible apocalypse movie you’ve ever seen. So I thought I had to write this show, you know? (I had to) Get it out there.”
Titus is referring to a large part of the new special that points to the fact that our children are no longer driven to succeed, and they are rewarded regardless of performance. The special deals as much with apathy at all ages as it does with broader political issues and empowering the little guy. Heavy stuff, but he makes it funny. I asked about his constant attempt to walk the razors edge between comedy and still making these serious points.
“”I saw Lily Tomlin years ago... she was doing “signs of intelligent life” and a realized about half way through it that she was having a conversation with different four characters on stage. I was so into it that I didn’t realize that, and all of a sudden I snapped out of it and was like HOLY S***, she’s playing four characters and I was following the conversation like there were four actors. I walked out of that show thinking I should be a f***ing welder because I was never going to be that good.”
This experience led Titus to realize comedy could be something more. It “set a bar for where comedy could go” in his eyes. While he admits that he could do endless jokes about how his girlfriend thinks he’s stupid, or his geeky obsession with hot-wheels (which I want to see), he’d prefer to take it further. Its also an aspect of his writing process:
“If I don’t figure out what the arc of the whole show is, I can’t write the show.”
Of course this arc is often the message of the show. In Neverlution, his arc centered around the idea that “There is no widget that’s going to fix the world. Its up to us, its up to everybody every day.” He admitted that was a hard sell to an audience who are busy getting hammered:
“Its such an over the top Tony Robbins premise. How do I make that comically accessible? ...It has to have integrity...”
Along with integrity he mentioned “desperation” and “sincerity." Of course this was all in the context of a Lada GaGa joke (which you’ll have to watch the special to enjoy). He wasn’t really able to say more, mostly because it seemed, to me at least, that his drive to make the hard points wrapped in funny jokes was something not conscious, but internal. This would explain the difference between Titus, and other comedians who try for the same message comedy. One comes from a place of needing to get the message out, and the others wanting. But that’s just one reviewer's opinion.
This is how I dressed to interview him, so I can only imagine he dressed this way to be interviewed.
So, how does a comedian who has already done four specials/albums that are 90 minutes long do when he hits the stage to do a short set? Can he just drop in and test material on some lucky stand-up stage like so many other comedians do? The answer is mixed. Titus doesn’t do as many short sets as he used to, which causes him some worry when they come across his desk. But he ends up doing well, a skill and flexibility he attributes to experience:
“You always worry that you won’t be able to pull something off, but I’ve been doing this since I was eighteen or nineteen so I still have those skills. Damon Wayans said something smart to me years ago. I always ask good comics what’s their advice about comedy and he said “don’t ever stop” even if you get a TV show.”
Wayans went on to point out that Eddie Murphy, for example, had gone off stage to pursue his movie career and had a lot of problems when he tried coming back to it. Robin Williams on the other hand still drops in to do a few minutes (up to several hours) on stages all over the country. Thus, he had never lost his ability to play in every situation.
“That’s the key, keep doing comedy and you can handle anything. I got a private gig once on top of a picnic table. I played once in a dance club where the only light was the light of the dance floor. This is where TV f***s up. TV thinks that what you do on stage as a comedian in a club will not translate to television. No, its exactly the same people. Human beings are human beings, are human beings. ”
This was the mentality he took with Titus (the TV show) constantly fighting to move the material from stage to screen. I’m glad he did. Next came the question of how fast or prolifically he has to write. After all, he’s written then moved on from 4 albums in a short time span.
“Well, this one is taped now. I’m in the weird sick to my gut, want to puke all the time feeling, where I have to break in a new hour of material. I’ll take a stack of paper on stage, put a stool in font of me and tell the audience look I can do Neverlution or I can break in all this new stuff, and the audience always yells “NEW STUFF!””
The album that started it all.
Titus cites George Carlin’s comment that all new comedians are “pussies” because they do the same material for 10 years. This is something that Titus will never do, but he does point out that all comedians have some iconic subjects, they will always address, if with new material, from album to album.
“Carlin always dealt with words, or talked about words... Pryor always did Mudbone or talked about women or drugs... my family will always be in my shows... A good comedian will build characters throughout the years. If those characters come back with a different story the audience has an odd comfort with it.”
In that vein, Titus will revisit his family in a serious way in the album AFTER then next one. Yep, he plans 2 albums ahead. So two albums after Neverlution, Titus plans to release an album called “Scarred for Life,” which addresses how all of his mistakes led him to the place he is today, and as such they are nothing to wish away. Family will feature prominently here.
But what comes between one and the other? Immediately after Neverlution will be “Titus 2012” an album in the guise of a 90 minute campaign speech.
“Its an intentionally funny campaign speech! As opposed to the unintentionally one we keep seeing from our politicians.”
At this point I flat out told Christopher that much as Lily Tomlin had for him, this interview and his amazing perspective into comedy was making me feel like I wasn’t doing enough to challenge myself as a comedian. He answered laughing, clearly charmed, with “You’re Welcome F***ER”.
Going off the subject of comedy for a second, we spoke briefly about something even I was surprised Titus had been involved in, at least until I did the research. Did you know that Christopher Titus’s first movie was “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” ? Well it was. Titus had this to say:
“Awww crap... why does every interviewer bring this up?”
He went on to mention we can all get the in-depth story of his time on this movie in the “Scarred For Life” album, as he’ll address how in his first scene ever, in his first movie ever, he accidentally almost killed another actor and wrecked a some-odd thousand dollar prop. He did point out though that interestingly when it was first cut, he was only in about one scene. Later, after Titus has been on TV for a few years, it was released in a director's cut edition and mysteriously the now well known actor’s four full scenes were in the film.
Ok this isn't from Killer Klowns, but I can't find anything that is. Get on it NERDS!
This amounts to only about half of our discussion, but in the interest of getting you people quickly to your televisions to watch Neverlution (or Killer Klowns) I will break this in half and release the next batch of interview gold next week. Still even at this point, I had come away with the same feeling I would hold when it was all over. This man is a true artist, dedicated to his craft. It was an honor to conduct this interview, and more so to watch the man do his thing in the Neverlution screener I was sent.
Want to get some advance looks at Neverlution yourself? Well check out this exclusive clip right here on CraveOnline.com! EXCLUSIVE CLIP!
Want more? Check out our full review HERE (it's got some clips too, just less exclusive ones).
Tune in next week for even more Titus action with the other, decidedly more shocking half of this interview, and some Titus fandom from the rest of the ComedyChannel writers.
Until then... Watch and laugh!