INTERVIEW: Christopher Titus
Comedian performs at The American Comedy Co. in the gaslamp Fri-Sun
Comedian Christopher Titus has lived a life full of ups and downs. From his days as a wild youth where he almost died after falling into a bonfire, to his reign on FOX as the network's new rising star, Titus seems to have done it all and lived to tell the tale. These days Titus is focusing on his stand-up career and will be performing at The American Comedy Co. in dowtown San Diego March 9 -11.
SanDiego.com recently had a chance to talk with Titus from his home in Los Angeles and discussed his first time doing stand-up, and the concept of what his latest special, Neverlution is all about.
What are you up to today?
Christopher Titus: I’m doing a charity show for the Insight Youth Project, that’s my charity. I’ve been calling all of these companies and I have to call all these presidents of networks and say, “Hey I need you to give me money.” We do one event a year; we’ve had Leno headline it, we’ve had Joe Rogan on it, we’ve had Bill Maher headline it. This year we got Dana Carvey. Hopefully we can end teen homeless in L.A. by 2020, that would be our goal. The politicians ain’t gonna fix it. These douchebags that run the city ain’t gonna fix it, the city’s gonna have to fix it and that’s the only way things really get done anyway.
Did you ever run away from home?
Yeah there was a couple of times I actually did bail. I left when I was 17 and started living on my own. So I do understand it. But as hard as my dad was on me, he gave me this weird background that life is hard and you gotta bust your ass. So when I finally told him to fuck off, and I left, I really had that. And I was lucky that I had an aunt that let me pay rent at her house and stuff. So I was really lucky in a lot of ways, and some of these kids aren’t. Some of these kids are living in the bushes off the 405.
So you left home when you were 17 and your first acting gigs were 21 Jump Street and Killer Clowns From Outer Space.
That’s so weird, because I’m such a bad actor in it. I have these uber Titus geeks show up with it, like they’ll have the DVD, and they know that it bugs me so they’re like, “Titus dude, sign it bro.”
What was more of a desire for you, to be an actor or to be a stand-up comic?
I never wanted to be anything but a stand-up comic, ever. Since I was 5, I had no desire to be anything else.
When was the first time you did stand-up?
Well, the very first time I did stand-up was at my senior follies. The last day of my junior year I fell into a bonfire at a party. And when I came back the next year at school, I was the pariah. So that whole senior year I was sort of an outcast. So I made two decisions: I went after the head cheerleader and I got her, took her away from her quarterback boyfriend. I’ve always had this chip on my shoulder thing, which most people who know me would say, “Oh yeah.” I hate it, but at least I know it now. After I fell in the bonfire, the doctor told me if I would’ve breathed in I would’ve died. And at that moment I made a decision that I want to do stand-up, but I don’t know how to do it, so I’m gonna do it. And for the senior follies, I wrote this thing about trashing a freshman. I wrote 5 minutes on the school, ripping on the school and all the teachers. Then the last bit we did was we actually tied up a freshman and called him a volunteer and we trash canned him onstage. Everybody who knew me said, “This is not going to work. You’re going to eat it in front of the whole school.” And I killed, and people were, like, stunned.
When was the first time you actually went up at a comedy club?
I think it was February of the next year, I’m not even out of school a year yet; I went to the Punchline in San Francisco. First of all, they could barely let me in the club, but I said I was a comic, so I sat in the back and watched these open micers and I was like, “Wow! I’m already funnier than these idiots.” I had written what I thought was about 15 minutes of material. I went home and stood in my aunt’s garage with this fucking boom box that had a built-in microphone that was like a foot long and you could flip it out like an antenna. I put that on a stool and I stood in the garage by myself for literally three or four hours at a time and rehearsed this set, over and over and over again. Because I knew when I got onstage my mind was going to shut down and I wouldn’t remember anything. So I rehearsed it to the point where I couldn’t lose it. So two weeks later I went back, and I believe the universe is like a drug dealer, where the first one’s free. Because I went on stage and I killed, I’m nineteen years old and I killed. Get off stage and the emcee says, “You’re going to be seeing a lot of him.” And I thought this was easy, so I went back the next week and they put me on, and I ate it. I ate it like the next three times. It made me not give up, but it made me want to work to get where I was. In 6 months I started featuring. I was insane.
Wow, you were already featuring when you were nineteen.
When comics ask me, “How do you make it in comedy?” I say, it has to burn in you. Like, you have to wake up thinking about it. You got to wake up thinking, “Holy crap, I’ve gotta do comedy today, or I gotta write something new.” A lot comics would go do their set and then they’d go hang out and drink. I would go home and write until 4 in the morning. I was nineteen, I couldn’t go drinking with them anyways, plus I wasn’t a drinker because I had just fallen into a bonfire two years earlier. So what happened was I started featuring, then I started headlining B-Rooms about a year and a half in. The weird thing for me was that it was almost a curse, because I learned really quick how to get over with an audience and what worked. And that’s a mistake for any comic. Don’t learn what works, learn who you are. I loved working with Dana Carvey, and I tried to be Dana Carvey for like three years. I had this kind of really hyper-happy act. So they bumped me up to headliner, so now I’m headlining B-Rooms and instead of being who I was, I was doing the show.
When would you say you found your voice as a comedian?
I was getting to this place, and I've always called it “Growing a tumor on my soul.” I started to fucking hate everything I said. Like I’d get off stage and stuff that killed I’d go, “God I fucking hate that bit.” So I was going to quit. It was about 12 years in, I had moved to L.A. I hadn’t gotten anything yet, I was headlining, I was doing okay, but was $80-grand in debt, and for a comic making $1,000 a week that’s not good. I was going to quit and open up a body shop. One day my manager told me, “If you don’t start being who you are onstage, I don’t want to work with you anymore.” So I went home and wrote this bit called “We need comedy to get rid of our desire to kill.” I didn’t write this bit to show him I could do it, I wrote this bit to stuff it up his ass and show him that it wouldn’t work. So I went down to Igby’s two weeks later, and I get done with it and the audience goes fucking nuts. First time I had ever done a bit like that. So I get a huge applause, and then I don’t have anymore material. I got nothing left like what I just did, so I drop back into my old crappy routine, and compared to what I just did it was fucking lame. The audience went dead silent. I had ten minutes, I had done three, and it was a fucking funeral. I kind of got from that moment that the audience wants to see who you really are and they only respond to the truth. I had an act, I had an hour and half of material that worked, and I had to throw it all away. Then I did a seminar called the Landmark Forum which was really inspiring. Their whole idea was like, “There’s no point in this world to try and make money, there’s no point in this world to try and be liked. The only thing you can do in this world is be excellent. So whatever you’ve chosen to do in this world, do it beyond what anybody else has done.” If you chase money, money’s like a hot chick, it just runs. But if you chase excellence, money follows you.
What can you tell us about Neverlution?
That special we filmed at The Escondido Arts Center. It was all about taking America back, like what’s happened to us since 9/11. We’ve actually lost our souls since 9/11, we became scared and we’re worried about everything. So this show’s about kind of not being afraid anymore, and taking America back for us. So this new show is like, End of The World Part 6. And the next show I’m writing is called “Scarred For Life.” It’s about what a fuck up I’ve been my whole life, and that without being a fuck up, I wouldn’t be who I am. I would never have this material to write about. Bruce Springsteen and his kid are fans. Like, without me being such a screw up I wouldn’t be where I’m at.
Does Christopher Titus have a message for the children?
Christopher Titus: The truth is you’ve got to be what’s in your heart and fuck everybody else. That’s what I would say to the children. I wouldn’t say “fuck everybody else” to a 6 year-old, but maybe to a 10 year-old I would.
Christopher Titus headlines The American Comedy Co. in dowtown San Diego March 9-11