Fans may best remember Christian Finnegan from his memorable appearance on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show and his current gig as Martin on the TBS series Are We There Yet? But for the past 15 years Finnegan has been performing in comedy clubs across the country, perfecting his craft as a storyteller while encountering colorful audiences along the way. Finnegan’s first album Two For Flinching was released by Comedy Central Records in 2006 and was followed up with a one-hour special in 2009 called Au Contraire, which is also available on CD and DVD.
recently spoke with Finnegan and talked about his first time doing stand-up, his favorite heckler from Alabama and why the youth of today should watch what they say online.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Christian Finnegan: I kind of hated stand-up when I was in college. When I started stand-up in college, it was right around the time when comedy was at its low point and the boom had kind of ended. When I thought of stand-up comedy I thought of kind of like douche bags with their sleeves of their sports coats pushed up, it seemed so corny to me even though I loved comedy as a kid. I graduated college and I was working in publishing and I felt a little aimless; I was 24 I think. I ended up at this place called Surf Reality which was kind of this alternative performance space and there was this big open mic on Sunday night called Faceboyz Open Mic Night, and you might see a musician and then see somebody doing slam poetry and then you might see some dominatrix whipping some dudes ass and then you might see someone get up and do stand-up. It was a very kind of an artsy fartsy world. It seemed like a really cool place to start, so I went a couple of times just to watch; the show would start at 8 at night and go until 3 in the morning. I wrote some jokes and it went really well and then I went up again a week later with jokes I had written that week and I ate shit - which is usually the way it happens.
So after that experience you started to pursue more stage time around New York City?
Yeah, it opened up a whole new world to me. I didn’t know how great and open ended stand-up could be. I’m actually a pretty traditional stand-up, which is funny because I didn’t like traditional stand-up when I started, but I didn’t realize at the time that you could express yourself in a way that felt natural. I felt like when I watched stand-up comedians they were never funny to me in the way that my friends were funny to me. I would never laugh at stand-up comics like the way I would laugh at my friends. So I started going to see the “alternative comedians” and they get kind of a lot of shit now; you know the Janeane Garofalo’s and the David Cross’ and those guys. But at the time it was such a fresh of breath air to me, like ‘Oh, this sounds like someone I would be friend with.’ That kind of got me into it, and then it just kind of becomes an addiction. The first time you bomb on, I think you learn pretty quickly if you never want to do it again you should probably stop, and if you desperately want to do it again. To clean the bad taste out of your mouth that probably means you’re going to be in it for awhile.
How many years have you been active now?
15 years as of this month actually. I did more sketch for the first 2 or 3 years honestly. I did some stand-up but like open mics and stuff, but sketch was where I had the first little bit of excitement in terms of an agent wanting to talk to us and people like that. But I don’t know, sketch groups man; egos come into play and friends become enemies. I like stand-up, it’s very mercenary.
In the fifteen years you’ve been doing stand-up can you recall a specific heckler that really stands out in your mind above the rest?
I did one weekend at the Stardome in Birmingham, Alabama – and I feel bad because Alabama obviously gets a lot of shit. I wasn’t a very seasoned headliner at the time, it was probably only my third of fourth club headlining and I wasn’t that good. I didn’t know to handle adversity; I only knew how to handle things when it was going well. I knew I was in Alabama, and I didn’t do a lot of political material at the time anyway, but there’s just something about me that if you are a hardcore conservative, you’re going to look at me and go, ‘That dude is not on my team.’ There’s something about my presentation and the way I say things that I think they smell me out. There was a dude who was really drunk that was yelling through the emcee and the feature and he had just gotten back from a tour of Iraq and this was right after the war had started maybe in 2004 or 2005, and I was onstage talking about the game Monopoly, a completely non-political kind of thing, and he just started yelling, “I’m fighting for your freedom of speech!” You don’t want to take the piss out of a soldier, especially one who just returned from seeing shit that you and I could scarcely imagine. But at the same time, when you’re a comedian and someone is causing crap, you have to take the piss out of him at a certain point or else the entire audience gets restless. It’s one of those things where the audience can smell fear, and if you don’t act like you’re in control of the situation you’re screwed. This was maybe eight minutes into my headlining set. Then he started yelling, “I’ve seen people die!” I started making fun of him and people started laughing, it was a little uncomfortable and then he just got up and started to just run to the stage. He was massive, I could only see his outline but he was jacked. The managers and the waiters surrounded him and there were like five dudes trying to drag him out but he had his hands on this railing and would not leave and it probably took then a good five minutes, which is forever when you’re onstage as they were trying to drag the guy out as he was yelling, “Fuck you! You’re a pussy! I’ve seen people die!” And then its like, ‘Okay, who’s dating?’ because I still had 30 minutes of comedy to do. It was surreal.