Chris D’Elia’s stage is set for a hallmark 2013
Chris D’Elia’s manic stage presence and energetic delivery make him perfectly suited for life as a standup comic, but when he was trying to break into comedy he first took a different route. D’Elia tried his hand at being an actor first, then a writer, but when that wasn’t working out, he decided to take the plunge into the do-or-die world of standup. As it turns out, it was the best thing the young comedian could have done.
“With standup, I started out of frustration,” D’Elia says, speaking with Submerge over the phone before a gig in Denver, Colo. “I was a writer and an actor and I wasn’t getting any work.”
Becoming a standup comic was always his ultimate goal, D’Elia says, but originally he didn’t take the stage out of a desire to follow his dream. More so, he felt he had no other option to get his career off the ground.
“I just got on stage at a loss,” he says. “I was like, you know what? I’m not doing anything. I was 25, and when I got on stage I finally felt like this is what I’m going to do. This is me. This is great. And it became what I do. It’s how I get work in acting and everything. Anything I’m a part of it’s because they know me from standup and it’s great.”
His work as a comic eventually got him his break in acting. D’Elia starred as Alex Smith, Whitney Cummings’ live-in boyfriend on the NBC sitcom Whitney. The show ran for two years, but was just canceled in March 2013.
“I loved Whitney,” he says. “I loved the cast and crew. I woke up every day and got to do what I wanted to do. Not a lot of people can say that.”
While D’Elia was sad to see Whitney go, it won’t be the last you’ll see of him on network television. In the fall, his own show Undateable will premiere in the fall, also for NBC. The half-hour, multi-camera sit-com has Scrubs’ executive producer Bill Lawrence at the helm and is written by Due Date’s Adam Sztykiel. In it, D’Elia serves as the main lead, Danny Beeman. Brent Morin, who opens for D’Elia’s standup act, will also star in the show.
In June, D’Elia will also begin filming a movie.
“It’s called Flock of Dudes,” he says. “It’s about a group of guys who are too close of friends, and it’s ruining their lives, so they decide to break up and not hang out with each other for six months, but they all work together so they’re trying to avoid each other. It’s pretty funny.”
Standup was the springboard for his career, but D’Elia is as focused as ever on his stagecraft. In the following interview, he talks about his popularity on video sharing app Vine, his standup career, conquering his fear of the stage and what life is like as a “black comic.”
You’re in Denver tonight right?
Yeah, I am. It’s really nice up here.
I’ve been through Denver once. It’s a fun city, but it’s got a weird vibe. I don’t know if it’s the mountain air or what. People seem a little wilder up there.
Yeah, I think it might be because at certain times of the year they don’t have much to do so they go nuts.
Does the altitude affect you in any way since you talk on stage for an hour?
The last time I was here, it did. It definitely takes its toll on me. I get anxious. A few days in, I get short of breath. But I live.
I was checking out some of your standup clips on YouTube the past few days leading up to the interview. How do you feel about clips of your live show being up online for free?
If it was already on TV, I don’t care. If it was already on TV, then it’s good to have it up online too so people can access it, so I like that. When it’s just from the club, or a fan or audience member did it, I always message them to take it down, and they’re usually pretty cool about it. If it’s like The Laugh Factory shooting it—they’ll shoot a lot of their shows and they’ll ask you if they can put up stuff—I always tell them no with the material and OK if I’m just messing around with the audience, because that’s just going to be a one-time thing. It’s not something I’m working on.
Yeah, I noticed a lot of The Laugh Factory clips, which is why I asked. I noticed a lot of them were you interacting with your audience…
Yeah, that’s why they’re up there. Sometimes because of that, people think that’s what I do at shows, that I mess with the audience, and that’s not the case. I don’t like that. I don’t enjoy it. I’d rather do my act than have somebody heckle me, because that’s annoying.
So audience participation isn’t something you particularly enjoy?
No. I’ll do it, because I like to put people in their place for being rude.
I saw a couple of clips where you were ragging on Drake…
Yeah, I don’t know. I’ll be driving to the clubs, and there’ll be hip-hop on, and then I’ll be like, “I’m going to talk about this on stage.” Those two bits, those were like the only times I did those, and Laugh Factory got them on camera. If it’s a really current topic I’m talking about, I don’t mind if they use it, because it’s not like I’m going to be talking about it for a few years. If the song’s hot, maybe it’ll catch on. And they did.
Have you gotten any backlash from Drake fans?
No not really. I don’t know if Drake saw them or anything. I say in the clip that I like his music, so it’s not a hateful thing.
You told us about trying to become an actor and writer before trying standup. Was acting or writing your first focus?
I always wanted to do comedy first and foremost, but I wanted to be an actor. I wasn’t getting work as an actor, so I started writing. I thought maybe I could write a good script and maybe do that, create my own opportunity. That didn’t work out. I was like, forget it, I’m going to get on stage because I need people to immediately see what I’m doing. I need some people to recognize what I do. Even if they’re going to boo me, at least people are seeing my work.
Does being on a sit-com or working on a TV show cut into your standup routine at all?
Not too much. I did 430 shows before I got on Whitney, and when I got on Whitney, I was able to do 300 and something. So, it’s a little bit. It kind of makes me obsess about it less, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s all for the standup, dude. All the TV and all the other stuff, whatever helps get people in the seats and have me do shows is the best. I shot my special about a month and half ago in New Orleans, so it doesn’t slow me down too much…
Standup is what I always wanted to do, but I was afraid to do it. It took getting beat up in the business for me to actually be like, alright, I’m going to get on stage. Standup was the first thing I ever wanted to do though.
Was it just the business being rough that got you over that fear or was there another catalyst?
It’s like this, dude. If you’re getting beat up in an alley by three guys and another dude comes along like, “I’m going to beat that guy up too,” you’re like, OK, bring it on. It’s like, what’s one more dude? That’s what I was like when I was like I’ll do standup.
I was looking at your Twitter feed today and I saw that you’ve been posting a lot of videos on Vine, which is really starting to pick up steam, even though it’s not at Instagram level yet.
No, it’s not at Instagram level yet, but it’s a force to be reckoned with. It’s pretty much the only thing I get recognized for now. If I’m walking down the street, people are like, “Oh my God, you’re the guy on Vine!”
The stuff you’re doing on Vine almost seems like guerilla comedy. You find things that happen on the street or wherever and you comment on them. Have you been attracting a lot of followers?
I’ve got one of the most followers on Vine, I think. But I think it’s cool because it’s just purely me. It’s nothing else but what I would do with six seconds. Some people are buying wigs and shit on Vine and trying to make funny videos. I’m just trying to comment and be funny.
Has anyone you’ve commented on ever caught you and taken exception to it?
No one has caught me in the act, but a few people have commented on it later and said, “Hey, that’s me!”
So they’re more honored than anything else?
Yeah, they’re honored. I was Vineing at the mall in Dallas, and the kid left school and came to the mall. This kid came and said, “I saw you Vineing, so I left school and came to the mall,” so I did a Vine with him. It was really funny.
The other thing I’d noticed on your Twitter feed is that your headline reads, “White male. Black comic.” Were black standup comedians your biggest influences in comedy?
I always liked that style, but also it was an inside joke. This other comedian, Erik Griffin, he’s black and he would always say about my act—because I’m all animated and shit—that, “you’re blacker than I am on stage.” It was a joke, but I would say, “Yeah, I’m a white dude, but a black comic.” I put it up as my Twitter headline as a joke and then people started to talk about it on my Twitter feed. I think that’s what I’m going to name my comedy special, White Male, Black Comic.