Why So Serious, Christopher Titus?By John Wenzel | March 28th, 2013 | No Comments »
Comedian Christopher Titus is best known for his Fox sitcom “Titus,” which premiered to rave reviews but only ran for two seasons from 2000-2002 after a series of clashes between its creator and network executives.
But Titus has kept busy over the years, releasing stand-up specials at a rapid clip and touring the country while cranking out a couple episodes of his podcast each week. Titus is also a Colorado favorite, having headlined the Aspen Laff Festival the last couple years at the Wheeler Opera House.
We caught up with the 46-year-old California native, who headlines Comedy Works South Friday, March 29 through Saturday, March 30 to talk about his latest special, “The Voice in My Head” (available as a download exclusively through Titus’ website), the importance of knowing your comedy history, and why Denver is one of the country’s best cities for stand-up.
You’ve headed up the Aspen Laff Fest the last couple years. Do you have any idea why they like you so much there?
I have no idea, but it does feel like a small town fest, which is great. I did two entirely different shows there, “Neverlution” and “Voice in My Head.” The great thing about festivals across the board is that, as comics, we get to see people we never get to see, so I got to see Bobby Slayton, Robert Hawkins, Jake Johannsen — guys I kind of started with.
Did you ever do the HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Fest in Aspen before they pulled it in 2007?
No, but I hope this new one gets bigger. I think they’re maybe looking for a sponsor or something. Really, it’s a blast. You get to hang out, you get to hear the new nightmare stories about some horrible industry executive saying some stupid shit. It’s almost like tuning up on the business.
You were part of last year’s documentary on Lenny Bruce, “Looking for Lenny,” and you seemed really passionate and knowledgeable about stand-up history on it.
Thanks, I am. I love what I do. People have really no idea. I love it. Like, I got in an argument with a manager — who’s no longer my manager — they had sent me this script for this audition, and here’s my arrogance and narcissism talking. I read the script and I was like, “I have a Writers Guild nomination for ‘Titus’ and I’ve sold like five or six shows, and if you’re going to send me something that’s not as funny as I can write, why would I do it?” And he’s like “Damn it, you gotta get back on TV!” And I’m like, “Hey, TV and movies have paid my bills in very, very, very short instances. Comedy has been paying my bills and giving me a reason to live since I was 19 years old.” Comics diss people who give up stand-up to go into TV, and at the most a TV career lasts, AT THE MOST, five or seven years. But with stand-up I’m never off, I get to do new stuff, and I have no dumbass executive saying, “You know that bit you do about redefining the word retard? There’s no way audiences are going to go for that.” So when they asked me to do the Lenny Bruce thing I was happy to do it. All of us, Jim Norton, Bill Burr, Carlin, we all owe it to Lenny Bruce.
Speaking of Bill Burr, I know he’s a buddy of yours and an outspoken comedy critic. Do you, like him, find classifications like “alternative comedy” and “indie comedy” to be divisive?
I think any good comic is just finding himself. You put Patton Oswalt up there — I don’t give a shit what you think, Patton Oswalt is a comic. I would never call him alternative or whatever, he’s just good. But all the people who are trying to copy Patton Oswalt, who are pretending to be above the room — I hate that shit by the way. Anybody who says they’re above the room is an idiot. It drives me nuts. Those people are the worst. But I don’t care if you’re alternative or play a fuckin’ banjo or have a ventriloquism act like Jeff Dunham. If you’re funny, you’re funny. And the audience tells you. The good news about Jeff Dunham is that he shut down everyone else who was being a ventriloquist.
Fewer comedy ventriloquists is a great thing.
But when somebody gets an attitude about comedy and other comics… if the audience howls with laughter, you’re a good comic. Jim Norton — he’s so dirty but it’s the best dirty stuff you’ve ever heard. Dave Attell, he’s so wrong but so funny. He makes the best right turns you’ve ever seen in a comic.
Well, those guys are all considered comics’ comics. What about someone who’s really embraced by the alternative and indie scenes, like Janeane Garofalo?
I used to hate Janeane. The maddest I ever got at a comic was when she was on HBO years ago and brought up a notebook and just started reading out of it. When you don’t care enough about the show, or you think you’re so cool that you don’t have to care about what happens when you get on stage, you should just walk off. BUT… I just did a movie with her and she’s the coolest. I think she’s great now.
You’ve been doing stand-up since you were a teenager and seen a lot of sides of the industry and art form. What’s your general take on it these days?
I still think it depends on where you are. There are islands of comedy in Boston, San Francisco — and Denver is one now. And a lot of it has to do with Wende (Curtis, owner of Comedy Works). She’s slowly adjusted and built and guided the Denver comedy scene for a long time, and the great thing about Wende is that she doesn’t handle bullshit. Audiences have definitely gotten smarter and more savvy because of the Internet. Audiences aren’t apt as much to go for shitty comedy, whereas in ’80s and ’90s they’d go for the same old crap. And that still happens a lot, but now audiences are like, “Meh…” To get a draw now, you have to have honesty and you have to have originality. That’s why I tell stories on stage about my family and friends and stuff. You can’t steal them! I started when I was 19 and so I’ve been doing it for awhile. This (April 1st) special is my fifth special I’m releasing, and on this tour I’m breaking in 45 minutes of new stuff. Once it’s in a special it’s done.
Are you one of those comics, like Louis C.K., who overhauls his entire act every year or so with new jokes?
I’d say within a year and a half. It has to be organized and it has to be tested. But yes, I toss a show when we film it. “Voice in My Head” is coming out April 1st, so I can’t do it anymore. It’s done. Louis C.K., Bill Burr, myself — there’s some guys who do that. And it all goes back to George Carlin. He had a new show every year to 18 months. It’s a pure truth.
Who are some other comics you admire?
You know, Lily Tomlin is brilliant. I saw her show “Signs of Intelligent Life” back in 1989… or ’90? Maybe even before that. I felt like such a shitty comic after seeing it. She set a different bar for me, doing all these great characters and having these overlapping conversations with four characters at once. I thought, “I can’t just talk about nothing now!”
You’ve done over 100 episodes of your “Titus Podcast” since January 2011. Do you think podcasting might be the new boom and bust, or is it pretty well established?
I think we’re established now and I don’t think there’s going to be another boom and bust. I think that comedy became fast food in (the ’80s), but if Applebee’s all of a sudden closed that would be surprising, right? Just like if all the Improv (clubs) closed. But laughter is laughter, and new food places would come in regardless.
I didn’t know Bill (Burr) had done his podcast for six years, which is nuts. We do two episodes a week and get about 15,000 downloads a week. We finally hit a million downloads recently. What I get out of it is it forces me to sit down and write comedy. I’m smarter because of the podcast, by the way. I have a lot more knowledge about the world, OR you can tell how un-knowledgeable I am by listening to it, because I’ll be all fired up about something I read online that’s totally off-base.
Ha… that’s one way of putting it. What’s your general approach to doing your podcast? I know everyone’s is different, from Adam Carolla’s off-the-top-of-his-head rants to more prepared stuff. Carolla I think just shuffles out of bed and goes down the hall to his podcast “studio” for each episode.
I built a podcast studio, the Combustion Lounge, for mine. We don’t have a lot of guests. There was a circle jerk going on for awhile where all the comics were doing each others’, and I think (Marc) Maron’s started it, but I wanted to do like a “Daily Show” version of a podcast. What Jon Stewart does is so brilliant. Our guests are few and far between, and it’s not because we can’t get ‘em, because I have lots of people calling asking to be on. Hmmm. Now I’m thinking maybe it would help with listeners…
Do you have a favorite episode so far?
We did one called “The Dark Knight” after the Aurora shooting. We did one about the Newton shooting. Here’s when I know it’s good: if people are fired up “yes” or fired up “no.” One of my cohorts said something about guns and I went off for about five minutes. I was literally just lecturing everybody and when I got the range of response I knew I had done something right.