Whether it is playing the role of actor, comedian, podcaster or all around wildman, there are few trails Christopher Titus hasn’t blazed in decades past. From the outside looking in, it may appear it all happened in a flash but Titus will be the first to tell you his rise to the top of the comedy scene has been anything but a harrowing journey. However, it is that very struggle fueling his creative fire and providing him with the plethora of razor sharp material he brings along when he hits the stage. His quick wit, dedication to his craft and hours of side-splittingly funny yet brutally honest material cemented his role as one of comedy’s greatest minds and earned him legions of dedicated fans along the way. Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Christopher Titus to discuss his comedic roots, his evolution as a performer, his upcoming projects and what the future holds for one of comedy’s brightest stars!
What drew you to comedy initially and made you take a shot at it professionally?
When I was 5 years old, I went to sleep every night listening to Bill Cosby records. I mean every night! I never listened to any kids albums. I think I might have had an Alvin and The Chipmunks album when I was a kid but Cosby was what I wanted to listen to every night, non-stop! I remember one night when I was staying with my mom, we lived in a really crappy apartment because mom was never doing that well. I would listen to my brother Russell, who I slept with, lying in bed listening to it as I was trying to go to sleep and deciding at that moment that I was going to be a comedian. I was literally 5 years old.
You mentioned Bill Cosby but who were some of the other influences who shaped the performer we see today?
Yeah, Cosby was the original interest for me but then Robin Williams came out with “Reality … What A Concept.” It was one of the first things I spent money on in my life! That is when I realized that you could do voices or whatever you want in comedy. When I started to work in comedy, I got the opportunity to work with Dana Carvey. Dana Carvey shaped a lot of what I know about comedy! He taught me how to perform and how to have fun on stage. I changed my act in 1997. I went from being a really likable comic to being myself! [laughs] At that point, it was just about being me and it wasn’t about being edgy or making a conscious choice to say, “OK. I’m going to be edgy now!” I had all of these stories about my parents, my life, alcoholism and my mom’s mental illness. A friend of mine said to me, “That is what you need to tell!” I did 12 years trying to be Dana Carvey and trying to be lovable and likable. The day that I didn’t give a rats ass what the audience thought anymore was the day I got funny.
You mentioned the change in the act. Was that a difficult transition to make?[laughs] Yeah! Well, it actually wasn’t. I am one of these people that once I know something works, I will throw everything else away. It was difficult doing it for the first time. The first time I did it, I was really scared because I had been trying to please the audience for so many years! I had been trying to be the guy who was [in a nerdy voice], “Hey! How ya guys doing? Are you good? Are you doing OK? Do you like me?!” I was that comedian! [laughs] What ended up happening was I got to this place where I was going to quit comedy. I have told this story a couple of times but it is absolutely true. I was going to quit. I was literally done with comedy! I called it, “growing a tumor on my soul.” I would be on stage telling a joke and I hated it! As the joke was coming up in my brain, I would think, “God, I hate this joke! This is lame! It is so lame!” I had written this act and had started writing about my mom’s mental illness. It changed my whole style when I wrote this bit called “We need comedy to get rid of our desire to kill.”
Basically, it is a bit where instead of walking onto the stage and saying, “Hi! How ya doing? Welcome to the show!” I would go [in a very serious tone], “Do you people even know why you are here today? Do you think it is because you like paying $4 for a beer?” I started this horrible bit about the worst day you could ever have and why people come to comedy clubs. At the end of it, I am stabbing my boss in the chest and I am screaming at the top of my lungs, “I just need a good laugh!” It’s a three-minute bit about why people come to comedy clubs. There’s not a, “Hi, how ya doing?” in there or anything nice. It just focuses on this nightmare day you could have. I was so scared that I took a buddy of mine from acting class with me. I was like, “I don’t know if this is going to work. The audience might just get up and beat my ass! I don’t know what is going to happen!” I did it and I have to be honest with you, I had some lame ass material! Before I did this show, I was doing a five-minute bit about waking up in the morning about, “Ya know, the tiles are really cold and the shower has two settings, arctic and lava!” It was just lame. So, I get on stage that night and do this crazy, over the top bit about the worst day you could have and why comedy is important and the audience went nuts! I was three minutes in to my set and the crowd was going nuts! There is applause and I take an applause break and then, I had nothing else. I had just planned to try out this one bit and I figured it wouldn’t work and I had my saver material planned. The exact opposite happened! This bit kills when I am all angry and screaming about why we need comedy and when I break for applause and go back into this shit that happens to you in the morning, the audience stopped. They totally stopped laughing. They were done! I was like, “What just happened?!” [laughs]
Afterwards, I talked to a really good friend of mine, who was my manager at the time. I said, “What was it?” He said, “You told them the truth. With that first piece, you showed them who you really were. You showed them the psychotic, over the top, ranty guy that you are and then you turned around and showed them the fake, bullshit guy you have been being and they instantly knew it.” That was the night that I really got clear on audiences. I realized that if you really want to get an audience, all you have to really do is tell them the truth. Even if it is not that funny but it is compelling because if you are telling the truth and not making some bullshit up, they will follow you anywhere, man! I literally went home that night and I started writing. I threw all of my old material away. The stuff that I started writing turned into “Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding,” which turned into “Titus,” which has lead me to my fifth comedy special right now!
I would think a change like that might impact the way you write. What can you tell us about that?
I have a couple different processes for writing stories but honest to God, if it’s boring, I won’t write it! The new show is called “Scarred For Life.” You will never see me write a dick joke, you’ll never see me write a fart joke or a sex joke because it is covered! [laughs] There are plenty of comics covering that area and it is well trod ground. This new show is about what a loser I am. My whole life I have thought that I am a loser. I think a lot of people feel that way and it doesn’t matter how good things are going, there is always something missing. So, I wrote this show called “Scarred For Life” to be thematic. It is every screwup I have ever had in my life and it ends with a 22-minute story about me meeting Bruce Springsteen and about how I was hitting the pinnacle of “I’m not a loser” but during the night I was a loser so many times. I said the stupidest shit to these famous people that you wouldn’t even believe! Even at the height, I was still a loser. At the end of the day my comedy needs to be funny, number one, but if it doesn’t mean anything, there is no point in doing it. If there is no point in doing it, I might as well just open up a body shop and work on cars!
You recently were working on the “Christopher Titus In 2012” campaign. What can you tell us about that?
We had been doing it for a while and here is the weird thing about the truth, this goes back to what I was saying earlier. I had come up with this idea after “Neverlution,” which was my last one and that was really my 2012 campaign. “Neverlution” was basically 110 minutes on how to take the country back, what is wrong with America and how, at the end of the day, it is all our fault, no one elses. I do that show and at the end, I thought, “OK, this did really well. I am going to run for president in 2012 as a joke, kind of an homage to Pat Paulsen.” OK, but here is the thing about the truth. I start putting together this show, not based on anything other than this weird concept. It was almost like I took on a concept album that didn’t work! I wrote the show and we did it a couple of times and did it for about three months. Here is the weird thing, because it wasn’t the truth and was this made up character running for president, it was hard to remember and it was hard to get the audience to buy into it. I mean it did well a couple of times, I mean, it was me still doing a good show but the weird thing was it never really had the impact I thought it should. I had this other show, “Scarred For Life,” planned for after it. Like I said, it is about all of my screwups. Dude, my first job, I was Darth Vader. I was Darth Vader for kids parties, which was the worst idea ever that someone had! [laughs] I tell that story about destroying a 6 year old’s birthday party. There is a story where I went out and recked my Viper, stuff like that. The thing about when I say I am a loser is that I am not a guy who hasn’t succeeded! I am the guy who has succeeded but then I go and screw it up! That’s what I do! Look at my television show! I was killing it! But I got in an argument with the network president and I got the show killed. It was my fault and that is why I am a loser! I get in my own way all of the time! So yeah, I did a show where the premise doesn’t really work. It’s OK, it gets laughs and I am still competent but it doesn’t have what “Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding” or “Love is EVOL” had. At some point, my girlfriend turns to me and says, “Why are you doing this?” and I said, “Ya know, because the presidential race is coming up.” She said, “Is that why? That’s not what you do! You are the guy who gets up there and tells the pure truth about whatever, make it funny as hell and then you drag the audience through a nightmare. You make that funny and then you give them a way out at the end! That’s what you do.” Then I go, “Well, you are right but I am not ready to do the new show.” She looked at me, this was in Phoenix at first view, and said, “Just get up there on Thursday night and do the show.” The weird thing is this — these are all true stories from my life. They are true stories about my dad, my mom and how she left me. I mean, my mom used to take me to bars as a kid! My bedtime was last call! [laughs] And I’m not kidding! One time I walked out on Hollywood Boulevard as a 4 year old because my mom had gone out back with one of my “uncles.” I couldn’t find her, so I walked down Hollywood Boulevard at midnight looking for her and I got picked up by the cops.
Yikes! That is pretty scary stuff, man!
Yeah! [laughs] And here is what the cops did! They found my mom, gave me back to her and scolded her. In today’s world, Child Protective Services would have been helicoptered in and dropped to the street on zip lines and taken me away from her forever! [laughs] So, I ended up doing “Scarred For Life” and I really hadn’t even written it yet, these were just the stories I had. I got on stage that Thursday night and all I had was a piece of paper with a list of the stories that I wanted to tell and that Bruce Springsteen story. I told them all in order and then the Springsteen story and I got a standing ovation! I went from this presidential show, which was going to be very arduous, and working to “Scarred For Life” where I got a standing ovation the first time I performed it. First of all, I stopped the audience that night and said, “You guys are mistaken! You just like me too much! This show is not ready for that!” [laughs] But it really taught me the difference between this show and the presidential show was that I was telling the truth! I was telling the truth again. This new show is probably the closest to “Norman Rockwell” that I have ever done in the sense of where it goes. I guarantee if you think you have screwed your life up and you have done some stupid things along the way, you’ve got nothing on me! [laughs] Come see the show because you will say, “I have never screwed up that bad! I mean, I had an argument with a network president that cost me $30 million!” [laughs] Yeah, you will hear that story! I am an idiot, dude! I am such an idiot!
You recently reclaimed ownership of your previous comedy specials and will be distributing them through your website. That is a pretty major development. What does it mean to you as an artist?
I always say this — I know why Prince wrote SLAVE on his check for all of those years! “Love Is EVOL” sold 40- or 50,000 copies through Best Buy and Wal-Mart and I have never gotten a dime from it. They never paid me. The guy who wrote all of this stuff, the guy who performed all of this stuff and worked for years in crappy clubs, that guy doesn’t get a dime but these middle management copies who did NOTHING except for the packaging get all of the money. With “Neverlution,” I didn’t even negotiate with them. They said, “We will give you this much and we will distribute it” and I said “Nope! I’ll do it.” You want to talk about some pissed off people! Wow! Here is my thing, why shouldn’t it be a case of the artist in control. Nowadays, when I want to buy something from an artist, I try to find their website and buy it from them directly. I mean, why not? They did all of the work! Why shouldn’t they get all of the money? I am really proud because I just released six hours of comedy. I have filmed six hours of comedy since 2004. The box set is called “Get A Real Job, Numbnuts.” That comes from my dad. He hated my comedy. He used to come to the comedy club and not watch me but he would turn his chair and watch the audience. He would always find the people that didn’t like my show! He would say something like, “That guy over there hated you man. I don’t know what you said but that guy didn’t like you at all. You need to stop doing those jokes about your dad is what I think.” He would follow that up with, “You need to get a real job, numbnuts.” So, the title of the box set is kind of an homage and a fuck you to my dad. [laughs]
You do a great job with your website, social media outlets and your podcast. Do you feel social media has had a big impact on you as an artist?
It has been phenomenal, man. Twitter is intimidating, I have to be honest with ya. Being a comic, I want to always make sure that I send something out that is funny. I promise you that you won’t see this tweet from me, “Hey, these new socks that I bought are amazing!” [laughs] I try to make sure when I tweet that it is about something. Everlast [of House of Pain] is a good friend of mine and he said, “I had to cut that Twitter shit off, man!” I asked why and he said, “Because, when I try to go to sleep all I can think about is what I’m gonna tweet tomorrow!” [laughs] “It started to run my life, so I just canceled it!” The podcast is really great. I have noticed a switch in my audience because of the podcast. It has been doing really well and it is something that I really love doing. I have this weird political outlet or world outlet with whatever is going on and I don’t have to bring it to the stage every week. I can still do my show one person show style and then during the week I can do an hour and rant about the world!
What got you involved with the podcast side of things initially?
Adam Carolla. He said to me one day [in Adam Carolla voice], “Titus, just listen man! You gotta get on the podcast. I’m not even a comedian and we are selling out theaters. Plus, you are always funny on my show so just get on the podcast!” So, we just started doing it and I have Bombshell Rae and my buddy, Stuntman Tommy. He really is a stuntman but isn’t the best when it comes to book learnin’. It’s weird how in to it people get. You will get people on Facebook saying [in an excited yet agitated voice], “Dude! Where is the podcast?!” Some people get very serious about it. “The Armageddon Update” started because I used to work with this DJ and he said, “Titus, can you send me something?” I came up with “The Armageddon Update” which is basically a three minute rant on whatever is going on in the news. One day I realized that this guy was making money off of me and I wasn’t making any! He was just running the segments that I did, so I kinda stopped doing it. When we started doing the podcast, I brought it back because it is such a cool opening segment. Again, it is just whatever is going on in the world and me screaming and ranting about it!
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to someone who wants to pursue a career in comedy?
There are two things. It has to burn in you. You have to be fake in comedy all of the time. Anybody who says, “I am going to be an actor but I am going to do comedy so I can get my own TV show.” That guy, he needs to quit. Don’t do comedy, just be an actor. If you are more like, “I HAVE to get on stage and say this!” That is when you are a comic. The only other thing is that you have to write new material all of the time. Develop the stuff that works but as soon as something works, start writing new material because your writing increases. I have seen a lot of guys over the years not write and what ends up happening is they have a 45-minute act and it stays the same for 10 years and they are wondering why they never made it. Write, write, write, write, write! And if you don’t love it and being on the road, being away from your family and dealing with drunken idiots, this is not a career for you! [laughs]
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Chris Titus? — no plans on packing it in any time soon I hope!
No, man! I want to be that annoying comic at 85 years old that pisses all the younger comics off because I am still funny! [laughs] I want to be a disease in comedy until I am over 80 years old!
Awesome! I am looking forward to catching you live very soon and checking out “Scarred For Life.” It’s been a pleasure speaking with you!
Thanks, man! “Scarred For Life” is really cool man. The weird thing is that it is doing too well too early, so here is what a loser I am! I don’t think the show is working as well as it is yet! That is why I am a loser. I just can’t fathom that it is doing as well as it is doing! It’s sick, man. I hope I never lose this psychosis. I really think if I lost this psychosis, I really would have to quit comedy!
Hopefully it sticks around then! Thanks again, Titus!
Thank you! I really appreciate it!
For all of the latest information on Christopher Titus, his upcoming projects and tour dates, visit his official website at www.christophertitus.com! You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TitusNation and listen to his podcast at www.tituspodcast.com!