Chris D’Elia Is Getting Personal
I picked up on a sense of restlessness while talking to Chris D’Elia. While discussing some of his past standup material and TV roles, the 36-year-old comedian said, “I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again. I’m trying to evolve.” Part of this evolution involves exploring the potential depths of his new material — material that D’Elia is touring with now in preparation for his third standup special. The new stuff is more personal, a representation of where he has found himself and where he thinks he should go from here. “It’s less me making fun of things around me and more of me thinking about where I am in my life. I’m also trying to find the humor in being a 36 year old and not having any kids, deciding who I am late in life, that kind of thing.” I talked to D’Elia further about challenging people’s perceptions, working with your idols, and his upcoming show at the New York Comedy Festival this Friday.
I noticed that you’ve been adding a lot of tour dates recently. Are you working on a followup to Incorrigible?
Yeah, I’m going to be doing another special soon.
Do you have a date or city selected yet?
Not yet. I think I’m leaning toward Chicago. I’ve been looking at theaters there. It should be in the next two months that I’ll be shooting it.
Your dad [Emmy Award winning Director/Producer Bill D’Elia] has directed two of your specials. What’s it like working with your father in that capacity?
It’s awesome. That’s why I hired him. He’s my best friend. When I asked him to do my first special I was so excited that he wanted to do it. The fact that he wanted to do both of them was so cool. We have so much fun doing it. We want to work together forever.
How is your working relationship? Do things go smoothly or is there some push and pull creatively?
It’s definitely smooth. He’s always got great advice. He’s been doing it for a long time. I think he gives it a certain type of professionalism and look, subtly enough that you don’t notice it, but it kind of adds to the special more so than a lot of other guys who would do it.
Has the subject matter in your new stuff changed much since your last special?
Yeah, it’s less me making fun of things around me and more of me thinking about where I am in my life. I’m also trying to find the humor in being a 36 year old and not having any kids, deciding who I am late in life, that kind of thing.
I feel like people think they know you and have some idea of who you are, but is there anything that people might be surprised to learn?
Right off the bat I talk about being divorced. I think a lot of people think of me as this kind of party guy, which I don’t do it all. But I was married and I wanted to have that family life. That’s surprising to a lot of people I think. There’s a lot more depth in this hour than there has been in my last two. I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again. I’m trying to evolve.
Are you still interested in having a family and settling down?
I think so. I don’t know when. If you’re with somebody that you really care about and that’s where it’s headed, then that’s a good thing. But in the past I’ve been with girls who I thought would be great to live with forever, but kids weren’t in the plan. When I was married to my ex-wife kids were in the plan. It’s a case-by-case basis. You never really know what’s going to happen with who, but as long as you’re open to all of that and thinking about the possibility of what could happen, I think that’s the best way.
Do you apply that same open-mindedness to your career goals?
I don’t know. Once I start to get known for something, like if a bit I do becomes in the zeitgeist…I did that drunk girls bit and it went viral. A lot of people come up and say, “Oh, you should do that material.” I don’t do that anymore. Once I get known for something…if people know me from Whitney I get turned off. The second that started happening I wanted to be on another show. People think of me as a comedy guy and I love that standup is a huge part of my life, but I also want to do other stuff. I want to do drama. I want to do things that people don’t necessarily think about me doing.
You mentioned not being a big party guy. Do you think that not drinking and avoiding drugs has been an asset in your career?
I think too much of that stuff can definitely derail you. I think it is an advantage. I don’t mean for it to be. But not having that element to worry about or think about is a good thing professionally.
You started acting and high school and then later got into standup. If somebody asked you what do you do, would you say comedian first or actor first?
Comedian. That’s what I do. You’re lucky to get acting work. At my core I’m a comedian though. When I’m doing TV shows I can’t wait to get out of there, hopefully early enough to get onstage.
You got a big show coming up at the Beacon Theatre on November 4th as part of the New York Comedy Festival. It’s a huge line up with some real heavy hitters like Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, Gilbert Gottfried. How does it feel to be at a point in your career where you can share a bill with some of these comedy icons?
It’s pretty cool, man. It’s particularly cool when you see the poster and you’re next to these guys. It doesn’t feel right. On one hand it feels like I don’t belong there and I don’t deserve to be there, but I suppose I do. I work so hard. It still feels really weird, especially when you’re on there with guys who my dad would say, “Hey, watch him,” when I was growing up. I’m honestly grateful. I’m so glad I get to experience it and it do shows alongside these guys.
Why do you say that you feel like you don’t belong there?
A lot of these times I’m so much younger than these guys. Marc Maron, Jim Norton, Jim Gaffigan. I look up to them. It’s weird to think that they started so long ago. They’re icons now. Maybe they had the same feelings I had when they were younger.
What’s the best piece of advice a veteran comic has ever given you?
I got the best advice at one of my first shows. I think it was my first, actual, legitimate show. It was from a comedian named Alex Reymundo. I was burning a hole in the carpet, pacing back and forth before I had to go onstage. He came up to me and said, “Hey man, what’s your name?” I said, “I’m Chris.” He said, “You’ve got that look like you’re about to go onstage. It feels like maybe you’ve never done it before.” I said, “Yeah, this is my first real show.” He said, “Let me tell you something. I see you’re rehearsing and going over your bits. I just want you to know that when you get up there it’s not going to go the way you think it is.” He meant it in a supportive way, a “don’t worry about it” way. Like, let it go and live in the moment. That always stuck with me. He was right. He doesn’t know that I still think about that. I haven’t seen him in years, but it really helped me and I always think about that moment.