Comedian Christopher Titus on Dana Carvey, Sarah Palin and Killer Klowns
Did you really have to change Erin's name to "Kate" for legal reasons for the Love is Evol special?
No, I didn't really. You it's the weirdest thing that everything I said happened. So she put it into a record in the court saying horrible things about me. So if she ever said, "I'm going to sue him for libel." I could just go to the public records of the court and go, "She said it! It's right here." So she kind of screwed herself in a way.
That's unfortunate but funny.
Funny and expensive but it got me another ninety minute special.
Do you feel that exposing yourself so much in comedy has been pretty therapeutic for you in the long term?
Yeah, I think I haven't needed therapy since I've started doing comedy like this. I don't have a desire to go back to therapy because if something's really bugging me, I'll just get up and talk about it.
If you watch what [Richard] Pryor did -- and I'm kind of a student -- he'd get up on stage and if you broke down what he said, you'd be shot. He does this one bit and I think it's the Long Beach special. Here's the scene: he's at his house, he's got a .44 magnum, and he's blowing holes into his Rolls Royce because he doesn't want his wife to take his car. And they're in a fight. At that point, two white LAPD officers show up. In reality, we all know this story, the black guy is dead. But he makes it so funny, and it's such a bizarre story.
I had Rachel watch Pryor and she's like, "I don't get it." And told her "Comedy is different now but at that time he was pushing an envelope beyond what anyone understood what he was doing then. In that heart attack bit where he re-enacts his heart arguing with him and he goes, "Yeah you weren't saying that when you ate all that pork." He's doing that bit and you realize it's all pain based. It's all tragedy based. I think that's where I realized I could talk about my mom's suicide. Or I could talk about my divorce and the horrible things my ex did.
This show is called Scarred For Life. This one's about every screw-up I ever made. This one's about how I lost thirty million dollars by pissing off the network president.
You've probably taken inspiration from comedians other than Richard Pryor. Who are some of your other favorites?
I think Carlin was the best wordsmith we ever had. Carlin was a guy that as a comic, to even sit down and try to write like Carlin is daunting. Plus he's inspired me to keep writing new specials. I'm non-stop now. When Scarred For Life is filmed, I'll move on to the next one and write another one. If you really want to be a comic, you have to look at Carlin and go, "Okay, this guy did fourteen HBO specials and twenty-one albums." No one gets to play that game. There's no one even attempting that game. I'm attempting it now. I intend to beat Carlin. By the time I'm dead, I want to beat Carlin with material and quality. He's the gold standard.
Currently, I think Patton Oswalt is a genius. I watch Patton and I think I should be a welder sometimes. There's some bits that Patton has that I just go, "Where the hell did that come out of his brain?" I saw Paul F. Tomkins' last special. It was great. Really good storyteller. My girlfriend watched and said, "It's kind of slow." And I said, "Just stay with it." She stayed with it and he starts to unfold this story and pretty soon you're just riveted. I love storytellers. This whole shows is all about me telling stories about what a loser I am.
Paul F. Tompkins is brilliant in how he sets up a story.
He's really smart and really funny. And quirky funny like, what? The on the woman side, I think the only one that's gold standard right now is Maria Bamford. It's almost like someone takes over her body when she does those characters. It's like, "How is that voice coming out of you?" She's really good.
In the middle of those two groups of comics, Pryor, Carlin and those three, you go to Dana Carvey. When I started comedy, I got to work with Dana Carvey and I learned more from Dana Carvey in about two weeks of working than I've learned since.
What did you learn from Dana Carvey?
Everything, man. I asked him to watch my act one night and he asked, "Do you really want me to tell you what I think?" I said, "Yeah!" Here's the thing, because my dad was so hard on me, I can handle criticism. I can handle criticism. I want to hear what you really have to say and in fact, I won't respect it if you won't tell me the truth. So I get off stage and Carvey goes, "Well, number one, you don't look at the audience." I go, "Yeah, I do. I'm looking right at them." He says, "No you're not. You're looking over them at the back wall. You didn't look at the audience one time. That's why you're not connecting with them."
He made me do this thing where he said, "Next show, I want you to do this. Do your set-up to the joke to one person. To the person sitting right in front. Right in their eyes. Then I want you to say the punchline to the room. Then I want you to pick the next person and say the set-up to them and then the punchline to the room." He made me do this and it changed my show. I've given this advice to millions of comics and I would give Dana the credit on it. It changes everything because the audience all of a sudden becomes your friend.
I asked him, "When you get on stage, what do you feel like?" He said, "I like to be the guy in high school class, when the teacher has to run to the office, who gets up in front of the room and starts going off." I thought, wow, if you approach every show like that, the audience would just love you. There's a million other things I learned when I worked with him. Timing, commitment. By watching Dana I learned how to tell the same joke I've told a thousand for the first time every show.
That's probably pretty challenging.
It's not once you get it. It's all about the passion you have for the story. You have to hear the story for the first time. I would give him most of the credit for my learning. He doesn't even know. He did my charity benefit last year and I told him that. "You have no idea that without you, I wouldn't even be a comic." He goes, "What are you talking about?" I told him all those stories. He says, "I don't remember any of that." I said, "Of course you don't. You were just being a headliner helping a young comic out but all those things you told me, I still do." I think it might have creeped him out, quite frankly.
Why do you feel the internet has allowed you to make the most of your career?
The internet has made it so the artist can actually get paid for his art. I'm always shocked now by offers given to me [like when someone will say], "We want to buy your next special?" And I said, "Okay, what will you give me for it?" They give you a tiny bit of money and you look at your deal and you realize you've just spent two years of your life working on a new ninety minute show that's gonna make people laugh and when it's on DVD it's going to make them laugh for years. Then this middle management is going to take it over and they're going to get sixty percent of the profits or more. I just thought, "How the fuck do you guys believe that's fair?"
Now I know why Prince wrote "Slave" on his face when he had his Warner Brothers contract. It's so obnoxious that these guys come in and go, "We're going to put you in Wal-Mart and Best Buy." "Oh great, what am I going to get for it?" "Not a whole lot. We'll probably make three hundred grand. You'll make maybe forty grand." Why should I take that deal again?
Because of the internet and modern technology, there are companies that will do your DVDs for you. I do my own artwork on Illustrator. All the album covers I've done and I did them even when they were getting distributed. Now I sign every one and the fans get a personal thing and you can only get them from me. So by selling ten percent of what I would sell at Best Buy, I make twice as much money. All these companies are going to die off.
Obviously you've considered that your parents' behavior may be genetic in some way. Do you find you have to consciously avoid patterning those behaviors unexpectedly?
Oh my god, man, my dad's voice comes out of me all the time. My mom's, thank god, doesn't come out because my mom had too many voices coming out of her. I look at how I ended up when my dad raised me and I think there's a point that it was too much and that's the part I've taken out with my kids. But when it comes to taking responsibility and doing what you're supposed to do when my kids are in trouble. We were coming back on the airplane today and this little kid was just screaming and his dad was like, "Marcus, be quiet. Just calm down, Marcus." He just got louder. I would have given my kids just one look and they would have shut up. Because although I've never beaten, they think that I will. That's all you really need.
What inspired the "Armageddon Update" portion of your podcast?
It was a guy who ran a radio show and he asked me to send him stuff every week. I was spending all this time writing all these Armageddon Updates, and sending it to this guy, and it became popular. I started to realize I was getting nothing from this so I stopped doing it. Adam Carolla, of all people, said, "Why aren't you starting a podcast?" I said, "Well, I mean, I don't know." He goes, "It's going to help your comedy. It's going to help what you do on radio and you have an outlet to sell stuff. It'll be fine. People get to see you every week around the whole country and around the whole world.
We did one and the sound was horrible because I didn't know what I was doing. For some reason these characters came out of it. Everybody says, "I never feel like I'm doing a show. I just feel like I'm hanging out with my friends." I get to rant and rave about the world. The world pisses me off lately. It's a cancer cure. If you just suck it in all day, you'll go, "Oh god, the world's horrible." But I get to get up every week on the microphone and rant.
Sometimes I piss people off. We get letters that are angry. In The Forum I learned that not everybody is going to like what I do but that if I always told the truth, I would always be okay. I learned that if I don't piss a couple of people off every show, I'm not doing my job. If everybody's really happy, then I'm way too soft. If two people are like, "I'm never coming to see this guy again." The rest of the people are like, "I'm coming to see this guy every time he's in town." But those two people who say they're not coming to see me again, I'm okay with that.
Directly related to perhaps irking a few people, perhaps many, why did you and why do you have such a problem with Sarah Palin?
You've heard about that whole thing, right? I don't even have a problem with Sarah Palin. I have a problem with the ego of Sarah Palin and the narcissism of Sarah Palin. What I have a problem with is that we've become this society that we've become so monkey-brained now that we're watching this woman. She made Dan Quayle look like a genius. And she said shit that made you go, "What the fuck is she talking about?" And yet people kept going, "Yeah, she should run for president." I just wanted to shake the country like the baby and go, "What are you guys thinking?!"
So when she came up with that Paul Revere thing...look, I barely graduated from high school and I'm twice as smart as Sarah Palin. Even Paul Revere thing, "He was shooting the guns and ringing the bells and he warned the British that the British were coming." And I said, as a joke, "If she's going to run for president, I'm going to reserve a spot on the grassy knoll." We did it in a comedy club, they laughed really hard and we move on. Two days later, Fox's blog said, "Christopher Titus threatens to assassinate Sarah Palin." "What? What are you talking about?"
Then Bill O'Reilly got on and he called me a pinhead on TV, on the Fox News network. He said, "If this guy wants to come on and talk about it, we'll be glad to have him." So I called my publicist and go, "Call. I want to go on tomorrow." And they go, "No, we've settled it." Here's the weird thing: I had like four hundred death threats. Which is ironic because, "You can't threaten to kill somebody. Now we're going to kill you." What? There was a lot of irony with these idiots.
So I wrote an apology to the Palins and it said, "If you guys actually thought I was going to kill one of you, I apologize. That's not what I meant at all. It was just a joke. To that, the reason I wrote this, and the reason the audience laughed, is because we in America have set the bar so low on a possible leader that we would actually consider Sarah Palin? You don't give the stupid cheerleader the Uzi." That was my apology.
Yeah, this was the woman who talked about having so much international experience but didn't have a passport.
Right. Exactly. But she could see Russia from her front yard. It scared me that people got so fired up about it. You know, she lost John McCain the presidency. Let's be straight up clear: she lost John McCain the presidency. Had he chosen someone who was a competent leader, it would have been a lot closer than it was. No one just comes out and says that.
Many famous comedians do short bits at comedy clubs to stay sharp. What do you do to keep up your comedy chops?
You know, I don't. I just go out and do my show. I got in trouble with my manager recently. Here's how much I love comedy. They asked to go on a couple of auditions. I read the scripts and if I'm funnier than the script I'm reading, I won't go in on it. I don't want to dumb myself down. So I called him and said, "I don't want to do this." So my manager called back and said, "Listen, you've got to get back on TV. You've got to do this." I said, "No, you listen. Stand-up comedy has paid for my life. Stand-up comedy brought me from a guy who was a D/F student who could do nothing to a guy who gets to go around the country and make people laugh for a living. And I get paid very well. Movies and television have paid for my life for very short periods of time. And the whole time it was paying for my life, I was scared I was going to lose it. No matter what you do to me. No matter what you take from me, I can still go on that stage and be funny. So I'm going to keep doing comedy and I'll go on the stuff I want to go on." He couldn't argue with me. He said, "You're really frustrating."
Oh yeah, you mentioned how you want to beat Carlin and he did stand-up until the end of his life.
I love it. We had a week off and then we went back and I looked at Rachel Friday night and went, "God, I'm so glad I'm working." It's not that I was making money, it was that happy heroin that live comedy is. You can't find it anywhere else.
Follow us on Twitter!