Chris Fairbanks on Sexpot Comedy, suicidal civil engineers and the Tosh controversy
Chris Fairbanks is a standup comedian, illustrator, and skateboarder who has appeared on Conan, Comedy Central's Premium Blend, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Fairbanks is making the most out of his trip to Denver this week, with performances scheduled every night starting with 8 p.m. Thursday, March 20 at Deer Pile, where he'll share a story for the Narrators podcast. At 8 p.m. Friday, March 21, he'll be at the Oriental Theater, co-headlining Sexpot Comedy's Vernal Equinox showcase with Rory Scovel and a load of local chucklers. Fans can also catch Fairbanks with the Fine Gentleman's Club at 10 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at the Meadowlark and performing with Andrew Orvedahl at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 23 Comedy Works South. Westword caught up with Fairbanks in advance of his packed visit to talk about Sexpot comedy, the Texas highway system and the Tosh rape-joke controversy.
Westword: Hey Chris, thanks for calling me back. The number I had for you wasn't right.
Chris Fairbanks: So were you just interviewing some random guy?
I ended up talking to a terribly confused Latina woman.
I wish that my character work was that good. How long did you interview her before you realized in wasn't me?
A couple of minutes. I did think that it was a high-concept joke you were doing, so I persisted longer than I would have otherwise.
That's great. I can never convincingly do characters like that. I can't ever prank anyone, even lightheartedly.
Well, you came up in improv, right? I was just trying to "yes, and" with your befuddled Latina character. On a separate note entirely: A lot of L.A. comics have flown out to do the Sexpot shows at the Oriental. Have you heard anything about their experiences?
I haven't, but I trust all the guys out there I've been talking to. The last time I was in Denver, I was at...do you have a theater called the Gothic?
Yeah, I did a show there, and that was amazing. I think this time will be even better. Rory Scovel is getting pretty well-known now, so I hope that doubles people's interest in coming out.
Everyone can smoke weed now, too.
Which is fine. As long as I'm not high, I don't mind what the audience does. I love it when audiences are high. I've tried to do standup high and it didn't work. Everything makes sense in two-minute increments and then I lose control. I tell my brain that it's high and I lose control. That's how I am at parties, too. I'm a bad weed-smoker. I've never been a regular weed-smoker, but I also don't think I've ever turned it down.
There's that improvisation spirit again. When you were starting out in Austin, did you do improv before standup?
I did. When I moved there, in the late '90s, there used to be an improv festival. It was called something like "The big, stinkin' improv festival."
Is it still going on?
No, it ended in like '99, I think. My improv group from Montana went there, and then my girlfriend was going to UT for film school. I knew that I wanted to get into standup, so I called a few of the comics I knew out there and started going to the two open mics they had.
Was it just Velveeta Room and Cap City back then?
Yeah, that's where I started out.
I can't really confirm or deny this, but from my experience it seems like because everything is so far apart in Austin, people are just cool with risking DUIs. There's a big drunk-driving culture out there. People park on the wrong side of the street often, like front to front.
You're right! Yeah, cars will get into collisions, then the drivers just shake hands and drive away. There's a lot of head scratchers when it comes to how people in Texas use their vehicles. The freeways there are so dangerous. The on-ramps make you cross two lanes of oncoming traffic on a frontage road and then have to merge from a dead stop onto the freeway. People drive so fast, too, no matter what the weather conditions. It's do-or-die there for drivers.
I don't know if this is an apocryphal story or not, but I've heard that the civil engineer who designed the Texas interstate system committed suicide in shame.
Yeah, he killed himself. That was actually one of my first jokes when I moved to Austin. That the engineer killed himself because he designed 1-35 with his left hand and a crayon. That was my genius line. All my material was freeway-based.
How has your standup evolved since those early Austin years? Presumably, you've moved on from freeway humor?
I wish that it had changed more, honestly. I look back at some of the first jokes I wrote, and a lot of them are more creative than what I come up with now. I really committed to this stuff was just so bizarre, and got really deep into acting out these weird characters that I'd be more hesitant to do now.
Why do you think that is? Have you drifted a bit from the improv ethos you had back then?
Yeah, I also wanted the comics to like me, so I'd always try to make the back of the room laugh. I'm trying to move away from that now, actually. It's always been kind of a challenge for me to relate to entire audiences. You know what I mean?
You mean like, going broad with your performance?
Yeah, there's something to be said for that. It's a skill to make a subject matter relatable to everyone. If I come up with a relatable joke, I assume that someone else already came up with it. My jokes used to be all over the place and hard to put together. I did my hackiest jokes on Conan -- like I'm certain I could find someone else with a "shits and giggles" joke -- but I only got about half of the crowd. What I want people to laugh at and what they actually laugh at isn't the same thing. When it is, it feels pretty good.
Keep reading for more from Chris Fairbanks.