Christopher Titus on happiness, joking about guns, and Pawnography

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I've noticed that you have a bit different pace and style. Your specials run a little longer, you tell longer jokes and they're more storytelling-driven. You use a lavalier mic, and there's not much on the stage in the way of a stool or a mic stand. When did you start working that way and what made you decide to veer in that direction?

I wanted to get rid of all the props of comedy. You'll notice I don't drink water onstage. I'll drink like six bottles of water before I hit the stage.

What if you need to pee, though?

I don't usually, because of the intensity of the performance. In a weird way, it's like my body goes into a functional coma when I'm onstage. If I'm sick, that goes away. If I've got to drop a deuce, that goes away. There've been times when I had like a 103 degree fever, walked out on stage and was fine until I walked off stage. It's really weird.

But yeah, my shows are ninety minutes because I go to the Bruce Springsteen school of performing. I want to blow their faces off. I want them to be tired, for their faces to hurt from laughing so much. I'm not the type to do 45 minutes and walk off. Now, if it was just extra talking and no jokes, then I would cut it to 45 minutes. But I'm a long-winded son of a bitch.

Springsteen aside, was there anyone in particular who inspired you to perform that way?

You know, I saw Lily Tomlin a few years ago, doing a show called "Finding Intelligent Life in the Universe" And I remember leaving that show thinking, "Man, you can do so much more with comedy than I'm doing." I used to do a bit about "Ever been a long road trip with your parents and then when you get out, you've got car butt?" And then I'd walk across the stage all funny. It was funny, funny is fine.

It's relatable?

But it's not unforgettable. Lately, I've been doing a bit called "Arm the children" where I argue that all our nation's problems could be solved if we just arm the children. It came out of all the crazy stuff the NRA was saying after Newtown and Aurora. I decided that I'm going to out-crazy the NRA. I wanted to comment on it, but at first the bit was really sappy. "Guns are BAD!" When I read it, I thought, "I will hate myself if I go onstage and say this."

You don't want to be too strident up there.

No way. The self-righteous comic? Blech. I asked myself what George Carlin would do, and what he did was go at a topic all through the back door and make his point without making his point. So that's what I did.

It seems like you've got fans from across the political spectrum. Do you think that having built up a fan base that has a strong sense of who you are from your act allows you to work with premises that challenge their beliefs?

Yeah, I have that with that bit. I have another one where I prove in a three-step process that it's impossible for the government to take your guns away. I start that bit, and you can her people who have thirty guns at home in the bunker under their house, you can hear those people lock into that mindset. You have to unravel them a little bit. If I see someone reacting like that, I'll go after them a little bit. It's so funny because by the end of it, they're howling with laughter. You can lead an audience anywhere as long as you don't bludgeon them with it. Some comics will go up there and start out with the evil side of it. I like just edge them towards it joke by joke until they think, Oh god, we're in a dark room. How did we get here?" It's leading them down a tunnel where the lights get dimmer and dimmer, but you got to open the door at the end. Some guys leave with that weird silence that you get to -- some guys are good at it -- when you've made a point. What they forget to do is get the audience out of it. You can't leave them in that dark room. I have a bit about going to my father's funeral -- this whole show is about how I had to face the fact that I was happy. It's funny to you, but it's not funny to me because of how I was raised.

No, I know exactly what you mean. Being too happy is anathema to a comedian. Where am I going to get my material?

Yeah, when darkness and Satan is your muse because the nightmares of life take you out, where the hell do you go when, all of a sudden, life is working out? It's in my upbringing too; it's like "What, no one's going to jail this year? I don't have to appear in court? No one is addicted to anything? What's going on here?" I basically feel like the universe is just pulling the rubber band tighter and tighter so that it can snap it. If nothing bad happens, that means the pressure's not relieved. Isn't that sad. though, that's what I'm thinking? I got married again, the kids are working out, and I wasn't enjoying any of it, I wasn't enjoying any of life. I can't just accept that life's okay.

You have stuff to lose now. It's a "hierarchy of needs" kind of thing.

Yeah, exactly. So I wrote this show, basically to say that we can all be worried and pissed off at life, but it doesn't matter, the end date is the end date. We'd all like to think that we're the exception, we're the Highlander, but it's coming. It's coming for all of us, whether you like it or not, and there's nothing you can do to change that, no matter how mad you get.

Yup, the coastlines are going to sink, whether or not you hoard guns.

The comet will hit us eventually. You might as well enjoy it while we're here, because whatever you do -- at the end, it ain't gonna matter. We've been trained from birth - it says it in the Declaration of Independence -- to expect "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It doesn't say we're going to be happy all the time, it says that we'll pursue it; we'll rent an apartment across the street from happiness and track its movements. In this country, men want a bigger car and a smaller girlfriend, women want a cuter car and a bigger boyfriend, I want to pay down my debt so they'll raise my limit, so then I can put a down payment on the facelift that will finally make me happy. That's not what's going to happen. None of us are going to be Beyonce and Jay-Z. You're going to die, your muscles will relax, and you're going to poop on yourself. That's how we're going out.

That's what was going on with me, but I can't be the only one. I never write shows to teach the audience something, I write to learn something myself. That's another thing that I think prevents me from becoming irrelevant or hacky. Keep reading for more from Christopher Titus.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham