The Big Picture
- Redd has achieved immense success in a short period of time, including being a cast member on SNL for five seasons.
- Redd’s HBO Max special,
Why Am I Like This?
, showcases his storytelling ability, physical comedy, and crowd work skills.
- Chris Redd is performing at Just for Laughs in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre Thursday, February 15 at 9:30pm.
Chris Redd never thought he was going to be a comedian. Not that he didn’t think he was funny, it just wasn’t a profession he ever considered. Growing up in Chicago, all Redd wanted to do was be a rapper. Or a dancer. (Or both.) It wasn’t until a commercial for the iconic improvisational school Second City caught his attention at the exact right time that making people laugh for a living was a possibility. After a series of personal and professional setbacks, comedy seemed like the best (and possibly, only) option left.
This just seems all the more hard to believe when you look at how successful Redd has been in comedy in such a short amount of time. Not only was he a cast member on Saturday Night Live for five seasons, but he won an Emmy for co-writing the lyrics of the SNL song, “Come Back Barack,” and imitated several famous faces, including Eric Adams, Kanye West, and Cory Booker. His HBO Max special, Why Am I Like This? showcases the performer’s storytelling and affinity for physical comedy, as well as a knack for crowd work. In addition to the special and touring, Redd starred in the sitcom Kenan with SNL castmate Kenan Thompson and Don Johnson and co-created and starred in the Peacock series Bust Down, produced by Lorne Michaels.
During our one-on-one conversation with Crumpa for the Just for Laughs Vancouver festival, Redd talked about what he learned about himself as a performer at SNL, where the idea for “Come Back, Barack,” came from, why he likes telling stories on stage, and how he’s finding the humor in being punched in the face in New York City.
‘Saturday Night Live’ Made Chris Redd Stronger
Crumpa: How’s your morning going?
CHRIS REDD: Morning’s going good. I did not smoke weed ‘cause I wanted to talk and keep my thoughts together, so that’s just me doing what I can for the community. (Laughs) But no, I’m chill. I did the tour. I’m excited to get back on the road. I took like a month off, which is a year for me. I’m about to get back up in the city. I’ve just been doing a lot of writing, just kind of examining life and making fun of it.
A month does sound like an eternity in the stand-up world. But I feel like it’s necessary, so I’m glad you took the break.
REDD: I’ve just started learning how to take breaks for real. I’m trying to stay consistent with it but now that I take breaks, it’s hard to get back to work.
I will start with a silly-ish question for you. If you were going to go on a road trip with one comedian — maybe not Kenan Thompson or Sam Jay because I know you’re tight with them — who would you want to be going on a road trip with?
REDD: Wow. I mean, there’s so many people, I feel like I go on a road trip with people all the time because I’m always on the road. Let me see. You know what? I think like D.L. Hughley or Katt Williams would be fun. They would probably roast everybody on the way. So that’d be tight. Just like a roast tour would be fun. And Katt is just Katt. I just think that having Katt Williams just in a small space for a long period of time would just be eventful in some kind of way.
I’m so excited you were at [Just for Laughs] as a “New Face” in 2016. Since then, you’ve been on SNL, no big deal, have an Emmy, no big deal, an HBO special. What’s it like going back with all this under your belt? Are you still nervous? Do you have a new perspective?
REDD: You know, it’s just the work, you know what I mean? I think all those accomplishments are super, super dope, very cool. But this is a marathon kind of work for me. The first special I was really proud of, but now I wanna make another one. There’s just more goals, I just have more stuff I wanna do. I mean, I still get nervous because talking to people is hard. (Laughs) I am an introvert who’s trained himself how to be an extrovert. But I don’t see bombing the same anymore. I don’t see the techniques of stand-up the same. Like I see them as necessary. It’s more about like, “Why did this not work?” It’s more strategic and mathematical than it ever was before. SNL really helps you with rejection, so when you get back in the world nothing hurts. I feel impenetrable. (Laughs) I just feel stronger in that way.
Do you have a pre-show routine?
REDD: Yeah. It’s gross. I usually do two solid drinks, two little drinks just to get, like, warm and loose. It’s kind of always been the rule since I started improv. And then, I take a poop. I shit every time. I gotta get the nerves out real quick. Be light on my feet. You know what I mean? (Laughs)
(Laughs) That’s also strategic.
REDD: Very strategic poops! In stand-up comedy, they don’t talk about it enough, honestly. No, I think they talk about it just the right amount.
(Laughs) Wow. So those three things and you’re set.
REDD: (Laughs) “Wow.” (Laughs)
(Laughs) How would you say your stand-up evolved since your HBO special and SNL days? Have you been tackling different topics?
REDD: Yeah, I think it affected it only in the way that, like, there were certain things I just wanted to kind of stay away from because I was on the show. It was like, if I didn’t have a super strong political take on something I kinda wanted to stay away from it in the special because I was constantly doing political takes on the show all the time. There were certain big character bits that I was like… I really wanted to, like, make sure that I didn’t have too many, too much of that because I was doing all that on the show. But now I have all these weapons at my disposal. Now I feel like a little bit more open and more vulnerable in this special as far as, like, you know, talking about getting my face smashed in and shit like that. I have the same approach to the comedy as I always have, I think I’m just more armed now with different ways to do it. I’m less in my head about what kind of joke I can make. I was just in my head a lot with the first special about making sure I wasn’t telling the same kind of jokes that people have seen before. So I think I’m dealing with that a lot less now because now I can focus a little bit more on stand-up only, not having another outlet.
It’s very interesting to me that you kind of fell into comedy. You were rapping, you were dancing, model manager for a hot minute. Then you saw that Second City commercial and you’re like, “Maybe I’m funny.” What was the earliest memory you have of getting an audience of strangers to laugh? Do you remember a character or a bit?
REDD: Yeah, I remember a bit. I was hosting this Crumpa show at this community college I was going to. I had been hosting like a bunch of different things. Beat battles, which is a hilarious concept, it’s when two producers come and play different beats and people be like, “This beat is better than this beat” and there’s like no words. It’s so funny. (Laughs) Kind of nerdy, but so funny. So I was hosting those and roasting people all the time. But nothing ever stood out as comedy yet until I hosted this thing at this community college. It was this dude doing a nunchuck routine and he was just like, I don’t know if he was fucking up but I know there were like 300 people watching this man do this nunchuck routine and beat himself up and I’m like, “Give it up for the only ninja that could beat up you and his ass at the same time.” And then like 300 people laughed and that was the first real time that I was like, “Oh fuck, man. Oh, that felt really good,” in a way that I hadn’t really felt before. It still took me two years to get to comedy for real, though, ‘cause I was in the middle of still rapping and trying to figure it out. And so it was like, “Nah nah, I can’t do comedy. I gotta be taken serious. I’m already a rapper that has to travel in from the suburbs. I can’t have too many things working against my gangster.” I pushed it away for as long as I could, but it was kind of a last resort, like a Hail Mary before I went and got a real job.
That’s so fascinating to me because there are a lot of comedians that are like, “I was born making jokes.”
REDD: Yeah. I was too, but comedy was always a way for me to play against how introverted and how socially awkward I was. I always saw it as a way to make myself comfortable in a space. I never saw it as anything else, but I approached it the same way everybody else who does comedy, would dream of doing comedy, does. I studied comics. I studied timing. I studied all that shit, but it was just to be a person. (Laughs) It never just quite made sense to me to be a comedian. Like the people, I was looking up to… I wanted to be a gangster. I wanted to be all these other guys. I never looked up to comics in a way of like… I never even Googled if they make money. Like I just didn’t know any of this shit when I was growing up. If I had, then, I probably would have started doing this a lot earlier and got kicked out of twice as many schools because of it. But, you know, I think everything kind of happened for a reason, I would like to think.
Yeah, for sure. You’re using it in your work. Who are some of the comedians you eventually turned to when you were starting to study comedy?
REDD: I was a huge, huge fan, still am, of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle’s Killing Me Softly was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. Katt Williams’ Pimp Chronicles was the first time I laughed off of a couch. Like it was the first time I belly laughed so hard that like, I fell off a fucking couch. I had never laughed that hard, and I was like, “How do you do that? How do you affect the crowd like that? Like, how do you do that?” You know? Man, so many. Carlin, Sommore… I grew up off ComicView so I watched it every night. There was like a cycle of comics that you would see on there. Arnez J used to flip around in them tight turtlenecks and shit. There’s so many people that had elements of things that I was really interested in trying to do. I like the combination of Dave’s goofy storytelling and in the way Carlin would take a big idea and flip it. I loved Mitch Hedberg. I thought I was gonna be Mitch Hedberg. I love one-liners, but God damn, it’s so much work in a way that’s kind of boring to me. (Laughs) I like talking a little bit more than a one-liner lets you talk. You gotta be so concise.
You’re a good storyteller, like in your HBO special your whole experience at the airport. You get into it, you’re physical.
REDD: Yeah, a lot more physical. I use the one liners within the story, so that way I can kind of like it’s, it’s like my way to use these tactics. Because I like storytelling. I personally don’t prefer stories that have like no jokes in them except like, you know what I mean? Which is fire and that takes talent. I don’t wanna shit on nobody who does that, that’s your thing. But my thing, I like rapid fire shit. I like rapid fire. There’s a space for that, but I like a story that has road marks of laughter all the way through it. So I think all those techniques come into play with that, too.
Going back to SNL, you mentioned rejection, which I feel like is something everyone learns whether they want to or not at SNL. What are some other things you learned? Had you been a collaborator before that?
REDD: Yeah, I have been a collaborator before for sure. I come from the Chicago comedy scene. It’s really huge on collaboration, working together, building. I learned my flaws in working with people. I learned my weaknesses, because you get so intimately involved with people in a creative sense there. Every week is not a great week, every sketch is not gonna make, it’s not gonna hit. And sometimes the ball’s in your court, people are busy and you gotta do a rewrite and you’re by yourself. Some of your weaker elements that you bring to a writer’s room expose themselves, so you’re able to work on those things. There’s not a lot of jobs that expose your weaknesses as well as your strengths. But that place puts you under a microscope. So you’re like, “Oh fuck, I need to be a little bit more open.” Or, I remember my second year, I was like, “Damn, I gotta really write in their voice. I’m kinda writing in my voice for their character, but I gotta really write in their voice.” It’s just like little things that I’m so grateful for now, and just the interest in wanting to direct and produce because you produce your own sketches there. There’s a lot of that stuff people don’t really realize but like, you’re, when you’re writing and it’s your sketch… I mean, you can choose not to be as involved as you want, or you can be as involved as you want. I think being involved is a part of the job and making sure you’re doing rewrites with the teams and you’re making things come together. That’s what you’re gonna do when you leave. SNL, I always called it…it’s Little Hollywood because it’s your whole year of Hollywood in a week. Like you’re auditioning for the job that you already have and you’re writing these things, you’re creating this fucking show, and then you move on to the next week. You got a day to like, be happy of what happened last week. Once you leave, you realize everything is easier. Like, the whole, the whole process of Hollywood is just what you left, only it’s easier and there’s more time. Actually the time fucks with your head because everything is so much slower in the real world. (Laughs) You’re just like, “Damn, they forget about me?” but it’s like, no, they have other stuff to do. It’s not as intense as doing live comedy on every Saturday.
And is that where you met Kenan?
REDD: Yeah. Kenan was one of the first people I met when I walked in the job. Him and Leslie Jones. Well, Kate McKinnon was officially the first person. She’s so fucking dope. But yeah I definitely met them there and just had instant chemistry creatively with those folks, man. We made some cool shit. We made some really dumb shit together.
Chris Redd Knew Chance the Rapper Was Right for « Come Back, Barack »
“Come Back, Barack,” whose idea, I know you wrote with a couple of people, but how did that idea start, aside from the news making you feel that way?
REDD: Well, ok, so I have a writing partner who’s still at SNL right now. Shout out to my boy Will Stephen. He is a genius. He was like, “I wanna do an R&B song about Barack,” and he had said that like the second week, but we didn’t write it until Chance [the Rapper]’s week, which I think was like the sixth or seventh week into the season. But that’s sometimes how long, or even longer, a bit takes to kind of materialize. He had the seed and he planted the seed and I was like, “Yo, that would be fun. That’d be dope.” And I was like, “How are we gonna do it?” We just kind of mulled over it for awhile and then once Chance was coming, we were like, “I think this is our chance!” no pun intended. (Laughs) So then we just started figuring out what the song could be. I remember the first few versions of it were so R&B but they weren’t the right kind of R&B. Then we just kind of landed on it and once we showed Chance, it was a wrap. Then we called Kenan, like, “We got this little talking bit,” so we pitched on that for a little bit. So that’s kind of how it came together. And that’s usually how I was with the songs with me and Will. I set up a few different joints, but most of them came from like, either me coming in with like, “Yo, this is an idea.” Because I was working on music all throughout the summer just trying to stack a bunch of different broad ideas and whatever happened in the week, I could kind of like, flip it and make it about, whatever, to make it relevant enough. That’s kind of how most of the stuff came together.
I love hearing that stuff. And then you and Kenan did Kenan.
REDD: Yeah (Laughs).
Kenan and Don Johnson are two different types of TV legends. What did both of them teach you on that show?
REDD: What longevity looks like in your face, you know what I mean?
REDD: (Laughs) It’s always good when you’re playing with the best. It’s invaluable the things that I learned from those guys. Just how to navigate the business, just how to treat people on set. I always treat people well on set, but you know, Kenan would do this thing where he would like, which I do too… he would just kinda buy [food] trucks for the crew and shit and, and we would go toe to toe on that shit. We were like, “Yeah, I got a truck this week. I got a truck this week. I got this kind of truck, I got this kind of truck.” It’s just keeping people motivated and all that. We used to do that at SNL too, we just have days where we buy pizza, buy like Nobu, whatever the fuck. The days are hard but it’s hard to be angry when you’re eating a doughnut. (Laughs) I’ve never seen an angry man eating a doughnut.
That’s a funny visual just like someone’s so pissed off—
REDD: Eating a doughnut? Never, bro! That’s not a thing! (Laughs)
This has been awesome. What can you tease about your Workin’ On Me tour?
REDD: There’s a lot of new jokes and they’ll continue to be new jokes. I’m talking about getting hit in the face. It’s funny even though it didn’t feel funny. I’m just in a good space right now. There’s a lot of shit that has happened and I’m really diving into shit and I’m doing a lot of improv too, so, I’m getting to know some of the audiences. Come on out, man, I’m so much funnier than in this interview.
I’d love to see one of your shows.
REDD: I’m coming back outside in New York, so if you cross the bridge, just holla at me. I’ll make sure you get in.
Thank you! This has been great, I really appreciate your time. Go smoke weed now. You can go smoke weed.
REDD: I’m about to go smoke! Wow, it’s like you know me. (Laughs) This has been awesome, I really appreciate your time.
Chris Redd is performing at Just for Laughs in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre on Thursday, February 15 at 9:30 pm.