As one of the stars of NBC’s much-maligned sitcom Whitney, Chris D’Elia probably has a pretty thick skin. Critics and viewers alike haven’t been too kind to that show, though it was renewed for a second season, which starts this fall. D’Elia lets it all run off his back, though, which makes sense considering the show’s brought him more fans, name recognition, and, presumably, dates. D’Elia’s been both an actor and a stand-up for years, and he’s bringing his hyper stage presence to The Laugh Factory June 14-16 as part of Just For Laughs. The A.V. Club talked to him about haters, flirting, and why he’s selfish.
The A.V. Club: Now that you’re on TV, you obviously have a wider public presence. Has that affected your approach to stand-up at all?
Chris D’Elia: The approach is the same, but the cool thing about it is that now a lot of my shows are sold out, so a lot of people just know the show. Awareness of me has increased, which is awesome; that’s one of the things a comic wants, is to broaden his fan base. Luckily, they’re able to do it a lot easier when they’re on TV so, now that we’re coming back for a second season, I’m going to look forward to that happening more. It’s cool that I have legitimate fans from the show coming out—I think some of them don’t even know that I do stand-up, which is cool to show them that part about me.
AVC: Do fans come expecting you to talk about the TV show?
CD: No, I haven’t run into that. I think there is an awareness of me doing stand-up. Online, I have a lot of hits on my stand-up, and then there’s my special for Comedy Central. I feel like people aren’t really rude about it during the show. My act is way different from me on Whitney, for sure; I don’t know if people are thrown a little bit. It’s always been good. I mean, I’ve been doing it now for years, so every show’s about the show.
AVC: You were acting before you did stand-up, right?
CD: I was acting here and there as a guest star and stuff on different TV shows and I was a writer writing stuff, and having stuff optioned but never turned into anything. I got onstage just because I always wanted to do it, and I just kind of at a loss got onstage, because my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. Once I started doing stand-up, everything fell into place. That was when I started acting more; I felt like I’d found my place in the business.
AVC: How do you think your acting affects your stand-up, and vice versa?
CD: That’s a good question. I definitely am a performer, and there are different styles of stand-up; I mean, some people are writers and they get onstage to get jokes out, and that’s definitely not what I do. I like to just go up and, if I’m telling a story about someone, I’ll play his or her part. I have always found that funny when somebody really paints the whole picture and is able to get into different characters. I’ve always looked up to guys like that, like Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey. So in that way, I think the acting kind of helps and colors my stand-up. The opposite is true, too, with auditions. Whenever I have to audition, I just go in and, now that I’ve done stand-up, I’ve bombed in front of 300 people, so I don’t care if I have a bad audition in front of two.
AVC: That almost seems like it would be more intimidating, having those two people stare you down. It’s less anonymous.
CD: It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. I never get embarrassed; I never feel weird. When you’re onstage performing for 12 people at 1 a.m. at some weird bar, your feelings tend to dissipate—you just become a machine. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you read reviews of your standup or of Whitney, the show?
CD: Yeah, I read reviews. I see some YouTube comments. Most of them are good, but you know, you always get a bad one here and there, but it doesn’t bother me. It really doesn’t.
AVC: You have a job and they don’t, so fuck ’em.
AVC: How do you think growing up in L.A. influenced what you wanted to do as a career?
CD: Well, I moved out of here when I was 12, but I still feel I’m from here, and I went to high school out here. For me, I think the advantage of it was I didn’t just move out here from somewhere else when I was 20 to try to get in the business as a naïve—not to say that everybody in the movies out here is naïve—but I already had been here and I knew actors, I knew directors, I knew writers, and I had that knowledge that it takes a while to get things to work out, and you just have to hit the pavement for a long time. I had that sense where it was just kind of helpful to understand that if I worked hard for years and years, it would pay off. So that helped me, knowing that, and just seeing other friends succeed—some of them succeeded quickly and then burned out, some of them didn’t get going until years later. You realize it’s a real marathon and not just a quick race. To be able to sustain a career is the hardest thing. Growing up in L.A. helped me realize that it took a while, and it was more of a marathon than anything.
AVC: Your stand-up is pretty animated, and you do a lot of crowd work. Are you like that off the stage? Do you talk to strangers?
CD: It’s funny that you say that, actually, because I’ve always said that crowd work is flirting. There are a lot of videos online of me doing crowd work, because when the Laugh Factory films the set, I always tell them, “Don’t put the material I’m working on for TV.” So I said, “If you have any good crowd work moments, you can put those up.” They put those up, and now I think a lot of people think I’m the guy who does a lot of crowd work, which I am, and I love doing it, I really do, because it’s fun for me. But I feel like crowd work—to me—I feel the same if I’m on a date with a girl and if I can get into that mode where I’m just fun and flirty and there’s a connection at the date, that’s how I feel when I’m onstage with a crowd. I feel like I’m trying to seduce them and make them laugh. And I feel like if somebody throws me something, then I can just throw it back. I’ve been doing it so long, and I’ve played so many weird clubs, like bars and coffee shops, it’s like... Eminem is so good at freestyling, but it’s not that he’s making stuff up; he knows what rhymes already. He’s got a database, and he knows what words rhyme with what words. It’s not like he’s just figuring it out now; he’s worked and trained in the trenches, and I think that’s what a lot of comics do with their crowd work. It’s like, they’ve been in the situation; if something pops up, they can remember another time when this kind of a thing happened.
AVC: Has all that ever backfired on you? Has someone you riffed on ever met you in the parking lot after the show and threatened to take you down?
CD: That’s never happened. I mean, I’ve had guys say they were going to fight me from the stage, but they just get kicked out. One time I got really mad at a guy, and I was just like, “Yo, dude, let’s just stop the show. I’m not the comedian that’s just going to back down and not fight you. I will; like, I’m not some fat, bald comedian. Don’t think you can just do that and this isn’t real life too, just ’cause it’s a show.” I don’t even know how much of that I was being honest about, but he stopped talking, thank God.
AVC: On Twitter you give a lot of romantic advice and talk a lot about love and sex, and you just said that you think crowd work is like flirting. Do you think you’re talented in that arena?
CD: I would never say that I’m good at being on dates. I think I like to try to find a connection with somebody, like that’s my main thing. I think that maybe if you find a connection with a girl on a date, that’s like the No. 1 thing, and then it’s like, “Cool, that was a great date.” But I’ve been on dates that have just gone terribly wrong, like there’s just no connection, and not only am I stuck trying to find a connection with the girl, I don’t even want to anymore because it’s so pointless.
AVC: Do you get romantic advice from the women on Whitney?
CD: They’re all way more evolved and developed than I am. I’m a kid. The romantic tweets, to me, that’s the funniest stuff for me to tweet. People write stuff back to me, like, “Why are you not trying to be funny?” [Laughs.] And I’m like, there’s nothing funnier than being extremely romantic. I don’t understand that. People don’t get it, and that’s why I keep doing it.
AVC: How do you explain it, then? Why is it funny to you?
CD: When I go onstage, and if you laugh in the audience, that’s great, but I want to have a good time. It’s about me talking about what I think is funny, and if I think it’s funny, then I’m having a good time. If I can get into that mind space, that’s the whole reason I do standup. So if people laugh, that’s awesome, but to me that’s secondary to me having fun. I’m a selfish person, and I’m going onstage to have a good time, and I’d love if you want to be a part of it. So if people don’t get it, they’re wrong. I think they’re wrong, and I think they either don’t want to have a good time or they just don’t like my style. But that’s fine. If everybody likes you, you’re an asshole.