There’s noise and then there’s substance. Chris Redd is in front of me on a Zoom call, stitched up after getting attacked last week outside n NYC comedy club, and ready to talk about what he calls his baby, his freshly released HBO Max hour-long comedy special, Why Am I Like This?
Redd knows questions are coming in all these interviews about SNL, playing Kanye on the show, and TMZ’s sudden interest in his love life (with reports that he’s dating SNL co-star Keenan Thompson’s ex). But while Redd offers thoughtful, no-bullshit takes on his seemingly abrupt SNL exit, the line when it comes to playing Kanye and mental illness, and keeping his private life private, he positively lights up when we talk about a comedy special more than three years in the making and the considerable care he put into it.
Born from a lot of consideration, road work, on-stage improv, and life experience, Why Am I Like This? is the rare thing that lives up to the idea of a “personal” special, but it’s also quite funny, deftly mixing stories about Redd’s mental health journey with hilarious personal anecdotes and relatable takes on flying, posing, and trying to impress family. To paraphrase Redd, it’s not a TEDTalk, bug it is a statement. One that should and, I’d bet, will outlast the noise.
How are you doing?
I’m good. I’m chilling.
How are you feeling?
I’m feeling good. I’m excited about the special coming out. The headaches are gone. (Laughs) I’m just feeling good. Stitches by Louis Vuitton.
(Laughs) Excellent work, excellent work. So, this was announced in 2019 before shit went sideways. How does the material change from what this was going to be to what this wound up being now?
It’s so much better than what it was going to be. I would say that. Now, I was confident in my shit then, but I hadn’t done all the work on myself yet and I wouldn’t have known that unless I had started doing therapy to figure it out. It took the pandemic for me to sit my ass down and realize I needed therapy, for me to start therapy and then writing the jokes that would eventually complete my hour and also give me a throughline and a reason to why I’m doing this. You know what I mean?
I think in the journey of trying to be funny, you just want to be as funny as possible, and then there’s this transition of, okay, now you know how to be funny. What are you trying to say with it? Or what are you trying to do with it? I think that while I had an hour of jokes that worked, I think it took really that journey within myself to just mature those jokes and take them a step further. In that way, I’m grateful for the pandemic. In that way only! (Laughs)
In that way only. We’ll make sure we underline that in the article. So, you go on a journey where you go from just being funny is the focus to wanting to say something when you’re on stage. How do you arrive at that moment? I’m guessing that’s something that’s gradual and not just one aha moment.
Yeah, I think it’s a part of the process of growing as a creative artist? In the beginning, I’m telling jokes and writing jokes like my favorites, you know what I mean? Because I think it’s the closest to what I know works and what comedy is. And then as you understand joke structure and you understand how to tell jokes, you find your own voice in that. And when I say knowing yourself, knowing what you want to say, it doesn’t ever have to be deep, you know what I mean? You have to know how you want to approach your hour. I think just knowing yourself is the biggest part of it and I think that’s what we all work to get. We’re all getting on stage, getting these reps to be as comfortable as we can so that we can be as us as possible in those moments.
I think that’s when the authenticity and the jokes come from that, just knowing yourself and constantly trying to grow. I think I was in a place where I thought I was covering things, but I really wasn’t diving as deep as I needed to. After you do a lot of shows, you just get to a point where you’re like, all right, how do I want to evolve? What do I want to do differently? What do I want to do with this? I think you should always have goals in this no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how good you are, because it just helps keep you sharp and it helps to find a new place to elevate to. I hope that made sense. I feel like I just rambled like a motherfucker. (Laughs) I can’t really tell! I have a concussion
No, that was really good. As you’re getting to this place where you’re getting more comfortable, you’re revealing more of yourself. How much of this process is coming to accept the idea of “I’m willing to look vulnerable, I’m willing to not be the star, or look cool for a second. I’m willing to be human and be fragile at times on stage?”
It was tough. The level of vulnerability was tough. It’s what I chose. It’s the style of comedy that works for me that I like. I’ve always been this way with comedy. It’s helped me through pain, so I wanted to get to a place. I knew that to be the best version of myself in this art, I would have to push my boundaries of vulnerability. And doing it in front of people really sucks at first. Being on stage I can do any day of the week, but to find the level of vulnerability, the line… finding the line is always an emotional rollercoaster, I feel like, when it comes to something super hyper-personal to yourself. But I found a way to talk about some of these seedier things in my life and not get myself in trouble or get somebody else in trouble and just find a way to do it that satisfies me and shows vulnerability and keeps the more embarrassing things and the things I can’t like let people know at bay. (Laughs)
I think I walked the line really well in this special. And in doing this special, I think I learned a couple more ways to continue to do that. But it was really cathartic to put my mental health journey in the special where I’m at now or where I was at for this hour. I hope people just continue to ride and are able to find comfort in themselves with it, too, so we can all just make it more of an easy thing to be vulnerable about some of this stuff.
It’s a very revealing special. But I don’t want this to seem like it’s a very serious one-man show. It’s not.
I’ve always said the explanation of this special is so much more unfunny than the special is. Anytime I talk about the special, all the topics and shit, people are like, is this a TEDTalk? But I’m like, I promise you it is so funny. I haven’t found a funny way to explain it. (Laughs)
The thing I like is it feels like a conversation. It goes around the world a little bit, from the personal stuff to topical stuff to stuff that people can relate to, just stuff that happens in life that isn’t with a serious packaging to it. The laughs per minute of this one I would say is probably top five for me this year. But it’s really a great mix. Not to kiss your ass here.
No man, listen, I’m in pain. I need all the ass-kissing! (Laughs) But that just means the world, bro. This is my baby, bro. This first hour is everything, you know what I mean? This is everything I wanted to say for now. The special is ADHD in itself. That’s what I wanted for people to take away from it: not only am I revealing it, but I’m also doing all these things because that’s how my head works, you know what I mean? I was hoping that the ride wouldn’t feel too wild or crazy.
You talk about it a little in the special with SNL and how people say your dream came true. That made me wonder, in terms of what your expectations were when you started it versus where you are now when it’s concluded, how did those expectations live up to what the reality of it was and how did the experience change you?
Oh, man. I entered that place a funny comedian who understood sketch and improv and TV a little bit, and I left that place a machine, a full producer. I know how to put videos together. I know how to take an idea and write for TV with limitations. I know how to be in an editing room and find the funny and cut the fat out of jokes. There are so many things about this business that that place teaches you. It’s Little Hollywood. Everything in that job, you can have as much control over it, as little as you want, and I utilized all of it. From writing all night, writing under pressure. It just made me a better writer, made me a better teammate. It made me just better at the job and better at approaching how to do this.
I made a few friends, a few connections and was able to show people what I can do. You’ll never reach all the goals that you have for that show. It’s not your show. You know what I mean? There were a few more songs I wanted to do. But I think all my personal goals that I wanted to achieve there I had achieved. I think if I had stayed just one extra season, it would’ve been my victory lap season, and I would have had one last run with my friends and everything. But I was been missing standup too much and I was just missing everything else and opportunities just to create in another platform. There’s a lot of us there, bro. I can’t fight for two minutes a week forever. You know what I mean? (Laughs) That’s a joke. No shade. But, you know, if the shoe fits. (Laughs)
Not trying to make light of anything, but when you see the stuff go down with Kanye, is there a part of you that’s like, maybe I’m okay not being on SNL, not being asked to play Kanye at this moment? Or was there a line established with the mental health side of things where they weren’t really trying to touch that?
Yeah, I mean, listen, I do have mental health things myself and that was always a rule for me. I’m not going to hit him too crazy if he is off his meds and clearly spiraling, bro. I just don’t feel like that’s the time to make fun of anybody. But everybody is open to jokes and he’s making a lot of bad choices out here. That’s what’s good about that show is if you want to get some jokes off about a certain person or a certain topic in front of a large stage, there’s no better stage than SNL. So when I have those jokes, or lack thereof, I do miss having that place where I can go and tackle that in however way I want to. This particular situation, I’m just waiting to see how all this shit is going to play out, because it’s a little tough right now. It’s a little bit tough right now, but that wouldn’t be the first character I’d jump to play. But if I was there, there’d be a couple of things. I probably would’ve come out and did something. I just don’t know what that is, because I hadn’t thought in this way. Once I left that show, I don’t think in a way of, “hm, how can I make this a sketch?”
I imagine it is really weird, you’re on SNL, like you said, you see these things that break in the headlines. You’re making jokes about them. Recently or semi-recently, your name has popped up on TMZ a couple times. People see those things and create all these bonkers narratives on social. What’s it like to all of a sudden see yourself in the teeth of the big gossip celebrity social machine?
Man, it is awful! Ha ha! I don’t like my private life known by anybody unless I’m ready to tell it, because that is literally what I do.
That’s also the most human thing to feel. Who the fuck wants their shit to be spilled out?
Yeah, bro. With this shit, like anything else, no one has the full truth and everybody is just already making comments about who you are and what you are without even asking you. No one asked me anything. I didn’t say anything to anybody, but there was just judgements and all that shit. It comes with the territory. SNL really teaches you how to have a thick skin, because while it’s one of the best jobs you can get, it’s also the hardest and it’s the easiest for people to hate, and they all have hate for it for different reasons. It’s the only thing people hate and love to watch to hate it actively. It’s like you have to just learn how to take your licks. I will say that building made me tough in that way, bro. It’s just awkward. But it also shows how quick people move on, because it was only offered for a day or two and then it was gone.
You just remind yourself that you know what your life is and what you’re doing and how you’re operating. As long as the parties involved know exactly what’s going on and we’re on the same page, whatever people make up and all the narrative shit, I can’t help that, and so I don’t spend too much time thinking about that in general. It is what it is. When I’m ready to talk about whatever I’m ready to talk about, I’ll put that information out there. But until then, I just let people talk, bro. Let them talk about it. You can’t stop them. Shit, you can’t stop the,
What’s next? What’s the focus?
I have plans all the time. When you go to SNL, you have your goals, but as a comedian, you have your goals way before you get that job. Now, it’s just about completing the rest of my goal list. I went off, did SNL, accomplished some things, came back, now it’s time to continue doing what I was doing. Make movies. I really want to jump into the single-camera narrative space. I’m working on a couple of ideas for a show, for some movies. I’m shooting a movie, Cyber Monday, this fall or this winter and there’s another. I did this movie Scare Me, so we might be doing a sequel to that based on my character. I’m looking forward to that, too.
I’ll get back on the road, do another special, and I’m probably going to do some musical comedy sketch thing. I don’t want to give away too much yet, but it’s in the works. I’m going to continue to do everything I was doing, but on my terms, in my way. And then I got a couple little touring announcements and a couple collaborations that are really, really, really, really exciting, but I don’t think I can say just yet. But yeah, man, the second I knew wasn’t coming back, I got right to work on the next phase, phase five, if you will. Time to just expand and grow a little bit.
‘Why Am I Like This?’ is available to stream now on HBO Max