Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Chris Porter Interview

Chris Porter is a Los Angeles comedian who originally came out of Kansas City. Only 6 months after moving to L.A., Chris became a third place finalist on season 4 of Last Comic Standing. Since then, he has appeared on The Bob & Tom ShowLive At Gotham, Comedy Central's Live Tour, along with Comedy Central Presents. His one-hour stand up special Ugly and Angry is available on Netflix. In the middle of touring the country, Chris was kind enough to share his story along with advice on moving to Los Angeles for comedy, what it means to find your voice, and what it was like to tour with Mitch Hedberg

HECKLERS

COMEDY OF CHICAGO: You tweeted about one your shows and how some people got kicked out, but on their way out they demanded that you be drug tested? What happened?

CHRIS PORTER: Ah, well it was a Christmas party and they thought they could just come in and talk during my show, and when they realized they couldn’t do that, they got upset and got asked to leave. They said that about me while they were being taken away—like how when people try to argue with the cops after they’ve been busted, but they have nothing to argue about. So that’s when they shouted out, “Well he’s on drugs!” And I mean yeah, they were right... [moment of laughter]

BACKSTORY

COC: You got your start in Kansas City. How long until you moved to L.A.?

CP: I had done comedy for about 7 years. I didn’t leave Kansas City until there were no other options. A lot of people will get a good 10 minutes and just go, “Well, I’m leavin’!” And when they get to L.A. they realize that their 10 minutes isn’t that great, but that’s all they have. I went out on the road a lot before I moved to L.A. I made sure that I had literally done everything that I could do in Kansas City and the Midwest for that matter before I left. That way there’s nothin’ left on the table.

COC: When you first started, were you ever a “clean comic”?

CP: I always wrote clean, but I never performed clean. I never particularly liked clean comedy. But, the reason I wrote clean was ‘cause otherwise the jokes start resting on curse words, and it’s not part of the foundation. When the time comes to where you have to be clean, it’s a lot easier to remove the curse words because they’re not integral. ‘Cause the day will come where you will have to be clean—it could be a retirement home, it could be on Jimmy Fallon. I say it’s best to write clean, and then add the cursing later. ‘Cause sometimes, saying “Fuckin” is just a crutch—you’re sayin’ it because you can’t think of anything else to say. So, if you already wrote “Fuckin” and then you’re saying “Fuckin”, it’s just a whole bunch of fuckin’ fuckins! [moment of laughter] You want to avoid that at all costs.

TALKIN’ SHOP

COC: Who were your comedy inspirations? Carlin? Stanhope?

CP: Eh, more Stanhope. When I was comin’ up in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Carlin was a little more preachy. There were a few years where I felt like he was just tryin’ to make a point to where it superseded the joke, and I didn’t really like that. I think Bill Mahr does that, too. But then, Carlin came back! That last special he did, I felt like Carlin was just trying to be as funny as he could. If you can make a great joke and then have a point—that’s awesome. But if you’re just trying to make a point funny, then that’s not really what stand up comedy is. Stanhope, from the moment I saw that dude along with everything afterwards, I thought was genius.

COC: How about comedy mentors? Did any comics take you out on the road with them?

CP: (Mitch) Hedberg took me on the road a few times. He was cool! I had more comics tell me, “You were really funny, but I don’t ever wanna work with you.” Rather than, “Let’s go out on the road!” ‘Cause I was high energy, and for a while I was a headliner without any credits, so I would end up having to feature for people. And headliners don’t want to have to follow other headliners. I’m not tootin’ my own horn, but if you’re a good comic who hasn’t been on TV, you’re still a good comic.

COC: What was Mitch Hedberg like?

CP: Hedberg was a monster! It was great because we were SO different in our approaches. He would get me into clubs that I couldn’t get into. But then he went off ‘n died... But by then, I was already on Last Comic Standing, so I didn’t need to open for anybody by that point. But Hedberg was one of the few that was like, “C’mon and open for me any time.”

COMEDY ADVICE

COC: What was it like going to L.A. where you had to start all over being the “new guy” again?

CP: It was fine ‘cause it wasn’t like I was starting comedy all over again, I was just the new guy in town. So I felt more like, “Just put me on a good stage, and I’ll probably have a really good show.” But, you are hangin’ out a lot and you’re watching people who you don’t think are funny go up, which is a little aggravating. But, I got super lucky. Six months after I got out there, I got Last Comic Standing. I was very fortunate to get that—obviously it opened a lot of doors, and gave me a lot of exposure. So, I didn’t have to go through a lot of the hurdles that other comics had to just because I lucked out. I just happened to stumble into a TV show moments after I got there.

COC: Sometimes comics break character and laugh at their own jokes on stage. What are your thoughts on that?

CP: I don’t like people that laugh at all their jokes. I think it’s stupid. [laughs] And yeah, sometimes comics laugh at their own jokes, and that’s fine, because they think the joke’s still funny. In fact, I have a few of those in my act right now. But, I’ve always thought it was a tell. You never want to laugh at your own joke because if no one else laughs, they realize you just failed. You never want to let the audience know you just failed. You kinda want them to figure that out their own.

COC: Did you ever doubt yourself in the beginning? If so, what kept you from quitting?

CP: Eh, I mean that’s just life, man. You can’t be a bitch about it. [laughs] What we do is fairly physically easy. Not a lot of people can do it, the lifestyle is very tough on the soul, but we’re not building bridges or diggin’ ditches. We’re just tellin’ jokes! So, if you can’t man up for fuckin’ 30 minutes and at least TRY, then yeah, you should go the fuck home! [laughs] No matter what job you do, there’s gonna be days where you don’t want to do it.

MUSIC & COMEDY

COC: Comedy is centered around late nights, booze, drugs, and many other horrible habits. How do you keep it together?

CP: You go through waves. There are definitely weeks where you drink too much or you take too many pills or whatever... [laughs] But, you hafta watch your ass. It’s just YOU. One of my musician buddies once asked me, “Which comedians are big drug addicts?” And I said, “You know all of them, because they’re dead now.” And when you’re on the road, you’re a one-man submarine. You don’t know what day it is half the time, and it’s up to you to keep your sanity no matter how you can do it. Sometimes you lose that battle.

COC: Do you think musicians have it easier since they have each other, whereas comics are all alone?

CP: Here’s the thing with musicians: You’re either around people who are doing drugs with you, OR you’re around people who are telling you not to do those drugs anymore because you’re fuckin’ up! With comics, you’re not with anybody. You’re all alone in a hotel room—just you and the drugs. So, I’ve definitely fucked up a lot of times, but you still have to be an adult and realize when you have a problem, and do whatever you can to get away from that problem.

COC: Speaking of musicians, aren’t you in a band?

CP: I am in a classic rock cover band called the Campfire Astronauts. I don’t really get to play with ‘em as much as I’d like to because of my schedule, but when I’m in town and they’re playin’, I get to play guitar and sing with them. It’s alotta fun.

COC: What are some bands that you guys cover?

CP: We do a lot of Rolling Stones and Allman Brothers. We do alotta (Tom) Petty. When all else fails, just play Tom Petty and everyone will have a good time. [laughs]


WRITING PROCESS

COC: When it comes to writing, what is a typical schedule for you?

CP: I’m not as disciplined as I should be, I write when I can. God bless the people that sit down and write every day. I write when I need to write. Either when jokes aren’t coming, or if my old jokes have been flushed out—which they are—so now I need something brand new. Sometimes material just comes, but other times, you really need to sit down and crank somethin’ out—get that muscle workin’. And right now, I’m locked up in a hotel for a week, so I plan to get some writing done—there’s fuckin’ nothin’ else to do here! [moment of laughter]

COC: How long is too long to be doing the same joke?

CP: Well, it’s different for everyone. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to a point where my jokes are out into the ether—they’re on television and they’re on Netflix, so once that happens you kinda hafta stop tellin’ that joke. Because now, people are coming to see you because they’ve already seen that joke and they wanna see what’s next. With musicians, fans wanna hear the hits, but with comics, they want to hear somethin’ else. Once you get to a level where you’re putting out specials, you absolutely have to switch it up. Or, if the joke just isn’t relevant anymore. I mean, if you’re doin’ Macarena material, it’s time to hit the pad ‘n paper! [moment of laughter] You have a responsibility to your fans to constantly generate new material.

MORE ABOUT CHRIS PORTER

COC: You have an angry persona on stage, but are you really that angry in real life?

CP: [laughs] No, I’m not an angry person. It’s just a place where I was when I wrote that material. When people meet me off stage, they go, “You’re not angry, you’re a pretty nice guy!” But after they get to know me better, they go, “Oh, you’re ABSOLUTELY that guy!” [moment of laughter] I’m a pretty happy person. I think I just have a level of expectation of how I think people should act and how the world should run...[laughs]...and Ugly & Angry was about a lot of those things.

COC: There are other famous people out there also named Chris Porter. Who are these guys?

CP: Well, there’s a hockey player, there’s a trance DJ, and there’s also a gay porn star... [moment of laughter] Yeah, that’s the bummer about having a fairly common name. There’s a lot of us.

COC: How is Chris Porter a gay porn star name? [laughs]

CP: [laughs] I mean, supposedly the dude got his porno name by having a dog named Chris, and he grew up on Porter Road. Which, I guess is the standard porn star way of getting your name. His real name is Eric or somethin’. Just terrible luck... [laughs]

CHRIS PORTER WISDOM

COC: What is like performing back home in Kansas City? Is there an added pressure to be great?

CP: I get so much into my own head when I go home and perform, that I usually sabotage myself for the most part. It’s just a cluster fuck. It’s like being on the road, but you’re not on the road, you’re getting a million phone calls... I do feel an added pressure when I perform at home, but I’ve realized that it’s all in my head.

COC: What does “Finding your voice” mean to you?

CP: It’s tearing down all the walls of what you think you should be. And that’s why it takes so long to find it, because you’re searching for it, and you just grasp onto something thinking you found it. You always THINK you found your voice. And you don’t realize you found it until you actually find it—and then you’re like, “Oh! I was an idiot for 7 years! Now, I have a lot of people to apologize to...”

[moment of laughter]

CP: And it’s not just 7 years—it’s 7 years of going at it EVERY FUCKIN’ NIGHT, doing shows where you don’t want to do shows, being in places you don’t want to be—that’s what makes you a comic. Doing shows where it’s the last place you want to be, that’s when you become yourself. You stop giving a fuck about this “character”. You’re not trying to fake it anymore. 

COC: How do you know when you’ve found it?

CP: If you can spend a week with a comedian, and at the end of that week you don’t sound like them at all, then you’re probably pretty close to finding it. Like with (Mitch) Hedberg, every comic that worked with him ended up sounding a little bit like him. And the same goes for Lewis Black, Dave Attell, and all those big time comics. I was guilty of it, too. You’d watch the feature act, and by the end of that week you’d notice that they sort of adopted the same kind of cadence. But now, I can open for anybody and watch them all week, and I still sound like Chris Porter, because I’m not trying to find a voice. I’d say that’s a good litmus test.

COC: Once you finally figure it out, how does it change your act?

CP: Once you realize, “Okay, if I’m gonna act like that, I can’t be talkin’ like this.” So, then you need be writing for your person, and the jokes kind of metamorphosize. Maybe you eliminate some jokes, or maybe you rewrite others to become more in tune.

COC: Final thoughts / words of wisdom?

CP: Don’t be in a rush to leave town, work regionally, get out on the road. Especially if you’re in Chicago, there’s SO MUCH comedy in that region! There are SO MANY clubs within the Midwest! And I know Chicago’s got a million mics, but then you’ll just become a Chicago comic, and you’ll end up resting on local references or the Chicago lifestyle. Get out and go find out what makes America laugh. And the great thing about living in Chicago is that you are in the middle of it. What we used to do in Kansas City is we’d do little road trips. Some of my favorite stories are from coming up in comedy—driving back from Topeka, Kansas and listening to my friends drunkely argue about the dumbest shit on the planet! [laughs] You don’t have to go to L.A. or New York, just drive out and go do a mic in fuckin’ Des Moines, Iowa or Dayton, Ohio and have a great show and maybe get some work out of it. Then, get shit faced in a hotel and have a good time. Cultivate an environment of growth, and don’t be dicks.

Interview conducted by David Gavri and Stephanie Racine
Transcribed & written by David Gavri


David Gavri is a stand-up comedian, writer and founder of the online comedy sites Gonzo Fame and Comedy Scene in Houston.

Stephanie Racine is a stand-up comedian and model in Chicago
Twitter: @Sracine.