CHRIS FAIRBANKS INTERVIEW
Growing up in Montana, Chris Fairbanks had a choice between one of two paths: grow a wild beard and send mail bombs to university scientists, or stand up comedy. Choosing the latter, Chris found his voice for stand up in Austin, Texas, after following a member of his Improv troupe along her path South. After several years there, Los Angeles was next, and that’s where Chris hangs his hat today.
A complete professional, Chris didn’t complain when Idiot Interviewer Nathan Timmel got his time zones wrong and called an hour late, nor did Chris mind when they had to start the interview a second time, after Nathan’s recorder shut down unexpectedly ten minutes into their conversation.
His latest CD is entitled, “Fairbanks!” and it’s being released April 8th on the Rooftop label.
NT: So how long have you been performing?
CF: I started doing improv around 1997, in Montana, and one of the girls in the group and I were dating. She moved to Austin to go to film school, and I went with her, and that’s where I started doing stand up. I did do improv and stand up together there for a few years, but for the last eight years, or so, I’ve been focused on stand up.
NT: You’re releasing an album for Rooftop Comedy; where was it recorded, and what was the process like?
CF: It was at [the San Francisco] The Punchline, and we put two shows together. The first show I was very loose and I had fun, but the audience was… [pauses] kind of “bad.” I mean, a couple women were talking, so then I talked to them, so I knew when that show was done I couldn’t use it. But then the second show was great, so I used that, and then added just a couple jokes from the first show. So I’d say it’s 90% second show and 10% first.
NT: And you originally tried taping it in Austin, first?
CF: Austin is my home club, and when I’m there I have some jokes I resort to when I’m there. When you’re recording, you’re recording the CD second, but first and foremost you’re performing for that audience, and it was unavoidable for me to do Texas inspired material. Then listening back, I’m thinking, “I don’t want to hear me referencing a local freeway or strip club, I want it to be universal,” so I re-recorded it in a place that was more foreign to me, so I wouldn’t fall back on old habits. Plus, in Austin that week, it was like motorcycle week, so there were like two hundred thousand bikers in town. And so, the crowd had an abundance of mustaches, and a lack of sleeves, and there were several hats that referenced farting…
NT: “Make me laugh, funny boy!”
CF: Yeah, it was that kind of crowd, a little combative. So yeah, I recorded there, but those shows weren’t gonna work. The CD title “Fairbanks!” was kind of Annie at Rooftops’ idea. I was originally going to call it several things, such as, “Water Sports,” or another was “Disappointed With Your Enjoyment.”
CF: But, based on the album artwork, and the T-Shirts I made which inspired the look of the album, which is kind of a backwards approach [laughs], in the end my name turned out to work best.
NT: How do you like living in Los Angeles?
CF: Well, most of my problems with Los Angeles have nothing to do with the comedy scene. I have great friends that are comics, and the more I focus on stand up, the more inspired I am by Los Angeles. But it’s the things everyone complains about that are true, the actor-kids, the traffic, trying to have a relationship with a girl that isn’t crazy… but it’s all stuff people here are dealing with, because this is the only place where stand up can lead to something other than traveling around to comedy clubs for the rest of your life. Which I’ll do, but I want to do more TV stuff, and acting…
NT: More TV stuff?
CF: I skateboard and snowboard quite a bit, and there’s a show on the Fuel Network called The Daily Habit that deals with action sports, and it incorporates comedy into more than half of what they do, so it’s my two worlds combining: comedy and sports. So I go to events or press junkets or red carpet premieres for Fuel, or sometimes I perform in sketch comedy or even straight up stand up for them. I’ll be a guest on the show, it airs on April 14th, and then we shot a promo video [for the CD] they’re going to air, so they’ve been really good to me [at Fuel].
NT: How do you feel growing up in Montana influenced you as a comedian or person?
CF: I think being from Montana, that’s what I originally thought I had to talk about when I moved to Texas. Mainly because, most people don’t know anything about Montana, and they tend to think that anyone from there wouldn’t be proud of it, because it’s hard for anyone from Texas to think that other states can’t be proud when they’re the proudest. It’s that [Texas] pride that inspired me to make fun of them, because I don’t like pride at all, in any way. So I was kind of defending Montana, in making fun of Texans, and so I had some jokes about that, which was just a reaction to the way people talked about Montana, which kind of pissed me off [laughs].
NT: You said something that caught my ear, that you don’t like pride. Is that a sense of humility on your part, or can you clarify that?
CF: It’s almost, like, maybe not even a healthy thing, but maybe it’s from being raised in Montana, but I was raised not to be… [pauses] I was raised to believe cockiness is a really bad thing. At times, I may have confused cockiness with confidence, but I think it’s a virtue these days to meet someone that’s shy. Very rarely are there shy people anymore, especially in Hollywood, everyone is here to sell themselves in some way, or to get something, because they feel they’re obligated to it. That’s made me appreciate people who are filled with humility. I think that’s maybe why my stand up is kind of self-deprecating. I’m almost acting like I’m not confident, even though I do know what I’m doing, but my act is filled with false word stumbles and apologies, that I’m doing on purpose, but it’s part of my character. That’s one of the first things I learned I wanted to do to do on stage, is appear not cocky or confident. And I don’t even know that that’s a good thing, but it’s what I do.
NT: You said, “I was raised” in a way that caught my ear. Is stand up a release for you, meaning would you agree with the statement, “All great art comes from pain?”
CF: [emphatically] I do agree with that. I mean, I have childhood pain, but it doesn’t come from a lack of support from my parents, and I do think there’s almost a drawback to having parents that were supportive of me my whole life. Like, I went to art school, and I did artwork my whole life, and then I started doing comedy, and I had nothing but support from my parents my whole life. My parents were into artwork, and they were into comedy; my dad used to do radio and write jokes for some comics. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of successful comics who have bits in common who didn’t have that support, from their parents. It’s almost like they took that line, “I don’t know why you couldn’t be a lawyer, like your old man!” that almost lights a fire under that comedian’s ass, to prove their parents wrong. It’s a motivation for them. Whereas with me, and my family, I always had their support, and it’s a ridiculous thing to blame a family for, but I think as a result I’m almost sort of lazy, because they believe in me, so I don’t have to. Does that make sense?
NT: Yeah, it does, and it’s hilarious in a tragic way.
CF: [laughs] If only he had just beat me a few times, maybe yelled at me to toughen me up, but he was always gentle.
NT: Well, gentle touch can be bad, too, if it’s a caress.
CF: [laughs] Oh, hey, I’m not talking about my uncles, I’m talking about my dad. Let’s not get weird. [laughs]