Comedian and actor Chris Distefano is heading into 2019 strong. With his first hour standup special premiering, his popular TV series extended, and an overall deal with Comedy Central, Chris has become a favorite with audiences and industry insiders alike. Chris’ first hour special- Chris Distefano: Size 38 Waist– will premiere as part of the “January Stand up Month” on Comedy Central January 18th, 2019. We spoke with Chris about his new special, the current climate in comedy and his new workload with Comedy Central.
The Interrobang: It’s your first hour special with Comedy Central… you’ve been part of their brigade for a while, so it’s good to see that they set up a special for you.
Chris Distefano: I did a half hour special with them in 2014, and now I’m doing the hour. At Comedy Central they’re truly like family to me. I’m lucky to have a new whole deal with them… I’m developing a secondary special and have an animated series in development. There’s also an unscripted show coming, and my show Stupid Questions was just greenlit for more episodes, that shows as interstitials on Friday nights. So, I kind of feel like team Comedy Central… call me “Chris D Comedy Central”. It’s a good place…I started off with MTV and now I think it’s a nice progression, the people there have always believed in me, so I’m really happy.
The Interrobang: It seems like you’re a real utility player for them, it shows that they have a lot of faith in you.
Chris Distefano: Yeah, give a straight male a chance! I had a sitcom with CBS about my life that wound up not getting picked up. In a way, that was a blessing in disguise… because with these networks you have to be shiny and clean. Now Comedy Central is allowing me, through this animated series, to be me. You know a lot of my life involves jokes and stories you can’t even film on CBS. Now I can go as edgy as I want. I just like comedy that is truthful, and on my pilot…I enjoyed doing it, but you got to make things up… it has to be palatable for people in the Midwest. Fortunately, with Comedy Central… they told me to just be funny… we’ll see what happens.
The Interrobang: Is the animated series going to cover what you were trying to do with the sitcom, but take it a step further?
Chris Distefano: Exactly… It’s a little different. In the sitcom pilot they made it about me trying to get back together with my ex for my daughter’s sake. But this is about me being a full single dad, raising a little Puerto Rican girl, and the actual stories from my life.
The Interrobang: I remember the buzz when you first announced the pilot and it sounded like it was going to be really great… but unfortunately it never happened.
Chris Distefano: Well blame it on Les Moonves (laughing). Nah, it wasn’t even his fault, despite being produced by Carter Bays, the same guy who did How I Met Your Mother, It’s one of those things that just wasn’t meant to be. I’m pretty sure every sitcom CBS picked up that year they wound up canceling anyway. So it’s a blessing… because if they would have picked up my show and canceled it, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to retool it for this animated series.
I made some great relationships with Carter Bays, and an awesome friendship with Chazz Palminteri. We’re still good friends now. Also, Annie Potts played my mom, and she was so awesome. My favorite movies growing up were Ghostbusters and A Bronx Tale, so it was surreal that my TV mom and dad were in both those movies.
The Interrobang: Hearing all the stories about your Dad from your act, how did he feel when you became friends with Chazz?
Chris Distefano: He was so impressed. When I filmed the pilot my dad came out to LA and he called a sit down with Chazz Palminteri. He asked to have coffee, and Chazz obliged. They talked for like two hours, Chazz said it was really great, he said he learned parts of my dad that are real, and then played my dad spot on. It was cool, and they are still friends… they “old guy” email now… one guy sends an email and the other guy responds four months later, that’s the way it works.
The Interrobang: Back to the special a bit… I think a lot of people can relate to your material because it is very identifiable. Most people see themselves just as regular folks, so they can see their own families and their own situations in your comedy.
Chris Distefano: That’s what I hope gets across to the people who see it. I wanted to be very conversational, so people feel like they’re just talking to me at the end of a bar. I had the chance to make a lot of people laugh, and I had a fun time doing some crowd work… which went really well. When people see the special, they’ll know what I mean when I say that I never met the guy I did crowd work before, he was not a plant. I swear on Derek Jeter. It’s also crazy that I was really sick when I filmed the special. So, getting a big pop from the crowd work up front really helped me. Your adrenaline goes through the roof, and all the sickness goes away.
The Interrobang: Watching a special like this it’s easier to identify with someone who has real things going on. You have a daughter and are part of her life as a single father, you have some issues with your dad, and your parents are divorced. It seems a little more real than some specials where comics are just “supposing” or saying “wouldn’t the world be better if you just listen to what I say”.
Chris Distefano: Yeah, I never get political with my comedy. It’s just all the shit that happened to me, it’s all about my life. My comedy isn’t going to make you think about the world, it’s just coming to see me for an hour and escaping reality. I want people to just laugh, instead of having to think about issues deeply… I’m not smart enough for that.
The Interrobang: Another identifiable thing is I think most people feel that we are just observers to the world around us. We don’t say much about it… we just observe.
Growing up in Brooklyn I was the guy that got punched in the face a lot.
The Interrobang: Shannon Hartman directed your special; she has a great history of directing some of the best specials that have come out on Comedy Central over the past 10 years.
Chris Distefano: Shannon Hartman and Michelle Caputo were the co-directors and producers. They were fantastic; they picked out the set and the camera angles and the outfit. They knew the special would be good, because the jokes are good and I put the work in. They said… “We will make you look as good as we can, and you just focus on being funny”. They didn’t bother me to talk for three hours about the lighting– they took care of all that stuff.
It’s the world that we live in, a lot of comics have specials on Netflix and it starts to make a special not special anymore. What Comedy Central is doing with the January Month of Stand-ups (also starring comedic heavyweights Ron Funches, James Davis and Roy Wood Jr.) is that they vetted everyone being featured. Comedy Central does not release 50 specials a year… it’s like five…so all the comedians were vetted and they’re going to be great specials. They pulled everybody together for this big push… so it’s everybody that they have confidence in. The only quota they have to fill here is funny. I also had Chazz Palminteri introduce me for the special so that was a great opener.
The Interrobang: Your podcast History Hyenas with cohost Yannis Pappas is also doing really well.
Chris Distefano: I love History Hyenas. Podcasting is obviously now the way to go. Like, if I got on Joe Rogan’s podcast a million more people will watch my special… it’s like being on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Your career changes overnight if you can crush it with a guy like Rogan or Marc Maron. So, me and Yannis are growing our brand with the podcast. Other than my Comedy Central stuff, that is my huge passion, we release the show Sundays for free and then Thursdays we give our patreon fans so much bonus coverage. We are both passionate about history; that part’s easy for us. The rest of it is just us trying to be funny with one another. The hope with the podcast is it helps to get our careers to the next level, and working with Comedy Central I hope to bring a History Hyenas related concept to them as well.
The Interrobang: It also helps that the podcast is on a platform like the Riotcast Network and backed by somebody like Bobby Kelly. It’s not like you have to do it in your bedroom and hope that someone finds it.
Chris Distefano: Bobby Kelly put together a really good place that gives people a good home to host their podcasts. He has been great with it, and it’s great for us because after the podcast we can go downstairs to the Comedy Cellar to do sets. You don’t have to worry about the uploading or the cameras… we just do a show and everything else is taken care of.
The Interrobang: You’re also going to be on the Impractical Jokers Cruise next month with Nate Bargatze, Dan Soder and Big Jay Oakerson.
Chris Distefano: I’m looking forward to that big time. I’m ready to get these bitch tits out and show everybody what I’m working with. Sal Vulcano is one of the best people I’ve ever met– I have never met a person that does not like Sal. He’s one of those guys, that as famous and successful as he is, he’s still the most down to earth best person. I have been going out on the road with Sal and just had some great times. When he asked me to do the cruise I was honored. Some people do some crazy cruises and they come back and say they sucked… but not when you’re with Sal, Big Jay, Dan and the Jokers fans… no matter what we’ll all have a good time.
The Interrobang: You’ve spent a lot of time visiting the shows over at SiriusXM. Over the past few years I’ve heard you on Opie & Jim when they had their show, then Jim and Sam and Bennington.
Chris Distefano: First of all I think Ron Bennington is one of the best radio guys of all time. Anytime I have been on his show it just feels effortless, and he’s so good it just makes you feel effortless. It’s just like alley-oop after alley-oop, and Jim and Sam are great they have always been good to me. I still work with Opie as well. I know he and Jim Norton had their public problems, but I still love them both independently for different reasons. I never got caught in the middle of the drama, I enjoy working with both of them; and I’m glad they both continue to have me on their shows.
The Interrobang: Do you have any opinions on the current PC culture in comedy? Do you think it’s ever going to swing back- There’s a lot of regular people that just want to laugh and watch a good set.
Chris Distefano: Well, I feel sometimes things need to change… and sometimes it has to get annoying for things to change in a positive way. I think we’re at that point where they’re annoying now, and some things are changing positively. But as a comedian, if I’m committing a crime or do something that I know in my heart is wrong…… I will apologize…if not, I will never apologize for a joke. Ricky Gervais tweeted something that basically said… “if you’re offended by a joke…that’s your problem not mine. It’s the way you’re taking the joke, not the way I’m saying it”. If I do a joke and someone takes personal offense to it, they have every right to do that… they can get up and walk out of my show. They can get in touch with me on social media and tell me how offended they were. I don’t need to respond, and the club doesn’t need to give you your money back… it’s up to them. But it is 100% their prerogative and their right to be offended, but I’m not going to say I’m sorry, because I wrote the joke and I stand by it.
I’m not apologizing… I’m not running for office, I’m a comedian.
Chris’ first hour special- Chris Distefano: Size 38 Waist- will premiere as part of “January Stand up Month” on Comedy Central January 18th, 2019.
Chris’ weekly interstitial Comedy Central series –Stupid Questions with Chris Distefano– is also extended for a new batch of episodes. Chris co-stars in the web series Bay Ridge Boys alongside fellow comic Yannis Pappas and co-hosts the popular history podcast History Hyenas (also with Pappas), which is available on iTunes and the Riotcast Network.
Chris can be found across social media platforms @chrisdcomedy.