Man on Fire, Chris D’Elia’s third standup special, dropped today on Netflix. Filmed at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, the special captures the 37 year old comedian at a bit of an existential crossroads: “I’m at the point where in five years I’m going to be in my 40s…not to get all heady, but I’m just as lost as everyone else.” D’Elia is growing up and that means pushing his material in new directions. His stage presence is still full of energy and bravado, but his content is gradually shifting toward something more raw and introspective, an introspection that he turns on his audience as he commands them to look in the mirror the way he’s forcing himself to do. I talked to D’Elia about the new hour, why none of us are special, and his upcoming film projects.
We talked in November about the hour that you were working on at the time. You said that the next special would be a little less making fun of other people and more introspection and what’s going on in your head and your life.
I still make fun of the world and what’s going on, but I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again every special. This one felt a little different and a little more introspective.
About 15 minutes in or so you say, “If you think this sounds sad or depressing…” That was right about the moment where I was thinking, “This is going to bum a lot of people out.” You speak dead on to people in the audience and tell them, “This isn’t about somebody else. This is about you.” Why did you want to make sure that people absorbed everything you were saying instead of passing it off on other people?
Because I think it’s so easy to think that. I do that in my own life. It’s why I stopped playing team sports when I was younger. When we lost I could always blame it on other people. It’s what I like so much about standup, honestly. It’s either all your fault or all your fault. It’s so easy to brush things off as someone else’s fault, but it’s all on us, you know?
You alluded to this before, but I think this special might be a little bit of a shift for your fans. You’ve taken a slightly darker turn. It’s still you. You’re not up there kicking rocks with your head down acting all depressed. It just seems that you have redirected your energy to address what you feel is truth more.
I didn’t want to lose sight of who…look, the bottom line is that I love being silly. I love being fun and lively, not to sound corny. But I’m getting older. I did that on my last two specials and that was fun. There’s a lot of that in this special, but it’s a little bit more like I’m growing up and my fans who have seen my last two specials are growing up too.
Did you feel that there was any risk in shifting the vibe and content for this special?
A little bit, yeah. I always think of this saying in Mad Men that Don Draper says to a client. I don’t know what she’s selling, but she’s trying to hire him for an ad and he says, “You have to rebrand.” She says, “What about all my clients who are with me?” He says, “You have to lose the clients that you don’t want to gain the ones that you do want.” I’m paraphrasing, but that always comes to mind, especially when I was doing this special. Maybe you’ll lose some, but you’ll gain the ones that you want because now this is who you are and they’ll identify with you.
The title Man on Fire is a reference to Denzel and a bit where you explain that we can’t all be the stars in the movie of our lives. That hit me because I’ve definitely walked into a store after just having listened to “The Seeker” by The Who and felt like it was the soundtrack to me getting ready to buy the fuck out of those groceries. In reality, nobody cares that I’m in that store. I think we all do that, even to a greater degree when something actually serious happens. Things can quickly become about us, how important we are, and how the world revolves around us. You shut that down pretty effectively by reminding everyone that no one is special, which is an interesting thing to hear from a person with a microphone standing in front of a huge crowd of people who are there just to see them.
I understand the irony in it. I always felt that it made it extra funny to me. I comment on it like, “Just because you’re sitting there watching me doesn’t mean it’s not about you as well.” It’s hilarious that you said that thing about the groceries because when you’re driving in the car and a song is playing and you’re like, “Aw, this is cool,” you imagine that people are giving a shit about you driving and being cool, but nobody’s in the car with you and nobody’s even fucking looking at you. Then you get out of the car and the music stops and you feel less cool. That’s what always reminds me that I’m not Denzel. The whole idea with these movies is that you identify with the lead character. You’re nothing like that guy, but you feel it. That’s hilarious to me. To feel like you are the Man on Fire in your life when you just have a day job is so funny.
In the special you address pretty much every insecurity that you could have as an adult male in your thirties: relationships, how you’re perceived, personal aspirations. If you were doing a self check up right now, how would you rate your overall mental and physical health?
I’m a single guy. I broke up with my ex. I’m at the point where in five years I’m going to be in my 40s. I don’t have kids. My whole life I thought I’ll have kids because that’s what you do. But then for a while I was like, “Maybe I won’t.” I don’t know, man. Not to get all heady, but I’m just as lost as everyone else. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just trying to take it day by day. My career has been the thing that I’m mainly focused on, so I hope it’s not making too many of my relationships suffer. As for working out and health-wise, I’ve been doing that every day. I’m trying to make sure my body doesn’t break down by the time I’m 50.
What else do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
I’ve got a movie coming out on Netflix called Little Evil. It’s a horror comedy and I have a supporting role. There’s another thing I’m excited about called Life in a Year. I just finished it up in Toronto. It’s a heavy drama and I’m playing a dramatic role in the movie. Cara Delevingne is in it. She has cancer and is dying and I’m taking care of her. It’s a wild thing for me to do and I’m really excited for it because I feel like it will open up some new doors.