Comedy Central’s half hours are back this week, rebranded as Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents. The first in this season’s lineup of emerging comics is Chicago native Chris Redd. Redd got his start over eight years ago by simultaneously taking on improv, sketch, and standup. Since then he’s used his combined skills on the stage and screen, earning roles like Hunter the Hungry in The Lonely Island’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and Dank in Netflix’s Disjointed. I talked to Redd after his half hour taping about his early days as a rapper, how improv and sketch influenced his standup and acting, and how his role in Popstar proved that he was on the right track.
In addition to standup you’ve been doing a lot of acting recently. You also have a background in improv and sketch. Which of those do you consider to be closest to your core?
I don’t like to categorize myself. I was rapping for a long time too, but when I got into comedy all of it was just comedy to me. They’re just different techniques all under the same umbrella. But to answer the question the best I can, I’ll do standup until I die. I’m going to be old as hell doing standup. Sketch and improv are cool. It all informs the acting shit. I still play a little bit on the improv side, but it’s only when I’m with my improv group or when I go back to Chicago. I’m not actively searching for an improv career because I don’t think that exists. I love acting. I’ll do it as long as I have a reason to. But standup is the thing I’ll always to.
Improv gets a lot of shit from standups, but I think the two skill sets can work well together. I don’t do improv, but I took level one at Second City just to see if I could be more present and extemporaneous onstage.
Most definitely. That’s why I’m a big advocate for not really picking one over the other, because getting good at improv and sketch is just as hard, if not harder because you have to deal with other people who may not be funny. In standup you get to be by yourself, so you take more onus over shit not working, but you don’t have to hear somebody make dick jokes for a half hour and then try to flip it into something smart. My standup is everything I’ve always studied. I take my sketch characters seriously and I write a lot through improv. It helps me be in the moment at any given time and adds to who I am as a performer.
Let’s go back a little bit. You came out of St. Louis and ended up in Chicago where you wanted to pursue a career as a rapper.
Yeah, my dream was to be a rapper and a gangster and all the cool shit. I did it for a while and wasn’t very successful at it, as we all can see. When I was 24 I was lost and didn’t know what I wanted in life. I saw this commercial for Second City in Chicago. That day I went and took a class and then went and did an open mic. I was like, “I think I’m going to do this for three years and see what happens.” That was eight years ago.
At least you were able to draw on your experience rapping for the role of Hunter the Hungry in Popstar.
Oh man, that was amazing. I was like, “This is what my fucking life was meant for.” That role encapsulated everything I’ve always wanted to do. I mean, Hunter was rapping about stuff I wouldn’t rap about, but the songs were hard-hitting. It was a dope experience. I wanted to make sure that when I came to set every day I would try to out-act everybody because everyone else was more famous.
After that first open mic why did you decide on three years as your trial period for comedy?
I picked three years because I didn’t understand the craft yet. Looking back now, three years would have been a stupid timeframe to give myself. But the way I saw it was that no one else was going to work the way I would work in a three-year span. I was going to put five years of work into three years. I had money saved up so I quit my job and all I did was take improv classes, sketch writing classes, and go do standup. I maximized my time. I thought that if I could put my heart in it for three years and still have a reason to stay and continue on I would do that. I broke all my goals down, how I wanted to do the hustle, how I wanted to attack everything. I didn’t really know what that meant either. I didn’t think I was going to be on a TV show in three years or anything. I just thought I needed to be better at it and find a love and appreciation for it. Something needed to show me that I should keep doing it. I got better at improv and sketch quicker than I did standup. I was kind of bad at standup for a while because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But now I know that I’m never going to quit.
How do you feel your Comedy Central taping went?
I had a ball, man. It’s funny because when you get it you’re excited, but then for me, I was just crafting, crafting, crafting that set as much as possible to make sure I got everything. I felt good in the moment. The people were dope. I feel great about it.