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Chris Redd’s Bust Down Journey Started Years Before SNL

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: Charles Sykes/Bravo/Getty Images

Chris Redd is a model of a modern major SNL cast member. On the show, he’s doing pretaped sketches and impressions, both political and cultural. At the same time, he’s shooting Kenan. During the summer, he worked on Bust Down, the new big-laugh Peacock comedy he co-stars in and co-created with Sam Jay, Langston Kerman, and Jak Knight. When there is somehow free time, he is a touring stand-up, with an HBO Max special coming later this year. How does he do it?

On Vulture’s Good One podcast, which features Moses Storm as guest host, Redd literally explains how. Redd discusses his Eric Adams impression, how Bust Down got on the air, and the worst pitch of his run on SNL. Below, you can read an excerpt from the transcript or listen to the full episode. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

On Celebrity Impersonations

I’m confident now because I’ve been there, but I used to question myself. I’ve always loved the characters. But I would never consider myself an impressionist, so I always overthought them. But by year five, I was like, I know how to do the job. There’s some people that I can get down enough, so I just have fun with it, and I don’t second guess impressions as much as I used to. In that, I’ve actually been able to find I can do a little bit more than I thought I could. But the first couple of years, if someone was like, “Can you be Denzel?” I’d be like, “Uh umm uh uh uh ssssure.”

There would be hesitation because the show has had people like Jay Pharoah and many great impressionists — people who are like, “I got 355,000 impressions I can do right now,” and they’re just ready to do it at the drop of a hat. Me, I can do my version of that person. Some people I can do really well, but then there’s other people where I can take the essence and do something. I’m not going to sound directly like everybody, but there are some people where I can get the energy and have my fun with it. 

Now, I have people that I’m excited to play, like Eric Adams — because that was a character that reminds me of so many people in my family, people I’ve grown up around, anybody with a New York or southern accent that’s just a little bit hood. I can pick those voices up pretty easily because a lot of rappers who I imitate have voices like that, except Kendrick Lamar, who has a very high voice. But I’ve found an appreciation for impressions myself. I’ve always thought it’s cool when someone can do it. But in Chicago, they were so anti-impression. What I really love about Eric Adams is it’s just me and my homie Will Stephens going joke for joke in that whole thing for like seven minutes straight. There’s so many jokes in there that you find clever that you can enjoy as much as a good impression.

On Bust Down’s Journey to TV

All of us as comedians, we all push it to the limit when it comes to what we talk about onstage, so we wanted to try to balance taking these serious topics and putting it into this everyday conversation with these four idiots. It’s something that really intrigued us but was really hard to pitch. It took five and a half years for a very good reason. The pitch was always what this show became, but there were so many different versions of it, and each one of them terrified white executives.

Maybe it was even 2014. We had worked on it for two years before I and Sam got SNL. Then we went off, and Jak got Big Mouth and Langston got Insecure and The Boys, and we were still continuing to push it throughout that time. We leaned on each other to make it happen and not give up on the project. I’m really grateful for the other three because it’s so much easier to just quit.

The first iteration of this was bad in a way that had nothing to do with us. It was a remake of a show. I met this guy named Guy, who’s a producer. This was hot off the heels of Popstar. He had this British show, and it was about four friends, and he was like, “Hey, you should take a look at this. Do you have three friends?” And I was like, “Yeah, I do.” I went home and watched it, and it was absolutely terrible. I think the plot was four friends decide to break up with the girls on the exact same date to restart their life. I remember sending it to the crew, and they’re roasting me, saying, “I don’t wanna make this shit.” It was fair, but I was like, “Nah, nah, let’s just get into the groove of writing together, writing for the four of us, and then we’ll find it.”

So, the first version of this show was called All for One, like a UPN show. Oh man, that version of this show would not have been what Bust Down became, but we just kept pushing at it. We’d write a pilot and go from a Comedy Central deal to a Hulu deal. We had so many different places where we had little holding deals for a while.

We tried to do their version of it, but it didn’t work. But what they did like was us. So, we were like, “Fuck that. Let’s ditch that shit and write something that’s just really us.” But we didn’t really make it to the casino until later. The version of it that we have now came right before Peacock saved us — because there was a moment where we were back at Hulu for maybe the second time, and we had made a presentation, which was basically a rough version of what the opening scene is: us sitting at the table, riffing all of our conversations that we’ve already had as friends. It was just setting the tone for what the show could be. That was funny. It was fun.

I’m not mad at Hulu. You know how crazy it is to pitch a show like we did. Now that it’s made, it’s so much easier to know what it is because it’s here. We feel great in the product that that became, and the only way we came to it was by the obstacles that we had to endure. It’s very hard to be like, “Y’all should’ve had us when you could,” because the show wasn’t as funny then as it is now. Peacock swooping in … I don’t know if peacocks swoop, but that was the first time I saw one swoop in and save our show and give us some money. Not too much, but they gave us enough to make the show.

On Pitching Sketches for SNL As a New Cast Member

We used to do these pitches at SNL every Monday. We meet the host of the week and then go around the room pitching ideas. It’s like a bunch of us sitting on the floor. All the writers and the cast, we squeeze in Lorne’s office. My first year on the show, I was pitching, and I was so anxious. I put too much on it. You could tell that I was a stand-up because I was so long-winded with every pitch because I was nervous. A lot of buildup, a lot of context — like, “This happened on a train one time. So, I was sitting on the train …” By the time I get to what the train was about, you’d forget what I was talking about. I’d be like, “Anyway, so I dropped my apple, so I was thinking it would be a sketch like that.” It would be such a bad pitch. I was always overthinking it.

So, I did one of these long pitches to Larry David, and … it was bombing. Larry sat with it for a second and was like, “Is this a movie!?” I’ve never seen anything like it. People died. Everybody in the room was like, “AHHH!!!!!” like they don’t work with me. Everybody was laughing at me so hard, I wanted to kill myself. Just “Is this a movie!? I don’t understand.” You know how when you get roasted so hard you can’t say anything but support it? He was like, “Is this a movie?” And I was like, “It could be …”

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Chris Redd’s Bust Down Journey Started Years Before SNL