Five Questions with Comedian Chris D’Elia

With help from social media and Netflix specials, his popularity is booming

Chris D’Elia is a comedic tour de force on social media, earning him a loyal following that continues to grow.

“To me it’s a no-brainer and it’s fun and it’s funny for me to do jokes that I wouldn’t even necessarily do,” says D’Elia. “It’s a different medium. I love it, I like social media, it’s fun for me and it translates to ticket sales.”

And he certainly isn’t the man to mess with on social media, either. Just ask Logan Paul. D’Elia roasted the YouTube sensation in May, with one tweet from the comedian garnering more than 660,000 likes and nearly 150,000 retweets—numbers exceeding even those of a typical Twitter tirade from President Trump.

D’Elia’s career has been on an upswing with the release of his second Netflix stand-up special, Man on Fire, in 2017, his recurring role on NBC’s The Good Doctor and his soon-to-be-released movie, Life in a Year.

Out & About had the opportunity to ask him some questions before he embarked on his summer tour, Follow the Leader, which makes a stop in Wilmington on Friday, June 8, 8 p.m., at the Grand Opera House.

O&A: You won praise for your crowd work during your stand-up routine. How do you survey a crowd to find the best targets?

D’Elia:  I don’t really do it beforehand. I mostly just do it when I get on stage, I just kind of feel it out and wait for something to happen. I get a lot of people that heckle me or call out and I actually hate that. So, I’m kind of happy to put people in their place when they do that. I mostly just wait for something to happen. I’m not on stage waiting for something to happen, but if it does that’s when I’ll go for it.

As comedians, we’ve dealt with it enough and I think I do find the fun in it, you know, which is why I think that sometimes it seems that I like to do it. There is a part of me that likes to do it, but I’d rather just do my material.

But if I’m on stage and if something happens or if somebody is wearing something stupid in the front row, it’s almost like I can’t not comment on it. But I don’t do it before I go on stage.

I just feel like a lot of the time people in the crowd just don’t get that the comedian is the professional and that they’re going to be the one that comes away as the winner. It’s hard to lose up there if somebody heckles you.

O&A: Since starting your weekly podcast, Congratulations with Chris D’Elia, in February 2017, it has climbed to a top 30 position on the US Comedy Podcast Chart. Do you find it to be a good outlet for thoughts and frustrations, and do you utilize it to test any new material?

D’Elia:  When I first started my podcast I thought, “look, I do stand-up and I talk for an hour on stage. I do it all the time, . . . almost every night.” But a lot of that is material and when I started doing the podcast I thought, comedians are doing podcasts and maybe there’s a way for me to streamline my fan base and do podcasts and give them something to listen to weekly. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it or not, to talk for an hour just on anything that came to mind in that moment.

But I started doing it and after the first few episodes I was like, “oh, man, I really like this. It was really, really fun and it helps me streamline not only my fan base but my way of thinking and my humor.” And it gave me an outlet to kind of just talk through stuff that I think is funny which is how I write material anyway.

Now I have the pressure of doing this one hour a week and I film it and I put it up an hour later on iTunes and all places where podcasts are available. And you know, I’m fortunate that it became really popular. But now it’s very cool because it feels like to me my fans know me and my humor even better.

With stand-up, specials that come out on Netflix or if I put out a video on YouTube of me at the Laugh Factory or whatever it is, they are very few and far between because I’m working on it for a year or two years, even. But the podcasts make them feel like they have a connection with me and I have a connection with them.

Things have become sayings and I put some of the stuff that I said in my podcast in my act. And it’s really helpful for me in expressing what my humor is and letting the people who listen to me know what brand of humor I have, and they feel like they’re a part of it.

The way I write material is I just of kind of walk around my house and I start talking out loud. Whatever I think is funny I’ll say on stage. But I’ll also talk about it with my friends. I get a lot of material when after a comedy set I’ll go to the diner with my friends and we’ll just be bullshitting around – that’s kind of what my podcast is, only without my friends. So, I’ll get material that way and then I hone on stage after that, because I’m just kind of like talking out my ass on the podcast.

O&A: Is your upcoming film Life in a Year a departure from your previous comedic acting experience and is there any other type of genre you’d be interested in trying?

D’Elia:  That is a straight drama. I think they were looking for a comedic element in the movie because the movie is about Cara Delevingne’s character dying of cancer. It’s really dramatic. So I think they were looking for some sort of levity with my character . . . it’s a really dramatic movie, which is totally why I wanted to do it.

Because, you know, there’s funny movies and funny TV shows that come out, but to me it always feels like the best version of any comedy that I can do is stand-up. Because that’s me, those are my jokes, my thoughts, what I think is funny. If I’m going to be in a movie, it’s a collaborative thing and I don’t mind being in a collaborative thing.

But the best distilled, most pure version of what I think is funny is going be on stage. So, I tell my agent if there’s ever anything interesting to come along like a drama or something that’s very specific that I wouldn’t necessarily be known or thought of, or cast immediately for, then I want to do that. And they came to me with that movie idea and I was like, I definitely want to do that.

The whole goal for me is to be an action movie star. I look at guys like Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves and even Nicolas Cage. Those movies are the movies that I want to do 100 percent. I’ve always wanted to do that, so I’m trying to bug my agents to book things where I’m running with a gun.

O&A: Your recent Twitter feud with YouTube star Logan Paul received a lot of attention, most notably your tweet, “At least when my career dies you can film it and put it on YouTube.” As a comedian, how do you view social media as a tool to get your comedy out there?

D’Elia: I think what comedians have learned in the past year or two is something that I loved about social media from the get go: It’s an extension of your audience. When you tweet something, when you put something on Instagram, you’re doing it to an audience.

And I think that comedians, a lot of comedians that I know and even my friends, they look at it as, “oh, I got to do this, I got to do this too, this is the world now where I want to do stand-up, but I got to do this because it helps.” But that’s not how I look at it. When I tweet or post something it’s an extension of me.

The people who come to my shows follow me on those platforms and its fun for me to engage with them. Some of these guys are in Paris. I’ve never been there, and this is how they see me, and this is how they know me. And I like that, I like that it’s global. I like that people can find out about comedians through things like Instagram.

I think some comedians try to be funny on Instagram the way they’re funny onstage and it’s just a different medium, so it doesn’t translate. I’d like to try and figure out how to use something to my advantage in the best way possible when it comes to humor. That’s why it’s different on Twitter, it’s different on Instagram, it’s different on Snapchat or whatever.

My favorite part about Twitter is talking shit. Instagram for me is about making funny videos or pictures. I always feel like for me jokes, like writing actual jokes, to me I feel corny doing it. So that’s a good thing for Twitter, because it’s joke writing.

But for me, if somebody is going to talk shit, especially somebody like him with that following, I’m the underdog [and] this is awesome. It’s also just funny anyways because I’m the underdog to a 24-year-old, and I’m this 38-year-old guy.

When he wrote me that shot I was, “oh come on, man.” It’s also what I do for a living. You talk about heckling – you’re doing what I do for a living and you don’t do this for a living and now I have a minute to think about my comeback. I have to do it in a second on stage for hecklers.

The whole thing about comedy is that it looks easy because it has to look easy because then it’s funnier. People fancy themselves as the funny person. so they think, “I can do it.” Maybe you could do it, but you don’t do it, so you’re not going to be able to do it. I could run a marathon, but I don’t because I don’t practice.

O&A: Your appearance on the Hot Ones YouTube series where you ate a progression of increasingly spicy wings barely phased you, where other guests can’t complete the challenge, or they break into heavy sweats. Do you enjoy eating hot foods and how did you feel the next day?

D’Elia:  I like hot foods and I expected it to be a lot tougher than it was. I always put hot sauce on my food. I didn’t really study the show till I did it, and then I did it and he was like, “most people can’t get through it.” I was kind of surprised by that. I don’t know, maybe I have a strong palate.

But I like hot foods and you know, afterwards is tough because you go to the bathroom and it’s not comfortable. I think also some of the other ones were hotter than [what was supposed to be] the hottest one. Maybe it has to do with the way your mouth is, but number seven or something was the worst one and then it got easier. But yeah it was fine, I like those foods. It was fun, and I can’t believe how many people watch that show. It’s amazing.

For tickets to Chris D’Elia’s show at the Grand Opera House on June 8, visit thegrandwilmington.org.

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