Chatting with Christian Finnegan
Declan Sullivan | Monday, February 23, 2009
Christian Finnegan – a comedian best known for his work on VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” stand-up specials on Comedy Central, and his role as “Chad,” the lone white roommate on “The Chappelle Show” skit “Mad Real World” – performed to a packed room Friday night at Legends. Before going on stage, however, he gave 10 minutes of his time to a couple of plucky, freshman Observer reporters for a quick interview: I happened to be one of them.
He was sitting at a table talking to a friend, but when he saw us, he stood up and gave us a warm smile. We told him both our names, and immediately the butterflies went away. He was down-to-earth, and seemed as excited to be interviewed, as we were to interview him.
Shane, my fellow reporter, made the first move. “So, there’s a question I’ve been dying to ask you,” he said, using his best Dave Chappelle voice. “What’s the square root of this apartment?”
Christian’s attitude immediately changed from friendly to jokingly offended: “What am I supposed to say to that?”
Shane said he meant it only as an icebreaker, to which Finnegan responded, “I feel like we had a great rapport going, and then you go and use that icebreaker … I feel like it created more ice between us.” After berating us for a while longer, he paused and said, with the conviction of a man under oath, “but seriously, the answer is 14.”
We soon began talking about his career as a comedian – what it’s like to tell jokes for a living, have a special on “Comedy Central Presents,” make a comedy album, etc. He said he felt extremely lucky about being able to do stand up for a living, but that it was not the most stable field of work.
“Really, you’re always up and coming as a comedian,” Finnegan said.
The life of a working comedian is apparently not as glamorous as many of us would think. The majority of comedians cannot make their living alone from stand-up: the day after his first Comedy Central special aired, Finnegan still had to go to work at his office job.
Once you make it as a comedian, however, it’s still not easy. The majority of money does not come from TV appearances, but from touring.
“We’re kind of like musicians,” Finnegan said. “Most of [the money] comes from ticket sales.” But even touring is not easy, especially for comedians.
Money is less abundant than it is for musicians, and the chance of bombing a show is a much, much higher. Finnegan, however, views bombing as good thing.
“If you’re not bombing on a semi-regular basis, you’re not trying hard enough as a comedian,” he said.
Comedy is all about finding new material, and the only way to do that is to go out on a limb at times. Still, this doesn’t make bombing any easier. Christian drew the allusion to “eating an unholy d*ck” before he remembered he was at a Catholic school, and promptly amended the statement to “a holy d*ck.”
When asked about touring through colleges, Christian said he loved it. Although, he did say his material does have to be adjusted for college crowds.
“Different jokes apply to different crowds,” he said, explaining he’s not going to tell jokes about crappy jobs and marriage to a bunch of college kids.
Students have yet to experience the slower flow of life after school. “They bounce between elation and despair,” Finnegan said, at least until gradation. “Then you realize that sort of nut-punch of life.”
Different rooms also call for adjustments to the routine. For example, in southern cities like Atlanta or Houston, Finnegan noted some confusion on the part of his audience.
“The audience will think I am gay for the first 30 seconds of a show,” he said. He’s not gay – he’s married – and he isn’t overly “feminine.” But he noted that to his audiences, what’s “manly in New York” is “gay” in a Texas comedy club.
Finnegan will, however, joke about this to win over the crowd. As a comedian, he prides himself for being able to play in any room, and usually gets the audience on his side. It is this talent that has allowed him to get such diverse gigs as “The Chappelle Show” and “Best Week Ever.”
At this point, the stage director came in; Finnegan was on in 10 minutes, and we needed to wrap it up. He thanked us for coming, said he hoped he’d try to see us after the show, and gave us both handshakes.
Right before we left, however, there was one question I wanted to know: Who and what were the inspirations for his comedy?
Finnegan said he actually did not draw from other comedians that much. Instead, he was inspired more by genres of entertainment, like music. Even watching a friend’s professional dance troupe would feed his muse.
For me, this last comment was a fascinating look into how a comedian creates his routine. It also explained some of the confusion on the part of his southern fans.