by Ryan Meehan
Comedian Chris Fairbanks’ album, “Fairbanks!” was named one of Amazon & Amazon MP3s Top Ten of 2010. Fast paced, quirky, and constantly improvising his act, Chris Fairbanks delivers a truly unique self-observational style. “He’s a master of controlled nervousness, almost jazz-like spontaneous prose, so free-flowing yet forward-moving it makes one wonder whether this is brilliant scripting or just damned good improv.” –Laughspin. Chris has been seen on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, VH1, Last Comic Standing, and Comedy Central. He is a Missoula native and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What perception do you think the rest of the country has regarding Montana? Why do you think that’s the case; and what’s the best part about that state? The worst?
CF: The rest of the country thinks Montana has no vehicles or modern technology. I’m constantly defending Missoula, specifically, as being an intelligent city filled with creative people. But if someone says something like; “I went to Butte once, and it was lame, and a redneck beat me up”, I kinda have to be like…”Yeah, I know. It’s Montana.” Most people in America have heard it’s a beautiful place though. Everyone knows the phrase Big Sky Country and remembers that “A River Runs Through It” is a Brad Pitt movie. Then they talk about fishing and I fall asleep.
RM: You did a show back in February with Tig Notaro at the Big Sky Film Festival…What was it like working with her, and what did you learn from watching her set about how you can share your own very personal experiences with the crowd and still get big laughs?
CF: I lived with Tig for seven years in Los Angeles. Most things I learned from her just happened in the kitchen or bathroom. One thing I learned early on from her standup comedy is that you can take your time telling a joke, and even get laughs by saying nothing. By pausing. She has great timing.
RM: How have you changed as a comedian since the 2010 release of your comedy record “Fairbanks”? Where did you get that jean-vest-thing that you wear on the cover of the album? Is the font supposed to be an Iron Maiden parody?
CF: That cover was kind of just put together because of the chrome “Fairbanks!” logo I made. I had the vest, the photographer had the smoke machine and the ability to Photoshop out my farmer’s tan lines. As far as my comedy, I guess I tell longer stories now, rather than all short one liners, relying less on word play and faked improvisation. It seems like audiences want to hear real stories from comedians these days. I still get most excited by a cleverly written short joke though.
RM: The “Friendly Monster” character from your website looks kind of like a cross between a troll and one of the members of Gwar, but has a very human element to it that also sort of looks a little like you. Do you sometimes feel that when illustrating fantasy characters you have to sort humanize them a bit? Of all the different illustrations that you do, what are the subjects that you find you keep going back to and why? And what are you currently working on right now?
CF: That was actually a caricature of another comedian, Ron Babcock. He wanted himself, as a friendly monster. Usually I’m just doing art for other people. I don’t sit around and draw for fun, so I don’t have reoccurring themes like, horses or naked people. However, I think that’s the key to becoming a well known artist: Just hammer out the same subject matter constantly. Then people are like; “Oh yeah, that’s the guy that draws horses with naked people on them, he’s famous”. I find the art world to be frustrating in that way….you’re not supposed to change up your style. I guess I have the same problem with comedy too. Speaking of Gwar, one time I was on a round table discussion TV show sitting next to Oderus Urungus. His costume hadn’t been washed since the early 90’s and one of his gross testicles was hanging out of his robotic shorts. It was still cool to meet him though. He was hilarious. (Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before the unfortunate passing of our brother and overlord Oderus Urungus. He will be sorely missed and his interview can be found here)
RM: How does an illustrator know when to leave a piece in black and white? And as an artist do you ever feel like a piece is ever actually “done”? How do you know when what you’re working on has served its purpose? And are there any similarities between that and the way that a joke makes its way into your act?
CF: I always tend to overwork my drawings. Like, I keep adding details, after it was already probably finished. With stand up, I’m kind of the opposite, I’ll get a laugh trying out a joke for the first time, and then just keep telling it that way…when often, I should probably work on it a little more. I like my comedy more loose than my art work I suppose. More abstract.
RM: The reality show that you were on entitled “Reality Bites Back” was sold as being “about 50% sketch comedy and 50% actual reality”…Did most of the people involved understand the level of sarcasm involved, especially since Michael Ian Black was the host? Was it hard with all of the funny people working on the show not to just burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the whole thing, and did that whole experience change the way you viewed “reality television as a product?
CF: That was a funny show. I liked watching it after it was finished, but hated the process of filming it. I was stressed out the whole time. And just like actual reality TV, nothing was reality – Except for the voting part. Comics and guest-stars could just vote any one of us off at the end of each episode, and you’d stop getting paid. I made it onto 7 out of the 8 in the series so I did OK. The elimination part was real, and I really needed the money at the time. Try as you may, you will probably never find that show online anywhere. Comedy Central kind of washed their hands of it. But it really was well put together. I have it on my iTunes if you want a copy of it. I hated reality TV before that show, as much as I do today.
RM: Of all your time working on the road…What’s the most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to you as a comedian? In your opinion, what’s the greatest part of the job? And what’s the most overrated aspect of making people laugh for a living?
CF: I had people up to my hotel room in the terrible city of Ft. Lauderdale after a horrible show a few years ago. Some dude roofied me, or something, and I woke up to him standing across the room, pleasuring himself. Everyone else had left. It was horrifying because I was awake but couldn’t move my body. He ran off, and somehow also got my credit card info. I’m just glad he didn’t mess with my body or my ‘bathing suit area’.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
CF: I don’t know. I think I give up on 2014 already. 2015 is going to be my big year! I’m just going to keep doing stand up, and try to perform on another late night talk show before year’s end.
Official Website: http://chrisfairbanks.com/
Chris on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisFairbanksComedian
Chris on Twitter: https://twitter.com/chrisfairbanks
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