by Ryan Meehan
Chris Franjola is a writer/comedian born and raised on Long Island. Chris was a writer and a regular performer on E!’s hit show “Chelsea Lately” for 8 years. Together with the talented writing staff, Chris wrote over 3500 episodes while performing on the show more than anyone else besides Chelsea Handler and Chuy. During his time on the show Chris created some of the show’s most memorable characters like Gay Caveman, Bieber Man, Johnny Depp, Seventeen Magazine Players and many more. He also starred on the critically acclaimed scripted comedy series “After Lately,” which aired for three seasons on E!, he was the host of the Sons of Anarchy aftershow Anarchy Afterword, airing live on FX. In 2014 Chris released his first comedy album “The Shallow End” which received rave reviews and stayed in iTunes Top 10 Comedy Albums for 5 weeks. When he isn’t busy writing and acting, he’s performing stand-up on the road, headlining venues all over the country. Before Chelsea Lately, Chris wrote for other shows, including Family Guy, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the original Chelsea Handler Show. We are stoked to have Chris Franjola as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: How would you best summarize your first few experiences doing stand-up? What was the first joke you told that really connected with an audience; and what was so special about the feeling you got which made you want to get up on stage and try your hand at it again?
CF: Honestly the first time I did it, I was pretty good by first timer standards. Looking back on it was probably awful but I had studied enough other comics and done enough research to kind of know what I was doing. The special feeling that you will hopefully have your entire stand-up career is the connection to the live audience and the material. The first joke that I remember really connecting was a joke I used to do about the band Kiss writing the song “Rock & Roll All Night”.
RM: What would you say is the biggest difference you’ve noticed between being a working comic on the West Coast as opposed to in the New York City Area?
CF: I have not done a lot of comedy in the New York area – but from the times I’ve done it, I’ve noticed a very tight knit community of comics. They are really very similar – I think things like Twitter and podcasts have made the comedy community much more familiar with each other.
RM: Your album “The Shallow End” came out in October of last year, and is currently available on iTunes…Which track on that record are you the most proud of; and for what reason do you favor that bit?
CF: I’m probably most proud of the beginning, I like the room I taped it in – The American Comedy Co. in San Diego – and I think the slow start of explaining the room and what I was trying to do with the album turned out well. I hate listening to myself, so it’s hard for me to judge that album.
RM: What’s the most important thing that you learned about the business side of the entertainment industry while you were working on “Chelsea Lately”? Was that something that surprised you at first, or was it something you felt you had an understanding of but not necessarily to the degree of which you found it to be true?
CF: We had a very close, friendly writing staff on that show so it was always a pleasure to go to work. The most important thing I learned is that there is always a boss, and no matter how important you are to the process if you are not the boss sometimes it’s best just to shut up.
RM: What do you miss the most about working on that show; and which of the other writers did you feel like you connected with on a creative level more than anyone else on the staff.
CF: I miss the daily process. I really enjoyed starting a completely new show every day and seeing the final results on air that night. Writing for late night is really as close to stand up as you can get in a writing job. Much to the credit of Chelsea for creating a very fun work environment and having some very smart, funny coworkers. I really connected with all of them, and I’m still very friendly with everyone. I guess I probably connected with Jen Kirkman the most because we worked together very closely and came from similar blue collar, east coast backgrounds.
RM: Is there any piece of advice that you would give to an up and coming comedy writer working in a group setting for the first time? Why do you think that specific tidbit of information is so crucial for beginners to the group writing process to understand?
CF: My best tip would be to listen and be supportive of everyone’s ideas. You will have times where you just want to say “that idea sucks” but it’s best to just have an open mind and try and work together. And if the boss wants to get drinks after work, or during work – you should probably go.
RM: How does writing for an awards show differ from writing on a late-night cable program? Do you ever feel there is more of a tendency to focus on a couple of jokes you think might absolutely kill during the brainstorming process, given that the stakes are much larger than your average Wednesday night broadcast?
CF: Awards shows are usually very specific to one-liners and show business, whereas on a late night show you can deal with current events and have more of an opportunity to flesh things out. Also you are usually dealing with a much larger audience for awards shows, so sometimes the material has to be safer.
RM: Which elements are the most critical to have present when creating and developing a humorous and memorable character?
CF: Characters were my favorite part of Chelsea Lately. Wardrobe really helps when developing a character, if you think of some of your favorite characters you’ll notice they always have a specific wardrobe. All my characters really came to life once I was in the wig and outfit.
RM: When do you know it’s time to eliminate a bit in your act that has been successful for a while? Do you have a certain set of criteria for evaluating jokes that could potentially be nearing the end of their life cycle?
CF: You’ll eventually start getting a feeling from the audience that you may be getting a bit lazy in the delivery, you’ll notice the reaction isn’t what it used to be…and at that point it becomes time to either retire it or reinvent it.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process would you say is your specialty; and why do you think that you excel at that particular facet of your craft?
CF: I feel I’m at my best when I’m writing personal stories.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
CF: I’m working on an hour special right now…that should be out later this year, and a few other fun TV projects that we have coming. I hope to see you guys out at the clubs!
Official Website: http://franjola.com/
Chris on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/franjolafan
Chris on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/ChrisFranjola
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Once again, Dubsism contributor Ryan Meehan on comedy patrol…