Chris Redd spent 15 years as a rapper in Chicago, sometimes sleeping late to skip breakfast and save money. Today, he’s an Emmy-nominated comedian, but it was the detours before comedy that built him into a “Saturday Night Live” star.
Last Wednesday, comedian Chris Redd (“Disjointed,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” etc.) performed stand-up in the Reitz Union Rion Ballroom. After his set, Redd reflected on his work ethic, the pressures of being a student, life after Saturday Night Live and upcoming projects with comedian Pete Davidson.
GF: How was the show? How did you think it went?
CR: Terribly (laughs). No, it was a lot of fun. It was really packed. I’m still in a place where I’m always just glad people came out. There’s so many other things they could be doing right now. And I’m always happy whenever someone comes to see the stand-up, because a lot of people don’t know I do stand-up. So now, I can introduce them to that.
GF: OK. Because I was listening to what someone was saying after the show. They said something like, ‘Oh, I only know him from the YouTube sketches. I didn’t know he did stand-up. I thought he was going to do sketches.’
CR: Yo, that’s wild. Like, by myself? (Gets into character) ‘Where was you?’ ‘See where I was…’ (laughs) I mean, I’ve done that. In solo shows? Yeah, sometimes. But that’s not this. Sometimes my sets are (based on sketches) but most are never like that. … I mean, that’s a long time to be doing a sketch by yourself. But we’ll do that. When me and Pete (Davidson) finish our album, we’ll do something that’s more like that, but it will be music-based.
GF:What’s it like doing college circuits after being on "SNL"? I know you’ve done some before.
CR:Well, the ones before, I was opening for somebody. The ones after, I’m headlining. That’s the big difference. I like colleges a lot. You get to know what college kids are laughing at and where their heads are at with everything. That’s interesting to me. People say that colleges are going through a thing where it makes it so comics don’t want to come. But I have a good time with (college students). It’s a good break to go from my reality into y’alls’ and come in and shake s--- up for a second.
GF: So, I know that back in your old Chicago interviews, people kept calling you the gym rat of comedy. Do you still feel that?
CR: Oh yeah. That intentionally got me to where I’m at. And now it’s something I continue to hone and evolve. I have that same drive now, and there’s a little bit of survival that’s in there that you kind of have to turn off because you get to a point where you’re not working to survive anymore. But I am working to curate more work for a longer period of time, which is a very different kind of energy – basically, working smarter, not harder.
GF: And are you looking forward to going back? I’m not saying "SNL" is easier to handle. It’s obviously super hectic.
CR:Yeah, but a different hard though. It was a relief to be doing stand-up again. I mean, stand-up is hard as s---. But it’s different. It’s mine. Every failure, everything is (mine). When you’re in an environment like "SNL", it’s a machine. And the machine is going to get content whether it’s you giving it or not. You could make the best thing and, for whatever reason, it still won’t ever see the light of day. There’s a different stress to (sketch comedy) than creating on a stage, just trying out anything you want to try. If it works, then okay; but if it doesn’t, it’s on you, but at least you got to try it. You can’t have that kind of freedom on "SNL". You can’t just try anything on live TV. That’s insane. ‘Oh yeah, yeah, let’s try it once.’ It’s like ‘Nah, dude.’ It has to be a certain way. It has to hit certain beats. But, they’re both fun, man. That’s why I wanted to do that show. I wanted that challenge.
GF: Well, I know you’re saying you can’t just try something, but two of my favorite things from both this past season and all of "SNL" in general were “Come Back, Barack” and “Friendos.” You’re Emmy-nominated now for “Come Back, Barack.”
CR: That was crazy. I didn’t write that thinking I was going to get an Emmy (nomination). We (Kenan Thompson, Will Stephen, and Redd, with Chance the Rapper and music by Eli Brueggemann) were just really trying to get something on TV at that point. I still remember we stayed up 25 hours to write that thing. It was crazy. But when it hit at the table read, we knew we might have a good shot at the show. … And then with “Friendos,” me and Will had a groove; we knew how to write songs together. We already had a bunch of songs. I kind of learned what "SNL" was, so I wasn’t getting so stressed out when I worked. And so “Friendos” was the most fun I’ve had writing in that building. It was so much fun. And Donald (Glover) (or, Childish Gambino) was super cool. He was hanging around all night, so you were able to write something, go in there and spit it, and he’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, I like that.’ And so, we would come back, write, go back and spit something. It was a good vibe. When you have a host that’s able to be running s---, or at least hearing it to give you the feedback, it’s always a good time.
GF: And then getting off "SNL" here. I remember you calling comedy your second dream, whereas rap was always your first dream. Where does that idea stand now?
CR: That’s always going to be that way. I spent 15 years trying to be a rapper, so that’s just the history of how I got into this. I love comedy in a way that I thought I wouldn’t. I don’t know. I mean, I get to rap now on a bigger platform than I ever had before in my life. I think it’s all the same dream; I just think I spent a long time getting good at one dream that kind of fused with the other. I feel like it’s a super dream now (laughs). That’s what it feels like! It’s why I can’t sleep. That’s why I’m always working because I’m always excited about everything all the time. So, I don’t really think about it that much. I just do. I just try to do as much as I can.
GF: Finally, in your set you mentioned knowing how college wasn’t for you. I can actually empathize with that. Your parents had a proven track-record of college working for them, and that’s why they might have initially pushed you to do it. Whereas my parents view college as the only option to success because nothing else worked for them. But I know some students might not feel super attached to being in college. Beyond giving me advice, when is it that you actually know you’re not supposed to be here and that you’re meant to be doing something else? Basically, I need permission to drop out of college.
CR: (laughs) Well first, you always know. You know. I always knew I wasn’t supposed to work a regular job. I always knew. I worked 50 jobs. And I also know when I’m supposed to eat, you know. It’s really just about the timing of when you’re supposed to leave. If you can pull something important from whatever it is you’re doing now that you need on your journey to (get) where you actually want to be, that’s where you’re supposed to spend your time. If you feel like you’re not getting anything from that place, that’s when you know it’s time to switch it up. … Sometimes, (college) can be a part of your toolbelt. For me, (college) just wasn’t worth so much in that part of my life. But I was still a nerd; I was still getting books and reading s--. I was still studying all my favorite classes about all the things I wanted to learn. I did creative writing and some online stuff. But I couldn’t see myself going to a college or living in a dorm. That wasn’t me. So, I always knew that. People just had to catch up to me. I took a lot of criticism until stuff started working with comedy. I was 26 whenever people really started giving a s---. And when I started getting shows, they could see it all the time. Then they were like ‘Yo, I’d always knew you’d make it.’ No, you didn’t. When it comes to what you want to do, you’ll know. Trust your gut every time.