Chris Lamberth is stand up comic currently in New York, host of The Mundane Festival podcast. He is a regular at Levity Live comedy club who has gotten the opportunities to work with big name comedians such as: Chris Hardwick, Marc Maron, Paul Virzi, and Bill Burr. An all-around entertainer, aside from stand up comedy, he has a masters in theater from Roosevelt University in Chicago, he’s done improv at New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and on top of that he can sing! He also recently appeared in a comedy sketch by JL Cauvin.
This is a fun interview where Chris tells his story of how he got started in stand up, and how he got to where he is now. Through his journey, he discussed what it was like to open for Chris Hardwick in a sold out theater, how he met Paul Virzi, as well as, music, relationships, comedy advice, and of course, The Mundane Festival podcast. Enjoy!
You joke about how you have a masters in theater. On a serious note, what did you do with that masters?
I did theater professionally all over Chicago. The work ethic I learned in Chicago was that you had your day job, then you went to rehearsal, and then you did your show. You repeated that week after week after week. And you created art. That’s what that city’s about. After doing that, I moved to New Jersey from Chicago in 2007. Trying to figure things out, I did a community theater production of A Raisin in the Sun, and then I was also part of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
You also did improv at Upright Citizens Brigade. How did you get into that?
Jenna Corrado who is now part of NBC sports was also part of the show I was in. She had mentioned UCB and told me I should try it out. Which sounded fun because when I lived in Chicago, me and my classmates used to go to the Improv Olympic and we would specifically go there to see TJ & Dave—T.J. Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi. They would do long form improv and we were mesmerized by how those guys could create these fully realized characters out of thin air. I always thought that was cool, and I held onto that. So when Jenna mentioned that, I decided to try it, and it was really fun.
How did the theater background help you transition into improv?
It’s a group dynamic where you’re all there for one goal, which is to create and build something, and make it work. So, I was familiar with that dynamic through theater, which I had been doing ever since I was 12 years old. I knew what it meant to be in the chorus, I knew what it was like to be the lead AND carry a show. I basically knew what it was like to play my position.
What are some things you learned from UCB that prepared you for stand up?
My teacher was Anthony Atamanuik, who used to be on 30 Rock, and one of the things that he brought home was the fact that there has to be a certain honesty with the characters you’re creating. If you start there, then everything else will follow. At our graduation show, we were taking suggestions from the audience, and somebody said “Red Wine” so I told a story about my high school reunion and some girl I used to be in love with back in the day, and people were laughing! I was just being honest about this moment in my life, and I liked the laughs I was getting. So I was thinking, “Maybe I should do something with this!” ‘Cause improv is hard—well, it’s not hard, but the classes are EXPENSIVE! [laughs] And I’m already in debt with a theater degree! [laughs] So that’s how that started.
THE COMEDY JOURNEY BEGINS
How did you know stand up was meant to be?
I’ve met very good people in comedy who have put me in the position to be successful. Guys like Randolph Terrance, Andy Kline, Tim Miller—from the Three Guys On podcast. When I met Tim, I did a joke about the Transformers movies and how racist they were, and he just happened to be wearing an Optimus Prime t-shirt, and came up to me afterwards like, “Hey, you should come to this mic tomorrow!” It was a mic at the Arlington Draft House on Saturday nights. And I almost didn’t go because I was in town for a friend’s wedding. But instead, I decided to leave the wedding reception early, drove down to Virginia, changed in my car, and did a set which led me to my first big opportunity. It became a mic that I would do all the time, and then a couple years later, they gave me my first weekend, opening for Chris Hardwick. Then after that, I opened for Marc Maron.
Wow. How did that feel?
That was BIG for me. And all those guys were responsible for me working with the comedians who have the two biggest comedy podcasts around. That validated my decision. It made me feel like I was on the right path. Those guys believed I could do the job, and that gave me confidence to do the work. They were the first guys to completely accept me and make me feel like a real comedian. After that, I had the confidence to navigate the comedy scene in New York, so I just kept hittin’ the mics hard and when opportunity presented itself, I was prepared.
CHRIS HARDWICK APPRENTICESHIP
What was it like working with Chris Hardwick? What did you learn from him?
It was big for me. At the time, I wasn’t doing the spots that I felt like I should have been doing, the spots that I wanted to do. As a young comic, you wanna get on all the shows, you wanna prove your worth, and you wanna keep getting better. And the only way to get better is to actually do shows on the road. So, doing shows with Hardwick across the country made me realize how much bigger the comedy world is. You HAVE to be in front of different types of crowds in order to know that your jokes work. You can’t just do your act in front of the same people who are exactly like you. The first theater that I ever did was with Hardwick at the Carolina Theater in Durham, North Carolina, which is about a 1,000-seater or so. And that was HUGE for me.
That musta been nuts! Having never done stand up in a theater, how did you prepare?
I talked with Paul Virzi a lot about the differences between performing in a club versus a theater and got really great advice. I also had Randolph Terrance on my podcast right before it and we talked about it. I treated it like it was a comedy special. All of the shows that I did up until then, I treated as training for that “special”. That is what I had in my mind. Now, for Hardwick it was just another regular night! [laughs] But for me, I’m gettin’ all ready listening to Kendrick Lamar, watching Patrice O’Neal’s special, I watched ‘Bring The Pain’… I was really getting my mind focused for this show. And I just went out there and had a good time.
What did that feel like, getting to do such a big show like that?
Regardless of what happens to me and my comedy career, it’s an accomplishment that I can realy be proud of. That is something that nobody can ever take from me. You have to really enjoy those moments because you don’t know if or when you’re ever gonna get ‘em again. Like, to get a whole weekend and open for somebody at a club—you gotta realize how AWESOME that is! ‘Cause there are so many more people who would love to be in your position. So just enjoy yourself. Have fun and be in the moment of while I shows that.
It’s a crazy cool accomplishment that you now have for the rest of your life.
Yeah, it’s something that I can look back on. I can just put on my iPod and listen to those sets anytime and just go, “Yeah! That was pretty neat! I did that!” And no, I don’t just listen to myself and go, “Wow! I’m awesome!” [laughs] When I listen back to my sets, I try to listen to it as, “What could that guy be doing better? What did he do right? What did he do wrong? What can he improve on?” I try to disassociate myself from the work, and analyze the performance the way a quarterback watches game footage, in order to get better. ‘Cause your job is never really done. But as far as the accomplishment itself, not everybody can say that they stepped out of the safety and comfort of their everyday life to pursue a goal where the rewards are not necessarily guaranteed. And it doesn’t have to be comedy or music or any type of performing arts, as long as there’s something you feel like you have a passion for, it can be a powerful thing. Because it’s something that not everybody has the guts to do. It’s not always gonna be easy but if you have some sort of belief in yourself, you can actually get somewhere with it.
One of the frustrating things about comedy is the jealousy & backlash you experience when you get something that somebody else wishes they got, and vice versa. How do you not let that type of negativity get in the way of your focus?
You really do have to keep your head down—like Bill Burr always says on his podcast. You just have to keep going, and do your thing. You can’t really worry about what everybody else is doing. Obviously, you notice when people are getting things ‘cause they’re posting it all over Facebook, and you might feel some envy, but you gotta say, “Well, I need to get better!” You can’t control other peoples’ successes and failures, the only thing you can control is what you do when you perform. And just take advantage of the opportunities that you’ve been given, and ALWAYS be ready to perform. It’s all about trying to become undeniable.
When getting booked, what are your thoughts on asking to get booked as opposed to waiting for someone to come up to you and book you?
You do have to take the responsibility on yourself because nobody’s gonna say you’re good unless you believe you’re good and you believe you’re ready for the opportunity. A lot of comics would say, “Ahh man, I’m not gonna ask anybody to be on their show.” They’re too proud to ask. But, you can’t do that. ‘Cause then you WILL be sitting at home on the weekend, looking at what everybody else is doing on Facebook. [laughs] You HAVE to put yourself out there and let everybody know that you exist. You have to promote yourself to a certain degree. BUT…make sure that you are able to DELIVER. You want to get to the point to where people HAVE to start booking you on their shows because you are THAT good.
Some comics like to take their notes with them on stage. How do you feel about bringing notes on stage?
For me, with my theater background—and theater and stand up are different—because in theater rehearsal, you’re allowed to fail and try different things BEFORE you get in front of an audience. But as a comic, you have to fail IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. It’s just part of the process. You live and you die by your set. But having done theater, I started stand up with this attitude where I was like, “This is ALWAYS a show!” Even though a lot of the time you’re just working stuff out, to me it’s still a show. So I say don’t carry your notes with you. I mean, if you’re at an open mic you’re doing what, four minutes? Five minutes? You gotta pull out your book for that?? [laughs] I’ve seen comics pull out notes on PAID SHOWS! What are you doing?! But I think that’s a part of who I am as a performer. My way isn’t the only way. You have to do what works for you.
COMEDY & FAMILY LIFE
You’ve talked about your parents in your podcast, and how they’re very hard-working people. How did they react to you wanting to go into the arts and become a comedian?
I would say that I wouldn’t be anywhere today if it weren’t for my parents. Through the good and the bad, those are the people that put me in a position to score. They’ve ALWAYS done that. And they didn’t work behind a desk either, they worked blue collar jobs: My dad worked in warehouses and my mom worked in a book bindery. They worked hard. That’s where the work ethic comes from. They made sacrifices to put me in good schools starting from pre-school. These are the people that made me feel like I could want something more for my life. I think they indirectly did that.
Did you find it difficult to get them to understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish?
They didn’t always understand. When I told them about that first weekend working with Chris Hardwick and what an accomplishment it was for me, my mom was just like, “Well how much money did you make??” And I didn’t really make that much from it, so we got into an argument over it. But in my heart, I knew that experience had advanced my career in the right direction.
It’s frustrating when they don’t understand how such an opportunity can lead to other bigger opportunities…
Exactly. Fast forward to about a year later, I’m featuring for Chris Hardwick at Levity Live, and that’s the night that I met Paul Virzi. And then Virzi and I became really good friends through our love of movies. Because Chris Hardwick got me into that club, I was able to grow as a comic. Hardwick has helped me more than he’ll ever know. Working at Levity Live has helped me understand the business and learn how to be a true professional. It’s a place where I learned how to host a show and watch the headliner work. Actually watching a headliner is like auditing a course—there’s so much you can learn just by watching them work. So, now I was able to work with a variety of comics and supplement my income with my jokes. Once my parents saw that, they understood that I was on the right path. They started to realize, and they started to believe. They always believed in me and my abilities, but they didn’t necessarily believe in show business. ‘Cause show business doesn’t owe you anything.
COMEDY & DATING / RELATIONSHIPS
Do you find it difficult to balance a healthy relationship while doing comedy?
In order to evolve and achieve something in your craft, you have to have a life. Pete Holmes would always say on his podcast, “Live a life worth commenting on.” And relationships are part of that. You need to have that yin to your yang in order to be more complete. You have to do that. You gotta have something outside of this business that feeds you in a positive way, instead of just constantly trying to fill a hole that you don’t know what it’s gonna take to fill it.
Getting in a relationship while doing stand up can be risky though…
You have to allow yourself to take those risks. And a lot of that is fear: Fear of getting hurt or fear of not getting what you want when you expose yourself in that way. It’s a constant struggle. I have to allow myself to be more open—and be more open to the possibility of GOOD things happening and not just bad.
Dating girls that you meet from your shows…good idea or bad idea?
I’ve met girls who have seen my act and were interested in me. My stand up is who I am. It’s a heightened version of me, but it’s still me. And when a girl sees your struggles and failures, and you’re being witty about it, they become attracted. You almost have to realize and have enough self esteem to believe that WHO you are and WHAT you are is enough. So start from there. And you don’t have to be arrogant, but have some sort of self worth, self esteem—and try to build on that. And that’s something I’m workin’ on, we all have to do that.
THE MUNDANE FESTIVAL PODCAST
What inspired you to start your podcast, The Mundane Festival?
I had doubts about doing that because everybody else had a podcast and I was worried about what my angle would be. But there were people who I respected who told me that I should do it, and I thought I’d give it a shot.
How would you describe the podcast for those who have never listened to it?
I look at my podcast as a guy who decided to leave his own safety and comfort, and make a change in his life. He’s been doing something the same way most of his life, but then a few years ago he decided, “I’m gonna try this! I’ve always wanted to since I was a kid, but was afraid to. There was a fear and all these other insecurities, but now this is MY path.” It’s essentially an audio-diary. Even if I interview somebody, I still talk about my week, I still talk about what’s going on in the news, I try to talk about what I’m feeling, I try to be as honest as I can.
And when I talk to interesting people who have share their stories, who knows, maybe somebody is listening who might be on the verge of trying something new and positive to enhance their life. When they hear me talking to a guest about achieving something they thought they’d never achieve, maybe they’ll be inspired so that THEY can do it, too. It’s kinda grandiose but that’s what it is. And hopefully I can help somebody do something, just by blabbin’ into that mic for about an hour every week to help get them through their day.
And when can they expect to catch the latest episodes?
I do my podcast once a week on Sundays, that way people can have it ready for the week when they go to work.
COMEDY & MUSIC
You also sing in your podcast, do you ever sing in your stand up?
[laughs] Isn’t there a saying of how, comedians want to be musicians and musicians want to be comedians? [laughs] First of all, I’m just a frustrated R&B singer. [laughs] I love R&B / soul music. As a kid, I listened to Boyz II Men, Jodeci, and Tevin Campbell. Sometimes, the singing will come out but not in a contrived way. When you’re doing stand up, you have to use EVERYTHING in your arsenal to be entertaining. It’s another tool in the toolbox that I can throw out there when I need to, when I feel it’s necessary. It’s something I do to bring them in, to give them more of a sense of who I am. So, when I do a show, I just try to be who I am, and music is a part of who I am. I love going to concerts. I enjoy seeing musicians perform at the highest level—it’s inspiring. It’s just a matter of what you like and what works for you.
Who do you like to listen to these days?
One of my favorite musicians right now is Annie Clark from St. Vincent. I’m in love with her, she’s amazing! The stuff that she does with the guitar is incredible! And she’s done it for so long that it’s just effortless! I’m blown away watching her. She was somebody when I first started doing stand up that I looked at and was like, “Wow, this person is MY age and she’s doin’ all this!” I just became fascinated with her work and it’s been cool seeing her career evolve over the years. No matter how much she changes as an artist, she stays true to herself and maintains her essence. And that’s what I admire about her.
Of ALL the professions, why comedy?
You have to do what makes you happy. You can’t live for anybody but yourself. You only get one life. I’m 34 now and I had that period earlier in my life where I was wondering what I was gonna do. I was working but I was depressed because I was JUST working and then going home and watching Sports Center and Greys Anatomy. [laughs] For me, that wasn’t a life worth commenting on. And I would hang out with people—and they were good people—but they were doing things that I didn’t really wanna do. It was like Entourage EVERY WEEKEND. [laughs]
And it just wasn’t me. I remember being online, seeing all these people doing big things—and they were younger than me! A lot of the artists and musicians that I liked were in their mid to late 20s, and it made me go, “What have I done? Have I created something? Man, I need to step my game up!” And then I decided to start that journey and I never looked back.
Despite all the hardships that come with doing comedy, mixed with the lack of respect, and not to mention the odds that are stacked against you, what makes it worth it?
I love doing it. It’s really enjoy it, it’s fun. I can look back to where I started doing stand up and I can see that incremental progress, and it’s enough to keep me going. It’s not easy, but there’s always something that still drives me. The good outweighs the bad.
What are your thoughts on artists who chase money?
You can’t just do it for the money. You have to be in it for something else, too. Do it because there’s an intrinsic value in it despite all the monetary gain. ‘Cause the money isn’t always gonna be there, especially when you first start out. 9th Wonder who produced Little Brother, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, once said, “You can’t worry about money, you have to work on your craft.” You have to do it because you really love doing it. And you love doing it regardless of financial gain. Getting paid is great, but there has to be something more to it. If you’re just doing it for money, you’re not fully invested in your craft, and you lose your edge.
You like to talk sports on your podcast. What aspects of comedy are similar to sports?
It’s like sports in a way in that, as much as you prepare, there’s always a chance you’ll still lose. Getting booked on a big show is like getting called up to the majors. Even though stand up is a solitary profession, there are people in it who will give you big opportunities. And when you get called up for that big job, you don’t wanna let your teammates down. ‘Cause there’s gonna be a time where you will be asked to do a BIG show…the biggest show you’ve ever done at that point in your career, and you gotta be ready. When I got the gig to work with Hardwick at the Arlington Draft House, I wanted to do a good job for me, but I also didn’t want to let down the guys who gave me the opportunity. I think Lebron James might have used an inspirational Twitter and Instagram hashtag like, “#PrepareForGreatness.” [laughs] but it’s true! It’s a little goofy, kinda pretentious, and a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Cliche’s are cliche’s for a reason. You are ALWAYS preparing yourself for the next big thing. When they call your number, can you be excellent? Can you strive for that?
When talking about ‘Haters’, why do you think people are so hateful towards creatives? Do you think it is because these people are doing something they wish they were doing?
I think that’s part of it. I remember that Tenacious D song Inward Singing, where Jack Black goes on that rant all like, “You’re always nay-saying! YOU create something!” And that’s one reason, I try to talk about stuff that I like on my podcast: I like this song, I like this artist, I like this movie, and take it from there. I think there’s a lot of people who are unhappy with their own lives, and they hide behind a screen name and just tweet out all this mean stuff through an alias, and that makes them feel good about themselves. My NAME is my Twitter handle. It’s not ‘FuckBoy618’. [laughs] I try to be careful and watch what I say. But, people are always gonna say somethin’, right? Everybody has their own opinion.
Final thoughts / words of wisdom?
If people are spending their time and money to come see you, you should have something to say. Don’t short change anybody. Being a performing artist means that you are a public servant. And public servants are not always respected. Stand up is an art form that really isn’t respected unless you’re at the top. It’s tough, but we’ve chosen to do this. So if you’re gonna do this, why not go all out and try to be the best that you can be?
INTERVIEWED & WRITTEN BY DAVID GAVRI