Chris Redd lives by the words “Work hard at what you love and you play forever!” Chris’s mantra has earned him the nickname, the “gym rat” of comedy. Chris Redd does it all: Rap, stand up, improvisation, sketch, writing, producing, acting, and even drama! He is part of the television series, Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Most recently, Redd is a cast member on Saturday Night Live and has a Comedy Central half hour special. Despite Chris’s super busy schedule, he was generous enough share his wisdom to talk about comedy, work ethic, rap, stories from his troubled past, and what it is like as a comedian to work in drama television.
You’re one of the hardest working comedians out here. Explain your work ethic.
Work is my priority. I say this with no malice. I outwork everyone around me, all the time—in a fun, competitive way. I’m very competitive. I’m always trying to do more, because I always want to do more. I have that Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours approach. There’s some truth to it! I feel like if you work at something hard enough and smart enough, you will achieve what you want to acheive. Your path will open itself up. You will see your opportunities and you will seize them.
What has been your typical comedy regimen to get you to where you are now?
I would go out A LOT—every single night, as much as four times a night. I would do mics, I would do improv jams, I would go to sketch writing meetings…I would do that for YEARS. I never stopped. It was all about the work, for me. It’s all about getting out every night.
How about hanging out, and all the social aspects of comedy?
The way I did it was: Work first, friendships later. So, in my first three years of comedy, I never hung out. If it wasn’t a mic or it wasn’t anything that had to do with where I was going, then I wasn’t doing it. And not like, “Fuck you!” I was just in my zone. I would do my set, stay for a few comics to pay respects, because I didn’t want to be the guy who did a mic-and-dash, and then I would go to the next spot. My focus was on improving my craft.
Advice for comics who want to make their work ethic stronger?
Work hard, and you’re gonna see improvements. Period. And if you don’t, then do something else. [laughs] But you should be progressing, you should be focusing, you shouldn’t be getting too drunk, you should be studying. Find what moves you creatively. Something’s gotta work for you. There’s a reason you are here.
What was a terrible mistake you made early on that you still remember to this day?
One time I did a spot, and I made fun of this big dude in the front row. I said the most dickish thing to him about his weight, that I still regret to this day. And I was so arrogant, I was just like, “This is comedy! This is why we do this!” [laughs] And the host ripped me a new one telling me, “No! You fucking dick! We do this for the art!”[laughs] That was my learning experience. But, he’s a good friend of mine now. I don’t even know if he remembers it, but I definitely needed that. Because comedy is not about pointing out other peoples’ flaws, it’s about finding your own flaws and celebrating them, and connecting with people through them.
You also do improv and sketch. How has that helped you with stand up?
I know a lot of stand ups say shit about improv and sketch, but I love it because I love to write all forms of comedy. I also love it for the comfortability level it brought me. I was more comfortable on stage before my jokes were even ready! [laughs]In the beginning, I was relying on my comfortability on stage instead of the art of writing a joke. As soon as I started focusing on that, my sets got better.
Describe your writing process.
I go into a mic and I’m not nervous about it. I go in there like, “OK, I’ve got 16 jokes that I want to try in these 3 minutes, how many of these mu’fuckas can I hit?” I star my favorites, and then I leave some room to riff. I never put too much pressure on trying to work every single joke. Which is why hitting 4 mics in a night is good, because then you get to try the jokes you didn’t get to try. Just because you can’t get on showcases, doesn’t mean you can’t get on stage. You still have the mics!
Advice for comics who want to get into clubs?
Being visible is what’s most important. All these clubs are very cautious about who they book, and they should be because they run amazing shows there. They have to hear about you. If you’re doing the work in the streets, they’re gonna know. Everybody’s looking for the next new person to book. They have their go-to’s, and they’re always looking for the next one who’s killin’ it.
You were a rapper before you got into comedy. What was that like?
Rap is very different ‘cause it’s all about ego—at least for me it was. And comedy is all about discovering yourself, tearing down that ego, showing your flaws and celebrating them. And that was hard for me. It took me 6 years to understand that, to discover myself, to get comfortable knowing who I really am.
What are some things you learned from rap that you applied to comedy?
Comedy is my second dream and it’s ACTUALLY working because of what I learned from my first dream, which was rap. Therefore, I’m able to disassociate certain feelings. I don’t get mad or jealous when I see somebody get something. Now, I won’t say NEVER… [laughs] It has happened, but I don’t spend longer than a second on it. I’m blessed enough to know that I really don’t feel it as often as others. I’m confident that everybody’s path is theirs. And also, not paying so much attention to what other people are doing—Facebook culture—showing you what everybody else is doing. You can either take it as motivation, or you can take it as, “Why the fuck did they get that?!” Which, I feel is a very toxic situation.
With the success that you’ve experienced thus far, how have you been able to embrace these things without letting it all get to your head?
Don’t let your ego get in the way of your work. I don’t do this for the accolades. I do it because I just love doing it. I’ve been through a lot and I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to be able to eat and pay my rent off of something that I love to do.
When you said you’ve been through a lot…like what?
I just made a lot of bad decisions growing up. I went to school in the burbs, but I was infatuated with bein’ hood. I wanted to be hard, I wanted to be tough, I wanted to prove myself. I would shut down and skip school to go gang bang and be that.
Did the “hood life” accept you coming from the burbs?
Na man, “silver spoon” all the time! [laughs]I spent a lot of time proving myself and trying to prove that I was another type of person, but I had no business near it.
Did you get into any serious trouble?
I’ve seen friends die, seen friends get shot… I’ve seen a lot of shit that someone from the family I’ve come from probably wouldn’t have to see. And when one of my good friends got shot up, that was my wake up call, like “Holy fuck that coulda been me! I really had to get it together and stop doing the bullshit I was doing—stealing, selling drugs, all that.
Damn. What were you stealing? What were you selling?
Ahh man, all this is going in the interview?? [laughs] When I was high school, I’d sell weed and coke, and I’d steal liquor from stores and then sell it to the kids I went to school with. And it sucks to look back on it, because I’m such a strong person now, but back then I wasn’t. I wanted to be somebody else. I was a wannabe, man.
How did you get away from it and turn your life around?
Comedy, man. Comedy saved my life. Comedy taught me about ME. What turned it around for me was that rap wasn’t working out the way I wanted it to. I had to find myself and figure out what I was gonna do.
You do a great bit about working with Terrance Howard on the TV show Empire. How has that experience been for you?
It’s been great! And I know I make fun of Terrance Howard, but man, he’s amazing to watch. You watch that man for a second and you’re like, “Holy shit! This is why you do what you do!” It’s crazy to watch him, he’s SO talented! And Taraji P. Henson, good gawd!! [laughs] She’s an angel of a person! Let’s take a moment of silence! [laughs] The whole thing is real fun, it’s a great cast, and they’re SO good at what they do.
The show is a drama. What is that like for a comedian?
I hadn’t been around so much drama before. I improvised serious lines which was so different ‘cause it’s like, “No payoff?? So…is it good?” [laughs] I learned a lot from it that I will always keep as far as how to approach a character, or watching people talking in character when they’re OFF set—it was weird! [laughs]
Wait, actors hang out off set and talk to each other in their characters??
Yeah! I was talkin’ to this one girl and I didn’t even know she was in character! The whole time I’m thinking we were having a real conversation! I was just like, “Wow! This conversation is deep!” [laughs] But it paid off, ‘cause I saw the scene and was like, “Ohh that’s why you do that! You’re good at what you do!” I’m a big fan of those people, and I wish that show great success, and hopefully they’ll call me back!
What would you say it takes for a comic to find their voice?
Do what you do, what you think, and what you believe in. Be selfish about your craft—you have to be, because comedy is a selfish craft. There’s too many things that you need to worry about for yourself. You have to figure out so many things: Find out who you are, what you want out of comedy, why you do it, what pisses you off, what drives you creatively…and you have to do it all yourself! Just work! Work, work, work! And everything else will reveal itself.
What about the business side of comedy?
Know the business. Know what is right and what is wrong. Don’t do everything for the money. Also, know when it’s time to do things for money! [laughs] If it makes your soul die, don’t fucking do it. But, you have to eat. You have to be able to put a price on yourself. But, don’t do it too early or you’ll look like a fucking douchebag!
How do you know when it’s time to put a price?
When you get that first official gig—that is your price. So if you got a legitimate gig and they paid you $100, now you know you can charge $100. But, that all comes from working harder than everybody else. And not in a malicious way, just work harder for YOU.
Final thoughts / Words of wisdom?
Know that you are always a student of the game, and it’s never gonna stop. There’s always levels that you’re learning. There’s always a reset. This game is all about rinse and repeat. And, I always say, “Do it quicker than somebody else.” If somebody did something in 5 years, I wanna be able to do it in 4. Set goals for yourself that you constantly work on. Constantly look at your flaws and try to up ‘em. Constantly look at the things that you’re good at and try to evolutionize those. Always work harder than the person around you. Always be true to yourself.
Interviewed & Written by DAVID GAVRI