We Talked to Chris Locke About Sad Firefighters and His #1 Comedy Album
One of Canada's most staggeringly original comedians just released a comedy album that hit #1 on the iTunes Comedy charts, so we decided to talk to him about bad auditions, insecurity, and being a part of a comedy troupe once dubbed "the new <i>Kids In...
The face of Canada's most regal comedy figure, via Kathleen Phillips-Locke and Kurt Firla.
For the past half-decade, Chris Locke has been one of the preeminent wacky, surrealist and gut-punchingly hilarious comedians in this country.
After cutting his teeth with a group of genre-busting peers in the Laugh Sabbath troupe (other members include veritable meme-making machine Nathan Fielder and Graham Wagner, writer-producer on the Office), Chris established himself as one of this country’s most original comedic voices, earning a shit-ton of festival appearances and hand-picked opening gigs for comedy powerhouses like Hannibal Buress and Eugene Mirman, plus a plum gig as the Comedy Network’s official on camera emissary at Just For Laughs 2013.
Last weekend Chris released his first comedy album, The World is Embarrassing, and it quickly skyrocketed to number #1 on the iTunes comedy charts, so we decided to meet up with him to talk bad auditions, being a member of comedy group the media dubbed “the new Kids in the Hall,” and how the pervasive fear of humiliation doesn’t really leave us.
Chris Locke: What were you like in high school? I think when you’re in high school you’re worse in your head than you actually are. I’m still like that, I think. [laughs]. I was in a punk band called the Simpletons. I was pretty outgoing. I was a huge skater, so I kind of just…smoked weed, skateboarded, and listened to punk and hip hop. I think I might have been cool-ish…but in my head, I was losing my mind all the time.
Why? Did you feel like a loser?
Well, you just never know if you are or not. You never know who’s going to come out of the woodwork and just kill you…in front of all the pretty girls.
The main thing I remember about high school was being like, “Can I go to the washroom?” in, like, every class, just to get the hell out of there. Then I’d walk down the hall and an older girl who was hot would walk by me…and I just remember my body contorting. Or it felt like it. It felt like I was walking like a dinosaur.
How did you meet up with everyone in Laugh Sabbath?
Sketch, really. Laugh Sabbath started because me and my friend Brian Barlow were in a sketch troupe called the Gurg, and we made friends with a few other troupes, which is how I connected with people like Tim Polley, Nathan Fielder, Nick Flanagan, and Katie Crown and Graham Wagner, who are doing well in L.A.
All my friends are doing well in L.A. Except for me. I’m freezing and watching True Detective.
[Laughs] Around 2007 or so, eTalk Daily did a story on you guys and they pretty much called you the new Kids in the Hall.
Yeah. They didn’t know what they were talking about.
Were you excited that you getting the recognition? Did you think it was going to lead to success?
Well, they called us the next Kids in the Hall solely based on the fact that we were doing comedy at [historic Toronto comedy venue] the Rivoli. They didn’t know what we were like. Our shows at that point were more about people trying new stand up jokes and doing solo character acts. So we weren’t working together like a troupe like Kids in the Hall at all. So we were thinking these guys don’t even know what they’re reporting on.
And in 2007, the place I was at was like, That’s nice that they’re putting us on TV, but if they’re not paying us any money, I don’t care.
We had to keep trying to find out how to make money. It was nice exposure, but that was the deal.
That was years ago when you still had to keep a day job, right? What’s the worst day job you ever had?
I scaled fish in a factory in Etobicoke for half a day. I didn’t even go back after lunch. [laughs]
They gave me this machine to scale fish with and said, “If you go the wrong way, you chop off your fingers.”
After that, I said, “I’m going home for lunch.” Then I was like, Fuuuuuuck that and left a crazy voicemail message for them announcing I wasn’t returning, saying, “This is nuts. I’m just a kid with a dream!”
Even from that half day, I couldn’t get the smell of fish out of my clothes for two weeks.
You’ve been doing a lot of the road recently. Plus, with over 10 years in the game, you’ve done some strange gigs.
Where’s the weirdest place you’ve done a show?
A fire hall in Beaton, Ontario. They had all the lights on and it was in a cafeteria. I was there with a comedian named Dylan Gott.
It was a volunteer fireman’s annual Christmas party. It was a few years ago, so I was like How am I supposed to do a half an hour in front of these guys? All I care about is pizza…and not growing up. These guys are responsible. They’re probably divorced, they have children…and all kinds of real life concerns.
So we’re in the captain’s office before the show is supposed to start, and there’s two guys taking care of us, a young guy and an older guy. The young guy was really being welcoming and nice offering us drinks and complimenting us, but basically saying, “No one likes it too rough here. Don’t say the C-word. Try to keep the F-bombs to a minimum.”
And we were like, “No worries, our stand up isn’t like that, really.”
But then this old fire captain comes in and he’s like, “You know, being a fireman is not funny.”
He’s like, “You think you can come here and joke and make fun of us, but what we do is very serious. It’s not funny at all.”
And me and Dylan are just looking at each other like, “Yeah, man. Don’t worry about it. We’re not going to come and make jokes about fireman.”
Then he starts describing why it’s so serious. He tells us about scraping a baby’s brains off of a highway. Then he talks about having to sit on the roof with his buddies, downing a two-four of beer to drink away the memories.
And then he tells us this story about a kid who wrapped himself around a telephone pole. He was the first one on the scene, so he tried to pray with the kid.
Then the paramedics showed up and they said, “Okay, we’re going to give you a shot and then it’s going to make your legs numb because we’re going to have to cut them off to get you out of the car,” and then one of them winked at the fireman because the kid was not going to come out of it. He was dead.
And then he starts crying. He’s holding his head in his hands, weeping. And me and Dylan are looking at each other like, Jesus, what the fuck are we supposed to do now?
And then while he’s crying, the young guy comes in the room and goes, “K, are you guys ready?”
[laughs] That’s dark.
I have sympathy for the guy, but at the same time, I was already fucking nervous. [laughs]
You’ve made a lot of well-received sketches for MTV lately. I was watching a bunch of the Game of Thrones Bad Actor ones and they’re really fucking funny. Have you had any really hellish audition experiences?
Yes. I’ve had more hellish audition experiences than good ones.
What’s a memorable bad one?
About six years ago, this director I know named Derek called me in for something. Derek's a really good guy, he directed two of my shorts, “Kelly 5-9” and “Hello What.” He brought me in to audition as a crazy football fan for this commercial. He called me and he’s like, “Can you come in last minute? We’re still looking for this guy and we think you would be great.”
And I assume because Derek is calling me it’s a sure thing, so I’m like “Yeah, man. I’m in.”
So when I get there they’re like “Can you take off your shirt and scream like a football fan?” and I’m like “Really?” They’re like, “Yes, please. Sorry. Don’t worry.”
So I did it—and I’m not even a football fan. And then when I put my shirt back on, he’s like, “Aw man, I’m sorry. I thought you were way hairier than you are.”
So really he was thinking, “Oh, I got this guy that’s perfect. He’s fat, he’s hairy, he’s uncouth.” Then I got down there and they’re like, “He’s just fat. You said he was hairy, too!”
This is what auditioning is like: Sometimes you get to one and you don’t really notice at first, but you look around and you realize they want people who look like elves. And you look around and you are around a bunch of actors who look like elves, and then you’re like, Shit man, I don’t think I look like an elf.
Then you call your agent and you’re like, “Man, I don’t think I look like an elf. What are we going to do?”
And he’s like, “You’re the wildcard. If they don’t want a real elf looking elf, you’ll get the role.”
It’s just like that. Over and over again.
What’s up with the name for the album, The World is Embarrassing?
When I was doing one man show for JFL42, I was looking at my hour and I realized I used to think that my persona was the schlubby guy who likes food, but when I put all of my jokes together, the real major theme is that I'm just being worried about being embarrassed all the time. Still. Like I was saying about that high school thing. You’re always thinking, Oh man, this pretty girl is going to see me shit my pants, or fall on my face, or something. I don’t think that goes away when you get older. I think you just handle it differently. Or you ignore that you still have those petty neuroses.
How do you handle it differently?
Well, I turn it into comedy. Also, I drink.
I think everybody has that sort of weird, insecure neuroses to a degree. I think it varies. I think some people handle it by working hard and becoming successful and having a lot of things that make them feel good.
But at the end of the day, if you run into a man in a dark alley and he starts calling you account of all these things that you’re insecure about, I think anyone will be shaken and feel like, What the fuck. What’s the point of life? And then we all die?
It just breaks you down to this point where you’re thinking, Why am I working so hard? Why do I care so much?
So, I think that a lot of my comedy is in that theme.
Yeah, I see that.
I’m 35 now, and I’m still worried about becoming a “Don’t.” [laughs]
Your album debuted at #1 on the iTunes Comedy charts. How did that feel? Was it a surprise?
It’s really nice. And yes, I’m blown away. A guy from New Zealand sent me a nice message about the album yesterday. That’s crazy to me. I will now go to New Zealand to do a killer show for this one cool guy, and then hopefully go see all those Lord of the Rings mountains.
Where do you want to see your career in the next three to five years?
Playing a dead body on True Detective.
Chris Locke’s album, "The World is Embarrassing,” is available on iTunes now.