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“The Bear’s” Carmen Christopher brings stand-up to CU

Carmen Christopher is a Chicago-born actor and comedian who originally started his career in sales before deciding to take classes in improv comedy at Chicago's Second City.

URBANA — Carmen Christopher is known for his roles in TV shows like “The Bear” and “I Think You Should Leave,” but he got his start in improv and stand-up comedy. 

Now, in addition to his work in television, Christopher has a comedy special on Peacock and is in the midst of a national tour with his stand-up. He will perform at the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana before three shows at the Color Club in Chicago this weekend.

IPM reporter Owen Henderson spoke with Christopher about his work as the comedian tours around the U.S.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

OWEN HENDERSON: What got you interested in comedy in the first place when you were younger? Who were the funny people in your life that made you go like, “I want to be like that. That’s something I can do, too”?

CARMEN CHRISTOPHER: I was 25 when I decided I wanted to do comedy. When I was a kid, I didn’t really like think of my family as funny, but like, looking back are definitely funny. But they’re not like trying to be funny. They’re just insane. So that’s why they’re funny.

When I was a kid, I watched like Letterman, and I didn’t understand why I thought he was funny. I just thought he was being bad, and I liked that.

And then I also watched Martin [Short], I loved Martin, I thought it was so funny. He’s like a force of nature played like eight different characters in a show. It was just funnier than anybody.

I watched the Three Stooges before bed. And then I go straight to school the next day and act like a fool. So a lot of physical stuff influenced by comedy.

I don’t know, I would say that like, I just like, silly goofy humor, like a little bit childish humor. Sometimes even though I’m a grown man, I think it’s like a nice escape from like, all the tragedies going on in the world to just be able to laugh hard at something silly. That’s what I love the most.

HENDERSON: So you said you didn’t start thinking about comedy until your 20s. Tell me a little bit more about your origins as a comedian proper.

CHRISTOPHER: Well, I was working a sales job in Chicago. And I was kind of like, miserable. I was doing well, financially. I don’t really come from money. So I was like, “Okay, I’m doing well financially, but something feels missing. Like, I just don’t feel like this is my purpose, you know.”

And I just signed up for classes for Second City because I just made up in my mind, I was like, “If I could do good at sales, something that I don’t care about, what if I like, actually put my effort into something that I am passionate about?” At that time, it was just making my friends laugh. So it was like “Maybe if I could do this as a career.”

It sounds crazy even talking about now because it was like that’s like the root thought of it: Maybe I can turn making my friends laugh into career.

HENDERSON: You’ve done sketch, comedy and improv and stand up and you’ve written for TV. Do you approach writing for each of those mediums differently?

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, definitely. But the root of everything is always saying it’s got to be something that I’m excited to write about. So it’s always like, “What is the best funniest idea?” You know, that’s kind of where you want to start.

I don’t know, writing for TV… It’s not my idea. It’s the creator’s idea. So as a staff writer, or a story editor, like your job is to fulfill their vision.

Whereas, writing stand up might be like the easiest, because any dumb idea I have, I’m going to try it out on stage. There’s nobody to say yes or no, except for myself. It’s truly freeing in that way.

HENDERSON: You’re in the middle of a tour around the US at the moment. You’re coming here to Urbana, then you’ll be going to Chicago. You’re from Chicago, you came up there. What’s it like to go back and perform in Chicago?

CHRISTOPHER: Chicago is the most fun and the most stressful, because I have a lot of family and people that I know come to the shows. A lot of times before the show, you just want to like go away and you want your quiet.

And then you’re like, “Well, my mom’s out there, I gotta go say hi.” And then you run into a guy that you worked with 12 years ago, who you haven’t seen, you gotta say hi.

And then you realize you’re like trying to impress all these people who never thought you were funny. These are the same people that wouldn’t come to my shows back in the day, and now they’re packing it out.

It’s strange doing comedy for Chicago people, like people that I grew up with that are just like, “Now making me laugh.” Like you get texts before shows that are like, “Better be funny.” It’s like, “Well, just don’t come to the show. How about that?” I’m gonna be funny, but you bought the ticket. Just trust, don’t text me.

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Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson covers arts and culture, as well as LGBTQ issues for Illinois Public Media News. He studied journalism, Spanish and theater at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has worked with Illinois Public Media in various capacities since 2021.

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