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July 26, 2017

Christopher Titus: comedy’s darling of dysfunction

'Not being able to do stand-up is my biggest fear'

Long before familial and societal dysfunction became comedy’s norm, Christopher Titus was tossing off hardcore maladjusted bon mots like a warring soldier would a hand grenade – with focus and determined purpose. The autobiographical family dynamic of cruel, hard drinking fathers and sons was putty in his hands, as was tales of suicide, custody battles, mental illness and domestic abuse. So to call his eponymously-titled FOX network sitcom (2000-2002) unflinchingly brutal is, but, a gentle riposte. 

It was scathing. And since that time, Titus’ stand-up comedy bits (which he writes and changes often) have been no less harsh, honest or humorous as his three-night stand at Helium Comedy Club this week will portray.

"'My parents’ divorce settlement involved a bar tab' – that’s the first joke that I wrote that I was proud of,” said Titus regarding how he started his caustic comic career. 

“I had written 'Norman Rockwell is Bleeding' (his happy family critique stand-up routine of the latter 90s) and found my voice. On the road, I had proved to myself that people laughed at the worst part of humanity, as long as you played it as absurd.”

Convincing a television network such as Fox was the problem, as, in Titus’ words, its programmers and executives were “all Ivy league educated erudite snowflakes.” If it wasn’t for a select, few daring execs, “Titus” the television show, would’ve died on the vine before it blossomed. 

”They taught me a lot about story and structure,” said the comic. “Because of them, I got a Writers Guild nomination.”

That Kumbaya feeling didn’t last as Titus uttered “one sentence that cost me 30 million dollars” during a meeting for the show’s third season, where a Fox president’s suggestion about having “Titus” and his love interest cheat on each other was met with sarcasm. 

“I looked at her across this huge conference table packed with people and said ‘Do you even watch the show? Because we did that in episode four. Let me explain how it works.' Then I explained the show to her like she was a 3-year old. If you tell your boss that he's (or she's) stupid long enough, they will fire you. All I had to do is shut the f**k up and play the game. Instead, I had to make a point. Dumb.”

Don’t cry for Titus, series or no series. First off, since that time, he has kept the blue collar vibe going, with eight 90-minute television specials and counting – all influenced by the relationship, good and bad with his pop. 

“[I learned] not to screw around when you’re working,” Titus said of such parental inspiration. 

“Guys get on stage drunk or high. I can’t. I won't. Not fair to the crowd. My dad always said, 'Do your job,' which is what I heard in my head the night I contemplated killing myself when I found out my ex had cheated on me. Dad's voice has stayed with me...or I'm psychotic.”

Guys get on stage drunk or high. I can’t. I won't. Not fair to the crowd. My dad always said, 'Do your job,' which is what I heard in my head the night I contemplated killing myself when I found out my ex had cheated on me."

Titus is currently developing a project for himself and fellow comedian Billy Gardell called “Bro," and he wrote and directed his dream comedy film, “Special Unit,” about hiring four handicapped detectives. It comes out on iTunes and Amazon in October. 

“I wanted it to be balls out funny first, but after that, Jedi mind trick people into not treating the disabled as 'the other,'” he said.

For now, however, Titus is focused on yet another new stand-up routine, one that is completely different than the one he used when he last played Helium. 

“Last show [that I did] was about raising (or not) raising kids,” said Titus, who has a boy and a girl. 

"Smart-a**ed, like me, as my daughter’s sardonic and my son is silly.” 

Like them, the young Titus grew up around real adults and real adult humor, which is how his own humor began to take shape. 

“I learned to crack [my parents] up. My dad was a super cool, charming, life-of-the-party guy – when he wasn't screaming. So, if I got him laughing, I knew I was funny.”

This newest stand-up routine addresses this last election and its political cycle; how we have let the the powerful divide and conquer us.

Beyond loathing the current President – (“Don't hate the guy because he is President – you judge the man, and he is a hateful man”), says Titus, the only fear that Titus has in not being able to ply his trade. 

“Not being able to do stand-up is my biggest fear,” he said. 

“It is my oxygen. Honestly, I would be fine cranking out at 93, on stage while filming my 23rd special. Killer closer.”

Christopher Titus appears Thursday through Saturday, July 27, 28 and 29 at Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St. Tickets are $25-$30. Show times are 8 p.m. on Thursday and 7:30 and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 215-496-9001 or click here.