By: Lucas Hazlett
Chris Kelly is the consummate comedic-renaissance man. He is a staff writer and director for The Onion News Network and is a contributing writer for The Onion's new show on IFC. He has penned and appeared in sketches for numerous sketch teams at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, and has delivered monologues for the theater's flagship improv showcase, ASSSSCAT, in New York and Los Angeles. His newest show, "Oh My God, I Heard You're Dying," opens tomorrow at the UCBT-NY. It's a dark comedy that explores the social awkwardness that often follows a tragedy. I spoke with Chris about his new show and his comedic philosophy.
Tell us a little bit about "Oh My God, I Heard You're Dying." What is it about and how did you come up with it?
I don't know how I came up with it. The show is just a series of character monologues about people saying their final goodbyes to this old man who is dying and they all just ruin it. It's mostly just people being self-involved, inappropriate or trying to be overly jokey around death. I had been thinking about death a lot, so I thought I'd just use death because it's a serious subject and I just wanted to make it funny.
What is your comedic philosophy and how does it influence your approach when creating darker content?
I think anything is funny. I think the funny stuff is just the way people talk. I just like hearing people's conversations when they're not trying to be funny. I like people who have one crazy, gigantic flaw that they don't realize. I like dark comedy a lot. At The Onion that's obviously what we do. I really like mean comedy. Not mean for the sake of being mean, not like being mean to the victim, but mean to someone who deserves it.
What's an example of a sketch you've written that was mean in this way?
Well, one thing I wrote [for The Onion] a while ago for the election, which was super dark and mean, was a story about a gunman in a mall who killed a bunch of people in a swing state and ONN was trying to figure out how many Democrats and Republicans were killed -- Did Obama or McCain win the massacre? I liked that a lot because it was mean but I felt it made a point. It was mean to how ridiculous the media is and how elections get and not mean to people who died in a mall getting shot.
So calling truth to power?
Sure. Put that in the headline. Chris Kelly calls truth to power [laughing]. If people say one thing about me it's that I call truth to power.
So, do you prefer this darker, meaner comedy to other types of comedy?
I do like weird, bizarre, crazy what-the-fuck-is-happening-on-stage-this-is-crazy-nonsense-but-it- works. I like that comedy, but I feel like it's never what I end up producing. I wrote a sketch a couple years ago that was sort of awkward, but I really liked this idea that people at work were doing this human knot, this trust exercise, and they were all getting together, all these coworkers, and as soon as it started one woman just had to get off her chest that she and the guy next to her were getting a divorce and so everybody had to work through this human knot slowly and awkwardly while slowly talking through "what are you going to do with the kids?" I like the idea of people bringing up things in awkward situations. I guess I like realistic comedy.
You've written a substantial amount of material for The Onion and UCB stage. What is your writing process?
90% not writing. 10% writing [laughs]. The process lately has been watching every single episode of television I can find, pacing around, eating everything in my apartment and being like "god damn I fucking hate writing!” and then finally writing. Sometimes I'll be motivated to do it. "Oh My God I Heard You're Dying” wasn't for anything. I had no deadline. I wrote the first draft of the script in a day, just finished it off. Obviously I punched it up and made everything better, but the format and all the characters stayed the same because I knew what I wanted. That was a rare example of "I have no deadline" and "I have the motivation to write 30 pages." Usually it's just that I wait until the last possible moment and then write in complete duress and intense anger.
Is there a book, movie, television show, etc. that you can look at throughout history and are just pissed that you weren't the one who came up with it? Or is there something that you find yourself constantly returning to?
Drama is usually the first thing I want to watch. Drama is oftentimes the first thing I want to write, too. I don't know. I love Six Feet Under [pauses] I'm getting so obvious! [mocks self] I really like that show about death that occasionally has comedy in it. I'm getting so cliche!
Writing and directing aside, you've also been an accomplished performer and even had the enviable opportunity of delivering monologues at ASSSSCAT in both LA and NY. Is this something you see yourself doing more of in the future?
Stand-up, monologues and storytelling. That's what I want my next show at UCB to be, which I'm starting to write now, but again, I have no deadline so I'm mostly watching TV. Yesterday, I was going to start writing my one-man show and then I downloaded season four of Friday Night Lights.
2011. UCBEast. The UCB4 said that the new theater would focus more on stand-up and storytelling. Maybe that's the opportunity you need to do more?
I need to make a point of doing that more. Because I like doing that. I feel comfortable doing that. I loved doing ASSSSCAT... and I'd love to do it again.
OTHER ONN VIDEOS WRITTEN BY CHRIS
- ONN: Police Slog Through 40,000 Insipid Party Pics To Find Cause Of Dorm Fire
- ONN: Vh1 Reality Show Bus Crushes In California Causing Major Slut Spill
- O-Span: President To Face Down Monster Attack, Own Demons In Action-Packed Schedule
Oh My God, I Heard You're Dying premieres Wednesday 8/11 and runs again on 8/18 at the UCBT-NY.
--Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can. He can be seen THURS, AUG 12 @ 8PM at The Peoples Improv Theatre with improv team Herschel.