You probably recognize Christopher Titus from the Fox sitcom that borrowed his last name for its title. It ran for three years on Fox, scored respectable ratings, but, ultimately, maintained enough of an edge that network execs ended up dropping it. Fortunately, since the series had been based on Titus's stand-up routines to begin with, he had a career fallback position. After years on the comedy club circuit, as well as having toured with his one-man show, "Norman Rockwell is Bleeding," Titus has released his first proper album: The 5th Annual End of the World Tour. It's a two-disc set that successfully spotlights his ability to blend any number of topics into one hilarious and thought-provoking diatribe on the state of the world today -- and how badly it sucks. Bullz-Eye had a chance to talk to Titus about the album, the abrupt cancellation of his sitcom, his attempts to get back onto the small screen, and how he really needs to be more specific when he asks God for new ideas.
Christopher Titus: Hey! It's Christopher Titus calling!
BE: Hey, how's it going?
CT: All right. What's up, man?
BE: Not much. Just finishing up listening to your album, as a matter of fact.
CT: Oh, yeah? What're you thinkin'?
BE: I'm thinkin' it's pretty awesome.
CT: Oh, yeah? I'm glad you dig it, man. I'm just taking my kids to Disneyland today because it's the happiest place on Earth. And Earth is not a happy place right now, so I think the album came out at the exact right time.
BE: I agree. And I've got a 20-month-old daughter, so…
CT: Oh, my God!
BE: …so I understand where you're coming from.
CT: The album's gonna have a little more resonance with you, then.
BE: Definitely. In fact, today, I made a point of throwing her into the air, and she definitely says, "Whee!" As opposed to "NO LIKE THAT," as your daughter said (in a routine on the new album).
CT: Don't worry, one day, it'll just change. One day, you'll throw her up, and it'll just be, she'll just have this look on her face like, "This is just wrong," and she'll start screaming. But don't worry. Keep throwing her. Get her through it.
BE: Yeah, she's actually in the other room right now with my mother, having a lunch of, I think it's hot dogs and pineapple. Not the best diet in the world, but, hey, it stays down.
CT: (laughs) Yeah, I know. But, yeah, so I'm thinking of the album, and I was just thinking that, y'know, we're going to Disneyland today, and if we'd've known in 2001 that Tomorrowland should have an airplane sticking out of the Matterhorn and a blown-up Space Shuttle in Space Mountain, maybe things would've been a little different. It's always a Utopia in Tomorrowland; it's never the real Tomorrowland.
BE: No kidding. So, you know, what impressed me the most about your album is that you manage to mix comedy about family, politics, religion, and other topics, but you never get bogged down in obscenity.
CT: No, y'know, I grew up (hesitates) It's weird. I'll swear once in awhile, but I was raised on Cosby, and I remember the night…I was a little kid, four or five years old, and I used to go to sleep listening to Bill Cosby. And I literally remember the night that I made the decision that I was going to be a comedian. I mean, it wasn't one of those things that I drifted into, I knew my whole life that I was going to try and be a comedian. And Cosby…I was always really conscious, even as a little kid, that Cosby didn't swear. And he's still hilariously funny. I went to see him a couple of years ago, and he's still the master. I was with my ex at the time, and I was watching his concert, and, you know, I'd done the Montreal Comedy Festival, I'd sold out theaters there, so, y'know, I'm a comic, and I should have an attitude, like, "Oh, so what? It's Cosby." But I gotta tell ya, man, I sat there, and I just watched it, mesmerized. And she turns to me and says, "Why aren't you laughing?" And I said, "Shhh! I'm getting schooled!"
CT: It was like watching the best guy I'd ever seen do stand-up, and it reminded me again that you don't have to do…well, see, here's the thing: I have a real attitude about comedy. It's something that I really care about. And sometimes I forget this, but I watch some of these young comics, and they're good, they're all good, and there's some, like Demitri Martin, I don't think he's dirty, but he's really funny and inventive. But there are these other guys who think they're edgy, and what they're really edgy about is…just because they're talking about sex or they're talking about, "Hey, I slept with my grandmother," whatever it is. Masturbation jokes. And you just go, OK, it's shock humor, whatever. But there's no longevity in it, and there's no future in it. And it's also not timeless. Like, you can put on one of those Cosby albums right now, and it's still timeless. Same with Bob Newhart. And I think there are certain guys that were able to do it. I mean, like, Pryor, okay, he's the exception to the rule. And Kinison, maybe, but he's faded a lot. There's a whole generation now who doesn't know who Kinison was. Um, Lenny Bruce? I dunno, I think that guys like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, I really get it, and I try to push that edge without being dirty about it.
BE: That's funny that you mention Bill Hicks, because when I was listening to your line about being a vegetable and jumping Snake Canyon, I was totally thinking of his routine about terminally ill patients as movie stuntmen.
CT: (legitimately surprised) Oh, seriously? Is that a bit that he did?
BE: Yeah, he said something like, "Would you like to see your grandmother in the hospital, with thin, blue veins, or would you like to see her go up against Chuck Norris?"
CT: (laughs) I didn't know he did that bit! When I did it, it was during that whole Terri Schiavo thing, and it was just so obnoxious! I was, like, "God!" And the thing is, our government went back to work for that? We had a war going on, we got all this craziness happening, the economy's coming apart, and they're going back to work because of one poor woman who's not a woman anymore? She's nothing. She's gone. And I remember being very serious about it, and I'm watching her slowly die, and all the freaking vultures that were hanging around her. (stops) By the way, I'm not going to be funny right now. I'm just mad. (laughs)
BE: (laughs) That's fine!
CT: But all the vultures that were hanging around, getting press off of it, all the preachers who were getting on TV, and…I was sick of it, man. And I was thinking, "Y'know, just kill me. In fact, kill me publicly, I don't care. Just kill me. Make it a spectacle and sell tickets, but kill me. Don't let me live like that."
BE: (pauses) You're right. That wasn't funny. But it was definitely dark.
CT: No, see? I'm telling you. When I wrote the bit called "Kill Titus," I thought, wow, it's pretty funny to just keep saying it over and over again. But I want to be very clear, and I want you to put this in your article: if you listen to my album, and you listen to the "Kill Titus" bit, be aware that it's only if I'm brain-dead!
CT: If you're just listening to the album over and over and the words "Kill Titus" start playing in your head, remember: only if I'm brain-dead!
BE: Yes, there are very specific rules to the order.
CT: Yeah, definitely! I don't want some psycho coming up to me after a show, going, "Hey, man, I loved your album," then (imitates sound of a gun cocking and firing) I don't need my very own Squeaky Fromme!
BE: When you were talking about Cosby and obscenity earlier…we did a Stand-Up Hall of Fame last year – and he was in the first round of entrants, of course – and I could still remember that one moment in "Bill Cosby: Himself" when he curses, you know, when he's talking about people using drugs? That's, like, the best-timed use of an obscenity ever.
CT: Yeah, you know, he actually did that when I saw him in Montreal, where he did it just once. He was talking about his daughter's wedding, and he stopped and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, you know, I don't curse, but I'm going to curse right now." He was talking about how much the wedding cost, and he goes, "This man, he comes over to me and he goes, 'Woo-hoo, man, this must've cost you!' And ladies and gentlemen, I'm gonna say a swear word right now and I don't want you to be offended. But I looked at this man and I said, 'You know, sir, I got in the shower this morning, I was cleaning myself, and I looked down -- and I realized I was missing my left nut.'" (laughs) And it was, like, not even a swear word, but to hear it from Cosby, it was, like, "Whoa! Wow!" And it's weird, because if you can use…like, I'll pepper my shows with four or five obscenities – maybe! – and, y'know, I think it has so much more impact if you do it like that. And, also, sometimes I just wanna say "fuck," y'know? I mean, I'll be honest with you, I'm not Cosby; I'm not gonna lie to you. And, also, y'know, as far as being topical, the trick with the "End of the World" tour, so many guys will get up and do topical material, they'll get up and talk about this stuff and that stuff, but the problem is, they're just bitching, and I don't know why! I mean, you're a rich guy living in Hollywood Hills! And some of these guys are my friends. I really respect Bill Maher – he's brilliant; he's at my benefits and stuff, and he's a friend of mine – but sometimes if Bill's on a tear, I'm not sure why he's so mad! And, so, what I wanted to do was take something personal. That's the problem with topical material: it's not personal. It's usually about the government and blah, blah, blah. So the only way to do that is to frame it around this father with little kids, trying to figure out what's going on with the planet. And you're the first person -- I just wanted to make note of that -- you're the first person who's noticed that, who's asked about my combining family comedy and topical humor.
BE: And, you know, you do it really impressively, too. And I know my wife would be the first to agree, because she's the first person to turn off, say, David Cross or Patton Oswalt because she can't handle the constant influx of obscenities. But you manage it, and you have a nice mixture of it all.
CT: And that's that weird edge. There's two kinds of edges. There's that real stark edge, where guys are just like, well, I don't wanna toot my own horn, but, like, my mom's suicide bit in my first special, or the bit on my father's funeral, or whatever, there's an edge where people are uncomfortable, where they're not sure the material's funny yet because you're talking about a subject matter that nobody makes funny. And then there's this other edge, where someone does a Nazi joke, or someone does an anti-Jew joke. Okay, we know it's tongue in cheek, but is it really going to matter in 10 years, or even a year? I was blessed with this ability to do…like, here's a thing I do in my new show. When I did "Norman Rockwell," I was, like, "God, I need a new idea." And then 9/11 happened. So I'm, like, "Okay, God, don't take me so seriously!" And after I filmed this show, I said, "God, I need another new idea." And God gave me a brutal, horrible divorce. So what I'm learning is that I need to be a lot more specific with God, because, uh, yeah, don't give God a blank slate, because God will screw you.
BE: Clarification in these things is crucial.
CT: Yeah, I definitely need to map it out for him, rather than say, "Okay, God, gimme what you got." And, y'know, I think that my dad being married to a crazy woman and being divorced six times and living the life he lived and was still always funny about it, and I think I get this weird, dark humor from him where, no matter what's going on, it's always funny. Somehow, it's always funny, and I got it from my dad. It's hard for me to write just a normal joke. I mean, I did this bit about the kid in the car and stuff, but my angle on it is always just a weird, violent angle, if you've noticed. I'm throwing my kid in the air. My cute bit with my kid in the car is about a road-rage incident. And I've got that bit about my father punching a guy on the freeway. So I think my comedy's all just based in violence. (laughs) So let's just leave it there!
BE: Well, to tie into your family, were you disappointed that your sitcom didn't last longer than it did, or did you feel as though you'd accomplished as much as you could with it in the three years it ran?
"I went to see (Bill Cosby) a couple of years ago, and he's still the master. I was with my ex at the time, and she turns to me and says, 'Why aren't you laughing?' And I said, 'Shhh! I'm getting schooled!'"CT: Was I disappointed that I probably screwed myself out of $30 million of that syndication money? No! Why, that's the dumbest question I've ever heard from a reporter! (laughs) Yes, I was disappointed. Sorely disappointed. Someone pointed out to me, well, because the reason it got cancelled was because they wanted me to change it, and I dealt with it in a way that I probably shouldn't have. I kinda got mad, I was kinda being an idiot, and if you tell your boss that they're an idiot long enough, they will fire you. But it wasn't ratings. It wasn't ratings. I really made Gail Berman mad, because I wouldn't do anything she said. I wouldn't change the show, I wouldn't change the writing of it. We kept pushing the envelope. I told her that. We did a molestation episode about my niece who got molested when she was a kid, we did an episode about it, and the network was, like, "WHAT?!?" Because we did a comedy about it. And it wasn't a comedy about molestation; we just framed it in comedy to get it out there. But they were finally at the point where I think Gail Berman was, like, "If he's not going to do what I'm going to tell him to do, then he doesn't get a TV show anymore." And they killed it. TV Guide wrote an article called "What the Hell Happened to 'Titus'?" And they gave the numbers, and in our timeslot, we were beating so much stuff that it was really a weird thing for the network to do. But am I happy with what we did? Of the episodes we did, there are three that I hate, and the other 51 are, I think, just really good pieces of TV.
BE: We're actually getting ready to put together a piece on the best TV show finales of all time, and I have to think that any series that ends with its main character in a mental institution should at least be worthy of consideration.
CT: (laughs) Thank you! You know, we actually didn't go all the way with that, because they cancelled at the last minute. We weren't sure they were going to cancel it, because the numbers looked good, and we were beating "Andy Richter Controls The Universe" and "Greg The Bunny." We were beating all these other shows, so we thought they were going to hold onto us. So, basically, you go to the last scene of "Titus," it's me in the usual black and white room, I'm sitting in the chair, I'm talking to the camera, and -- in this one, it's a little weird. I'm just a little off. I start talking about mental illness for no reason. And as you pull out of the scene, you pull through the camera to where you are sitting in front of a monitor in front of two security guards, and you see a sign that says Napa State Mental Facility. And they go, "Wow, this guy's been here for three years, and he just won't shut up!" So for the entire series, I was in a mental institution, telling these stories. And I pitched it to Jack and Brian, my partners, and they both laughed and went, "Yeah!" And then Brian said, "Boy, man, we're really putting a nail in our own coffin if we do that." (laughs) But, y'know, the only mistake that you can make in anything that you do is to settle for mediocrity, and that's one thing it wasn't. And, hopefully, my comedy will never be that. I'm really proud. This is a milestone in my life, to have a double album come out as my first CD. It's really a big deal for me.
BE: Did you…
CT: I, uh…
BE: Oh, sorry, you go ahead.
CT: No, go ahead. Dude, seriously, I'll babble forever. You need to shut me up. You can go, "Okay, Titus, stop talking now." It's okay.
BE: Well, I was just going ask if you enjoyed the opportunity to revisit the series for the DVD releases, because Anchor Bay does some really solid work as far as putting together special features.
CT: Yeah, they do good work. I need to actually have an audit, though, because I think they've sold more than…well, like, I got a check for $1,600, and I'm, like, "Hold on, hold on, is that it?"
BE: Now, your attempts at finding yourself another series haven't exactly gone as one might've hoped. What was the deal with "Future Tense"?
CT: "Future Tense" was just horrible. The writing was okay, but the director was the most passive-aggressive prick I'd ever met in my life. And, also, you get a guy who's really funny – and I'm really funny, that's what I do for a living! – and you don't let him be funny! I mean, it wasn't a show that was based in funny, but it was the lead, it was a dramatic role, and that was fine. But I called Peter Roth, the president of Warner Brothers, afterwards, and I asked, "What did they say?" And he said, "Well, Titus, you tested really well, but everybody thought that the show looked like a bad syndicated series on the Pax Network."
CT: And then there was … what else did I do? We did "Special Unit" for Comedy Central, which is really funny. I think it just scared them.
BE: Yeah, I was gonna ask about that. It's, like, what, they can show your stand-up specials but they can't hook you up with a series?
CT: Well, they did, and, basically, it was "The Shield" with disabled people. That's what I wrote. And it was hilarious, man. It was a great show, and we used real disabled actors, and, it was great, really funny. I think Doug Herzog never really got behind it. And Doug's a friend of mine. Actually, Doug OK'd "Titus!" And he just kept saying that he didn't think that the audience would buy into it, that it was uncomfortable to watch. And I said, "It's not uncomfortable to watch! Once you get past the fact that these people are disabled, it's fine! You'll laugh your ass off!" But, basically, due to the Fairness and Disabilities Act -- I'm this tough detective who's basically a prick. He's just a prick. He's pissed off everybody so bad that his assignment is to train four handicapped undercover detectives, because of this California rule that got passed down. So he gets assigned this, ostensibly to keep him out of trouble, and he ends up getting in worse trouble every time because he keeps putting these guys in the most dangerous situations he can, just so he can end it. And, so, it was a really good show. They showed it on YouTube for awhile, but then Comedy Central kinda put the kibosh on it. I don't know why they stopped it. But I'll send it to you, if you want to see it.
BE: Yeah, that'd be great! I'd love to!
CT: And, now, I've just shot a show for ABC with Dylan McDermott, Michael Vartan from "Alias," and Joshua Malina from "The West Wing."
BE: Wow! Now, is that under consideration for the fall?
CT: Oh, yeah. We just finished it last Wednesday morning, at 7 a.m. in the morning, after filming all night. And the guy that directed it directed the pilot for "Desperate Housewives," and they spent, like, a crazy amount of money on it. We play four CEOs who have their lives kind of torn up. Like, you think on the outside that they're bad-asses, but they're really just kind of turn up. My character -- thank God, I play the funny one. But it's so funny when you're around other actors, like, the four of us got along really well, but when I was getting funny lines and pulling them off, by the end of the shoot, everybody wanted their funny lines. "Hey, can we be funny, too?" And they're talented actors, so they were. They just made the show better than it already was. But they don't know what to call it. They're really pussing out on names. They were going to call it "Perfect Gentlemen," which just sucks. They were gonna call it "Big Shots," which just sucks. Dylan wanted to call it "Men on Top," and I was, like, "YEAH! That's pretty cool." But ABC, I think, is afraid of that one. (A child's voice can be heard in the distance.) Hold on just a second. Yeah, babe?
Titus's Daughter: Can I have a chocolate?
CT: Can you have a chocolate? Mmm, yeah, it's your Easter candy. Go ahead.
TD: Can I have this one?
CT: You can have one. Give me the other one. (Returns to phone.) Okay, go ahead, buddy.
CT: Yeah, actually, I have my kids today, because I have to go out of town tomorrow, so I won't have them for Easter, so the Easter Bunny showed up early this morning, and he gave them everything early!
BE: You gotta love the timing of the Easter Bunny, how he knows when to show.
CT: (laughs) But…oh, did you listen to the whole album? Because it's 90 minutes of comedy. It's a lot of comedy.
BE: Actually, I only got it yesterday, but I was on the second disc, past the halfway mark. In fact, I just finished listening to "The Impala Incident." So I was pretty close to the end of it.
CT: Oh, so you haven't gotten to the sound of the airplane hitting the World Trade Center yet?
BE: Oh, no, I heard that. That's at the beginning of the second disc. Talk about an abrupt change in tone.
CT: We were doing that in comedy clubs, man, and on the first visit to a few clubs, the managers were, like, "You're not really gonna play that, are you?" And I had a friend of mine who's a sound guy build it, so I'm, like, "Yeah, of course, I'm gonna play it." And they have to wait until they saw it work, because most comedy promoters are, like, "You can't do this in my club." And a couple of times, people would hear the sound of the plane hitting the building and go, "Not funny!" But that's the point. It's not funny. Here's the thing: comedy sucks if it's not pushing some sort of envelope. And that's why I hated sitcoms. We created "Titus" because the guys that I did it with, we hated sitcoms. We hate how lame they are, how they don't push any envelopes. It's just bad. (The sound of his children talking to each other in the background suddenly rises, causing him to abruptly lean away from the receiver.) Hey, I'm on the phone right now! Hold on, okay, kiddo? Okay? I love you. Hold on. (Returns to interview.) I'm sorry. Don't write that I yelled at my kids. "Hey, Titus yelled at his kids! Right in the middle of the interview, he yelled at his kids!"
BE: (laughs) Hey, if you're gonna get sympathy from anybody, it's a guy with a 20-month-old daughter. I'm familiar.
CT: 20-month-old. Man, that's a good age. That's a perfect age. I love that age.
BE: Oh, yeah, she's very much in the middle of learning her vocabulary. I get a lot of yelling of favorite new words like "juice" and "please."
CT: Yeah, but more importantly, you can still control her. You can actually still lock her into something and she can't get out yet.
BE: True. Although she did premiere her Harriet Houdini routine a few nights ago and crawl out of her crib for the first time.
CT: Oh, nice. Did you hear the thunk when she hit the ground? Is it very far off the floor?
BE: Actually, the only reason we even knew she got out was because she got angry that she couldn't get over the Kiddie Corral that we've got around our living room, so she couldn't get in there to watch TV! We still don't know how she got down so successfully!
"I actually filed for divorce on June 6, 2006. 6-6-6. That's the day I filed for divorce. So I turned my wife into a demon calling from Satan's anus. Although, for legal reasons, I have to call her Kate."CT: (laughs) Wow, that's pretty cool! Oh, OK, so, anyway, the sound of the airplane hitting the World Trade Center in the middle of my show, it kind of galvanizes an audience. And it definitely focuses them. I don't care how much you're drinking or how much fun you're having during a night out -- if you hear the sound of an airplane about to crash into the club you're sitting in, you're wondering what's going on, and it wakes you up. I don't know, man. I could make it a big deal. I could say, "You know, it's really important." But, you know, these are just my experiences, and I hope it's good. I just hope it doesn't suck. I think that's what I try to live in every day.
BE: And the last question is, I guess, contingent upon whether or not this new series takes off, but are you planning to tour behind the new album?
CT: Um, well, actually, I'm done. That's the thing. I can't be Green Day. I can't put out an album and then say, "Hey, I'm gonna go out and play the same crap that you've just heard!" I can't do that. No one's out there yelling, "Dude, do 'Kill Titus' again!" They're, like, "We've heard that. That's on the record. What's the next one?" So, actually, right now, if anybody wants to come see me, I'm breaking in a whole new show about my divorce and my new girlfriend. My girlfriend's amazing. She's got a degree in English and a minor in criminal justice, so when I get arrested, she can fill out the paperwork. It's just really…she's just great. And my ex…well, my kids are here, so I don't want to talk about her too much, but my ex, I should've known something was wrong, because in the last two years, she got an eye job, a boob job, hair extensions and a lip job. I mean, I rebuilt this bitch from the ground up, frankly. And it was a frame off restoration -- some new guy's driving her.
CT: So this one, let's see, I've now done the family; I've torn the family apart. And now I've gone after topical stuff and the world. And now I get to do relationships. It's really odd the way things happen in my life. I don't think I'm smart enough to make stuff up, either. Something horrible has to happen to me, and then I'm supposed to write jokes about it. (laughs)
BE: Thanks, God.
CT: Yeah, thanks again, God! And it's weird, because he even timed it. I actually filed for divorce on June 6, 2006. 6-6-6. That's the day I filed for divorce. So I turned my wife into a demon calling from Satan's anus. Although, for legal reasons, I have to call her Kate.
BE: Fair enough. All right, man, well, it's been great talking to you.
CT: Dude, thanks. Thanks for helping me with the release of the album. I really appreciate it.
Post-Script: The good news is that Titus's pilot for ABC was indeed picked up. The bad news is that the producers ended up going with one of the names that he thought sucked: "Big Shots." We here at Bullz-Eye offer our congratulations, and we can only hope that Mr. Titus is able to deal with the minor annoyance of the show's title while still enjoying the regular paycheck.