What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
No doubt you recognize Christian Finnegan already, even without the “Hello my name is” nametag. The Massachusetts native began popping up more and more frequently on your TV screens a decade ago, first in your comedy hearts and minds perhaps as “Chad,” the white guy in the Chappelle’s Show spoof of The Real World. He really cemented his role as a cultural critic in the ensuing years as a popular commentator on VH1’s Best Week Ever and assorted programming. Since then, Finnegan cut out the fat from his onstage set and himself personally. Looking good, Christian!
But he still has plenty on his mind to share with audiences. In his brand-new stand-up special, “The Fun Part,” which debuted on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere Tuesday, Finnegan opens with a bit about seeing broken umbrellas lying/laid waste on the sidewalk, and imagining the moment of sheer frustration that gripped its owner in the preceding moment. It’s a more commonplace sighting in NYC, and Finnegan has a full hour or so of life experiences culled from his more than two decades of living in the city in his one-man show, “The Gorgeous Mosaic,” running tonight through Saturday at The PIT in NYC. What better way to preview that than to get a feel for how Finnegan’s comedy career transitioned here with the trusty “Meet Me In New York” questionnaire!
(photo by Kyle Makrauer)
Arrival date: Aug. 30, 1991
Arrived from: Acton, MA
When and where did you start performing comedy? I’d already been living in NYC for six years before giving comedy the time of day. I thought I was going to be a serious writer type. But then I realized I wasn’t serious and I didn’t do a whole lot of writing. So I started “searching for myself”, checking out various sketch shows, performance art and whatnot. There is a rumor that I may have even participated in a couple of Nuyorican Poetry Slams, but that is a vicious lie and I will seek legal remedies against anyone who says otherwise.
My first standup performance was Faceboyz Open Mic Night at Surf Reality on Allen Street. I spent most of my eight minutes talking shit about the musical “Rent”. I was awful, but all the glorious LES weirdos made me feel welcome. Without the hyper-supportive environment of places like Surf (and Collective Unconscious on Ludlow Street.) I’d never have made it through my first year. So if you hate my comedy, blame them.
What was your best credit before moving here?
I gave an extremely moving performance as Pink in a teenage production of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. I am in no way joking about this. Footage exists.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else?
I moved to New York City to live in New York City — I had no comedy aspirations at the time. Growing up in Massachusetts, all people ever talked about was how awful New York City is. Since I found most of those people awful, I figured New York must be the place for me.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here?
Do drink tickets count? If so, my first “paid” gig was at a place called Byron’s Steakhouse, which I believe was somewhere in the West Village. I totally bombed, but I did coin a good slogan for the place: “Byron’s Steakhouse: Where the laughter is rare!”
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from?
Again, this question doesn’t apply to me, given that I started here. But the NYC scene has definitely changed a lot since I began. I was really fortunate to get into the LES comedy scene back when the term “alternative” held some actual meaning. On a typical night at Surf Reality, you would see everything from straightforward stand-up to sideshow geekery to anti-Giuliani agitprop to explicit S&M. Now, was all of this stuff “good” in the strict sense of the word? Um…no. But it was definitely different.
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here?
In 2001 I was living in a rat-infested apartment on 108th Street. The ceiling above the bathtub had caved in. One day I was sitting on the toilet when I heard the familiar skitter-skitter-skitter of feet above my head and then a massive Willard-sized rat poked his head out of the ceiling hole. I screamed in its direction to try and make it run away, but it just sat there…staring at me. I burst into tears.
Honestly, my one man show should really be called “Crying on the Toilet,” but I thought “The Gorgeous Mosaic” sounded a bit classier.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here?
Comedy in New York is not a “scene.” It’s a massive Venn diagram of interlocking scenes. It’s messy and often incomprehensible. And it’s not for everyone — there’s nothing wrong with admitting that the lifestyle demands of living in NYC just aren’t your bag. But know this: If you spend two years doing the occasional bar show in Williamsburg just so you can move to LA and refer to yourself as a “New York comic”, you’re the worst kind of awful.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Some even less-desirable area of Queens, I imagine.
If you miss Christian Finnegan’s one-man show about living in NYC, “The Gorgeous Mosaic,” then catch Finnegan when he performs in a city or town near you. Or listen to his podcast, AUDIO SPACKLE, “the podcast that stands outside your bedroom window holding a boombox!” In which Finnegan and a guest talk about musicians and the music they’ve made that’s had a lasting impact on them.
“The Fun Part,” meanwhile, explores Finnegan’s exploits on the road as a solo stand-up act eating alone in Dayton, his thoughts on the two states of Florida, Southerners, Australians, Belgians and the idea that China might want number-one status a little bit more than America at this point. Is America still number one, but in a “Michael Jordan in his Wizards phase” way? Is America going downhill? “That’s the fun part!” Christian Finnegan’s “The Fun Part” came out this week on Netflix and is also available as a CD:
Here’s a sample track, in which Finnegan jokes about his friends giving their kids “old-timey names”
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com