by Ryan Meehan
Christi Chiello is a New York City-based standup comedian, actress & voice over artist. She has been featured in Time Out NY and the Village Voice. Christi made her television debut this year on MTV’s “Girl Code” and is a regular guest on MNN’s “The Special Without Brett Davis.” Christi has appeared in numerous comedy festivals including the New York Comedy Festival, the Brooklyn Comedy Festival and the Women in Comedy Festival. You can hear Christi on WFMU radio station and on the hugely popular “Keith and the Girl” comedy podcast where she recently received the KATG award for “Best New Guest.” Christi is the Creek and the Cave award winner for “Best Girl” and she performs every night at major clubs and alt rooms in New York City.Christi is a cast member on the popular talking-head web series ‘Askholes’ and the comedy web series ‘Seeing Other People.’ You can see her every week alongside Lorelei Ramirez and Julio Torres at The Annoyance Theatre in ‘ACTORS’ a show she co-created. Christi is also a new cast member of the very popular ‘Livia Scott Sketch Show’ at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea. The NY Times said LSSS is, “fast becoming one of the best and most imaginative shows in the city.” Christi’s a contributing writer for SparkLife and you can hear many of her outrageous voices in the upcoming original feature film, ‘The Champion.’ These are just a few reasons why I am delighted to have Christi Chiello as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: What have been the best and worst aspects of turning thirty so far? Are you the type of person who sets career goals based on checkpoints in age, or do you try to not focus too much on things like that, continue to bust your ass, and just let the chips fall where they may?
CC: I love getting older! The comedians I admire most have such a strong sense of self and I think that’s what age gives you. Just starting out in comedy I had no idea who I was but the past year especially has been huge for me because I’m starting to really figure that out. I set goals for myself every 6 months or so and age isn’t a factor anymore. The best part about turning 30 is feeling like a grown ass woman! I think I’m more confident. In my 20s I never would have had the confidence to say “Grown Ass Woman.”
RM: Was there an exact moment when you knew that comedy was going to be something you would be involved with for a great deal of your life? If so, what was so enlightening about that snapshot in time that transformed the way you looked at your level of dedication to the art form?
CC: Growing up I wanted to be an actress on Broadway. I was big into musical theatre and I was always cast in comedic roles, so I knew comedy was sort of my “thing.” I guess in a way I’ve always known comedy was going to be a huge part of my life, but back then I had no idea what standup was. I moved to New York City when I was 19 to study acting and that’s when it all snowballed for me pretty quickly. An acting teacher suggested I study at UCB and I started doing improv. My favorite exercise in class was when someone would do a monologue that would inspire a scene. I lived to do those monologues!! I realized I only wanted to talk to an audience directly and make them laugh, so that’s how I got into standup. When I first started performing standup at open mics I was basically an actress playing the role of a stand up comedian. I didn’t think that at the time but looking back, that’s definitely what was happening. For a few years I’d do maybe one open mic a week and the occasional bringer show and I thought that made me a comedian. It wasn’t until 2-3 years in when I realized that wasn’t the case. My level of dedication changed drastically when I realized that the only way to get better at this is to just do it constantly.
RM: You recently wrapped up “ACTORS” with Lorelei Ramirez at the Annoyance Theater NY…How long had the two of you been working on that show; and what was the first thing you noticed about her that led you to think that the two of you might work well together?
CC: Yes!! Lorelei and I first came up with the concept for ACTORS two years ago. We invented these two delusional characters who live and die for the stage. We started doing small sets at open mics and that lead to some spots on alty shows in Brooklyn. This past summer we pitched our show to the Annoyance! They loved it and gave us a 2 month run! So Lorelei and I wrote and developed a new hour-long show every week for 2 months there. It was a ton of work but such an awesome experience. Lorelei is my muse! I first met her a few years ago at an open mic. She’s super authentic and creative and interactive and different and just everything I love. She inspired me immediately and our admiration was mutual. It was fate!!! Lorelei comes from this performance art background and I come from a theatre background and somehow ACTORS was born, kind of morphing both our strong suits into one delusional production. I’m her biggest fan!
RM: How would you best describe the ‘Livia Scott Sketch Show’; and how does that program in particular differ from some of the UCB’s other offerings at that theater? Why do you think you’ve become so comfortable working with all of the other comedians who also work on that production?
CC: Livia is this imaginative, punk rock power house. We met doing one of Brett Davis’s awesome shows at Over The Eight in Brooklyn. Brett is the best at bringing all of these different, eccentric performers together in weird collaborative ways! So through Brett I met Livia, who that night played this like, deranged Paula Poundstone character and I loved it. Livia’s been a big player at UCB for many years and when she asked me to come on board for her show I jumped at the opportunity. The writers, directors & performers for LSSP are so talented and kind and they welcomed me with open arms. It’s a big collaborative effort and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m new in the UCB community. I studied there years ago but so much has changed since then! I’m learning about so many incredible shows there and it says something for sure that Livia’s show has had a run there for so long. That’s not an easy feat! Livia is an outspoken risk taker and she’s always thinking of new ideas and interesting multimedia features to incorporate into her ever-evolving show.
RM: What are some of the main reasons you’ve become so obsessed with Instagram? When you come up with something funny that you feel you need to share on social media, do you ever think twice about saving the bit for something you can use on stage? Would you consider yourself to be a comic who basically uses those apps for the sole purpose of brainstorming; and do you ever go back and look over your feeds from time to time to see if there is anything you can expand on?
CC: WHO SAYS I’M OBSESSED??? ::Cut to a montage of me over the past week instagramming all day every day:: I love creating funny captions for pictures. My actual photos are so bad! I don’t know a thing about lighting or angles, so actual photographers would probably be offended! But this girl loves to caption! I’ll definitely test material out on social media but I don’t use the sites solely for that purpose. Even if I weren’t a performer, I’d still be ‘grammin. If a tweet or post gets some attention in an unexpected way I’ll maybe develop that into a joke. Sometimes I’ll hesitate before posting. I’ll think, “Christi, you better save this comedy gold for the stage!” And then I do and it like, bombs and I feel embarrassed. The jokes I think are gold never do well and the shitty throw-away lines end up being what hits! I never develop old social media posts into material, instead I’ll pull from what’s happening to me presently. That’s what I’ll connect with most anyways. Social media can be such a time-sucking sadness hole but as a performer I think it’s important to embrace all this new technology and find a way to use it to my advantage. It’s the future, baby! (Sorry I called you baby). Editor’s Note: No offense taken
RM: WFMU seems to be a station that is very conducive to letting comedians do their thing…What sets that station apart from the many other broadcast options out East; and do you think terrestrial radio is something that will always be around in some form or another regardless of the rise of satellite and iTunes?
CC: WFMU is the coolest! I’m a huge fan. They have super original, innovative content. I’ve done Pat Byrne’s show “Prove It All Night” and it’s just the most fun. He’s great and he has these incredible audiences, it’s one of my favorite shows to do! Also Jo Firestone has her show, ‘Dr Gameshow’ at WFMU and I’m a big fan of hers as well! I like that WFMU is producing this new-age offbeat content and their listeners are smart and enthusiastic and just awesome. I hope terrestrial radio will always be around but who knows, you and I could be replaced by robots one day!?
RM: You had the chance to do one of these Roast Battles at The Stand NYC back on October 6th and take on Noah Gardenswartz…What was the coolest thing about being able to take part in that event; and do the comedians facing each other in those battles get together beforehand and discuss any topics that might be off limits and too far “over the line”?
CC: That was one of the best nights I’ve had doing comedy! I’m a BIG fan of roasts. I watch every Comedy Central roast and I love that style of joke writing. I’m a very positive and happy person but I live a good zinger right to the jugular!! I was thrilled when I was asked to do a roast show and also super surprised. I probably shouldn’t say that but I was! No one would watch my act and think, “Wow, she’s like a little Jeff Ross up there!” I was the underdog for sure, which I also ate up. It’s great when people have zero expectations. I wish no one expected anything from me ever, wouldn’t that take the pressure off? Noah is incredible and he killed it that night! That’s what makes a good roast battle – when both comics do well! He could have easily won it. He’s a friend of mine and we asked each other beforehand if anything is off limits and of course we each said no. I’ve done one roast battle now so clearly I’m an expert and I think you need to really respect your opponent and also have the ability to laugh at yourself. Noah is a great comic and I loved all his roast jokes. I quote them all the time!!!
RM: When it comes to touchy subjects that find their way into your material, how do you go about deciding what jokes may not be the best fit for your act? You seem very cheery…Do you ever try to avoid writing jokes that are too dark because you’re worried they might not match the personality that you convey offstage?
CC: When a touchy subject creeps its way into my joke notebook I say “Hey creepy joke! What do you think you’re doing here!!” (You can edit that out, right? What? That’s how this works??) If I’m writing it down it’s worth exploring. I don’t shut anything down. I’ll at least bring it to a mic because if I’m writing about it- it’s on my mind and I feel it’s my job to figure out if I can take it somewhere. I found out early on that dirty humor works well for me because of the shock value. When a cute girl with a funny voice says “pussy” everyone will laugh because they don’t expect it. So that was my set for years. Pussy pussy pussy!! But then I realized that’s kind of cheap, kind of easy. I started thinking about what I actually wanted to say and who I wanted to be up there on stage. Now I look to the stand-ups I admire; stellar joke writers like Mike Lawrence & Giulia Rozzi, who’s honesty and vulnerability blows me away and I learn from these comics. At this stage in the game, there’s nothing I’ll avoid. I am trying everything and through process of elimination finding what works! I’ve developed a lot of material lately by doing crowd work, which I used to hate and now love!
RM: You seem to be the perfect fit for voice over work…How do you go about training yourself to get better at something like that? Would you consider yourself a “natural” in the sense that it’s something you’ve always done to a certain extent; or did you only get into it after you discovered your comedic talents?
CC: Thank you! I’ve been voice training my whole life. This is so corny but my voice is my “instrument” the same way a guitar is an instrument. I practice a lot trying to expand my range, play with inflections, accents, impressions, all of it! It’s fun for me to test boundaries with my voice and discover new things it can do. I think I have a naturally interesting voice that lends itself well for this business but having a quirky voice isn’t enough to get work. Yes I have an interesting sound but you can put me in a room with 8 other brilliant voice actors who can DO my voice in a second because they’re that technically trained! So that’s where the practice comes in, the technical aspects of it. Voice acting wasn’t something I thought about until after I started doing standup and audience members would come up to me after the show and ask, “is that your real voice???” If I had a dollar…
RM: How do you approach doing a voice over character which has a voice that is much deeper than the tone in which you speak? Do you get offered a lot of gigs that are a great deal outside of your vocal range?
CC: When I moved here for acting school my teachers had me take a bunch of speech classes. I had a thick regional dialect. I’m from Rhode Island so just think Boston. I sounded like Mark Walhberg. It took me a lot of practice to learn how to do a “Standard American Accent” that’s what they called it at school. Jim Carrey is my favorite performer of all time and he’d sit in front of his mirror and just practice impressions for hours. I do that but with my own characters. I just play around with my voice, see what I can make it do. I’m big into drinking teas and using a humidifier, especially during winter months, to sort of “preserve” my voice. It’s my money maker!!! Also I’m just really paranoid hypochondriac. Last week I auditioned to voice two different animated dogs. Nothing keeps you humble like barking alone in your room. I mostly go out for the same kind of roles. My voice is very different and unique so I’m not likely to be the girl-next-door-type who’s selling you tampons as much as I’m likely to be like, a talking tampon. God willing!
RM: New York seems to have several interwoven clusters of comedians who are very supportive of each others’ work despite the fact that the city is home to several million people…How does everybody within these different scenes find the time to do each other’s mics and come to their shows? Do you ever feel bad for missing events because some nights you just want to stay home and relax? Which comedians that you haven’t mentioned already do you feel are some of your closest friends?
CC: It amazes me how supportive this community is. When you’re serious about comedy, I mean depending on yours goals I guess, there really isn’t much life outside comedy. It’s consumes you. All my friends at this point are performers or artists of some kind. There are a lot of different ways to show support in this business. One of my best friends & mentors is Giulia Rozzi and she’s on the road for work a TON but I know she’s my biggest supporter! She can’t physically be at my shows every night in the front row laughing clapping, but she’s there for me before, after and always. Knowing I can call Giulia crying when I bomb or crying happy tears when I have a great set (I cry a lot), is all the support I need! I’ll feel badly missing friend’s shows sometimes, but all my friends are artists and we ultimately have an understanding that sometimes brainless activity has to come first!
RM: If we were to look at comedy twenty years from now, what differences do you think we would see with regards to how people consume the product of stand-up? Could you eventually see clubs using apps like Periscope to monetize subscriptions to their club where you could literally watch any comic from anywhere in the country for a fair price?
CC: Yes, I see clubs monetizing on it all and I don’t blame them! Like I mentioned earlier, I think to a certain extent you’ve gotta embrace all this new technology. People are live-streaming shows and it’s just ever-evolving! But nothing beats a live performance and that’ll never change. I have faith in that!
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
CC: Lots of great shows happening this fall. I’ll be in the New York Comedy Festival this year roasting Scott Chaplain in the Roast Masters Champion show at The Stand. I’m very excited about that! Also a little terrified. Mostly excited! Giulia & I are putting together a benefit show for Planned Parenthood Dec 2nd at Littlefield in Brooklyn. In general, I’m looking to write more material I’m proud of and perform as often as possible. I just want to improve!
Official Website: http://www.christichiello.com/
Christi on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christichiellocomedian
Christi on Instagram: http://instagram.com/christichiello/
Christi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/christichiello
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