Q & A: ‘Whitney’ Star Chris D’Elia Talks About The Show and Having to Audition for a Part That Was Written for Him
Chris D’Elia is the star of NBC’s new show, Whitney. Chris is a comedian and was also a series regular on the TBS show, Glory Daze but now, thanks to his friendship with series creator and star Whitney Cummings, he’s reaching a whole new audience – prime time.
Chris told me that even though Whitney wrote the role of Alex with him in mind, he still had to audition for it. Three times to be exact. “I still had to test and jump through all the hoops,” he said.
I talked to Chris in a conference call about both Whitney and Whitney, how the two first met and if he gets nervous before auditions.
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Whitney airs Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c on NBC
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
How did you and Whitney initially meet?
Chris D’Elia: We met at – I’ll tell you where. Well, it was definitely – it was an open mic over at – in L.A., somewhere in Hollywood, and we just kind of were both starting out. She had been doing standup maybe a little bit longer than I had, but we both didn’t know who each other was and we just kind of started talking and we took a liking to each other, and we just started doing standup.
And then we both wound up at the Comedy Store where we would bring each other up on stage, you know, I would follow her, she would follow me, and it just became – we became really good friends. And we’ve known each other now for about five or six years and she, you know, she put me on the first thing she produced, called Live Nude Comedy as a standup. I was in a segment on that and that was my first standup set that I ever did, and now she’s casting me in these network shows.
So she’s just really – she’s been a good friend to me. And, you know, we’ve always kept our friendship, though, which is great. You know, it doesn’t feel like she’s my boss, even though she definitely is.
It just feels like, you know, a very cool, fun time on set. And it’s always great around – I mean, she’s just so – she’s such a great person to know and great person to be around.
Chris D’Elia: Yeah, for sure.
And you said that she wrote the part with you in mind, but did you still have to, I guess prove yourself to NBC? Did you still have to read in front of the executives?
Chris D’Elia: Yeah, as I always say, like, in Hollywood, you know, everybody always hears, “Hey, I wrote this part for you,” and then, you know, the common thing to think is just, “Oh, I wonder who’s going to end up playing it.” But, you know, she wrote it for me, with me in mind, and that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, that literally means nothing in Hollywood.
It’s just, you know, I’ve heard that a lot of times and not have gotten the part. But, you know, she definitely had me come in and I had to audition three times, just like everybody else, you know, in front of the network, in front of the producers, in front of, you know, everybody. So yeah, I still had to test and get by, jump through all the hoops and all that, but yeah.
Were you still nervous? Like, this is my part to lose?
Chris D’Elia: Dude, I don’t really get nervous, man, anymore. I’ve been doing this for so long and it’s just like I can honestly say that. It’s weird.
I don’t believe people when they say that, but maybe it’s because I do standup every night and it’s just like, people just watch me every day, so it just doesn’t – it’s like you’re either going to want me or not, and it doesn’t matter to me. Like, if you want me to do your project – I only want to do your project if you want me to do your project. I don’t want to do it if you don’t think I’m going to be right for it. Then get somebody else.
So no, you know, I knew Whitney wanted me to do it and I knew it was up to the network. And if they wanted me to do it, great, and they did and now I’m super excited to do it, you know? That’s pretty much how it works with me.
Alex is a much more stable adult than some of your more recent characters like on Workaholics and Glory Daze. Do you find it more difficult to be funny while playing a normal character than one of these crazy, over the top characters?
Chris D’Elia: That’s an interesting question. It’s a different thing. I think that when you’re playing an over the top, say, child molester, yeah, it’s more wow and in your face. And I think it’s a little – if you have a handle on the character it’s a little easier to make people laugh with it.
But I think the humor from Whitney comes within the – it’s not the, “Wow, oh my God, what am I watching” factor, it’s the, “I can identify with that.” And that’s why I think it’s funny. So if you can kind of hook into, you know, the real life of it all, I think that that’s what makes people laugh as well, in a different way as, you know, in a much different way than the character I played on Workaholics or Glory Daze on TBS, we’ll say.
You’re known for being an actor and a comedian, but if you weren’t performing, what else could you see yourself doing?
Chris D’Elia: Oh, man. I think I’d have one outfit and I’d be on a bench somewhere. I don’t know, man. I mean, I’ve stuck with this profession for a long time.
I’ve just recently gotten some success in the past few years, but there were ten years there were I was just kind of just, I mean, kicking around. I was really just, you know, and people were like, “Oh, you stayed with it, that’s so great, it’s such a great success story.” But it’s like, I just kind of didn’t know what else to do.
I don’t even know what I would – I don’t know what I could do. I have – I really don’t know, and I’ve thought about this a lot. Like, there’s no way I would have 9 to 5, absolutely now.
I couldn’t – I mean, but I would need to do something creative. So I don’t know what I would do. I mean, I’ve always been somebody who wanted to be in front of strangers making them laugh, so standup is just kind of what I felt like I was born to do.
I guess I have no answer. But let’s say fireman, because that sounds – fireman sounds good. Let’s say fireman.
Whitney airs every Thursday night. What are you usually doing at that time?
Chris D’Elia: I like to watch it. I know some actors are weird about watching themselves, but maybe I just like myself too much. I just, like, watch – I like to watch it with, you know, I mean it doesn’t even matter with who.
I just like to, just kind of sit and watch. Because, you know, you work so hard on these episodes, it’s just like there’s something cool – oh, I’ll tell you what I do, actually. I like to check Twitter while I’m watching it and see what people are saying. That’s what I like to do.
Is there a lot of improv that’s done on the show?
Chris D’Elia: That’s a huge compliment. There’s not that much ad lib. I mean, we have a lot of really great writers that work, you know, tirelessly on, like, what’s the best joke or thing to say.
And I think that’s, you know, I take that as a compliment because, you know, it makes it feel like we’re really – I think that what people are responding to when they say that is Whitney and I know each other. And so I think it comes – I think our playfulness, because we know each other, you know, we weren’t two actors that were just hired and then put in a room together that try to act like we know each other, we do know each other. And I think that, you know, look – I laugh during takes and it’s not out of character.
It’s in my character because that’s who I am with Whitney, you know? I mean, we’re not in a relationship together, but we – but that’s what we do. We talk and we laugh and that’s what people do, and so I think that people respond to that and think that sometimes it’s ad lib.
You know, I will say I’m not spot on line by line, because I’m just – because of my unprofessionalism, and so maybe that comes off because, like, I’ll throw in something that wasn’t in the script. But that’s, you know, that’s every now and then. But I think that, you know, if that’s what you count as ad lib then yeah, maybe a little bit, but mostly it’s, I mean, 95 to 98% is just the writers’ work.
What do you find are the benefits of having a live audience for the show versus, like, the other stuff you’ve worked on where it was no live audience?
Chris D’Elia: Well, I like both. I like the challenge of no live audience because I can try and make the crew laugh, and I know if I hear giggles from the crew, because they’re supposed to be quiet, then I’m definitely doing a good job. But if I hear – you know, the audience is great for – especially for Whitney and I, because we’re both standup comedians and we’re used to that.
I mean, we’d go on stage every night and so – for standup. So having that audience there really feels good for us because we can know a joke is funny because the audience is laughing at it or not. And so, you know, if the joke bombs we’ll rewrite it real quickly – the writers will rewrite it real quickly and then we’ll do another, well, alternative version of it.
So the energy is a lot higher on a multi-camera, that’s for sure. And we feed off that as comics, it’s great.
How is it different for you to prepare for a standup gig and a sitcom episode?
Chris D’Elia: The difference is I don’t prepare for standup. I just go up on stage with ideas that I think are funny and that’s pretty much what I – all I do. And then I go on stage and I try to work them out. That is me preparing.
But, you know, sitcom – or the live studio audience, I’ve got to go up and I’ve got to be prepared when we’re shooting, so that’s what all week is for, just rehearsing and going over it and all that. I never do that with standup. I feel like rehearsing is performing with standup.