From Missoula, with jokes and great taste in sweaters, it’s Chris Fairbanks
Almost every time I tell someone that I lived in Montana for 4½ years, I get a quizzical look, like people are asking “Why?” with their facial expressions.
The truth is, Montana isn’t a frigid wasteland solely populated by cowboys, Republicans and, in the summer, rich people who want to “rough it” on their multi-million dollar ranches. Sure, the winters are rough and there are plenty of rednecks, but my Montana experience was overwhelmingly positive. I befriended and worked with and even dated a lot of creative people during my time in Big Sky country and I’m a better man for having lived there.
And the comedy world is better for having Missoula native Chris Fairbanks.
In addition to being a really funny stand-up, Fairbanks is also a very talented artist, as you can see on his website. Fairbanks was also roommates with Tig Notaro in a couple of different houses and he wore one of the greatest sweaters ever made during an appearance on “Conan” in January.
We discussed all these things and more so enjoy the interview, follow Fairbanks on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes at the end.
TC: You returned to Missoula last month to perform with Tig Notaro at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. How did that go?
CF: I’ve done a few shows there at music venues, but certainly not in The Wilma Theater which is 1,100 seats. I wanted it to be sold out. It’s not that big of a town. It’s 65,000 people and I’m glad it sold out.
TC: Tig is a special performer. What was it like working with her?
CF: I lived with Tig for about seven years so I was very familiar with her already. We were roommates through a couple of different houses. I already knew what it would be like (to perform with Notaro).
She’s great. We had a cat together and I thought she was going to stay at my dad’s (in Missoula) because that’s where the cat now lives. She kept telling people she was going to stay at her cat’s place, but I think they gave her a hotel so she stayed there.
We had a great time at that show.
TC: When and where did you start doing stand-up? I’ve been to Missoula several times and I don’t recall seeing any comedy clubs there.
CF: I was in an improv group and we went to Austin (Texas) for an improv festival in 1998. I decided to move there to start doing stand-up.
The times I’ve done shows in Missoula, I can’t even find someone local to open for me. There’s just not much of a stand-up scene there. I wish there was. There certainly would be support and I think people would go to an open mic there, but maybe it’s just not a big enough city to have its own comedy scene. I always thought that, if I suddenly wanted one, I’d open up a comedy club and that’s where I would do it.
TC: I’d love to visit Missoula and see Chris Fairbanks’ Comedy Club. I’d go there.
CF: I would love it. Maybe that’s my Plan B, or Plan D. I don’t know if I want my plan to be a Missoula, Mont., comedy club manager (but) I love audiences there. They’re smart and they get it and they listen. You would think that they watch stand-up all the time.
TC: The sweater you wore on “Conan” belongs in a museum somewhere because it’s an American treasure. Were you worried that the audience might be distracted by the sweater’s awesomeness?
CF: Right before I walked through that curtain, I was thinking about taking the sweater off. I was having second thoughts about the sweater. It is a powerful piece. What if I can’t live up to the sweater, which I did buy in Missoula incidentally.
There’s a guy that opens the curtain for you. He told me to keep it on so if the sweater did backfire in any way, I would have that staff member to blame.
TC: How did you go about putting your “Conan” set together? Do you write out a set list? Do you rehearse? Does it need to be tight or more free-flowing?
CF: J.P. Buck is the booker of the show and for like an eight-month period, I was just sending him sets and he was telling me which jokes he liked. I had about 10 minutes that he approved of to kind of just put on a list in no particular order.
Right before the set, I asked him if I could add a couple jokes and he let me do that so yeah, it was very loose compared to other TV sets where they actually want you to write it out verbatim and have it on cue cards and everything. For that show, I just had a list of jokes. I do think I did them in that order, but he was very open to me adding (jokes). After we talked about it a few times, he seemed like he had faith in me doing what I wanted to do, which is rare. That was a great experience and I wanted it to be loose and I think it was, for better or worse, a very loose set.
TC: I thought it was great and even if a bit didn’t necessarily go over great, it seemed like you were able to bounce off of that and move on to the next thing to get the crowd back on your side. Did it feel like that to you?
CF: It seemed like they were on my side. It felt like I was just doing stand-up in front of a regular audience. After that first joke, it didn’t seem like I was on TV. It was just a regular set. It was a really good crowd.
TC: It seems there is no shortage of clips that could be used on “World’s Dumbest.” Does that make you happy because it means there will always be material for the show or sad because there are so many dumb asses in the world?
CF: It is a bit of a catch 22. There will always be stupid videos. There will always be stupid people with cameras aimed at each other. I don’t think there will ever be an end to people jumping off their roofs and landing on their balls. People in Russia will still have a lot of car accidents for any traffic comedy. I don’t think the source of those videos is going to dry up any time soon.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
If this were the Elizabethan era, we’d show Putin how wrong he was by presenting a brief play.
— Mike Birbiglia (@birbigs) March 19, 2014