Naperville's Chris Redd weighs in on Eddie Murphy, Cory Booker and doing stand-up
It's no coincidence that Chris Redd played Eddie Murphy's son in multiple recent "Saturday Night Live" sketches. To Redd, Murphy's first "SNL" hosting gig in 35 years last month was an opportunity to spend some quality time with an influential icon he calls his "comedy dad."
"I also wrote another sketch that didn't make the show where I play his son," Redd says. "So I was just manifesting that he's my father, I think. It was fun to play alongside him, just trying to hang with the (greatest of all time)."
Although Redd, 34, grew up in Naperville admiring the comic stylings of Murphy, among others, he didn't begin regularly performing comedy until his mid-20s, when his fledgling rap career stalled. But after a few years working open mics and stand-up contests, he latched onto the famed comedy troupe Second City and booked a role in the 2016 movie "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping."
Redd went on to join "SNL" in 2017 and has since established himself as a versatile performer for the long-running sketch show, crafting original characters -- including his favorite creation, the hilariously inept drug lord Quan -- and impersonating the likes of Kanye West, Will Smith and Sen. Cory Booker.
During breaks from the "SNL" schedule, Redd hits the road with his stand-up act, which plays Chicago's Park West on Jan. 19. In a recent interview, he talked about his comedic influences, onstage style and "SNL" experience.
Q: You were promoted from featured player to repertory cast member for "SNL" this season. How does your comfort level compare with when you first joined the cast?
A: I was nervous about everything when I first got there. You could lose the job in a minute, people don't come back after a year. There are all these things you read, and you know that nothing's guaranteed. Then you find more trust in yourself, you get better as a comic, you get better as a writer, you just get better at the show, so you're able to be more confident. I'm not as nervous walking in the door anymore.
Q: How do you approach impressions, such as your wide-eyed take on Booker?
A: I am not an impressionist. I find the small stuff that I can imitate and then have fun with whatever the situation is at the time. Cory Booker was somebody who just speaks kind of plain, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. But he's not a character in a wild way, like a Bernie Sanders. So I had to watch him for a while and just noticed his eyes, how he would get to these gazes. I was like, "Oh, that's fun -- I want to mess with that." I get as accurate as I can, but if you get into your head too much about the accuracy of it, you don't have fun with it. That's really what is most important, to me at least.
Q: You won an Emmy for co-writing the "SNL" song "Come Back, Barack" during your first season. What did that honor mean to you, as someone who once pursued a career in music?
A: Winning an Emmy was the best-worst thing that could happen to a first-year person on "SNL." It was this validation, like, "I didn't waste my time in music." But then it's also like, "That's where the bar is? ... I need time to still learn the job and fail a little bit." It's a big thing to take on right away, but I'm really proud of it.
Q: How did it feel to share the stage with Murphy and be a part of his "SNL" return?
A: That was my favorite week of my life. I mean, Eddie is the reason I know what "SNL" is, and Eddie is the reason I do comedy. We have to pitch ideas to the host on Mondays, and Eddie is one of the best people to ever do sketch comedy, so we all sit in a room and we all have to pitch the king. Doing that, it's like reading Scripture to Jesus. Even though it was a great time and he was very cool about it, it was still an intimidating thing.
Q: You often cite Richard Pryor as another key comedic influence. What is it about his style that you appreciate?
A: The vulnerability of being able to go through something and talk about it. I also love the character work. He was doing real character work while doing stand-up in this cool way. He's not sacrificing punchlines for narrative, but he's also taking his time with the characters. I was like, "I want to do that."
Q: How would you describe your approach to stand-up?
A: I stole everything from Richard! I just tell narratives, with characters in it, about my life. I also improvise jokes in there, and I weave it all together. So it's a little bit of an interactive situation, because it just depends on where my head is. I may run some impressions, too, just to practice while I'm off (from "SNL").
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Chris Redd & Friends Charity Edition
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19; doors open at 7
Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, parkwestchicago.com
What: Comedy show with all proceeds benefiting Chicago HOPES for Kids, which provides resources to children in homeless shelters. For ages 18 and older.
Tickets: $30 to $100