BY SEAN HECK Don’t let Brooklyn-born actor and comedian Chris Distefano’s macho-man persona fool you. He is a whip-smart observational comic whose fluid storytelling style makes the audience feel like one of his buddies from back home. Chris got his first big break as a regular cast member on MTV’s Guy Code and Girl Code. He continued to flourish in starring on the IFC series Benders, and co-hosted Netflix’s Ultimate Beastmaster. Chris’s weekly web series, Stupid Questions with Chris Distefano, can be viewed for free on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel. He co-hosts the popular weekly history podcast History Hyenas alongside fellow comic Yannis Pappas, which is available on iTunes and Riotcast. His first hour-long special, Chris Distefano: Size 38 Waist, premiered on Comedy Central last month, and is currently available on demand. In advance of his upcoming February 21st-23rd appearances at Punch Line Philly, we caught up with Chris Distefano and chatted about some things. DISCUSSED: Bitch hips, political correctness, the Kevin Hart controversy, George Clooney’s hotness, Hollywood, Chris’s dad, podcasting, and fatherhood.
PHAWKER: Let’s start with the obvious question: why is your new comedy special called Size 38 Waist?
CHRIS DISTEFANO: First of all, I wanted to name it Chrissy Bitch Hips, but they wouldn’t let me name it that so, instead, I picked Size 38 Waist. I feel like I’ve always had, like, big hips. I feel like some of my friends are always trying to name their specials something cool or really edgy or something that makes you think. I was like, “Fuck that. I’m not gonna do any of that. I’m just gonna name it what my pants size is today.” And that day my pants size was 38.
PHAWKER: So you make a few jokes about your Puerto Rican girlfriend. In our current age, in which people are hypersensitive to anything remotely politically incorrect, it seems like a difficult minefield to navigate. How do you thread the needle of getting laughs without making half of Puerto Rico mad at you?
CHRIS DISTEFANO: The number one thing is that what I am saying is true. I really do have a Puerto Rican girlfriend. I really do have a Puerto RIcan daughter. So all of those things are true. It’s like…if someone was gonna be outraged at me, it would most likely be a white person. Probably either a white guy with glasses or a white woman with part of her head shaved—a person that’s extremely angry and wants to be heard because nobody really cares about them…and they’re insecure, so they just want to get outraged on another group’s behalf. The truth is I will never apologize, because I know more about Puerto Rican culture than some Puerto Rican people do because I’m immersed in it. The stuff I say about my daughter and my girlfriend is true. Like, I embellish it for comedic effect, but it’s all true. Whatever comedy you write, if it’s coming from a place of truth then, yeah, let people bitch and moan and cry and want to be heard and all of that stuff. Just don’t say anything. You don’t give people like that energy, and you just keep moving forward. Only apologize if you have actually committed a crime—then you should apologize. But other than that, let those people tire themselves out eventually, and they’ll move on to the next thing to be outraged by. They’ll only have you in their focus for a minute, and then they’ll be outraged by something else.
PHAWKER: Did you hear about the Tom Segura controversy with the “R” word, and how people rallied against him for allegedly attacking special needs people, taking his jokes out of context? It seems like another example of what you touched upon—how political correctness and defense of people’s feelings can go too far.
CHRIS DISTEFANO: Absolutely. And yeah, it definitely goes too far. There’s a new thing that I just saw in the paper today that there’s this woman now in Australia saying that we need to be asking babies for consent to change their diapers. Social media is just giving people with mental illness a complete forum to just talk and be heard. That’s someone with a mental illness who just has an idea and says “I’m gonna tweet this,” and now it’s on the news. You can’t listen to people like that—they are mentally ill! Could you imagine asking a three-month-old baby for consent to change their diaper? This lady is dead serious on the news! I give them no energy. I look at them like “This is someone who is not mentally all there, and that’s okay.” So you just let them say stupid shit and it’s like…it doesn’t matter what they say. They’ll be heard. It’s ridiculous! But what are ya gonna do?
PHAWKER: I agree with you there. And the problem is, these people take real issues, hijack them, and make them ridiculous.
CHRIS DISTEFANO: Absolutely they do. Any time anyone is a huge advocate and really goes above and beyond to be outraged and offended I’m like “Dude, I know you are hiding something. I don’t know what it is, but I know you are a fucking little shit psycho behind closed doors.” Because a guy who’s not hiding anything is like “Yeah, I’m outraged by things, but I keep it to myself.” I wanna make a difference, but I’m not gonna take a stand on every issue…because I’m not hiding anything. I’m not one of these guys trying to use this overblown energy to make a big deal when, in reality, I have kids tied up in my basement like some of these people do.
PHAWKER: Speaking of jokes coming back to bite you in the ass, what are your thoughts on the Kevin Hart Oscar controversy and the James Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy firing?
CHRIS DISTEFANO: I don’t know too much about the James Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy firing, but with the Kevin Hart one…I think that if you have to go back ten years to find any evidence of homophobic tweets then, clearly, the man has changed. At that point, you were just looking for revenge. I think the people that wanted to get Kevin Hart fired from the Oscars are, again, more bored, vengeful, and insecure people. These are the same people that tell you, “Actions speak louder than words.” But in this case, they are looking for words that are speaking louder than actions. If they stayed true to their initial point they would say that, in ten years, Kevin Hart’s actions have changed. He hasn’t tweeted anything like that. He’s embraced the community. But these people will bend the rules to fit their agenda, because it’s a lot of weak-minded people that will cry and be outraged. There are a lot of people out there who are in the business of being outraged. If you fixed the world’s problems, they would be out of a career. So their job is to keep the outrage at a place where it can be written about so they have careers. Nobody would have had any clicks on their articles if they said “Kevin Hart hasn’t tweeted anything homophobic in ten years. Good for him.” Instead, they have to make this whole big deal. And good on Kevin Hart for not hosting it. I wouldn’t want to host that piece of shit either. I wouldn’t want to be around those Hollywood weirdos who pat themselves on the back and think that everything they do is great. It’s like…shut up and read the lines. George Clooney, just take your shirt off and let me just watch on repeat when my dad goes to sleep. I don’t wanna hear about your opinions on the environment.
PHAWKER: *laughs* “when my dad goes to sleep”?
CHRIS DISTEFANO: Yeah. I can’t watch that shit in front of my dad. But when he goes to bed I’m like “Ooh! George Clooney getting me all hot and bothered!”
PHAWKER: And it seems all-too-coincidental that this whole controversy exploded into existence immediately after Kevin Hart accepted the position.
CHRIS DISTEFANO: Yes. Exactly. It’s all planned! And good for Kevin Hart for not apologizing any more and stepping out of it. Don’t give these people any fuel. They want you to apologize and be scared of them because nobody has ever cared about them for their whole lives. They only get cared about when somebody says “I’m sorry.” They feed off that so, like, fuck them.
PHAWKER: What is this story about your father during Hurricane Sandy?
CHRIS DISTEFANO: During Hurricane Sandy, my dad took in a Mexican family that had their house demolished during the hurricane. His house wasn’t damaged, so he took the family in and let them live with him while they got their lives together. He took them in for a week. And the family will always remember my dad. My dad basically saved them from being homeless for a week. But my dad is kind of an old school guy. So like, he called the father in the family “Jose” but his name was “Juan”. He said “Don’t steal my silverware” to the kids. Ya know? But it’s all joking. At the end of the day, he’s saying those things and making fun of them, but he really helped them. If you just randomly put a mic in the house you would be like “Oh my God! This guy is a piece of shit! He’s so insensitive!” That’s what some outraged white blogger would probably say. But the actual family was like “No, your dad saved our lives for a week. He’s like our hero.” We live in a world right now where everyone is just waiting to pounce on someone for making a mistake. I just think too many people get caught up in being fearful of those people. Don’t worry about them. Just keep living your life and doing what you’re doing. Don’t commit any crimes, and always treat everyone with respect and dignity, and treat everyone the same. And if you make a mistake, you make a mistake. Who cares, ya know? It shouldn’t cost you your life. It shouldn’t cost you your career.
PHAWKER: Yeah, that’s been the strange reality when it comes to certain types of people dealing with celebrities who have made them feel angry or offended. It seems that there’s not a desire for redemption, and no one wants these celebrities to do better. They just want to smear their careers as much as they can.
CHRIS DISTEFANO: Yeah. Exactly. I think when you start to go around and make these public apologies it just makes it worse. Don’t say anything unless you did something wrong. If it’s just a smear campaign, you have nothing to be sorry about. Some people say that comedy is oversaturated in 2019. They ask “How do you get fans?” But the positive part of that is that I only care about my fans. Every single year I used to think “I wanna get a TV show,” or “I wanna get a sitcom,” or “I wanna be the lead in a movie.” But all that has changed for me now. Like, I would take those things if they came, but the only thing I really care about is getting my fans of my comedy out to my shows and out to support me and what I do. The fans will never leave you. Joe Rogan can do whatever he wants because he’s got his fans. Hollywood can’t destroy Joe Rogan, because he’s built up by his fans. That’s what the power of 2019 is. It’s like, I have a platform now with my podcast and my comedy specials to speak to people. If they’re truly my fans they’ll stick by me. It used to be that you had to do whatever, like, CBS told you to do. The only way you could reach fans was through their platform. But I don’t need that at all anymore. It’s great to have. I’m not shunning it. I love to be a part of that. But my goal is my own work, my own podcast, and my own specials that I can release through my own medium, because the thing that’s gonna give me longevity is my fans.
PHAWKER: Circling back to what you said about podcasting…It seems that, where I used to see comics making their big breaks on late night talk shows, I now tend to see them gaining traction by appearing on the podcasts of other, more established comedians.
CHRIS DISTEFANO: Yeah, and look…Would I do a set on James Corden or The Tonight Show? Absolutely. But if they were to make me do a vanilla, buttoned up version of my comedy and not allow me to do my jokes, I’m not gonna do it. For example, one late night booker said that I could do my comedy on there, but I couldn’t imitate my Puerto Rican daughter. I could talk about her, but I wasn’t allowed to do her accent. And it’s like, you know what? Fuck you. I’m not gonna do your show. Because if I go on Bert Kreischer’s or Theo Von’s podcast, I’m able to be myself. I got something like 15,000 or 20,000 new Instagram followers from that. That’s significant because I’ve hopefully converted people into my fans, and they are hopefully gonna come out to my comedy shows. Social media doesn’t matter and it’s not about the numbers, but it is about having real fans following my account now, and I got them from being myself on a podcast. I would not have gotten them from doing some vanilla, corny, business card version of my comedy on a late night show. Podcasting is the best way to really get to know if you really like a comedian or not, because he/she will be the most honest version of themselves. I’m all about podcasting to showcase a comedian. I think it’s a way better way than to have to be all PC on some talk show.
PHAWKER: How do you balance the upbringing of your 3-year-old daughter with the travel demands of stand up comedy?
CHRIS DISTEFANO: The hardest part of my job now has become having to go on the road and be away from my daughter. The hardest part of my job used to be coming up with new jokes and getting up for a flight. Now, I hate leaving my daughter. So, I have to really think about my decisions when it comes to gigs and stuff. Like, is it worth or is it not worth it? Because if it’s not, I would rather stay home with my daughter. She’s only three, she’s in school every day. So usually, when I do my comedy, she’s about to go to sleep anyway. So, I see her so much. I think I see her more than some dads who work a 9-5, because I’m always there during the day when she’s awake. We play and hang out every day, and she’s a great source of material, unintentionally. The things she does are so funny. She’s 100% funnier than me, and I think if she wants to do stand up, I’ll be supportive. I think she’s naturally just very, very funny.