BYT Interviews: Chris Fleming (2017)
Megan | May 3, 2017 | 11:00AM |

If you’ve ever perused the weird corners of YouTube, you may be familiar with the likes of Gayle Waters-Waters, a suburban alpha mom with a bit of ‘roid rage, or Gigi the Christmas Snake, a holiday reptilian burnout. Both of these characters sprang from the brain of Chris Fleming, a New England-born comedian who now calls the West Coast home; in addition to manning a YouTube channel with 100K subscribers, he’s appeared on the Doctors and Tosh.0, has been written up in numerous publications, and is basically the funniest of all time. I caught up with him over the phone a few weeks back to talk about his live show (Showpig), taking up skateboarding and wearing pork pie hats, how some of his best ideas have been fueled by sugar highs and MORE! Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, and be sure to check out his latest video parodying the PR disaster that is/was Fyre Fest:

So what’re you up to today?

Oh god, it’s pretty humiliating. I’ve taken up skateboarding embarrassingly late in life; I think it’s me trying to get back in touch with my body or something. It’s like my burlesque, you know? Not in the sense that it’s a very dangerous activity, but you know, if you don’t go to the gym every once in a while, you start forgetting where your thighs are and everything. I’ve also gotten really into making horrible music lately, and I’m making this really Lilith Fair type song where the only women who are ever into me are about to become full-time lesbians, but they’re willing to give it one last shot with me. It’s like, before you get to Vegas, there’s a mini casino you can stop off to give it one last try before you really commit, you know what I mean? It’s called “Back in the Subaru”, how before they go back to the Subaru full-time, they’re willing to give it one last shot with me. I’m still mucking around with the lyrics, but it has a really Tracy Chapman kind of sound to it that I’m really happy with. So that’s what I’ve been up to this morning.

Maybe the song will be finished by this year’s Dinah Shore, and you can premiere it there. [Laughs]

Yeah, hopefully! That’s the goal. I want to have it done by the White House Correspondents’ Dinner so I can perform it at the TV while that’s on.

Well good luck! By the way, I was looking at your Instagram before this…

You were on my Instagram?!

Yeah! But the top three Chris Flemings that come up are kind of very interestingly different humans. One’s a self-described “tattooed personal trainer” with a private account, then there’s one that’s a spiritual consultant and medium, also private account…

Yeah, my dad’s been following that guy on Twitter for the past six years thinking it’s me, but it’s a paranormal activity guy. So my dad calls me in a panic thinking I’m taunting spirits. There’s also a Chris Fleming that’s an assistant basketball coach in Alaska or something…I mean, it’s a pretty common name, unfortunately.

Well at least yours comes up first! I mean, that’s how you know you’ve made it, right?

When I was in high school, I felt like I should have been a Gus or something.

I feel you. My parents named me Megan, but they named my sister Quinn. How is it fair that I get the common name and she gets the obscure one?

Do you at least have an “H” in there?

No, normal spelling through and through. 

Honestly, I prefer it that way. I think the “H” is just…it’s too much sea salt on the fudge, you know?

Totally. Now, how did you come up the name for Gayle? Did she ever have any other names in the running?

Yeah, I think I toyed with Sue. Her best friend’s name is Bonnie, and my mom plays Bonnie, but one of our close family friends is named Bonnie, so my mom refused at first and said, “I will not do this unless you change the name.” Eventually she folded. I did have to be careful because I didn’t want to use “Carol” or something, who was a woman in my town who it was very based on. I’m not quite sure how I arrived at Gayle, but it seemed tonally appropriate. And I don’t think there were any women that I knew growing up named Gayle, so it seemed like no one could be too mad at me for it. I mean, I knew people were going to be mad at me for making it in my town, and they are, but at least they know it’s not exactly their names.

Do you think Gayle would get on well on the West Coast? Or do you think she’s specifically engineered for the Northeast? 

You know, I’ve been surprised to see that that exists in the West Coast, that archetype, but I think there’s something unique to New England in terms of the isolation and the culture kind of freezing in 2004. Like, for some reason, nothing past 2004 has made its way into New England yet. So I think in that sense the Puritanism and cultural wasteland is what makes her very specific to the Northeast. Over here on the West Coast there’s the whole Lululemon thing, but that doesn’t really tap into the dementia or the psychosis.

Right. So what’s the experiential difference for you in terms of doing videos as opposed to the live show? 

Well, Showpig is definitely a warmer experience than just filming with myself; it’s nice to get that immediate reaction, and there’s nothing like performing in front of a live crowd. But both have positive aspects to them, like with videos you have more time, you don’t lose control of yourself…in live performances I do try to get lost in what I’m doing, and also to vibe with the crowd, whereas you have more time to curate exactly what you’re trying to get across with videos. I love improvising with the crowd, though, and the fans are really nice for the most part. Philadelphia got a bit bizarre; people were giving me bras and stuff for the first time, and they wanted to throw them on stage, but they were polite, so they waited until afterwards to kind of hand them to me like some kind of perverted claw machine. But it’s been really fun. What I do now is I workshop things in the live shows, and then I make videos of the things I think go over the best or that I feel most strongly about. And then the cycle continues.

A lot of your material is totally relatable, but then there’s some stuff which is just so totally off the wall…I mean, what’s it like being inside your brain?

Well, just for example, for the past eighteen hours I’ve been on one of the biggest most unforgivable sugar benders you could imagine. Vegan donuts is how I finished yesterday, and I started off the day with the most decadent Cinnabon which was smothered in icing. I mean, I don’t know, I think it’s mainly about how much sugar I have. It’s as simple as that.

I’ll have to try that. [Laughs]

Yeah, just go on the hummingbird diet! You’ll start seeing stuff, you know? You’ll see the golden hyena.

So was sugar the driving factor for Gigi the Christmas Snake? My friends and I are obsessed with that one.

[Laughs] Gigi! Yeah, yeah. Well, a couple of years ago in 2014, I woke up on Christmas morning, and I used to work at a health club. I was the secretary at this health club, and this woman, Marcia, gave me this bizarre, wacky salamander, and for some reason it was the first thing I saw on Christmas morning when I was home, and I went into my sister’s room and just couldn’t stop singing “Gigi the Christmas Snake! Comes in your garage with a cake!” And I remember I was singing it at our Christmas get-together with family, and even one of my aunts who couldn’t find me less amusing wanted to know about Gigi. And one of my uncles passed me at the table to get more lamb or some shit, and I heard him humming the tune, so I was like, “Oh, that’s a good sign.” It took me two years to make, but yeah!

What are the kinds of comments you get on your videos? Do you read them?

Well, what’s great about Gigi is that a lot of people adopted that custom for their holiday, so a lot of people are leaving their friends tennis balls and photos of Egg Lopez. So seeing photos and videos of that was gratifying. But in terms of comments, my favorite one has got to be when every once in a while a really nice-looking older woman named like, Dolores, will leave a comment being like, “This is the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen in my life!” about me, just like, the most ruthless…but her profile picture is the most Betty Crocker children’s librarian, and for some reason she really comes out swinging. I was advised by a fellow YouTuber not to read the comments, though, or you’ll just turn into Jack Nicholson at the Overlook Hotel.

Totally. And so what are you working on at the moment?

Well, there are a bunch of video components with the live show, like a big puppet thing that I made about the polyamorous community, a modern dance piece about my dad accidentally telling my soccer coach that he loved him over the phone when I was young…so there’s a lot of video slash live kind of hybrids that I’m waiting to tour before releasing. In the interim, I’m very bad at multitasking, so I’ll do one thing at a time, but hopefully that song I told you about will turn into some sort of music video at some point. Other than that, I’m just drinking guava juice by the pool. I’m trying to live it up a little bit. I also got into hats for some reason. I sold out a show, and being from Massachusetts, my family is always terrified about me not filling the seats and disgracing them. So I filled this theater in Boston, and I don’t know if it’s that or turning thirty or what, but I’m wearing these pork pie hats around town now. I never thought that I’d have the courage to pull that kind of Bob Fosse move, but that’s basically what I’m doing right now. I’m wearing hats and drinking guava juice.

If you’re on the West Coast, catch Chris at the following shows:

JUN 6 Chris Fleming in LA
Tue 8:30 PM · Largo at the Coronet · Los Angeles, CA

JUN 3 Chris Fleming in San Francisco
Sat 7:30pm · Victoria Theatre · San Francisco, CA

MAY 16 Chris Fleming in Portland, OR
Tue 8 PM · Aladdin Theater · Portland, OR

MAY 17 Chris Fleming in Seattle
Wed 8 PM · Neptune Theatre · Seattle, WA

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