- Courtesy Of Evan Michael Woods
- Chris Laker
Some people might say that they're better for the bullying they endured in their youth. Comedian Chris Laker is not one of them. His new show, "Bully," hinges on unpacking childhood experiences with being pushed around. He performs twice on Saturday, June 18, at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington. After several more North American dates, he takes the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
Laker, 49, has been doing comedy for almost 20 years. He briefly worked as an accountant in his early days of pursuing standup — but he was fired. The experience didn't even garner him much material for his act, because he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement after getting canned.
When he's not telling jokes, the Staten Island native hosts two podcasts. One, "Overslept," is a stream of consciousness he records most days just after waking up. (Be sure to check out the episodes from March 11 to 16 in 2020 as Laker reacts to lockdown in real time.) The other, which debuted this March, is an unvarnished, meandering tête-à-tête with pop music producer and Bleachers front person Jack Antonoff, called "A Very Long Conversation."
Seven Days caught up with Laker by phone.
SEVEN DAYS: Your new show is called "Bully." Can you break it down a bit?
CHRIS LAKER: My standup has always been really about me and my life experience. I can only speak for myself, but I keep hearing this thing about how bullies are needed, or bullies are good. I don't know. I got punched in the face a lot. I feel like I had this perspective like that was good for me or something. And then I realized, No, I don't think it helped me at all. So it's kind of me figuring my way through that. It's my experience with being bullied and times that I've been a bully as a kid, and what that feels like later.
SD: What were the bullies like on Staten Island when you were a kid?
CL: I wasn't that big of a kid, but I was a little chubby or whatever. I was just kind of a target, for whatever reason. There were kids that got it worse than me. Then I kind of became friends with some people who were, like, bullies, and then sometimes your friends beat you up. It was kind of normal. It was just a lot of fighting.
Looking back, I know these kids were messed up. They had it rough. I don't know where that leaves them today. It's probably all over the map as far as who moved past that and who's stuck in it or who doesn't even think about it, you know?
SD: Does your show try to offer solutions to bullying?
CL: How do you stop kids from bullying? I don't know how to do that. I wish I did.
SD: So you're taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. What are some special or unique things about the fest?
CL: I did it in 2018. The audiences are really cool, even though my audiences were tiny. I heard there were, like, 4,000 shows, which is way too many. I heard this somewhere, I didn't read it, so I don't know if it's true, but the average size of an audience at a show at Fringe is six people — which I found to be high. I did a lot of shows for two people. I did a show for one person. I give them the opportunity to leave. Even if they leave the room, I'm going to do the show no matter what.
SD: Your partner, Jacqueline Novak, is also a comedian. What are some pros and cons of having the same job as your partner?
CL: There are no cons, really. It's the best. She really understands. We can talk about our stuff all day. She gets everything. She's going be there with me in Edinburgh. She's going to direct the show. There's never been a feeling of competition or anything like that, on either side.
SD: Do you find that you influence each other's writing styles or creative processes?
CL: We're very different that way. Her brain is very different than mine; the way she talks is different. And I think that helps. I think it would get weird if we were crossing over too much. She's smarter than me — like, for real. I'm not trying to be folksy. She sees things that I don't see. She looks at things differently. Every once in a while I can be of help to her, but she's extremely helpful to me when I talk these things through. But we always go with our instincts and do our own thing.
SD: Tell me about the origin of your podcast with Jack Antonoff.
CL: Well, Jack is Jacqueline's cousin. I've known him since I've known her. And Jacqueline had the idea for a podcast. She edits them. The first time we sat down was in March of 2020, a couple of weeks before lockdown. It's just kind of a loose, casual thing. It's not very regimented. I wanted to just talk to him about being an artist to see if I can get any insight out of that process to use any of it in what I do. I love his perspective on all that stuff.
SD: One thing that came up on an episode was this concept of "generational nationalism." What is that, exactly?
CL: It's people getting attached to what happened to them. I think that's why people talk about bullies in a nostalgic way, instead of just moving along and being like, "Oh, no, that was messed up; let's keep moving." It's kind of just being tied to something. Like, because I was born this year, that's the best time ... I feel like I try to be in the now. I don't try to be tied up in what was, you know?
SD: Here are two more questions that I often ask people I interview. One: What's something you could never live without?
CL: I guess I'll say music. Is that an acceptable answer?
SD: Yes, but it wouldn't have been back when I was music editor of this paper and was mostly talking to musicians. Have you seen any good shows lately?
CL: I saw Jack White the other night. Pretty amazing. I don't know what else to say. Our cat died a few weeks ago. I'm in a pet-less house, and with Fringe coming up, we can't go to the pound. We have to wait until after. So, I guess I'd say a cat, but I am living without one now.
SD: Last question: What is your least favorite holiday?
CL: I guess I'll say April Fools' Day. I'm not a big prank guy.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.