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Talking With Christopher Titus

By admin Published: June 9, 2011

Titus, whom you may remember from his Fox series "Titus," his comedy specials or his role on the short-lived "Big Shots," is bringing his latest monologue, "Neverlution" to Hilarities in Cleveland on Friday and Saturday.

With him comes controversy because of a recent comment he made about Sarah Palin -- one he now admits was a bad joke. I've written a short story about that for Friday's Beacon Journal. After the jump I have posted a much-expanded version of that story, with far more material than the print version, including Titus talking about other projects, his writing life and his adventures in series television. Take a look.

Here goes:

When comedian Christopher Titus appears at Hilarities for two shows in Cleveland Friday and two more on Saturday, a Sarah Palin controversy will come along.

In the wake of Palin's recent mangling of American history when talking about Paul Revere, Titus said on a podcast that if Palin was elected president he would be ''hang out on the grassy knoll ... loaded and ready'' -- a reference to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Like some of Palin's own firearms-related rhetoric, Titus's remark lit up the blogosphere, including in a Fox News blog post headlined ''Sick! Comedian Jokes About Killing Palin.'' That post generated hundreds of comments, and Titus said he got hate mail on Twitter.

He apologized for what he called a ''bad joke'' on Facebook -- to both the Kennedys and Palin -- although he maintained his disdain for Palin; his remark ''was based on the fact that America has set the bar so low with what we accept as a possible leader.'' At the same time, in admitting the bad joke, he said in a recent telephone interview that he was taking responsibility for his action -- something he wishes more people, including politicians would do.

"Nobody's taking responsibility in this country," he said. "John Edwards gets out there, and instead of saying 'I'm a horrible guy, I did it, it was a mistake, and let me take my sentence,' he has already started to fill in this gap of 'I didn't do anything illegal. And if I did do something illegal, I didn't know it was illegal."

(Titus asked what I thought; I said I there is a special circle in hell for Edwards, especially because of what he did to his wife. "Yeah, I agree," Titus said. "Satan is definitely fluffing the pillows for Edwards.")

Scandal-plagued congressman Anthony Weiner was another no-responsibility guy at first. "I guess he was a decent legislator, and a decent politician," Titus said. "But not decent enough to just come out and go, 'Guys I did this. ... It's my personal stuff and that's all it is.' Instead, by lying about it, he turns it into an integrity issue. And now ... I hope to God he's out of there.

"When are we going to find some people who actually have integrity? ... There seems to be a 'scumbaggeriness' in this last group [of politicians]
. ... Everyone talks about doing something for the country, but when have you seen somebody [do it]?"

He said that the Palin controversy represents how ''we find the smallest thing to bitch about and no one looks at the big problems'.' That's the theme of his Hilarities show, Neverlution, which in shorter form will be a Comedy Central special on July 3.

"My whole point in Neverlution is, it's up to us. If we had like 300 meetings across the country one day, where the people that are Democrats in a neighborhood and the people that are Republicans in a neighborhood got together and just had a barbecue. And just realized that we're all the same ... and started to work on our own communities. You know what would happen? Our government would freak out, for one."

''We've lost our way, I think,'' said Titus, who also starred in the Fox comedy Titus a decade ago. ''We keep waiting for a wizard to fix it. You know, the Democrats and Republicans -- they're not going to fix it. That's just Coke and Pepsi -- same crap, different can.''

And things like Twitter and Facebook add to the problem because people are not in the same room talking to each other.

"We are a nation of punks right now," he said. "It's faceless anger. I don't know how they feel -- powerful or what -- but it's the worst thing we've ever done. If civility is gone, it's because there's no face-to-face anymore. When was the last time you actually talked to somebody in public?" Titus is on Facebook and Twitter but "the difference is I have to go out live and talk to everybody. These people who are threatening me on Twitter aren't doing that. They're just punks."

Titus said his show ''is not left or right. I walk this razor's edge. I go after Obama. You know, Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and he gave an acceptance speech on why we need to stay at war.'' Titus laughed. ''It's just absurd to me. ...

''Here's the thing: If you're so far left you actually believe that somebody owes you a job, citizenship and a heart transplant, you're mentally ill. If you're so far right that you actually believe that somebody who doesn't have a job and is not a citizen deserves to have their heart cut out and sold on eBay, and you get to keep 80 percent of the profit ` you're mentally ill.

''I find that Americans are all in the middle somewhere, except for the extreme nuts, and extreme nuts on both sides are the loudest. And that's why it feels like we are polarized.''

The Hilarities show will be a longer version of the Comedy Central special; Titus says the special runs about 42 minutes without commercials, while the stage version is almost an hour longer. He expects to perform something closer to the long version in Cleveland. The show has also changed since the Comedy Central telecast was shot, as Titus keeps refining it on the road.

"I go out last week and holy crap, man, like I found like four other jokes that were better," he said. "I turned to my girlfriend and go, 'Dammit, why couldn't we wait another three months to film this?' " The only reason it was recorded so soon, he said, was so Comedy Central could air in on Fourth of July Weekend.

But he is also looking at another stage show for 2012, "my election campaign. I'm going to a 90-minute, intentionally funny campaign speech, as opposed to everyone else, who seems to be very unintentionally funny."

He has also written "Special Unit," a movie he calls " 'The Shield' with handicapped people," which he hopes to get made.

"That one's my favorite thing," he said. "It seems so harsh and so edgy, but I have a lot of friends who are disabled and they don't get a shot, actors and comics, because they're disabled. So I wrote them a show, where I play this horrible cop that basically gets stuck with these four people who, because of the fairness and disabilities act, they have to turn them into cops. ... They step up every time and at one point as a team they're better than I am as a cop. It's harshly funny, but I try to write from a point of view."

He has some other writing projects, too. "I never stop," he said. "People get mad about show business because they stop, they give up, they think they can rest on their laurels. I don't believe I have any laurels to rest on. .. Don't you always want to put your best out? I subscribe to the James Brown school of performing. When I walk off that stage, I'd better have left everything I have on it."

I asked if he wanted to get back into weekly series TV, where he did "Titus" and "Big Shots."

"The only thing about weekly series TV that is weird is you're working with all these creative people that are phenomental ... that are trying to make it right. And then some executive -- and I don't hate the executives because there are some really good ones, Doug Herzog, Bob Greenblatt ... Then there are some other people, usually mid-level people, who have law degrees, [but] who have never written a show or written a script or performed live or made an audience laugh -- and they'll come in and give you a note that you're just shocked. ...

"I think this happens in every industry, that management people who don't know what they're doing come in and tell you to fix something that you know is not going to work. And that's where I have my problem. hat was my problem with 'Titus.' I got into an argument with the network president [apparently Gail Berman -- Rich] over something she wanted to change that was basically a tenet of the show. I said I wouldn't do it, and the next thing I know we're not even getting promo'ed. If you tell your boss he's stupid long enough, he will fire you, it turns out."

As for "Big Shots," the 2007-08 ABC drama with Titus, Joshua Malina and Michael Vartan, Titus said, "The writers strike killed it. It was just coming up in the ratings, and the writers strike hit."

But how was it for Titus, being a hired actor on "Big Shots" versus having a hand in everything on "Titus," which was based on his life?

"They both have their ups and downs," he said. An admitted control freak, he said, "I did too much on 'Titus.' I would show up at 9 o'clock, I would write. We'd do run-throughs on Monday and Tuesday for the network and studio. Wednesday we'd film. And at night, I would go up in the writers room and stay 'til midnight. By the end of three years, dude, I was a vampire. I was just like I had had maybe four or five hours of sleep a night for three years. ... I think the next time, if I'm blessed enough to get it again, I would actually get some other people -- and trust them to handle what needed to be handled. ...

" 'Big Shots' was incredibly frustrating because I would get stuff from writers and being a writer myself, I know my voice really well and knew how to make it funnier. I had to go in and 'Can I fix this?' It was just offensive to them. ... And I was like, 'I can't make this funny. I'm not saying it's not funny, I just can't make it funny. Can I try something else?' And it took about four episodes and they started letting me do it, because what I was brought was funny."

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