Rich Heldenfels


Years ago, I went to see Eddie Murphy doing his standup act and was more than a little shocked to find people had brought their children. Apparently those families were expecting the lovable Murphy of Saturday Night Live. Instead, they found a comedian who rightly called some performances raw.



Chris D’Elia faces a somewhat similar situation as he continues a run at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park tonight through Saturday.



Some people may know him from Undateable, the NBC comedy in which he plays Danny Burton, the smoothly operating master of the sexual universe who offers guidance to his far less artful friend Justin Kearney (Brent Morin). The show has an edge but is still within the confines of broadcast TV. As is evident in clips of his act on YouTube, D’Elia onstage speaks much more frankly, in terms of topic and language.



Asked if the TV character is in the heads of people who come to his stand-up, D’Elia said, “I don’t really think about that, to be perfectly honest. You just go out and do what it is that you’re going to do. If you start thinking about, ‘oh, what do they want and what do they expect,’ you’re going to mess yourself up.”



Speaking by phone from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport shortly after arriving Thursday, he said: “I don’t think that’s what true stand-up comedy should be about. It should come from you first. And if you put any kind of filter on it, you run the risk of it being less funny and less true.”



D’Elia, after all, has wanted to be a comedian since he was young, growing up first in New Jersey and then, at 12, moving to Los Angeles. (Asked if he remembered the first joke he told onstage, he said he did not remember — but it probably was not good. “You have to go through the bad ones to get to the good ones,” he said.) Even Undateable — which airs Thursday nights on NBC — is a reflection of D’Elia the stand-up comic.



‘‘They had the script already,” he said of the show. “But when they asked me to do it, they came to see me a lot and kind of tailored the part for me.”



That stand-up persona “all comes from real-life stuff. It’s all pretty me. When you get onstage, I try to make things truthful … It’s somewhat of a heightened version of myself.”



Danny, then, is an even more heightened version. “I don’t believe all the things that the character says,” D’Elia said.



Besides, being on Undateable is part of a longer path D’Elia has taken, from stand-up comedy through TV specials and appearing on Whitney Cummings’ sitcom Whitney.



In the new show, he said, “It’s kind of more my style of comedy. I’m the lead. And there are lot of other guys (on the show) that are friends of mine, who are comics as well. I’ve known the cast for a long time. The other guy, who’s my co-star (Morin), I’ve known for seven or eight years. This seemed like the next logical step for me …



“It all feeds off each other, the stand-up and the acting, and then it gets more people to know who I am who doesn’t necessarily know.”



Even those who do know him can expect some new material at the Rocksino.



“I’m working on a whole new hour,” he said. “My last special came out in December, and … I’m going to shoot [a new special] by the end of the year. So if people come out, basically you’ll see a version of what I’m going to shoot for my next hour before it comes out. …



“It’s still the same style and everything,” he said. “But I tell different stories. I talk about new relationships I’ve been through, whether it’s been with girls or friends or whatever. I talk about sports, I talk about sex.”



There may not be a mention of his last trip to Northeast Ohio. “I was in Cleveland once, maybe five years ago, opening for a comedian. That was in January, and you’d be hard-pressed to get me back here in January, there was so much snow.”



The Rocksino’s comedy club opened in March, so some fans may not be familiar with it yet. Still, D’Elia has a fan base; he even told Conan O’Brien about having Justin Bieber at one of his shows.



“Your audience will find you, no matter where you are,” he said. “If you can just find what’s funny to you, and you’re relatable, then they’ll laugh.”



Shows are at 8 and 10 tonight and Saturday. Tickets are $22.50-$27.50 at www.ticketmaster.com.



Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.