History, asbestos and genitalia

Christian Finnegan at Funny Bone

By Benjamin Smith

Photo: Comedian Christian Finnegan will perform at the Dayton Funny Bone May 23-26

If you are either (A) a pop culture enthusiast or (B) a blob that slumps on the couch all day eating Doritos and watching television while your self-respect shrivels up like an old man’s salami, then you have probably seen Christian Finnegan. Not only was the New York-based comedian one of the first panelists for VH1’s “Best Week Ever” series, but he has also appeared on “Chappelle’s Show,” “Comedy Central Presents” and, uh, “Countdown with Keith Olberman.” This May, Finnegan – who currently stars in TBS’s “Are We There Yet?” – will bring his particular brand of refined wit to the Dayton Funny Bone.

Last month you recorded two performances in Boston for a new DVD. How did the shows go? 

I’d been working on most of the material for three years, so I knew it well enough that I could mess around a bit. I’m really proud of the material on my 2009 DVD (“Au Contraire”), but I think I was a bit too concerned with “hitting my marks,” so there’s a slightly robotic quality to the performance. This time around, I treated the tapings as if they were random road gigs and that made all the difference. It’s like when a driving instructor talks about not gripping the steering wheel quite so hard. -Christian Finnegan

The working title of the new DVD is “Double Shift At The Asbestos Factory.” Are you a Guided By Voices fan? 

Saying that “Double Shift at the Asbestos Factory” sounds like a GBV song is the highest compliment you could give. So, thanks! In truth, it’s just a phrase from the performance I’m particularly fond of. There’s been a bit of disagreement as to whether this is, in fact, a good title for a comedy DVD, so a change is possible. But bringing up GBV might inspire me to dig in my heels. -CF

Is Boston a tough crowd, or – as a former Massachusettsan – do you get off a little easy?

Well, I was taping at the beautiful Wilbur Theatre, which attracts a well-behaved audience. It’s not like I was throwing down at a hockey rink in Southie. But being a local boy does have its disadvantages – like glimpsing your elderly aunt’s face in the crowd immediately before launching into a lengthy description of female genitalia. Should make for interesting conversation at Thanksgiving. -CF

A Dayton comedy audience can bring maximum weirdness. How do you handle hecklers, or people in the audience who are clearly insane/from another dimension?

The most problematic hecklers are the “nice” ones – people who simply let their enthusiasm – and liquor – get the better of them. I don’t like to humiliate someone who genuinely means no harm. At the same time, there are a lot of people at a show who’ve paid to listen to the “professional.” So, sometimes the self-esteem of one must be crushed for the good of the many. -CF

The Funny Bone has a monthly open mic night. As a professional, how inspiring or awkward is it to watch green comedians perform for the first time?

I always feel bittersweet when I see a young comic have a great set. I can’t overstate how intoxicating it is to “kill” onstage. So, when I see a young person do it for the first time, I’m genuinely jealous that I can’t go back in time and re-experience those feelings. At the same time, I wince at the disappointment the comic is going to feel when he or she learns that one great set does not, at the end of the day, amount to much. You’re never as good as your best night or as bad as your worst. It’s about batting average and endurance. -CF

Your first big televised splash occurred on “Chappelle’s Show” in 2003, when you portrayed the victimized white roommate in the “Mad Real World” sketch. How did that sketch affect your career?

It’s hard to overstate how much that one sketch has meant. I’ve been lucky enough to work on lots of great projects with lots of really talented people, and I have some fun stuff coming up. But if my obituary refers to me as “the white guy from ‘Chappelle’s Show,’” I think I’d be okay with that. – CF

True story: a couple of years ago I ran into Dave Chappelle at a local bar. We somehow started talking about the History Channel, and Dave said that he had recently watched a show on the History Channel about Adolph Hitler’s attempt to make a time machine. Does this sound legit or was Dave just messing with a history nerd?

Dave is an avowed conspiracy theorist, so I’d wager he was being serious. Not correct, necessarily. But serious, sure. -CF

Speaking of the History Channel: you regularly appear on its “I Love the 1880’s” series. Of all the decades, why, in fact, do you love the 1880’s?

Oh you know, carbon filament, halftone printing – the usual stuff. Also, fewer bloggers. -CF

Dayton was a hotbed of innovation in the 1880’s. Does this mean that you love the Gem City, too?

I’m impressed! You were able to decipher my secret message. You’re like western Ohio’s version of that “Da Vinci Code” guy. -CF

Christian Finnegan performs Thursday, May 23 through Sunday, May 26 at the Dayton Funny Bone, 88 Plum St., Suite 200, The Greene. For ticket prices and show times, call 937.429.5233 or visit the Dayton Funny Bone online at funnybonecentral.com. For more information about Christian Finnegan, visit christianfinnegan.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at BenjaminSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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