In Hollywood, many entertainers juggle careers in different disciplines simultaneously. But, if you were to ask any of these stars which career they prefer, most would have a clear answer. Chris D’Elia is a prime example. D’Elia may be known for his acting roles in shows such as “Whitney,” “Undateable,” “The Good Doctor” and “You,” but his heart lies with stand-up. “For a while, people were asking me what I would rather do and I thought saying I was a stand-up comedian who acts was a way to shut down that question,” D’Elia explains. “I love both of them, but in stand-up I’m in control and as an actor you wait for jobs and are a little more at the mercy of the job. As a comedian, I can go up on stage every night if I want to.”
D’Elia first gained mainstream acclaim for his role in NBC’s “Whitney,” but it took a little longer for audiences to recognize him as a stand-up headliner. In 2013, word of D’Elia’s comedy chops began spreading online, largely thanks to his bit “What Drunk Girls Are Really Like,” which first aired on Comedy Central in his first special, “White Man. Black Comic.” “That was about eight years ago, with my first special, and it went viral,” D’Elia says. “Somebody would put it on YouTube, it would get a million hits, and then Comedy Central would take it down. Back in those days Comedy Central didn’t realize the benefit of the internet. I would be like, ‘Why are they taking it down? It’s making people watch the special.’ This kept happening and then about two years ago, Comedy Central put it up and I think it has 6 million hits.”
D’Elia’s success came at the cusp of a major turning point in comedy. Back in D’Elia’s early days, most comedy was shared on MySpace. But when Instagram came along, it suddenly became an extension of his act and allowed millions of people to stumble upon his comedy—and more clicks means that more people are bound to show up for a show. “Back then, there were only a few theater acts, but now with Netflix, social media and the internet, there was a second comedy boom,” D’Elia explains. “Now there are so many more big touring theater acts and I’m really thankful for that.”
Not only does the second comedy boom mean more shows, it also encouraged networks to pick up relatively unknown comedians for television specials. D’Elia’s first special, “White Man. Black Comic,” was filmed six years after he began stand-up, when he was straddling the line between newcomer and headlining comic. “I remember doing it at the Laugh Factory for 15 minutes and then I would run over to the Comedy Store for another 15 and after I’d do another 15 at The Improv,” D’Elia says. “I’d already done a half-hour special for [Comedy Central] and I thought I’d just throw all of these 15-minute chunks together. When I did it, I shot it in Louisiana and hadn’t toured it that much. That was the only time I’d worked it that way because I didn’t have the luxury of doing my hour on tour as a younger comedian.”
“White Male. Black Comic” was the mainstream’s official introduction to D’Elia as a stand-up comic and the notoriety allowed him to begin performing in theaters around the country. It was then when he began showcasing his new material, which would eventually be televised in his second special, “Incorrigible,” which came out on Netflix in 2015. “I started doing the ‘Incorrigible’ set on tour, which was an hour and 20 minutes.” D’Elia shares. “It was exhausting, but I loved doing it because it was the first time I felt like a real headliner.”
With two specials under his belt, D’Elia decided it was time to show audiences some growth as he created his third special. “‘Man on Fire’ was a little different. If ‘White Male. Black Comic’ and ‘Incorrigible’ were me as a kid, ‘Man on Fire’ felt like a more grown-up version of me as a stand-up comedian,” D’Elia explains. “With ‘Man on Fire,’ I thought, ‘What do I really want to talk about?’” While “Man on Fire '' stayed true to D’Elia’s—in his words—silly brand of comedy, it was a noticeable departure from his typical schtick. He began diving deeper into his points of view and touching on topics that many in today’s world find polarizing.
Now, D’Elia has a brand-new special under his belt, which will be released in the coming months. Based on some of the comments he’s already received on his “Follow the Leader” tour, expect this special to ruffle some feathers.
“The last tour I was doing, ‘Follow the Leader,’ it would be well-received and people would be laughing, then every so often someone from some town would tweet, ‘You shouldn’t have done that,” D’Elia shares. “But that only makes more people want to see you, so I don’t really concern myself with that. I try to keep moving forward and doing what I think is funny.”
And what is it that has audiences up in arms? Well, according to D’Elia, this special gets personal. “In my act, I talk about how stand-up has kind of messed me up because I do so many shows and as a comedian I get way better,” D’Elia says. “But as a person, I start suffering because I feel like that’s who I am. I’ve bombed before in my career and I’ve developed thick skin to where you have to check yourself and remember you’re a real person.”
In between shows, D’Elia uses his time to show his fans another side of himself, and while he may have started it on a whim, his podcast “Congratulations with Chris D’Elia” has become a huge success and allowed his listeners to learn more about the stand-up star. “[The podcast] is me talking for an hour or so—you’re going to learn who I am by default,” D’Elia says. “People sometimes come up to me after shows and say, ‘It’s so weird, I feel like a stalker, but I feel like I know you.’ And they do kind of know me.”
In April 2018, D’Elia did an imitation of Eminem and picked fun at the rapper’s middle-aged fans. This led D'Elia to begin imitating Eminem for videos that he filmed in his car and garage, which he posted online. Not only did Eminem see the videos and love them, it inspired him to cast D’Elia in Logic’s music video “Homicide,” with the comic playing Eminem and the rapper playing D’Elia. “As a comedian, the goal is to do a special, be on tour, do shows and put butts in seats,” D’Elia says. “But the stuff where you’re just sitting in your driveway and post a silly video on Vine, then you talk about it on your podcast and Eminem sees it and wants to put you in his video—that to me is never the goal. If I had told the 22-year-old version of me that, it would have been insane.”
Aside from his work as a stand-up comedian, podcast host and actor, one of the biggest parts of D’Elia’s life is family. In his upcoming special, D’Elia goes into detail about his upbringing, which he neglected to include in his earlier specials. “I started thinking about the world where people think all comedians had awful upbringings, but I’m not that way,” D’Elia shares. “I come from a good family and I used to feel insecure about that because I thought I had nothing to talk about as a comedian. I don’t really have the pain that people think comedy comes from, which to me, is kind of a bogus idea.” Throughout his career, D’Elia has worked closely with his family, in particular his father, who directed his first three specials, and his brother, who directed the fourth. “They’re my best friends, so that’s who I want to work with,” D’Elia says. “I want to keep it in the family, it’s fun for me and it’s better this way. They know me, they know my sense of humor better than anyone. It was just a no-brainer.”
In December 2019, D’Elia announced that he was expecting his first child and is already looking forward to creating his own set of dad jokes. “I’m really excited. I think it will be a great thing for me and my family,” D’Elia says. “It will be the next chapter of my life, and it’s also going to be awesome for my material. I can’t wait to start talking about it.” D’Elia will not only include plenty of dad material in his comedy, but it’s a safe bet that baby D’Elia will have a hand in directing one of his father’s future comedy specials. After all, he’ll have a front row (booster) seat to new material, and if he doesn’t like a joke, this is the one time spitting up on the comic is tolerated.