Almost 30 years ago, “Seinfeld” aired an episode called “The Pilot” where Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza visit NBC to create a pilot about their own lives, only to have the project fall apart like a house of cards. When comedian Chris Distefano pitched his pilot, “Distefano,” he was hoping to emulate the real-life Seinfeld, only to end up like his onscreen persona. “I thought my career was over, but I realized the pilot not going through was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Distefano says. “All of the shows they picked up that year got canceled after their first season and there’s a good chance my pilot would have too. I would have given up the rights to my life story for nothing.”
Distefano adapted after the failure of that pilot, as well as the eight others he shot for CBS that weren’t greenlit. He faced more rejection than most people experience in a lifetime, but instead of turning away from comedy, he focused on the parts of his career he could control. “It motivated me to start my YouTube channel, promote my Instagram and do TV when it was right,” he says. “At the time, it was painful but in hindsight, it was a blessing. I was known as Chrissy Pilots and my first show that’s been picked up is the one I’m going to do this summer—now I’m Chrissy Pickups.”
Nearly four years have passed since losing the pilot, and now Distefano is busier than he’s ever been. He’s set to start shooting his new show for tru, which has him hosting a series of backyard bar-building competitions. On top of that, he’s also juggling two podcasts—“Hey Babe” with fellow comedian Sal Vulcano and his solo show, “Chrissy Chaos.” “With both of my podcasts, I just want you to forget about what’s going on in the world for an hour,” he says. “It’s about being funny first and my podcasts are something I’ll never let slip. Part of the reason I’m doing the TV show is to go out to L.A. to get content for my podcast and my YouTube channel—I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket.”
Distefano is booked solid with a television show, two podcasts, a YouTube channel, an upcoming comedy tour and likely a few other projects we’re not privy to. However, at the end of the day his biggest job is being a dad. Distefano has a young daughter and another on the way, the former never failing to keep him grounded in spite of his many successes.
“I did a special for Comedy Central before quarantine called ‘Chris Distefano: Size 38 Waist,’” he says. “My daughter was 4 at the time and she would watch her favorite shows for maybe a minute before going to play with her toys. When we put my special on for her, she literally sat quietly for the full hour. After it finished, she stood up and said, ‘Not funny,’ before going to comb her Barbie’s hair. I love this kid.”
Having a family has pushed Distefano to work harder than ever to make it in comedy, but it’s a career that’s worth hustling for. Initially, Distefano went down a very different route in life and fell in love with stand-up while working toward his doctorate in physical therapy. “In my head, I knew I didn’t want to be a physical therapist. I always wanted to do stand-up,” he says. “I became a pediatric physical therapist, working with mentally and physically handicapped kids, and then I started doing open mics at a place called Maui Taco. I was burning the candle at both ends—working with the kids from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then doing open mics for whatever show I could get on until 2 a.m.”
Distefano kept up his double life for three years until he got his first major gig performing on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” This was the turning point that made him realize he needed to put both feet into comedy and see what could happen. “My family was so mad at me, nobody supported me,” he says. “When I was thinking about leaving, I had a session with a 6-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. We were tossing a ball back and forth when I told him I was thinking about leaving physical therapy to do stand-up comedy. He was the first person to tell me that was great, everyone else was telling me how stupid I was.
“He said, ‘Well, isn’t it your dream?’” he continues. “I said that it was and he said, ‘Why are you even still here?’ This 6-year-old child in a wheelchair had the maturity of a 40-year-old and once he co-signed it, I said, ‘Alright, I’m leaving.’”
Even with nine failed pilots on his resume, Distefano never looked back. It just goes to show that when life knocks you down, you stand up and press on to the next punchline.