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Comedian Chris Redd

Former SNL cast-member Chris Redd recently debuted his first hour-long comedy special on HBO Max.

Charles Sykes/Invision

Chris Redd on life after SNL and picking himself back up after that ‘sucker punch’

Former Saturday Night Live star Chris Redd is used to taking whatever life throws at him and somehow finding the strands of humor.

The Naperville-raised comic was about to debut, in November, his first-ever hour long comedy special on HBO Max, titled “Why Am I Like This?,” where he shares his experiences in therapy and how it has helped make sense of his “I can’t make this stuff up” life.

Then stuff happened. He was punched in the face with brass knuckles and robbed outside of a New York City comedy club just weeks before the special was to air.

The assault broke Redd’s nose in three places and left him with a scar that he says is a reminder to “keep my head on the swivel” and not let fame allow him to let down his guard. It also forced him to cancel the rest of his fall standup dates.

WBEZ recently interviewed the comedian about a transformational year that saw his departure from SNL and the launch of his first HBO special; the process of healing emotionally and physically from assault; and what he plans to say when he returns to stand-up.

“I don’t think everything [in life] is a joke … but I feel like it’d be wack as hell if I didn’t address this on stage. I’m going to take the time I need to heal, but after that I gotta take it to the stage,” Redd says. Some questions and responses were edited and condensed for clarity.

In your special you talk a lot about the impact of therapy on your life. How has therapy impacted your healing since being attacked?

Therapy, and wisdom that comes with age, has helped me have a better response to the things that happen to me. It’s helped me curb how I really want to respond to situations. Overall I handle adversity in a more mature way, which for me looks like stopping, taking time to reflect and focus on the positive still happening in my life so I can heal.

My first immediate response, besides fighting back, was to hop on stage with the stitches on my face like a warrior and tell all these jokes. But therapy has taught me to take time for myself and give myself space to heal and not feel bad about it. I’m usually a workaholic but it becomes negative when it takes over your life. I can make the jokes later.

How are you feeling after the debut of your first HBO Special?

I feel great. It’s a way to introduce myself comedically to the world. This hour-long special was really important to set the tone for everything I do and how I do it going forward. I was really glad about how it came out and the response has been dope so far … besides the fact that I got my a– whooped not long after the special debuted.

As the “funny man” is there a pressure to always talk about difficult subjects through a comedic lens?

Honestly that’s how I cope anyway. I had a hundred jokes lined up the day after the incident (for which no arrests have been made) — hell, I was making jokes while bleeding.

But again there’s this other side of it where I know I need to take time to really process my trauma before making a joke out of it. It’s one thing for me to be on stage cracking jokes about myself, but I know if I were to get on stage right now and make a joke about being punched and an audience member made a comment I’d be emotional and defensive about it.

I know I’m healed and ready to make a real joke of it when I can just have a witty response and not an emotionally charged one.

How has the dichotomy of fame been for you? You’ve been on SNL and have an HBO special — yet real-life still happens.

I was broke until I was 30. I can relate more to struggling than I can to being good [with fame and money]. The struggle came with a bit of imposter syndrome, too, so I was always very guarded. If this [attack] had happened a year or two ago I would’ve seen it coming because I was so on-guard. This actually brought me back down to earth a little bit.

Emotions can be high, especially around the holidays. How are you feeling as it gets closer to the holiday season?

Christmas? Let’s go! I’m Santa Claus … well … I would dress up as him for the kids! I have a huge family and it’s the best time. Spending time with family is how I’ve been working my way back outside and eventually back to the stage. I’ve been taking a break from work so I’ve been able to see some family I rarely get to see, talking smack, and hanging out. Plus I’m the only famous one so I’m that cousin everyone knows.

Funny enough, this is the most time I’ve ever gotten to just go and be with family. I’ve got people in Mississippi that I rarely get to see and I took some time to be with them, and I’ll be in Chicago soon to see my people there. Being able to spend time with them has helped me put this whole thing in perspective too. Like, my face is messed up yes but I’m getting to connect with family I haven’t seen in a long while. A reminder to find balance outside of work and hopefully it doesn’t have to come from healing from a fight.

Your family moved from Chicago to St. Louis. How often do you make it back here?

I come back to Chicago about 10 times a year. Sometimes I do shows at clubs but a lot of times it’s lowkey [not for work]. I make my rounds trying to see as many people as I can. I like to go to comedy shows on the South and West sides. I go visit my family in the ‘burbs.

Chicago has so much character. Chicagoans style, how we dress, how we carry ourselves definitely stands out against N.Y.C or L.A. I’ve lived in all three cities, and I think the Midwest is a beautiful and fertile training ground for great talent. I’m really proud to be from here.

Chris Redd poses with SNL cast mates at the 2018 Emmy Awards

Redd (far left) poses with his SNL cast mates Will Stephen, Eli Brueggemann, and Kenan Thompson at the 2018 Emmy Awards

You’re taking time to rest and connect with family, but how badly do you miss being on stage?

There are elements of SNL I miss for sure man because it’s a unique job — there’s nothing like it. It’s tough and competitive and being at the forefront of the conversations of pop culture-wise was an amazing opportunity, and I’m grateful for that.

I’m about my creative freedom though. After everything that’s happened I’m focused on building my comedic legacy. I’ll be back on the road officially in January doing a new tour and next summer as well.

What can people look forward to from you coming in 2023?

I have a few special projects in the works, and one I’m really excited about is an action comedy called Cyber Monday that I’m going to start filming soon. I’m filming a sequel to Scare Me, a comedy horror I previously did.

I’m also excited to build my lane in making comedy music and explore the freedom in that.

This standup special I just did was me figuring out “Why am I like this?” On this next tour I’m going to be asking “Why are we like this?” Best believe I’m going to be using the experience of being sucker-punched to ask why we [as a people] are the way we are. That topic was already planned before the world hit me in my face, but now I just have more stuff to talk about.

Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across social media @OnYourCallender.

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