Christopher Titus has been forced to scrap it and start all over.
No, he’s not talking about his career as a prolific and successful stand-up comic. He’s talking about something new — namely, his first time as writer, actor and director for the independent film “Special Unit,” a cop comedy with a twist, in which Titus’ character heads a select group of fellow officers with various disabilities. Before the film is released in October, Titus is editing and realizing that the film’s comical score is about to hit the cutting room floor.
“In a movie, music makes such a huge difference,” Titus said, admittedly learning on the job. “We kind of had to take it all apart again and just rebuild it so it’s good.”
While making movies might be a new venture for the 52-year-old California native, the idea of having to start over creatively is not only nothing new, it helped him find his comedic voice.
Titus will be the first to tell you that during his time as a working stand-up comic, he has only been good for roughly two-thirds of his career. He may have been making people laugh, but his jokes weren’t coming from an authentic place.
“At the beginning, I tried to be Robin Williams, I tried to be Dana Carvey, but I was never trying to be Christopher Titus,” he said. “I call it growing a tumor on my soul. I’d get on stage and literally be hating every word that came out of my mouth.”
My manager said, ‘You need to start being honest on stage.’ I told him, ‘They’re not going to like me how I really am.’
His material changed, thanks to two pivotal moments. One was witnessing comedienne/actress Lily Tomlin workshop her legendary one-woman show, “The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” a show whose structure and commitment to a theme and through line would serve as a model for Titus’ future stand-up material. The other was a blunt manager who thought Titus should talk about his unique and often traumatic family struggles, whether it be his mom’s mental illness and suicide or his dad’s alcoholism, with an attitude and edge that was more fitting to Titus himself.
“My manager said, ‘You need to start being honest on stage,’” Titus recalled. “I told him, ‘They’re not going to like me how I really am.’ And he said, ‘If you can’t be yourself, I don’t want to work with you anymore.’”
When Titus changed his tone, his career changed its trajectory. Titus turned his personal material on his parents into the critically acclaimed stand-up special and one-man show, “Norman Rockwell is Bleeding,” which would serve as the source material when Titus landed his own eponymous sitcom on Fox from 2000 to 2002 and later as a televised special on Showtime in 2004. “Norman Rockwell is Bleeding” is one of seven stand-up specials Titus wrote and performed in 12 years. Each one was held together by a different theme, whether it was “The 5th Annual End of the World Tour” about becoming a new father around 9/11, “Love is Evol” about his divorce from his first wife, or “Born with a Defect” about the ups and downs of fatherhood.
While much of Titus’ comedy has been personal and introspective, his latest work, “Amerigedon,” which he will bring to Lexington’s Comedy Off Broadway for a one-night performance on Sunday, takes aim at our current commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, while also being his way to “bitch slap the country” out of the divisive political climate it’s currently in.
Between Titus’ touring, working on his first film and writing fresh material for his weekly “Titus Podcast,” he has been keeping busy with a work ethic he inherited from his dad, a comedic approach that’s entirely his own, and a standard for everything he does that’s developed along the way.
“I kind of woke up to the fact that you can’t just do it to do it,” he said. “You have to refine it so it’s great.”