JFL42 interview: Chris Fleming

CHRIS FLEMING at the Royal Cinema (608 College), Monday and Tuesday (September 24 and 25), 9 pm. $30, passes $55-$299..


CHRIS FLEMING at the Royal Cinema (608 College), Monday and Tuesday (September 24 and 25), 9 pm. $30, passes $55-$299. jfl42.com.

I had plenty of questions thoughtful, carefully considered questions lined up for Chris Fleming ahead of his first-ever Toronto appearance for JFL42. Then we burned the first chunk of my 15-minute interview slot talking about Kenny Loggins.

He has that masculine dance anger, where your rage just manifests itself into a pirouette, the comedian says on the phone from L.A. Thats the angriest I ever get, you know the Patrick Swayze.

I mention to Fleming that Im taking notes on our conversation.

So wait, this isnt that New Yorker style of interview where youre like Chris coughs twice and then stares out onto the horizon?

Nope, I just hadnt downloaded a new tape recorder app since my last phone got stolen on vacation.

[The thief] was probably, like, that hermit who descends every couple years from the woods for supplies, he says.

I tell him I found the thiefs house with Find Your Phone, and his assessment wasnt all that far off.

Ah, so your phone was re-homed, Fleming says. Thats what everyone in L.A. does with other peoples dogs.

I should have expected this chat to be anything but linear.

Flemings offbeat comedy, which cuts a wide swath from stand-up and scripted web comedy to music and sketch, has a tendency to veer in all directions, chasing obtuse riffs and crash landing into bizarrely perfect observations.

Take one of his biggest YouTube hits, a synth jam about sketchy polyamorous couples, in which he describes your average poly dude as a guy who would neg you at a breakfast buffet while trying and failing to casually shove his hand in his pocket: His hands like a Romanian woman trying to seek sanctuary in an 18th-century French church / You know a guy got into Radiohead too young if even his pocket rejects him.

The gangly, poodle-haired Massachusetts native capitalizes in a big way on his outsider appeal, exploring his social anxiety and bafflement at masculine gender roles in shorts like Am I A Man? (in which he manages to answer pretty much every question but that one) or his fist-pumping rock anthem Im Afraid To Talk To Men, in which he self-identifies as a fruity turkey vulture.

In the seven years since Fleming launched his online comedy career, hes built up a devoted fan base largely made up of fellow weirdos.

Im finding myself to be quite popular among women who own lizards, Fleming says. Or, like, not long ago I was talking to a woman at the bar, and at the end of the night she says, I wanna show you my bassoon. That wasnt a euphemism. So she climbs into a window, shushing me like Be quiet, and after a while she brings it out.

Im like, Are you gonna play it like a camp bugle? No, its too late. So I was probably just the accessory to a woodwind theft. But I think thats what my fans are like.

Many of those fans came to Fleming via his 40-episode web show, Gayle, which stars Fleming as an ultra-wound, perpetually power-walking suburban housewife. The show, which Fleming shot with a cast and crew of friends and family in his hometown of Stow, Mass., has been on hiatus for the past couple of years, despite fans protestations. His loved ones were getting burned out, and Fleming felt ready to move away from YouTube.

Since signing with an agent at last years JFL in Montreal, hes released his first one-hour stand-up special, Showpig, and secured parts in the upcoming Netflix movie The Last Laugh (I play a comedian who opens for Richard Dreyfuss, bombing on stage, dying a horrible death) and the second season of Comedy Centrals show Corporate.

Its helped to get me outside of just uploading my own things online, he says. But its bizarre when we were doing Gayle, I was holding the tripod, Melissa (Strype, Flemings partner, who directed the series) would be holding something else, we were juggling everything, dripping with sweat and now to see these film sets, its a huge difference. Theres something to be said for DIY, even though it never looks or sounds as good. Having 80 or 100 people staring you down in a crew can be fun, but then how much room is there for certain types of boundless creativity?

There are highs and lows to each, he says. Im trying to find a balance of all that, too.

With one more question left, I go for broke and ask: How can we cop those sweet Chris Fleming dance moves?

You gotta stay loose in the hips, he says, and a margarita truly helps a lot.

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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