I am not a wrestling fan, nor can I claim that I’m a devotee of thrash metal. I’ve never hung out with Howard Stern, Larry King, Lars Ulrich or Paul Stanley. But Chris Jericho has. The man is also a year younger than me, and is probably in better shape than I’ll hope to be in as well.
Moreover, the guy has done stuff that I’d kill to have under my belt: he’s got his own podcast that sees an audience of over 200K downloads, authored books, plays in his own band FOZZY, and has even hosted a game show. So, when you also think about the guy’s wrestling titles: “WWE Undisputed Champion” and the first ever “Double Grand Slam” champion, I’m thinking that the interview I’m about to have with him might prove to be an intimidating one.
To add to this intimidation, Jericho has his own comedy show in its second season, titled But I’m Chris Jericho! that streams on the CBC TV app and cbc.ca/watch tonight. That’s what we’re going to talk about. The premise for Jericho’s show sees him as a co-star on a low-budget science-fiction show. It’s a self-deprecating comedy about Jericho and shoves all these accomplishments to the side in order to poke fun at himself.
I asked Chris how it all came about:
“The idea for the show came about when I left wrestling about twelve years ago to study acting,” he told me. “I just wanted to learn the craft. I’d go for these auditions for parts with one line in them in like, CSI Sheboygan or something, with about fifteen or twenty people who look just like me. I’d be like, ‘But I’m Chris Jericho! I have a fan base! Is this what it’s about? So, I thought, what if I did have to start from the bottom? If everything that I’d done meant nothing, then that would be a kind of a funny show!”
It took about eight years for the show to see fruition. Season One came out and did really well, according to Chris. It was received at Cannes Film Festival, won awards in New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and then it was over. Then, a year later, CBC offered to buy the rights to the show and do a second season, which is where Chris is now.
“When you have a good idea. You gotta stick with it. But here we are now, surrounded by all these top shows. We have top level performers like Colin Mochrie and we uphold the fine tradition of having a “Kids in the Hall” performer in the show: Scott Thompson in the first season and Kevin McDonald in the second.”
I asked Chris if it was a natural choice for a geek-ridden sci-fi show to be the base for this comedy.
“The first season was all about Chris just trying to get into acting. They’re bite-sized episodes and they all work separately. Season Two is an arc. What would the arc entail? Chris getting a role. But he gets one on one of these really bad sci-fi shows that we’ve all seen before. Even worse though, he doesn’t get top billing – he’s like four or five on the call sheet, but he thinks he’s the star! Our budget would allow us to make a really shady, shitty-looking sci-fi show! If it looked top-notch, it wouldn’t work! It fit within the universe of what we were trying to do.”
Talking to Chris about Chris seemed weird to me. So, I asked Chris if it seemed weird to him to be discussing himself in the third-person sense.
“It’s not!” He emphatically told me. “Because I’ve come to this realization about Chris Jericho in wrestling or Chris Jericho in FOZZY, that the best characters are your own personality turned up to like 20. Jerry Seinfeld plays Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld. There are elements of the real Seinfeld in the role, but they’re exaggerated. So Chris Jericho is the star of the show, and in the universe of the show, but that guy isn’t the guy talking to you now! And it’s fun to play that guy! He’s a little more pompous and he has what they call ‘Lead Singer’s Disease’. He has a little bit of entitlement, arrogance and attitude. I get to play this guy that people don’t like. He always winds up screwing himself and that’s funny. It’s a lot of fun to take the piss out of yourself.”
Maybe, but self-deprecating comedy takes its toll. So I had to ask Chris if he felt like his ego took a bit of a beating on the show.
“Never,” he affirmed. “Being in wrestling – being in show business, I learned a long time ago that there’s nothing that won’t work. I like this sort of thing. What more uncomfortable situations can I get into? Growing up in Winnipeg, we had a lot of the BBC influence: Fawlty Towers, Monty Python – you know, that awkward style of comedy? I grew up on the greatest character of all time – Basil Fawlty – and I use a lot of that comedy: uncomfortable pauses, sticking your foot in your mouth and you know it! What if people call you on it? That’s the sort of thing that happens to Chris Jericho all the time!”
Speaking of awkward and uncomfortable, it was time for me to assert the geek in me and ask if Chris Jericho had any geeky interests of his own?
“Geeks shall inherit the earth. The biggest, most passionate and most annoying fans that will drive you crazy – as they’re spending millions of dollars on their loves – are KISS fans, Star Wars fans, and wrestling fans. I’m a fan of all three, much less wrestling than KISS and Star Wars. I’m a Rock and Roll nerd. I can tell you who’s the second guitarist in the first IRON MAIDEN album and that sort of thing. So, to me, that’s my nerdy side: my love of music and talking on hours on end about stuff that nobody should know!”
Hanging out with William Shatner is one of my life’s ambitions. Chris has done that, and apparently my earnest desire was pretty obvious to Chris during our interview.
“Yeah, you mention him a lot,” he agreed.
LOL. Well, I’m a Kirk… it’s bound to happen. But I asked Chris if he ever channeled any of these guys during the show.
“Yeah … a little bit. I mean, there’s a bit of the Seinfeld exasperation. But I always go back to John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. Ricky Gervais is completely based on Basil Fawlty. I’m not English but I love the awkward, stick-your-foot-in-your-mouth type of thing, and no one’s helping you out! I love that, and that’s what the show is about.”
Chris went on.
“I think my favourite thing about Shatner is he’s a great guest – because he’s very curious. On my podcast, he will come up with questions that are way better than anything I will ever come up with. You don’t have to go in there with any kind of script with a guy like him. The last time I interviewed him I had to go to his office in L.A. I’m setting my stuff up and he’s listening to like, zoo music. It was from this kid’s show and I’m thinking, I don’t want to interrupt him but is he like losing his mind? I mean, he sees I’m in the room. Finally, he’s ready to talk and he says, ‘Hello, Chris, how are you?’ and I had to ask him what he was doing. He says, ‘I’m doing a children’s show and I need to listen to the music to see if it fits into the show.’ So, that’s the fucking brilliance of William Shatner. He’s taking time, auditioning kids’ music by himself to see if it fits the show. That just really impressed me about him; he’s paying attention to every single little detail to make sure it all works, and that’s something I learned from him. The 30-second preview clip we’re showing to reviewers, I’m approving all of that stuff because it has to be something I believe in. You should be in charge of those things, because when you get to a certain point in your career, it all reflects back to you. That’s the lesson I learned from him.”
At this point, I realize I’ve lost the intimidation I felt at the beginning of the interview. Chris Jericho has slowly turned into something of a veritable renaissance man before my eyes. My time was coming to a close, so I had to ask him what he wanted to leave the audience with when they watch this show.
“I want them to be pleasantly surprised.” He tells me. “I think that people who have seen the first season know what they’re going to get, but I think that people who don’t have a clue what Chris Jericho is doing in a comedy are going to see that this guy, and this show, is pretty funny. Though the show is named after me, this is an ensemble cast. We have so many talented people involved in this show, which allows me to lay back and let them be the stars. I can be the buffoon and let them carry the show.”
The show is funny. After seeing the first few episodes, I can tell you, the escapades and situations Chris gets into are more than just awkward – they are painful. Yeah, he’s Chris Jericho. But so what, right? After seeing what this guy has done, there’s no way that his ego could ever suffer, despite the trouble his character lands in.
Yeah … the intimidation is gone. I’m now jealous. Now I want to see this guy get into trouble. So, you know what? Bring on But I’m Chris Jericho! I think it’ll be a thoroughly healthy thing to see such a widely accomplished dude make fun of himself!
However… I’m now also a fan; a jealous one, but still a fan.
BUT I’M CHRIS JERICHO streams Thursday, December 7 on cbc.ca/watch and the CBC TV app.