When I first started regularly attending comedy mics over a year ago, Chris Milner was someone I remembered because of the way he commanded the stage.
When I was interviewing him, I asked him where that confidence came from and his sly, charismatic response was, “It’s all an act. Comedy’s all an act.” From there, we talked about how he got on the scene, his show Specific Ignorance and some of his upcoming projects.
Borderstan: How did you get started?
Chris Milner: Origin story, bare-bones origin story. I didn’t start comedy until I moved to the U.S. Got into it in 2011 and because for no other reason than I was drunk and felt like I could do it, which is super arrogant to think. But the more you do it, the more you realize that comedy is just a combination of arrogance and insecurity, because all you’re doing is saying, I think I’m the most important person for the next five minutes, so you should all listen to me, but at the same time you’re like, I need you to validate me with your laughter, otherwise, this is for nothing.
I just got into it, the scene wasn’t really as good as it is now, then, and over the last definitely three years, it’s exploded thanks to people like Sean [Joyce] running shows. And so it was nice, I got into it at a good time in D.C., ’cause there was this camaraderie. There are still a couple of people that were there when I started, now. It’s nice to be a part of something and at this point now, it’s nice to be the OG, one of the older people in the scene, because you remember when you start, you watch people on stage and think, I’m never going to be that good; I’m never going to be that confident; I’m never going to be that funny.
And then time passes and… there’s no way of noticing of how quickly time can pass in this scene because every night and every day and every week, it’s kind of like groundhog day. You’re going out and you’re seeing the same people, the same shows, listen to the same jokes and before you know it, summer turns to fall, fall turns to winter and another year has passed and there’s more people coming in and you’re looking at it like you’re still learning, but all of the new people that have come in since you started look at you to teach them and it’s really strange to go from apprentice to teacher without really realizing it.
Because time moves so fast that you didn’t feel you learned enough to become the teacher?
You feel like no time’s passed at all, but every time you go on stage you’re learning and every time you see someone do well, you’re learning and every time you bomb or see someone bomb, you’re learning and so, you soak up experience without realizing it and then before you know it, you’re doing good shows, you’re with good comedians, you’re being asked forward to do stuff and then out of nowhere, you’re like, oh, wait a minute. All of a sudden, I’ve gone from being on the bottom rung of this ladder to being further up and I didn’t even realize it was happening. That was that.
Yeah, it seems that just by sticking around you get to that point.
Yeah, exactly. I love it when my peers leave. Like, I came up with some very good comedians like Jamel Johnson and David Tveite and when they left to go to LA and New York, everyone was like, oh, are you really sad they left? I’m like, not really, I immediately became better just because they’re not here anymore. I leveled up.
If you stay in it long enough, you’ll eventually end up being the best because all of the better people will leave. I don’t think they can say that about New York or LA. The standard in general in D.C. now is fantastic. It’s really, really good.
I agree and I think that in just the year or two that I’ve been going to shows here, it’s changed drastically.
It has, and everyone’s popping up with new and innovative shows. I have a show that I think you might know about.
Oh yeah, thank you for touching on that because I wanted to ask you about that.
I always will. I’ll always bring it up in every interview that I have.
I was ‘specifically ignorant’ in forgetting about it.
Well, you just won it all back by perfectly referencing the show [Specific Ignorance].
So how did that get started?
That started in May 2015, but I was thinking about doing it since the winter before that with Jamel, ’cause Jamel and I are very good friends and he was saying, ‘Do you want to put a show on at the Bier Baron? You know, come up with an idea, I’ve got an in there. We could do a show. So, I was like, yeah, of course, I want to try and do that.
I was thinking up concepts. He used to host trivia and I love general knowledge and stuff like that and I love British panel shows. That was something that I grew up on, where no one really wins, but it’s all just about the banter. I really wanted to combine those two things and I came up with this idea and I explained it to him and my other friend Matty and Matty just said to me, that show already exists, it’s called Beat the Geeks and it was very popular for like seven years. I just accidentally thought of a show that already happened, so then I had to change it enough so that it wasn’t the same, and that’s when I thought, oh, let’s use the audience.
As soon as you bring the audience in and make it a more interactive thing, so they’re more present, more engaged and more invested in the show, it’s more fun for everyone. And then, you think about the fact that comedians in general love riffing off the mic, but it’s so rare for them to have the opportunity to do that in front of a crowd, ’cause it’s usually just comedians together in the back of a room or sitting around, smoking weed and talking shit, but this actually gives them opportunity to flex those muscles, which they have and they like to use, but they never get to do it on stage.
So, for them, it’s fun because they don’t need to do their material, they don’t need to do anything that they’ve done or practiced, they can just see what happens and in general, it’s always hilarious. The audience enjoys it because they feel like they control the narrative. All the questions they ask are basically improv prompts for the comedians to riff.
And then, we give them free alcohol, which everyone loves.
What shows do you have coming up?
I’ve got some really fun ones coming up for the end of the year. I’m going with Kasha Patel, combining our two shows – she has a comedy science show – and she reached out about combining them and using her show as a platform to do it with her and scientist comedians, so in November, we’re going to do that and in December. You know Church Night?
I’ve heard of it.
Gotta look into it. So, Church Night, amazing, amazing, amazing satirical church group that performs services at the Black Cat, huge following, very, very funny. They did a web series called Church Night TV that has been nominated in loads of web series festivals around the country – Landon Letzkus, Lindsay Deming. Hilarious.
They’re coming on [Specific Ignorance] in December in character. We’re going to cross-promote. In my show, I give out shots and on their show they give out ‘shots and tots,’ so we’re going to do that if people get a question right and I’m going to be on their Church Night at the end of the year at Black Cat.
Bottom line, the show is going very well. I’m very happy. We filmed a pilot to pitch it to networks in May and the reception is going very well.
In addition to upcoming shows listed in the interview, Chris Milner’s next Specific Ignorance show will take place at 7 p.m. at the Bier Baron Tavern in Dupont Circle on Thursday, Oct. 20, with comedians Benjy Himmelfarb, Rob Maher and Tok Moffat. Follow him @SpecIgnorance on Twitter for information on future shows and @EnglishmanChris for hilarity.
Photo courtesy of Chris Milner