I like people who can wear a chip on their shoulder like a badge of honor. Your grievances and grudges are what make you interesting. Why not own them?
So it’s not especially a stretch to say that it’s easy for me to love Greg Fitzsimmon’s first hour long special, Life on Stage. An award-winning writer, producer and stand-up comedian, his comedy unabashedly explores social and familial constructs. While seemingly provocative, Fitzsimmons is playfully clever in his approach to unearthing the absolute absurdity that is so often prevalent in modern American life.
You can catch him in Philadelphia November 8 and 9 at Helium Comedy Club. WitOut caught up with Fitzsimmon to talk about Life on Stage, podcasting and the past year (sort of) on the road.
WitOut: You’re out in LA now, right?
Greg Fitzsimmons: Right. I’ve been working in New York. I took the weekend off to come home for Halloween and Trick or Treat with the kids.
WitOut: How was Halloween?
Fitzsimmons: Great. It was very cute. We did trick or treating on one side of the neighborhood, changed costumes and then did the other side. My son is 13 so he’s off with his boys. You know, a real teenage party. I think that was his first one.
WitOut: I’m sure they just sat around and did their homework.
Fitzsimmons: They’re really on the edge. I don’t think they’re doing anything that wrong yet but they’re definitely thinking about it. They’re ready for it. They’re only in the planning stages.
WitOut: You’ve been all over the place this past year. How is tour?
Fitzsimmons: It’s not so much a tour as it is going out to places on the weekends, in between working on the show. This past year, I’ve definitely been on the road a lot doing shows to promote the special. But it’s been a lot of TV stuff. I was executive producer on another show earlier this fall and then just banging out these podcasts twice a week and a radio show once a week. It’s pretty exhausting. I haven’t had a moment.
WitOut: What show are you currently working on?
Fitzsimmons: I created a comedy talk show pilot for FX with this guy Josh Topaulski, who has a website called The Verge. It’s kind of a Daily Show format.
WitOut: How did podcasting make its way into your mix?
Fitzsimmons: Well, I was doing the radio show for just an hour. I was getting these really great guests and all of the sudden, the hour would go by so fast. So, my producer said that we could do another hour and put it out as a podcast. We did that for awhile and people eventually wanted more than one a week. I was on the road a lot of weekends so I started doing [podcasts] from the green room in clubs and now I pretty much just record interviews with people during the week. I’ll try to bank a few and then put those out.
This past week, I sat down with Colin Quinn and at the end I said to him, “How often do you and I get to sit down and talk, uninterrupted for two hours?” It’s very rare. It’s great. I think it started out casually–and it still feels casual– it doesn’t feel like a job. Now there is all of this advertising coming in, which is really just found money.
WitOut: It seems like you have you hands in a lot of different things. You have stand-up, podcasting and radio. You have your book [Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox]. Does it feel different from when you were doing just stand-up?
Fitzsimmons: No. When I started doing stand-up, my Father was really supportive of me. He said, you know, just make sure you write. Write a lot. I think that he knew that it was going to be a tough business and that writing was something that I could always–I wouldn’t say fall back on, but something that I could do in conjunction with stand-up. I’ve always been focused on it.
I’ve always been doing something else. After I did stand-up for a couple of years, I moved to New York and did a two year acting program. So I did that and went out on the road on the weekends. Then I moved to LA and auditioned for acting stuff. I never had any luck but I did it a lot for awhile.
There have always been different directions that I was going in. When my son was born, I started writing for TV so that I could be around more. That’s been twelve years or so in between writing, doing stand-up and hosting stuff on TV.
On a good day it feels like, yeah, you have your hands in a lot of things. On a bad day you feel like you’re being pulled in too many directions. In this business, it’s a pretty good way to keep your sanity–to be able to not have all of your eggs in one basket.
WitOut: A lot of your new special deals with parenting, social class and race. Your kids go to school in LA and so you’re definitely surrounded by a lot of that. Can you speak to us about where that material comes from?
Fitzsimmons: I grew in New York and my Dad was a radio guy. He was very liberal. Very outspoken. Our family’s identity is very, I think, Kennedy Democrats. And I grew up in a place that was very economically and racially diverse.
My kids are in a Spanish Immersion program at a public school in LA. My wife grew up in the city in New York. We try to replicate something that has that same kind of diversity and we’ve been really luck with that. They’ve got a school that has very committed parents and the kids are great. At the same time–not to put down private schools–your kid can get a false sense of feeling like they’re the greatest fucking thing that has ever been born. I want my kids to feel like pieces of garbage that have to work their way out of it for the rest of their lives. That’s the drive they need.
A lot of my material comes out of guilt. I think I feel a certain white guilt with how fortunate I’ve been. Stand up, to me, is about [exploring] what are you thinking about, what makes you uncomfortable or angry, what is it that you can’t wrap your head around. For me, social class seems to be one that is just illogical. It’s the fabric of every society.
WitOut: What about the book? Is it a product of that guilt or is a way for you to kind of wear your mistakes on your armor?
Fitzsimmons: I was an English major in college and I had been writing my whole life. I wanted to write a book since I was five years old. I finally felt like I had lived enough to warrant writing a book about my life. It feel like there are two very different sides of my life and I wanted to explore that earlier part of my life. I wanted to show how it affected the second half.
I grew up very rebellious. The first half of my life, there was a lot of drinking and drugs, fighting and womanizing. It was very different from what my life is today. I just wanted to have fun and go down that road. It ended up being much more deeply about my relationship with my father.
My intention was probably much lighter than what the actual process ended up being.
WitOut: We know that you had a complicated relationship with your Father. Does talking about it so publicly affect that?
Fitzsimmons: He actually died 20 year ago. In a weird way, you still have a relationship with the [deceased] person. I think about him a lot. I think my kids feel his presence in a way. It didn’t end on good terms, really, and that’s sad.
WitOut: Does talking about it help your reconcile with that?
Fitzsimmons: I guess. On some levels, it is. I wish that I could I was that mature and that it was all reconciled. I’m still like a little baby. I definitely have more understanding [of him] now as a parent.
WitOut: You’re coming to Philly on this week. Are you looking forward to coming over here?
Fitzsimmons: (Laughs) Oh my god. Your voice just went up an octave when you asked that.
Yeah! I love Philadelphia! I think Philadelphia is great. It’s one of the few cities that I really enjoy getting up and walking around. The crowds are awesome. They’re really down to earth. There is that Italian-Irish thing there, which is always kind of rowdy and blue collar. It’s fun.
Colleen T. Reese is a contributor to Geekadelphia and Schmitten Kitten. You can follow her on twitter @CollTReese.