Chris D’Elia takes on life’s challenges and turns them into laughs

What: Chris D’Elia
Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: Sunday, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: $45.75 and $56 in person from the Royal McPherson box office, by phone at 250-386-6121, or online from rmts.bc.ca

In the pre-Netflix era, comedians often looked at sitcoms as the ultimate achievement: 30-minute blasts of family-friendly fare that filled the bank accounts of its stars.

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The exposure to millions of viewers gave the likes of Robin Williams (Mork and Mindy), Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld), Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), and Roseanne Barr (Roseanne) a profile that the thousands of fans they reached during stand-up tours couldn’t come close to matching.

But in some cases — hello, Tim Allen of Home Improvement — their prime-time personalities wound up dwarfing their stand-up reputations, cannibalizing comedy careers in the process.

The goalposts have moved in the modern era. Podcast subscriptions are king. Followers on Instagram and Facebook are integral. An hour-long Netflix special (or one for Amazon or YouTube) can lead to instant fame for a comic in the way that a successful appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson would yield a career almost overnight during the 1980s.

The best part for a comedian such as Chris D’Elia (pronounced de-lia) is that his recent success on Netflix (Man on Fire, his 2017 special, drew raves and robust viewer totals) only enhanced his reputation in the stand-up community.

“The fact that I can keep doing stand-up and keep doing specials and keep doing what I think is funny is it,” D’Elia said.

“Every time I do another one, it feels like another benchmark has passed. Stand-up is better than it’s ever been. People complain about how it’s hard, the world we live in, because you can’t say certain things. But that’s what makes it so good.”

D’Elia has followed a path full with twists and turns, from internet infamy to prime-time popularity. The New Jersey native, who now lives in Los Angeles, has taken it all in stride, with a few hot takes along the way.

One of those — his recent mimicry of Eminem, which was as much a tip of the hat to the rapper’s ability as it was a comedic needling of his manic rapping style — wound up becoming a big win for D’Elia. The clip on YouTube where he impersonated Eminem went viral three months ago, and wound up being included on the new single by rapper Logic, with a guest appearance from Eminem.

The song, Homicide, entered the Billboard Hot 100 this week at No. 5 in the U.S., putting D’Elia on the minds of millions of music fans.

“That’s the special thing about it — you don’t know what’s going to go viral. You don’t know who’s a fan of yours, who wants to see you, who wants to put you on an Eminem song. That’s the special stuff you don’t think about, so when it does happen, it’s even more special. The Netflix stuff is amazing, it’s the best part, but that was always the goal. It wasn’t a goal of mine to be on an Eminem song. But it is certainly awesome.”

Success from the unlikeliest places has become a recurring theme for the 39-year-old funnyman.

His online feud with YouTube personality Logan Paul, the popular online vlogger whose video showing a man at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji who had killed himself was met with widespread condemnation in 2017, elevated D’Elia’s profile.

D’Elia made an innocuous comment about Paul’s Twitter apology that set off a firestorm between the two that all but the most ardent Paul supporters believe D’Elia won handily.

“That’s the world we live in now. It’s all about being viral. I love doing social media, because that’s how a lot of people can stay relevant. It’s an extension of what I do. You don’t need a TV show. Having a TV is almost a step back, unless you’re doing one you like or one you’re passionate about.”

D’Elia has had feet in both worlds over the years, playing lead roles in NBC sitcoms Undateable and Whitney.

Acting roles in television and film (of which several featuring D’Elia are currently in production) have always been considered stress-free by D’Elia, who likes the medium but loves stand-up more.

“I make stand-up a priority, because I can do it whenever I want, you know? I’m in control of the schedule. If something comes along that I want to act in, then I can do that. But I don’t have to. I’m in the fortunate position where I’m a touring comedian and can make that my job until a cool project gets me off the road.”

The tour that brings D’Elia to Victoria for the first time features two dates on Sunday night at the Royal Theatre, one of which is sold out.

Tours where he performs two shows in one night are becoming more regular, considering how condensed his off-stage schedule has become in recent years. It makes sense, performing for twice as many people on the same day, but it also requires a crazy amount of physical and mental energy, he admitted. “It’s pretty tough. The more I do it, the tougher it gets. … It’s exponentially harder than one.”

He has live dates scheduled almost on a never-ending loop. He balances stand-up appearances with a variety of other commitments, such as his successful podcast, Congratulations with Chris D’Elia.

But he will always move mountains to accommodate his stand-up schedule.

“For me, it has always been about filling seats. There are guys with less Instagram followers that sell more seats than me, and there are guys with more Instagram followers who can’t sell seats. To me, that’s the barometer. If you can sell seats, then you’re good. If you’re doing two shows a night, it’s a good deal.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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