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Chris Fleming's Surreal, Inimitable Comedy

Photo by Alexandra Genova

After years of exchanging what we assumed were obscure inside jokes about Jimmy Buffett, Yankee Candles, Pier 1 Imports and the Rainforest Cafe, my girlfriend and I discovered the inimitable, surreal tapestry of cultural commentary that is Chris Fleming's comedy. Every one of Fleming’s YouTube videos incorporates the funniest, weirdest detritus of our late-stage capitalist wasteland in original and surprising combinations. He fills a void you didn’t know existed with inspiration, intellectual sustenance, and a sudden, intense appreciation for Lou Bega.

In "Gigi the Christmas Snake," when a guy asks some friends’ kids if they're excited that Santa is coming, his friends inform him that "children no longer observe Santa Claus" and the family proceeds to describe, mainly through song, the new mythological creature associated with the holiday. "Gigi the Christmas Snake/Comes in your garage with a cake/Slithers slow so you won't wake!" Gigi (Fleming in a spandex lizard costume; one salient fact about Gigi is he is actually a lizard) is an oddly familiar burnout, who leaves sleeves of tennis balls for children who were "chill" and a year's custody of his friend Egg Lopez (a "shy adult") for those who were "rank." 

He encourages kids to rip off their parents' windshield wipers, does a special "dance" that is really more of a garage-destroying one-snakeman circle pit, constantly, loudly announces that he is pansexual, and won't visit children whose dads don't legally change their names to "Cherry Pie." I had the Christmas Snake song stuck in my head for days.

Many of Fleming’s skits include original music. He wrote an entire album of songs for his yacht rock-inspired character "Beef Hutchins" with lots of smooth sax and titles like "Eagles' Eggs" and "Frenchin' the Bat." (Yes, there is a video, in which Hutchins tongue-kisses a bat that flies in his face while he is whipping bottles of O'Douls and Koosh balls at a basketball hoop in his backyard.)

Fleming is best known for his YouTube series Gayle, in which he portrays a deranged New England mom who obsessively competes with her neighbors, chains an SAT tutor to a radiator for her college-bound daughter and destroys hundreds of pounds of prop furniture in rooibos tea-induced blackouts. Fleming's real-life mom and dad play Gayle's best friend Bonnie and husband Dave. 

Gayle

“Are you a man?” seems to me the least interesting question to ask the creator of Gayle, yet the series inspired such a frenzy of Internet curiosity about what sort of junk Fleming has that he made a hilarious video in response, called “Am I a Man?”

Gayle’s 39 episodes were largely crowd-funded by a passionate and rapidly growing fan base. My girlfriend and I watched every episode wondering how many people were having an experience comparable to ours, feeling like Fleming had been spying on us or that we were in a Black Mirror episode in which Gayle tailors itself to the inner lives of viewers.

The relatability of Fleming’s work is fucking eerie. He’s 30, a year younger than me—my current theory is that the artists of my generation have just started reaching creative maturity and achieving widespread media exposure. I'm reminded, watching Fleming's comedy, of the way my parents talk about Steve Martin and the way my grandpa talked about Charlie Chaplin.

LA-based Fleming is currently on tour (he’ll be at the Neptune on the May 17—get your tickets fast!) but made time to email about the big issues: gender identity, comedy as an art form, Smash Mouth and sorority icebreakers.

I’m going to start with a question that should be a joke but is a real-life sorority icebreaker. If you were a Yankee Candle, what scent would you be?
Van Morrison’s Morning Breath.

On a scale of 1-10, did you know Lou Bega is German?
2. I was told but rejected it, locked it away in my repression room.

What did Gigi bring you? Was that how you met Egg Lopez?
Gigi the Christmas Snake this year brought me old tapas, believe it or not. And I’ve had custody of Egg Lopez for a calendar year and half now, yes.

Tell me about your casting process, especially for supporting Gayle characters like Rick Gausmann.
Mostly it’s just people I know. Rick Gausmann is our director Melissa Strype’s dad and everyone else is people I’ve met on meetup.com.

Who would you most like to cast in a video, including celebrity heroes and/or personal acquaintances?
Rob Thomas and/or Rob Thomas.

Is the character Gayle an inner monologue, and if so, how long has this persona been developing?
Gayle is based on real people but eventually a lot of my petty opinions started getting in there and we became one. Like her opinion on kids getting into Radiohead prior to eighth grade being worse than witnessing a murder, etc. What I really enjoy about Gayle is she’s formed opinions about things that you really don’t need an opinion on. My mom and I both have pretty overactive judgmental minds.

My girlfriend recently exposed me to the horror of wedding hashtags. I honestly couldn’t sleep. What would Gayle and Dave’s be?
GIRLFRIEND? I’VE BEEN TALKING TO YOU THIS LONG AND YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND? FOR WHAT THEN!?!?!

Probably #hailsatan by some horrible accident.

I read that part of your director Melissa Strype’s job is to decide when an idea is too crazy. How does she determine this, and can you describe some ideas that earned this distinction?
She’ll often be like, “No, Chris. Just no, stop it.” Not necessarily "too much" in the sense of like dangerous or insane, just sometimes I get carried away.

What happened when you broke a rib filming Gayle?
It’s the scene where Gayle’s wearing a bathrobe and doesn’t want anyone to see her and then someone rings the doorbell so she dives onto a table and breaks it, so I had to dive onto this breakaway table. (Melissa always says it’s not entirely accurate when I say “I had to,” because I wrote it.) Landing on the ground on my rib did me in. I deserved it

The dialogue in your videos makes me feel like I’m having a great conversation with a friend, whereas 75% of TV on Netflix makes me feel like I’m being pandered to by a room full of people wearing Bluetooth devices who use the word “content” in reference to all written language. What role do you think the identity of an individual plays in the creation of good comedy?
Hahaha re: bluetooths. That’s super nice. YEA I dunno about "good comedy" but I like to do stuff that makes me laugh or that I feel expresses something true about myself or the way I see the world. Sometimes I feel like there are so many different disparate, unrelated parts of me to express and sometimes it seems like one thing that people liked in say, Gayle, they may not like this other part because it’s so different. But when they do it’s really thrilling and inspires me to keep jumping to more and more lilypads.

What was your theatre school experience like and what is its most palpable influence on your work?
I was never cast in anything in college. My best friend and I were pariahs of the theatre department, so we did our own thing and became big into the sketch comedy group on campus. But feeling like not a part of that thing that I thought I was supposed to do was definitely informative, and made me super eager to make fun of it ‘cause I wasn’t welcome hahaha.

Did you also study music? I had “Frenchin’ the Bat” stuck in my head for like a day after I heard it.
Brian Heveron-Smith made the music for “Frenchin’ the Bat” and I did the words. We talked about making it a Beef Hutchins song for a full year and then for some reason due to time constraints and this girl’s mom needing to use his kitchen, we had five minutes to write and record it so we just opened up the crockpot and let that baby pour. “Frenchin’ the Bat” is my pride and joy.

What is your most regrettable drunk Ebay purchase?
Usually I just end up contributing to Gofundme's when I have too much to drink.

Related to the dialogue question: TV often makes me feel as if I’m trying to survive on a diet of 7-11 novelty hot dogs, whereas your videos provide the same inspiration and sense of possibility as really good art. I guess I understand the creation of that sustenance best in poetry—a successful poem employs layers of meaning that interact with each other to create something more than the sum of its parts, and re-contextualizes real-life experiences to create a harmonious representation of life’s chaos. Do you draw any structural parallels between the work of artists in other mediums and your own?
Yes. All my stuff syncs up with Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories if you read them backwards.

Is it true Mike Pence was the one who OKed Kate Hudson’s decision to name her athletics company “Fabletics?”
Mike’s not talking to me because I finished Bates Motel without him.

What do you most hope the treatment of gender identity in your comedy will convey to people?
Not take things so seriously I guess?

I’d love to hear your response to the dumbest question you’ve been asked about gender identity.
Not take things so seriously I guess? JK!

Who would be the ideal new member of Smash Mouth?

  • Bed Bath and Beyond
  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • Subway bread smell
  • Student loan company hold music
  • Radiohead
  • ­­­___________

Jared Kushner.

Chris Fleming plays the Neptune Theatre Wednesday, May 17. 

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