Christian Finnegan: the bravery in useless knowledge

Christian Finnegan, who you may recognize from Best Week Ever and Comedy Central Presents, wants you to come to his show this week, June 19–23, at the Cap City Comedy Club. Not just because you’re smart, hip, and attractive, but because he doesn’t want the audiences to be all bachelorette parties. “I’m really hoping people who would never go to a comedy club will look at this and think, ‘Yes, comedians can be cheesy and bullies in their own way,’” he says, “but I’ll come out and see this jackass.” If that’s not enough, take advantage of the Christian Finnegan guarantee: “A long, lingering awkward hug to anyone who mentions this interview.”

That Other Paper To what lengths did bullies pursue you growing up?

Christian Finnegan They went the typical lengths. The various two-for-flinching type things and I’m sure I’ve gotten a wedgie or two in my life. It was more of a general disdain for being one of the drama “fags.” Halfway through high school, I transferred to a performing arts school, which was a refuge for prodigies and fuck-ups. A lot of kids were bullied at their schools, so I went from the typical Heathers, “what’s up geek” sort of jock high school to a school where not being bisexual made you an outcast. There was one time where I’d come back for Thanksgiving and I was standing at the deli when this guy in one of those massive trucks that are jacked up on big wheels starts honking his horn, taunting me to come outside, and just mouthing, “Fuck you,” about a thousand times. When I came out, he started threatening to fight me. It was one of those things where you have to learn how to take abuse and give that snarky smiles that says, “You’re not hurting my feelings,” but you can’t actually fight back ’cause then you’d be “starting something.”

photo / Maryanne Ventrice Christian Finnegan performs at the Drink at Work Show in December, 2006 

TOP Who was this guy in the car?

CF It was someone I grew up with who hadn’t seen me for a while and was just thrilled to see me after I came home home.

TOP Have you ever gotten a swirlie?

CF No. The thing with me was I was bigger than the other kids. No one could have picked me up because I was sort of the chubby kid. I was a bully’s wet dream because I was a fat kid who cried a lot. All of the little kids with Napoleon complexes could get all up in my face and I’d start bawling. Since I was bigger, no one could have ever have gotten me into a swirlie situation.

TOP You mentioned one bully in particular on your CD.

CF Yeah, Mike Norton, that’s the kid who pulled up to me at the convenience store.

TOP Do you know what he does now?

CF On the CD, I make an allusion to him working at a mall food court and that certainly would not shock me. If I were to be perfectly honest, I bet he works selling cell phones or driving a piece of equipment or automobile for a living. I like to think to myself that those were his best days because if he were out making millions of dollars or having sex with super models, that’d really depress me.

TOP Have you done shows where people from your school were in the audience?

CF Yeah. I grew up outside of Boston and I when I played the Comedy Connection in Boston last year a bunch of people came out and I went off on Mike Norton at length because I was hoping people knew him and a few people came up and said that they knew his family. I was happy about that.

Some of the people I was friendly with, others I was not friendly with at all. I think it was awkward for them because they thought, “It’s all water under the bridge. We’re all friends now.” Not in my book. It might have been tense for them hearing me go off about these scars that haven’t fully healed.

TOP Are there different types of bullies?

CF Yeah, there are different classes of douchebags growing up. There are the ones who are aggressively assholes, and then there’s a group who I’d liken to the Germans in World War II. They’re not Nazi party members, but they’re not doing shit, either. They just let the douchebaggery go on unabated.

There’s a different sort of bully now. That’s something I find interesting about social organisms. There are bullies in every grouping of people. My older brother was heavily into Dungeons and Dragons, and every week six or seven of his friends would come over on a Saturday night to play D&D. Even amongst this group of dorks there were bullies. There’s alpha dorks, beta dorks – I found that fascinating. That bully impulse comes out in everybody in some capacity. For me, it tends to come out in stupid shit like music trivia. I get very possessive over the Megatouch Machine at the bar. I don’t want to be the sort of dick that’s like, “Let’s do music trivia!” but I’m secretly hoping someone will challenge me so I can trounce them. That’ll make me feel like a big man. When I haven’t won, it’s eaten at me, and I’m completely unable to enjoy myself.

The worst is when you know the right answer but hit the wrong button. That’s the absolute worst. And the thing is, as far as Megatouch strategy goes, you can’t go into the bonus round unless you bet all every single time, so I have no respect for people who will only bet a quarter or half. That’s a weak way to go about life. To just try to win is not enough to me. For me, you should go for the best possible score.

TOP Is that something you’ve applied to your life in general?

Can’t you tell? My bravery exists only in the realm of useless knowledge. Any boldness about life is relegated to stupid trivia – and possibly PlayStation.

TOP If Mike read this and contacted you, how would it ideally play out for you?

CF Here’s the thing: I’m extremely brave in my words when I’m on stage. I’m my boldest when I’m on stage. I’m not very confrontational and get very uncomfortable around any displays of maleness. If I’m on stage and saw him in the audience, I’d have a great time with it. If he came up to me afterward it’d be incredibly awkward, and I’d probably end up wussing out and trying to be his friend. That’s just because I’m psychologically a huge pussy.

TOP Have any of your shows ended in violence?

CF I did a show in Birmingham, Alabama, where a Marine who’d come from Iraq only a few weeks before tried to storm the stage and beat the shit out of me. I was ten minutes into my set, and I wasn’t even talking about anything controversial. I’d love to say that it was because he couldn’t handle the truth – the power I was speaking. But, to be honest, I smoothed a lot of the rough edges off my set because I knew where I was going to be. I think there’s just something about me where if you’re a bumper-sticker, pro-war type dude, you can just smell that I’m not on your team. You could call it an undercurrent of effeteness. I could be talking about dandelions or armchairs, and you’ll be able to say, “This guy is not on my side.”

So, first off, this guy was very drunk and was yelling stuff the whole show even before I got on stage. In the middle of my set, he started yelling, “I’m fighting for your freedom of speech!” At first, you try to be friendly. That guy’s dealing with things you and I could never deal with, but if someone keeps yelling things you eventually have to take them down for the sake of the audience. A comedy audience, especially in a comedy club setting is a bit like a snake. You can’t show fear because once you do, it’s over. People want to feel like you know what you’re doing. They want to feel comfortable in your hands. So, I had to start making fun of the dude, which made him more furious and he starts tearing for the stage. Five of the waiters were grabbing onto his arms and as they drag him out of the rooms, he’s screaming, “I’ve seen people die!” And then I had about 35 more minutes of comedy to do.

When I got off stage, the manager came up and told me that when they got him out to his car that there were two empty bottles of vodka in his passenger seat and that he just got into his car and drove away. That’s nice – that they just let him drive off.