Saturday, July 4, 2009
The Hirsute Herald of Happy Hooliganism: The Outlandish Antics of Comedian Chuck Roy
By Brian Polk
It’s 12:45am, Wednesday morning. A vast majority of Denver’s citizens slumber through the darkness in the comfort of familiar beds, blissfully unaware of the city’s burgeoning energy that refuses to subside. As the night thrives, so does its minions: strippers expanding g-strings to make room for dollar bills, cabbies waiting for their next fares, clubbers dancing to get laid, and of course, Chuck Roy verbally abusing every last patron from the stage of the Squire Bar.
For Chuck the night isn’t so much about comedy as it is hanging out with friends and socializing with his comedy peers. After spending the weekend at Comedy Works, opening for nation touring headliners, or closing the show himself, he needs time to relax. Unlike the open-mic comics, Tuesday Night at the Squire means nothing to him—it’s a peripheral grain of sand in an hourglass of comedy. He doesn’t come to this bar to improve his act; he comes to unleash his fury on unsuspecting alcoholics who wanted nothing more than to get a drink.
Although Roy’s open mic set would make any champion of political correctness cringe, the comic has a brighter side. A veteran of comedy, he spent the better part of his twenties chasing his dreams in Los Angeles, which resulted in an impressive resume: routine performances at Hollywood’s world famous Improv, several national tours, a two and a half year stint as the warm-up comedian on Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, and guest appearances on the hit sitcoms Will & Grace and 3rd Rock From The Sun.
After several years in the industry, however, an embittered Chuck left Hollywood for greener pastures. Settling in Colorado, the comic eventually found a home as a featured performer at Denver’s Comedy Works and host of Film on the Rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, as well as writer, producer, and emcee of his own comedy shows, Stand-Up Comedy Battles, and Yell Fest.
The Chuck Roy with a list of accomplishes a mile long in comedy, who habitually insults customers at the Squire Lounge, is a drastic departure from the Republican businessman of his earlier days. Working as an intern for Pat Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign, Roy began his political career as an eager, wide-eyed East Coast conservative. Though, after he helped successfully deliver the New Hampshire primary to Buchanan, Chuck’s desire to contribute to a blatantly homophobic campaign at the time when he was coming to terms with his own homosexuality diminished.
“That’s one of the reasons I got into stand-up comedy,” says Roy, who used the craft to purposefully distance himself from his Republican past. He never again became involved with politics.
Roy spent the next few years perfecting his new act in New England comedy clubs before following his dreams to Los Angeles. The move proved to be premature for the fresh comedian, who, “Went out as a kid and couldn’t stand it, so I turned around, went back to New Hampshire, worked on my act, worked in the Boston comedy scene.”
Not long after relocating back east, however, friends of Chuck convinced him to return to California, a move that would ultimately prove successful for the comedian. His accomplishments didn’t come overnight, however. In his first few months in Los Angeles, he routinely found himself in the audience rather than the stage.
“I came back just two weeks after [Will & Grace] started shooting their first season,” he says. “I would go up and watch rehearsals. I would go up and watch tapings and just sit in the audience. That’s where I learned how to do warm up by watching their warm up comedian.”
He didn’t last as merely a spectator for long. After playing a small role in a PlayStation commercial, Roy was recognized as a legitimate actor for hire and gained the attention of Will & Grace writers.
“Eventually Michael Patrick King, who was a writer on the show, had just heard enough about me and for some reason just wrote this part of popcorn vendor for me,” Chuck explains. “The script calls for three facial reactions and one line. And I told them I didn’t think the line was funny on the first day. And they told my friend, ‘If Chuck were to ever say that to another executive producer he’d be fired.’ And I told my friend, ‘Well if you going to hire a comedian, you might want to find out if the comedian thinks it’s funny.’”
Despite his defiance, “They stuck with me. I added a line and we shot. And the next week I was sitting back up in the stands, watching them tape. I never was one trying to push being down on the floor. Eventually I would make it down on the floor.”
Once he appeared on the sitcom, work came easy to the comedian. Managing the nearly impossible task of landing a television appearance without any representation, he acquired the Gersh Agency as his management company immediately. Almost overnight, he was meeting with casting directors and traveling from one audition to the next.
“It’s a process of where you get used to hearing ‘no,’” Roy admits of the seemingly endless auditions.
But he persevered and landed another guest spot on the show, 3rd Rock From The Sun, where he played the dull-witted son of Kathy Bates. And even though he was a virtually unknown actor featured in a guest spot on a hit television show—a blessing for any comedian—Chuck still took it upon himself to show up to rehearsal late and hung over. He eventually walked into a room with a conference table surrounded by increasingly impatient actors.
“Everybody’s gushing over Kathy Bates,” describes Roy. “Everyone was a little bit like, ‘When are we going to start?’ And when I come in, Kathy Bates yells out, ‘This must be my son.’ The trigger word for my character was, ‘Mama’ — this little retarded guy going, ‘Mama,’ all the time. So I went like, ‘Mama,’ and I gave her a big old hug and people laughed. We sat down. I’m next to Kathy Bates with Newman [Wayne Knight] on my right. Lithgow is on the other corner. Across the table is Jane Curtain.”
With acting experience under his belt, Chuck focused on his stand-up, performing regularly at Hollywood’s world famous Improv. Ultimately the comic would reach the crowning achievement of his career in Los Angeles as the warm-up act for the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, a job that led to his disillusionment and eventual departure from the west coast scene.
“Every one of my friends, especially in the business, especially comedians from back east had been calling me for months telling me, ‘Get the hell out of LA, you sound miserable. You sound horrible.’”
With a destination in mind, Roy planned to leave California in the fall of 2001.
“I flew home [from Denver to LA] on September 9th, 2001,” remembers Chuck. “On September 10th, I went to Kilborn, told the makeup artist, who’s my friend and Craig’s advisor, and told her I’m quitting. And I was going to tell him today. And she said, ‘Wait ‘till Friday. Craig doesn’t like that kind of news on a Monday.’”
After that Tuesday, however, Chuck never had the opportunity to talk to Craig about quitting. In fact, the events of 9/11 forced the weary comedian to remain in Los Angeles.
The same people that told him to leave LA, “Were calling pretty much right after 9/11 going, ‘You have to stay in LA. Keep your job. The cruise ships have shut down. All kinds of comedians are coming home. Any of the touring shows are gone.’ So I had to stay in LA for another year. It was the worst year in my life. Staying at this shitty job with this asshole star.”
Finally in late 2002, Roy left California for the Mile High City, an environment not necessarily conducive to comedy. Although he doesn’t audition for sit coms anymore, he seems comfortable in a town without an established entertainment industry. Since the stand-up scene is largely underground, it allows him the creative freedom to write and produce his own comedy shows. Roy also helps young comedians establish their own open mic rooms—even if his open mic sets are little more than cavalcades of incessant insults.
“When I first got here there wasn’t anything like that,” Chuck admits about the underground comedy. “All the old guys were pretty tired and negative about the way the industry was going and the scene. And I was like, ‘It’s coming here. They’re going to start coming so you better shape up.’”
Sacrificing the momentum of his career and snubbing the opportunities of Los Angeles, Roy enjoys his current situation. Not only has he rejuvenated the city’s veterans, he directs its novices, playing an essential role in the rapidly emerging Denver underground comedic community—a function the comedian no doubt finds satisfying.
"It was referred to me this week as DIY comedy: Do It Yourself comedy," Chuck says about the Denver stand-up community he helped create. "Hell yeah, that's what I'm about."
(Originally published March 2006)