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Comedian Chris Elliott On Family Comedy
* Interview by Jane Borden, March 2008 | by phone, Chris Elliott driving and Bob Elliott at home | cassette recorder
* Read the related article @ Timeoutnewyork.com
* Executive Producer: David Gerlach
David Gerlach: So what’s it like to grow up in a really funny family? Where it’s more than just hilarious road trips or nightly comedy routines around the dinner table? I’m talking about a family where your dad makes a living making people laugh. Does the comedic touch rub off? And can anyone get in the last laugh? Well our contributor, Jane Borden, a comedian herself, got the answer when she interviewed Bob and Chris Elliott. Now Bob’s the father and you may know him from the legendary live comedy duo of Bob and Ray. Chris is his youngest son who’s built his own successful comedy career on TV and in film. So here’s how Bob and Chris Elliott remember growing up in Manhattan. This is Blank on Blank.
Jane Borden: What was it like living with a comedian for a father, Chris?
Chris Elliott: You know, I’ve been asked before. It was pretty much, I think, like growing up with anybody as your father just in the sense it wasn’t a big show business lifestyle that we led. It wasn’t flashy. We lived in New York City. My dad left in the morning to go to work in a suit and carrying a suitcase, and he came home in the afternoon.
Bob Elliott: It was fortunate for me, because I got out of the house early. I had a early morning show.
[Clip: Bob & Ray Public Radio Show show intro]
I was home the end of the day when they got home from school.
Jane Borden: Did you leave your job at the office, at the studio, or would you come home and joke around with each other?
Bob Elliott: Well, we all joked with each other. I think it was a very happy childhood.
Chris Elliott: Well, I can remember tyring to impress you with my sense of humor. Sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. There was probably two sets of senses of humor going on: one that I knew would impress my dad; And then, I was the youngest in the family so I was always trying to make my older brother laugh. That sense of humor, too, was slightly more aggressive. So I think probably when I went into the business, my sense of humor kind of combined both and ended up being a little bit more, um…
Bob Elliott: Edgy.
Chris Elliott: Edgy. Thanks, Dad
Jane Borden: (Laughs) Is he always punching up your punchlines?
Chris Elliott: Yeah
Bob Elliott: I’m a good editor.
[Clip: “Bob & Ray: A Night of Two Stars” at Carnegie Hall in 1984]
Chris Elliott: I think that the Broadway show… when my dad did that. I guess that was ‘69 or ‘70. I was about nine years old and I think that’s when I realized: “Oh no, I should try do this. This is what I should try to do.” Indirectly or directly, I think I always knew I was going to go into it.
[Music: Vitamin String Quartet - “Stand”]
Jane Borden: What’s it like to be the father of a comedian?
Bob Elliott: I try to see everything he does.
Chris Elliott: I’m amazed that you do seem to catch everything I do. Because I don’t announce it. I don’t call anybody in my family and tell them that I’m on. Inevitably, I’ll talk to my dad a few days later and he’ll say he saw me on Letterman or saw the thing on this or that. And he doesn’t have TiVo, so he has his own mind…
Bob Elliott: I don’t have a TV set either. [All laugh.] Which is even more miraculous that I can see what you do.
Chris Elliott: Well so you are making it up then? It’s all just…
Bob Elliott: Yup.
Chris Elliott: Alright, well…
Bob Elliott: It’s ESP.
Chris Elliott: It still means a lot.
Jane Borden: What’s the worst thing, Chris, you ever did as a child?
Chris Elliott: That I ever did as a child?
Jane Borden: What was your biggest punishment?
Chris Elliott: That’s putting me on the spot! What did I ever do? I did things that my dad doesn’t know about that I can not reveal now. When they were up in Maine and I was at home in the apartment. But that’s… everything was cleaned up and put right back in…
Bob Elliott: Son, from what I’ve heard, it was a rousing place. You had a good cleaning service.
Chris Elliott: I do you remember my brother and I throwing eggs at the neighbor across the street in the apartment. The day you and Mom were coming back from Maine, and he had put a huge sign out aimed directly at your bedroom window that said, “Please stop throwing eggs.”
Bob Elliott: You were throwing them from my bedroom window. That was the problem.
Chris Elliott: Well, it wasn’t the problem. That’s where you could throw them. So we had to keep the shades down in your bedroom when you came back and sort of keep you away…
Bob Elliott: I wondered about that long time.
Jane Borden: Now, Bob, what was your disciplinarian style?
Bob Elliott: I didn’t have a great deal of disciplinary ability, I don’t think. I really think I was fairly easy going. The kids were good. They caused no problems…
Chris Elliott: There was a strong sarcastic strain that could come out if you’d done something embarrassing or out of the norm. And that was as bad as any whipping would have been.
Bob Elliott: About the worst thing I did was take “Gilligan’s Island” away from him for a couple of weeks.
David Gerlach: That’s comedian Chris Elliott with his equally funny father Bob on comedy that’s all in the family, and this is Blank on Blank. I do wish to thank Jane Borden for adding this conversation to the archive. You can read more from her interview with the Elliotts at timeoutnewyork.com. She’s the comedy editor over there and she’s also the author of a new book. Check it out. It’s really funny. It’s called “I Totally Meant to Do That.” Now for more interviews you can hear nowhere else, head over to BlankonBlank.org. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.
Music: Vitamin String Quartet “Stand”
Photo: David Needleman
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