Chris Redd aims to be a singular stand-up and ‘SNL’ team player
Chris Redd’s laugh is a wonder to behold. It’s a loud, sudden thing, a cackling that sounds as if he’s just realized how funny he is. The laugh happens several times during a phone interview with the longtime stand-up, sketch actor, and “Saturday Night Live” featured player. Even though he’s very busy — he was putting the finishing touches on sketches for last week’s episode hosted by Idris Elba when he spoke with the Globe — he couldn’t sound more relaxed.
Redd, 33, grew up in St. Louis and Chicago, and he performed sketch and improv at the latter’s storied Second City. Collaboration, then, is nothing new to Redd, but when asked about the shift from the full creative control of stand-up to the atmosphere of “SNL,” Redd’s laugh turns uneasy.
“It’s definitely an adjustment,” he says. “With stand-up, you can hear something work immediately. With this show, there’s so many levels of it having to stay consistently funny. Once [your sketch] is picked on Wednesday, it still has to be funny all the way up until Saturday. Then it has to be funny on Saturday twice.” (Sketches that kill in Saturday evening’s “SNL” dress rehearsal sometimes lose steam by 11:30, a pitfall many cast members know well.)
Since there isn’t a new “SNL” episode airing this Saturday, Redd will be stopping at the new WBUR CitySpace venue for a stand-up set.
Redd’s “SNL” sketches are a lot like his solo act: playful, silly, and often rooted in racial dynamics. A recent sketch featuring Redd starred guest host John Mulaney — white, buttoned-up, and the very picture of a suburban WASP — connecting unexpectedly with his black girlfriend’s family, all while dancing to an absurd version of “Cha Cha Slide.”
“That’s a great example of something happening socially that can still be fun,” says Redd. “‘Come Back, Barack’ was a little like that,” he adds, referring to the Emmy-winning sketch in which Redd, Kenan Thompson, and Chance the Rapper, singing in the style of Boyz II Men, beg Obama to return as president.
This silly approach to recognizing chaos in politics is Redd’s specialty.
“I like to be aware and know what’s going on,” he says, “but at the same time I like to be in my own world a little bit so that I can create a space where we can just have standalone funny without it being a part of the craziness that’s happening. Because the show as a whole is never going to ignore the craziness. Somebody’s going to tackle the craziness. If it’s something where either I’m not passionate about it or I haven’t figured out my way to say it yet, or write about it, then I kind of leave that part to somebody who has figured that out.”
Judging by Redd’s touring schedule, his recent album (“But Here We Are,” released last Friday) and the hectic “SNL” writing and performing process, he’s not used to leaving much to others.
“I’m a workaholic,” he says. “I’m constantly trying better the last sketch, trying to better the last show. I’m always touring, I’m always on the road. I never sit down. If I don’t do the [stand-up] craft, I’ll lose it. I love it, though, man. I’m just grateful all the time for it. I just love doing it.”
Redd’s Boston performance will be one of the first at WBUR’s CitySpace, a site that the public radio station plans to use for events ranging from film screenings to debates. The multimedia venue at 890 Commonwealth Ave. opened on Feb. 28 with a live radio broadcast. Amy Macdonald, WBUR’s director of community engagement, says that booking Redd was an easy decision.
“His brand of humor and his ‘SNL’ following will be a perfect fit and attract a smart, hip crowd,” she says.
Though Redd is an “SNL” featured player — the role assigned to new cast members before they graduate to becoming full-on regulars — his love for hip-hop has significantly contributed to the show’s increasingly sharp focus on rap. Last season’s sketch “Friendos,” which features a Migos-like hip-hop group undergoing relationship therapy, has been viewed 4.4 million times on YouTube. (Another highlight from last season features Redd taking the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” intro sequence to hilariously violent extremes.)
Redd says the show’s inclusion of more hip-hop culture, like so much of “SNL,” simply reflects the culture at large. “It’s hard not to see the presence of hip-hop,” he says. “It makes me happy because it’s been my life forever. And now everybody gets to see it and enjoy it, and we get to bring it to this platform, and that’s an exciting thing for me, because that was one of the things I wanted to do when I got here.”
Though “SNL” is clearly a career highlight, he sees every aspect of his trajectory — struggling rapper, improv and sketch actor, road comic — as part of doing what he loves. “You have to focus on the thing that moves you,” he says, “because something is gonna move you. You just have to figure out what it is.”
At WBUR CitySpace, Boston, March 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $25, www.wbur.org/events