Chris Fleming, who hails from Massachusetts, was named one of Variety Magazine's "10 Comics to Watch for 2019." Fleming has become a YouTube sensation, amassing over 50 million views. He is most known for the character Gayle Waters-Waters, a competitive New England housewife.
Fleming was back in town for a sold-out WBUR Cityspace event and joined Radio Boston in studio to talk about his experimental comedy and finding his audience.
On why he named a character after NPR host Terry Gross
Well, Gayle actually did that. The character Gayle named her children Terry Gross Waters-Waters and Ira Glass Waters-Waters because of her devotion to, of course, NPR. I hear that Terry Gross insists on doing her interviews like, at the sea floor. Like she needs to be blindfolded, completely no senses, right, and her guests are like two states away...
On where the inspiration for his famous character, a “disturbingly real New England mom” Gayle Waters-Waters came from
I did Gayle in my stand-up and she was inspired by a lot of folks that I saw growing up. … It kind of cemented as ideas do in a very singular moment when I was in a Crate & Barrel and I saw a woman diving into a barrel of placemats. Like her legs were up in the air, and she was just digging through these placemats ... it just kind of came from there.
On why he considers Gayle Waters-Waters to be a “New England Truth”
I just plucked her from a tree. ... Well, you know, I have elements of her in my psyche too; it’s not gender-specific thing. It’s fear of how you're seen in your community, that’s what it is, that’s the essence of it. ... Why I related to her so much is just that terror of how others perceive you.
On feeling secure in his craft
My goal was always to become fluent in my own way or language and once I’ve done that — I’m insecure about comparing myself to the things I’ve done. Like I hope it’s as good as that, I hope it’s as good it that, or whatever, living up to those expectations. So, it’s kind of like in my own bubble, but at least I’m comparing myself to myself in that way. But I do feel quite secure and very satisfied in my tone and the way that I do things.
On inspirations for some of his characters and scenes
John Roberts is amazing. Chris Lilly inspired a lot of Gayle. Amy Sedaris inspired a lot of the way we shot a lot of the series. Robin Williams, of course, Stevie Nicks is a big inspiration of mine ... Noel Fielding — yeah, a lot of inspiration.
I burn the formula every time I make something. I really revel in making things that no one is asking for.
On his process as a comedian
I burn the formula every time I make something. I really revel in making things that no one is asking for. I think it might be the nature of being anti-establishment is like, when people like something they’re like “Oh we want more of this” I’m going to give them something completely out of left-field. I think that's a way to make inspired work. To follow yourself and not to follow what David Bowie called "The Gallery." I don't know what he means by that, but ...
On revisiting old work
I mean the door is always open for Gayle, especially. I have so much love for Gayle. I’d just need to do it in the right way, that’s the thing. It’s got to be the right production. We occasionally flirt with like live productions, vignettes or whatever, but yeah, I’m always open to revisiting ideas. So many ideas I look back I’m like, "Oh my god why did I ever pursue that one" and so yeah oh yeah I look at it as a real rolling cumulative process.
Maddie Mortell helped adapt this story for web.
This article was originally published on July 29, 2019.
This segment aired on July 29, 2019.