Comedian Chris Fairbanks was born in Missoula, went to Sentinel High School and graduated from the University of Montana. He now lives in Los Angeles and hosts the popular podcast "Do You Need A Ride?" where he and Karen Kilgariff drive friends to and from the airport. Fairbanks is opening for Reggie Watts at the Wilma Dec. 21 and headlines a show at the Roxy Theater Dec. 27. He also has a new hip.
Fairbanks took a few minutes to talk with the Missoulian in advance of his hometown shows. This interview has been condensed and edited for space.
You’re recording a new stand-up album in January, your first since 2010.
I am producing one, with the help of a very talented filmmaker friend Whitey McConnaughy. We’ve started talking about producing, shooting a comedy special since it’s kind of hard to get one with Netflix when they’re focused right now is trying to give it to people who aren’t straight white guys. Which I agree with, but then my career is affected by it.
So I’m gonna make my own special and then try and sell it, and then it’s open to any avenue. And then worst-case scenario, I’ll just do the new business model of putting it online and charging $5 or something, and then you get all the revenue from it, which I’ve seen a lot of comics do really well with that. It just gives me more options.
How have you liked getting an hour set together for the special?
I haven’t even thought of it that way. Just, what jokes that I’ve already been doing, which ones get the best laughs? And I always am doing shorter sets here (in L.A.) so that’s why I’m excited to do this longer set in Missoula and then do another one in a theater here to practice that hour and kind of put things in an order that makes sense. I bought a dry erase board and I plan on using that.
I don’t think I’m going to be coming up with any new bits in the next couple of weeks that I’ll add to the special, but who knows? Something in Missoula tragic might happen with a hilarious ending and then I’ll need to tell the world.
You’ve been appearing as Paul Ryan occasionally over the last year. How did that come about? What are those shows like?
My current manager said I look like this Paul Ryan guy and I said yes, I know, every time someone finds this specific shoot he did where he’s working out, talking about P90X and listening to Rage Against the Machine trying to relate to young people.
I just took photos wearing the same clothes. It was right after I got my hip replaced, I remember she came over and I got out of bed and used my walker to get to the garage and then sat in a chair and did the leg lift photo and then it just kind of went from there.
Another friend told me about these mock town halls that people do. Sometimes they’ll use a cardboard cutout and they’ll just yell at it for therapy reasons. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t there for them to hate and throw rotten tomatoes at in lieu of the real guy. I wanted to make sure it was just people that actually already know Paul Ryan’s a fool and then I could just tell my jokes as him, basically.
What helped the show a lot was him retiring two days before I went out on the road to his district, 'cause then I could just be a version of him … just like, “I don’t care anymore. I’m retiring, I’m going to Sandals resort.”
'Cause then it let that character be more open and say, “You know what I really think of the GOP?” that kind of thing. Like he’d been hiding his emotions this whole time and now that he’s retiring he can say how he really feels. So I had no choice but to make him a more likable person, 'cause I don’t personally think that rape is another form of conception or other things he says. So we’re different in that way.
Being one of the rare famous comedians from Montana, do you feel a pressure being the guy encouraging others to come here all the time?
I would encourage comedian friends of mine to try and perform there. I think Missoula would appreciate and be a good comedy town. I know there’s a scene that’s gradually building there now, because there certainly wasn’t a single open mic for stand-up when I wanted to start doing it. That’s why I left to Texas, you know, the mecca of stand-up.
I just feel like any town that’s a liberal arts college town, of course comedians should be going there.
How much do you notice Missoula changing when you come back every year?
The traffic on Reserve, sure, I can’t believe it. Something needs to be done with that.
Compared to, when I moved to Austin it was 500,000 people and now it’s over a million and the buildings look like they’re from outer space and they are popping up on streets that I used to live on, in a tiny house.
Any city is growing so drastically, when people complain about a lot of change in Missoula and then I go downtown and it’s like, oh yeah there’s a Jimmy John's.
I do get benchmark visits. It’s every six months. I do notice it changing, but it’s still the same Missoula to me, other than Reserve.
Keep some perspective, is what you’re saying. Us Missoulians are really good at that.
Are there places that don’t exist anymore in town that you miss?
That’s a good question, but no not really, nothing springs to mind. The last time I was in town though I really just wanted to hike the “M” over and over. There’s a new trail in Pattee Canyon, it’s kind of behind my dad’s place, there’s a new trail they put up. I just wanted to hike and see everything again.
I think I just miss the scenery. I had all these opportunities living there to be a weirdo and go up in the mountains and camp in a tent alone in the Bitterroots and I never did that stuff.
Growing up, the whole time, I just wanted to live by the beach in California. And now I’m here and I’m like, oh man, mountains are maybe cooler than the ocean. The ocean looks the same every damn day.
You and J.K. Simmons were both in the 2017 movie “Punching Henry” together. You’re also both UM grads. Did you meet him?
I really wish that I could have met him. But I think he shot all of his stuff at a different time.
J.K. Simmons was the commencement speaker in 2016 at UM. When you’re asked to speak at commencement, what would you say?
I’ll just go, “Everyone party!” and then some girls will come in wearing togas and then I’ll do a keg stand and then get carried off by a giant bald eagle or something cool like that.
It would definitely be something that I would want to not sound like an idiot during. I would have to think about it. I went through college, got it out of the way, and then ignored my degree and went and started doing comedy for a living. I don’t think there’s anything in that choice that I should tell a bunch of students. “You just got done, it doesn’t matter — do what you want, ignore your degree. Hopefully you learned some things!”
I do know that without college I would not be the communicator that I now have to be. After high school I felt like maybe I wasn’t smart because I got C’s. I got real nervous when I had to read in front of class. I think college helped with all of that.
The life experience part of that, of being on campus and being a halfway adult is the best part. Not all the Spanish and social statistics that I memorized and forgot.
Anything you would like to add about your visit to Missoula?
I’m excited for both the shows — I’m excited to do the show with Reggie again, I’m excited to do the show at the Roxy. I haven’t been in the Roxy since, boy, since I saw a double feature of “Condorman” and “The Jerk” as a child.
For a long time it wasn’t a theater, so …
And apparently used to show porn at some point.
I like that a lot of the porn theaters are turning into comedy venues. And I've performed in a bunch of porn theaters. I'm not even kidding.