“Sometimes you have to know when the scene that you wrote is enough, but I’m always ready to play. I’m the one guy you have to tell to shut up,” shares Chris Redd.
Like many of his Saturday Night Live co-stars, Chris Redd has been cutting his teeth on scripted series alongside his commitment to the Emmy-winning live-sketch comedy. He has appeared on NBC’s recently canceled comedy Kenan and Peacock’s freshman, irreverent buddy series Bust Down, showcasing different sides of the comic performer who is currently preparing for a stand-up tour.
In NBC’s Kenan, Redd starred alongside his Saturday Night Live co-star Kenan Thompson as Kenan’s brother Gary, who has spent his life living happily under Kenan’s umbrella of fame as a morning show host. Unfortunately, the series was not picked up for another season, but the charming and often poignant series allowed Redd to explore an emotional arc in the series’ penultimate episode.
“It was exciting to push myself in that way. It was a different way to embrace something more emotional,” says Redd. “And I felt raw, man. After the scene was over, I felt naked as hell. I was like, Is this what Viola Davis feels like?”
Redd also co-created and stars alongside friends and fellow comedians Sam Jay, Langston Kerman, and Jak Knight in Peacock’s comedy Bust Down. The topical series follows a group of friends working low-wage jobs at a casino in Gary, Indiana.
The trio discusses topics such as workplace harassment, child molestation, and domestic abuse, refusing to shy away from sensitive subjects.
“We wanted to make a show that was showing real people dealing with real things and not resolving each issue. Some people deal with it, talk about it and move on, and we wanted to have a show that was goofy and something different,” explains Redd. “Each episode has little bits of pieces of us, either things we’ve talked about from our lives or just stuff we’ve argued about as a group.”
Redd spoke with Awards Focus about juggling three separate shows, performing in the now-infamous Will Smith sketch on Saturday Night Live, his thoughts on Kenan’s cancellation at NBC, and writing with his friends on Bust Down.
Awards Focus: You’ve been starring in three different shows this year. Were you shooting Kenan, Bust Down, and Saturday Night Live all simultaneously?
Chris Redd: Last Summer, I shot Bust Down and Kenan at the same time on the same lot. I was going from one to the other with like 20-hour days, which was insane. By the time we got done with Bust Down, Kenan and SNL overlapped, so then I started flying back-and-forth at the beginning of this season, all the way up until Christmas. Then everything aired around the same time at the beginning of the year, and I was touring my stand-up show. I sacrificed my personal life, and I think my family feels like I disowned them [laughs].
AF: SNL airs its final episode of the season on May 21. Does that mean you’re going to take a break?
Redd: In theory, yes. I have my tour, but I’m going to be vacationing while on tour. It’s the first time that I have some days off built into the tour. My therapist says I should take care of myself too.
AF: What’s been a highlight for you this season on Saturday Night Live?
Redd: This season has been so much fun, and I’ve met a lot of milestones for myself personally. One of them was playing a political character with the Mayor of New York, Eric Adams. That’s one of my favorite things we’ve done this season with my boy [writer] Will Stephen. I had made it a point to write more live sketches and not just stick to the videos, even though I love the video. I was trying to stretch myself a bit more.
AF: You’ve been starring in two single-camera comedies, NBC’s Kenan and Peacock’s Bust Down. Do you prefer performing live in front of a studio audience or having a bit more time with a scene?
Redd: I do like them both for different reasons. Single cam is where I live. That’s my favorite type of thing to shoot and create because I love the edit. I love the things you can do with a single cam, but there’s nothing like a live audience. It’s like the Super Bowl; nothing beats that feeling and the grueling process of having a time limit when it comes to sketch comedy. There’s nothing like the adrenaline and the build-up all week and the crowd telling you immediately if you were right all week or fooling yourself.
AF: Was there that apprehension of how the crowd would react to the Will Smith sketch when Jerrod Carmichael was hosting soon after the incident at the Oscars?
Redd: I grew up in an environment where you make fun of things. You also get made fun of, so you learn how to shoot back, or you’re going to catch these jokes. I think it was impressive that we had a take that no one had done yet, and that was why I was excited. We had that fresh take.
If we didn’t have a new interpretation, I would’ve had some hesitation with it. That’s the beauty and the challenge of this job in general, the fact that the internet can beat us to so many jokes before Saturday, so we really have to dig and figure out what is the take that no one has said?
AF: It was announced that Kenan was not renewed for another season by NBC, which was unexpected because the season two finale opened the story for many of the characters. What were your thoughts on the cancellation?
Redd: You always want to continue telling the story, man. We were just getting in the groove, and the second season was super strong, diving into all the characters and using everybody’s strengths really well.
It was a bummer because I was looking forward to going back to work. I thought season three would give us a chance to run in a couple of different directions based on the work we set up in season two. So yes, I mean, it’s always a shock. You take advantage of things you have when you have them. I thought for sure they’d give us a season three.
AF: Your character Gary, Kenan’s brother in the show, has some emotional conversations in episode 8 when he’s tasked to help pack up his mother’s house. What was it like tackling a more dramatic scene?
Redd: It was exciting to push myself in that way. I’ve always liked doing more dramatic material, but my instinct is to make a joke. So it was a different way to embrace something more emotional and try to get there. And I felt raw, man. After the scene was over, I felt naked as hell. I was like, “Is this what Viola Davis feels like?”
There’s something to be said about being the person who hasn’t moved on while everybody else has. That’s what it’s like to be a comic, a broke comedian. Everybody in your life who is not a comedian is starting a family and getting jobs, and you’re just sitting there at an open mic telling this butt joke one more time, hoping that the decision you made was the right one.
AF: You co-created Peacock’s Bust Down with Sam Jay, Langston Kerman, and Jak Knight. Can you talk a bit about developing the show and having these four voices mesh together?
Redd: It was beautiful. We were able to make a show that was very much us. We’re all comics and stand-ups who can talk about some tough things and not necessarily make light of it but talk about them in a digestible way. We wanted to make a show that portrayed actual people dealing with real things and not resolving each issue. Sometimes things are just happening. Some people deal with it, talk about it and move on, and we wanted to have a show that was goofy and something different. It’s the hyperbolic version of all of it, but we’ve had these conversations together.
From the first episode, when we’re talking about the babysitter that touched me when I was a kid, that was all derived from a conversation we had when we were hanging out one day. I said that my babysitter had made out with me, and she wasn’t as old in the show, but she was older than me. I was bragging because I wasn’t short, I pulled my babysitter, and they’re like, “No… That’s a problem,” [laughs]. So each episode has little bits of pieces of us, either things we’ve talked about from our lives or just stuff we’ve argued about as a group.
AF: What was important to you in building Chris’s character and differentiating him from the other three performers?
Redd: Chris is a narcissist. He’s egotistical and a wild card. He can never really be right because he’s a bad guy. They’re all terrible people in a certain way, but there’s someone like my character who is so crazy that he can’t ever win. It’s the rule for Chris. I can say any wild thing I want because I’m always going to lose at the end of the day.
AF: Were you able to improvise and go off-script when Chris is going wild?
Redd: I believe that good improv only happens because you’re elevating a script that’s already great. Because of that, you get to play in this world where you’re trying to beat incredible jokes.
Mixed in with the fact that I was playing with my friends and trying to make them break the whole time, I was just improvising constantly. Sometimes you have to know when the scene that you wrote is enough, but I’m always ready to play. I’m the one guy you have to tell to shut up.