“I’m Living White People’s Dreams”: Why Being On 'SNL' Was Never Really Chris Redd's Ambition
Chris Redd is having a moment. Just maybe not the moment he was expecting. As his new HBO special Why Am I Like This? drops this week, Redd finds himself in the news for three things that have nothing to do with the show itself:
* He was one of several cast members to announce he was leaving Saturday Night Live, but the only one to bail in late September, only days before the October 1 season premiere;
* Just days later, the Internet buzzed with news that Redd was dating the not-quite-yet-divorced wife of Kenan and SNL co-star Kenan Thompson, apparently with “no hard feelings”;
* And then in the week leading up to the special, Redd was attacked by an unknown assailant outside the Comedy Cellar, resulting in three fractures and a big mess -- “there was so much blood.” Thankfully, Redd seems to be OK.
Man, Chris, there must be less stressful ways to promote a comedy concert! Especially since the show itself has plenty of jokes that likely would have landed Redd in the headlines.
Living the Dream
Redd does a recurring bit of crowd work in Why Am I Like This, asking people in the audience what they wanted to be when they were younger. A current surgeon confesses he wanted to be Redd, up on stage telling jokes. The assumption is that’s what Redd wanted as well.
“People think I’m living my dream right now because I’m on SNL,” he says. The crowd applauds his success before Redd shuts them down. They’ve got it all wrong. “I’m living white people’s dreams.”
Redd professes to having a great time on the show (at the time of taping, anyway -- those optics skew a little differently now that he’s ditched). “But y’all love SNL on a different level. White people love SNL in a way that, like, if there was a flag to put on your house, you would have it with the years that you actually watched the show.”
It’s only white SNL fans, says Redd, that run up to him with an “Ooh, you’re living your dream, Chris!” Redd’s response? “First of all, get off me. Second of all, dream? Chill.”
Point of clarification here: Redd isn’t dissing SNL necessarily. He’s grateful and blessed, he assures the crowd. The show changed his life. But dream? Do we think Chris Redd would be 5’6” tall in his dreams?
Much of Why Am I Like This? is spent discussing Redd’s actual childhood dreams. His first goal was to become an NBA player, an ambition unlikely to be realized given the comic’s height. “And add on top of that the fact that I’m not good at basketball.”
Another one of Redd’s dreams was to be a hip-hop star. “From 10 to 23, no one could tell me I wasn’t going to be a rapper, bro.” No one needed to as time told him “pretty abruptly” and Redd could see it wasn’t going to happen. Of all his ambitions, at least the rapper dream helped him as a comic “‘cause I still write -- a lot of what I did there helps me what I do now.”
Redd’s third dream? “I wanted to be a gangster.” But he wasn’t much better at selling drugs than he was at basketball. His failures “in the game” fuel a lot of the special’s comedy, borderline scary details that add tension to funny bits like a cousin getting taken down by the cops while Redd was playing PS2.
Nowhere in Why Am I Like This? does Redd confess to actually wanting to be a comedian. He seems to be having a fantastic time on stage, laughing along with the crowd as he spins his stories. But is he happy? He starts the special with a bit about finally going to therapy, a practice he previously believed to be reserved for white people but he now understands is for those with money and time. His success has afforded him both, but what good are money and time when someone is twerking right in front of you and you can’t stop crying?
Redd shares his diagnosis -- ADHD, anxiety, depression -- and is clearly working through his troubles on stage. He’s trying to answer a question that only successful people get to tackle: What happens when dreams come true and you’re still not satisfied?
Maybe there’s an answer in his cousin, the one who got taken down for his gangster ways. He’s still in jail but he embraced religion, rediscovered family, and seemingly found some peace. Redd isn’t there yet, but he’s out there looking for his.
Top image: HBO