Stupid humor is the best for comic Chris Elliott

January 26, 1994|By Lewis Beale | Lewis Beale,New York Daily News

Chris Elliott says he doesn't mind if you call his brand of comedy "stupid." The pratfalls, the non sequiturs, the general air dweebiness -- it's all part of his shtick.

"It's stupid and always has been," says the thin, bearded comic, who's starring in "Cabin Boy." "My comedy has always been stupid and goofy, and that's always been the intent behind it. You're talking comedy, so 'stupid' to me evokes a funny image. It's not negative."

Like we didn't know this about Chris Elliott already. Remember "the guy under the seats" and "the panicky guy" on the old Letterman show? That was Chris. How about the Fox TV series "Get a Life," about a 30-year-old paper boy still living at home? That was Mr. Elliott also. This guy's made a career out of playing the kind of self-absorbed social mutants you either love or want to punch out.

That image, though, is totally at odds with his real life as a loving husband with two small children. "In public, I'm a psycho; in private, I'm a normal family guy," says the 32-year-old Mr. Elliott, who's thoroughly unpretentious and low-key in person. "I guess I'm just attracted to the kind of guy I play, who has tunnel vision. I find there's something funny about that."

"Cabin Boy" is more of the same. Mr. Elliott plays a spoiled rich kid who inadvertently falls in with a down-and-dirty fishing boat and its slovenly crew. There's plenty of physical humor, some truly surreal touches -- his character loses his virginity to a six-armed goddess -- and, because it was shot primarily on a sound stage, the film has an old Hollywood feel.

Mr. Elliott explains that he and director Adam Resnick "wanted to design a movie that was for me what 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' was for Pee-wee Herman.

"The whole sea idea came because Adam and I are fans of movies like 'Captains Courageous.' And shooting on the sound stage was partially because of our budget, but it also adds a certain dramatic, theatrical feel. The original idea was to go from a bland, real countryside to a 1950s Technicolor orangish glow."

Mr. Elliott, who won four Emmys as a writer for David Letterman, has cast Big Dave in a hilarious film cameo as a salty old dog with a weird sense of humor. "He's been my greatest supporter," says Mr. Elliott, "and everything leads back to him."

Chris' dad is Bob Elliott of the famous Bob and Ray comedy team. "My dad's biggest influence was getting me into the business," says Chris.

But Mr. Elliott, who says "my sense of humor wasn't fully developed" when he began working for Mr. Letterman, feels that the late comic/performance artist Andy Kaufman was the person who shaped his style.

"He influenced the stuff I did on 'Late Night.' His stuff was different, odd, very confrontational. I think the biggest difference between us is that Andy didn't care if people liked him, but I want to be liked at the end of the day."

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