A hero of American dysfunction, comedian Christopher Titus has given broken families and their broken dreams an artistic voice in a mass appeal way for nearly a decade.
To those not completely familiar with his rather colorful upbringing, here’s the beginning: Titus was raised in California by a gruff, hard-drinking (but by most accounts, well-meaning) father and a bipolar/schizophrenic mother – with a 185 IQ – who killed one of her husbands in self-defense.
In 2000, the comic premiered his Fox sitcom, Titus, based around his life but more specifically around the stand-up material in Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding, the one-man show Titus had brought to Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival that same year; the show would later be recorded and aired on Showtime and then on Comedy Central.
Four years after its original televised broadcast, the latter cable giant has just released a two-disc set of the 90-minute performance, which proves not to be a study in topical humor – the fact that the material is at least 10 years old doesn’t matter – but a study in what (besides a series of laugh-inducing bits) stand-up comedy can be. That is, timeless reflections on family foibles, introspection of one’s own ill-conceived life choices and pain. Lots of pain.
That Titus is able to seamlessly bare publicly what most people would discuss only in therapy — some topics include his years-long abusive relationship with a woman who would later become his wife, his mother being institutionalized, his dad being arrested on live television for drunken-driving — and still generate a constant stream of sturdy laughs from a crowd that, as a whole, couldn’t possibly relate to the same degree of familial madness, is, in part, a tribute to the comedian’s deft understanding of the human psyche.
It’s also a nod to Titus’ theatrical treatment of themes that in the hands of an ill-skilled comic would do little more than send the crowd home early with chills and wondering why, in God’s name, they just hadn’t instead made it a Blockbuster night. The smarter folks in the crowd -– or perhaps the more insane -– know better, however, to ride Titus’ crazy train to the end.