Some funny things happened on the way to LA
Stow’s Chris Fleming chases stand-up dream
With his shoulder-length curly hair and skintight bohemian clothing, Chris Fleming doesn’t look like your typical stand-up comedian. And, frankly, the Stow native doesn’t perform like one, either.
“Let’s start out with the beginner’s stretch,’’ Fleming says in one of his newest bits, contorting his body into different poses as he pretends to be a yoga instructor. “For this one, I like to put a treat onto each of my toes, like a soy crisp or perhaps a dry apricot.’’
Though unorthodox, Fleming has quickly made a name for himself on the local comedy scene, gaining a reputation as one of Boston’s most electrifying and novel performers. People outside the city have begun to take notice, too. Last fall, the 24-year-old moved to Los Angeles after signing with the talent agency that manages Arlington native Dane Cook, who has made several comedy DVDs, HBO specials and Hollywood films.
These days, Fleming is beginning to get movie roles while he continues to hone his act on stage.
Fleming creates long performance pieces in which he develops a character and then spends up to five minutes acting out the character’s story. In one of Fleming’s more well-known bits, he channels a power-walking woman from the suburbs who is high-strung about, well, everything.
“My Labradoodle just got into Carnegie Mellon - early acceptance!’’ Fleming shouts into the microphone, refusing to break a power-walking stride. The character’s name is Gayle Waters-Waters, a woman who refuses to take her husband’s last name even though it’s the same as her own.
Fleming began performing stand-up routines at the Comedy Studio, a club in Harvard Square, while a 17-year-old senior at Nashoba Regional High School. After entering Skidmore College in the fall of 2005, he began to head into New York to perform at some of the city’s clubs. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark, and he was invited to perform at the prestigious HBO US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen in 2007.
For Fleming, who returned to the Boston scene after graduating from college as a theater major in 2009, creating these pieces is an involved process that takes time to perfect.
“I have this giant sheet of butcher paper that I hang on the wall of my apartment,’’ said Fleming. “I will get an idea at some point, like one time I was doing yoga, and I had this image of a yoga instructor who was putting treats on his toes. Then I start to blow the idea of the piece out on the piece of paper. I will draw different pictures and get really visual with my idea as I map it out.
“Actually, it makes the walls of my room look like a serial killer lives there.’’
In January 2010, Fleming was performing at a special showcase at the Comedy Studio when he was spotted by a talent manager who asked him to sign with the Los Angeles-based New Wave Entertainment agency. Since relocating to Los Angeles in October, Fleming has performed at venues around his new city. He was also recently cast as a high school drummer in a film called “Gender Freak.’’
Back home, Fleming’s success on the comedy circuit hasn’t been much of a surprise for those familiar with his work.
“Chris isn’t a funny comedian, he’s an interesting person who sees the world in a funny way,’’ said Rick Jenkins, owner of the Comedy Studio. “Chris’s world is this rubbery, cartoonish, absurd place filled with over-the-top, self-important characters. It’s a really cool world he shows us.’’
There’s a surprising nature to Fleming that audiences love, according to Jenkins, who foresees a bright future for him.
“When Chris first came to our attention, his parents were driving him to the show, and you thought, ‘What a nice, sweet teenager.’ Then he got on stage and you saw this crazy, talented man. It’s so nice to see Chris on the verge of this incredible career. He’s the only person like him, so Hollywood, take note.’’
Because of his unusual approach, Fleming occasionally encounters audiences who aren’t particularly receptive to his comedy stylings. But he tries to take it in stride, he said.
“Sometimes people are just not having it, so I’m trying to get more and more comfortable if I’m ever up there dying on stage,’’ Fleming said.
“They can get confused because what I’m doing is so unorthodox. Sometimes they just think I’m doing some sort of strange gypsy mumbo-jumbo.’’
However, these audiences are few and far between for Fleming, whose goal is to continue to perfect his act.
“I’m trying to amass a body of work right now and really get as good as I can at live performance,’’ he said. “I’m always trying to take new risks on stage and continue challenging myself.’’