Television personality Christian Finnegan came to Stony Brook last week and put on quite a show to a packed house in the Student Activities Center auditorium. His set was on point and hysterical, and kept 400 students laughing for an hour.
Finnegan is most famous for his run on VH1’s Best Week Ever, but progressive political junkies will recognize him from regular appearances on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the nightly MSNBC talk show.
Think Magazine sat down with Finnegan after his performance, and talked about everything, from politics to Playstation.
The following is an edited transcript of our Q & A.
Think Magazine: What’s it like to live in the crossroads of politics and comedy? It seems to have become this really popular subgenre the last few years.
Christian Finnegan: The thing is, I hate political comedy. I personally loathe it. A lot of comedians, they think that they can just do there dumb, stupid hack jokes but have them be about John McCain and call themselves political comedians.
A lot of political humor requires so much context to get to the funny. On a show like Countdown, or the Daily Show, or Colbert, they’ll show a little b-roll footage and then they’ll set it up, and then I’ll come on Olbermann and so everybody already knows the information that we’re going to be talking about. Whereas in comedy, you have to be like ‘hey did you guys hear about this filibuster?’ It’s just not interesting.
The thing about The Daily Show, its hard news on those shows, they’re not fucking around. Its not what I was talking about before where its just kinda ‘Boehner, Boehner, fart jokes’ you know, its rigorous.
TM: Normally its orange jokes with Boehner…
CF: Yeah, yeah, yeah…but it’s a very intricately worded orange joke. You know what I mean, it’s a very erudite joke. I watch those shows, and I constantly marvel that they’re able to churn out the quality of material that they do every day.
TM: Do you think that particular brand of humor, The Daily Show or Colbert, have changed how our generation views politics?
CF: I do think that every crop of young people discovers it anew. And they discover it on their own terms, and the terms now are Twitter and Facebook.
If you grew up in a time where there was the 7 o’clock news and that’s the only way you learned about the world, that’s going to affect the way you think. You’re probably not going to be as aware of this interconnectedness of the world and how much this over here affects that over there.
TM: So how did you, a comedian, come to appear so regularly on Countdown with Keith Olbermann?
CF: I used to be on Best Week Ever, and there was a time before the 2008 elections really got into full swing, they would have a segment on Countdown called “Keeping Tabs,” which was sort of their, ‘lets talk about Lindsey Lohan for four minutes’ segment.
They stopped doing that at a certain point, kinda when the election really got into full swing they just didn’t want to waste time on it. I told producers ‘you know, I actually do kinda read the news and stuff and so if you ever need somebody…Id love to do it.’
And of course, when they bring me on, its definitely for the low hanging fruit of politics. So its like “well Sarah Palin said…’ or ‘Levi Johnston did…’ But its great, I feel really honored to have any affiliation with the show at all. I don’t really talk about politics much in my act.
TM: Well as a comedian, who do you want to win in 2012? Because Sarah Palin would definitely be great for your career, right?
CF: I don’t like comedy that much. I’d like to think that I would never be that mercenary with my comedy to just like ‘Oh man I hope things go terrible so I can make jokes about it.’ There’s always going to be stuff to make jokes about, and I still have to live here…
It would never happen. There’s just too many people who hate her. People have made up their minds about her. Nobody’s changing their mind about Sarah Palin. If you like her, you’re always going to like her, if you hate her you’re always going to hate her. Its more likely that people who like her might stop liking her than vise versa. What could she possibly do that would change your mind about her? Is there anything?
All that could happen is that she has a huge scandal and then loses support. She’s not gaining any more.
TM: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened at a college gig?
CF: With colleges, I’ve had to learn the hard way. I’ve set certain restrictions when I perform at colleges for my own safety and my own reputation in the business.
There’s lot of comedians who do some scandalous shit at colleges. There are guys who…you know, I’m human I understand, women are attractive and its nice when you’re a comedian and women want to give you attention that you never got as a child and all that stuff that you could have never gotten on your own merits…but its like, no that’s not cool.
You know, I won’t go to bars. I did a show at the University of North Dakota, and after the show a guy was like ‘hey man we gotta go to some college fratty thing.’ This guy was like, man I got to buy you a shot I’m gonna get you fucked up tonight. And I was like ‘eh, alright just nothing with jagermeister.’
And nevertheless here comes this big Jager bomb, it’s this massive shot and I just couldn’t get it down, I just don’t like that at all. And then he got offended, he was like ‘dude you didn’t drink my shot.’
I was like ‘dude, I’ll buy you a shot’, but he was like ‘I don’t need you I make more money than you do, I don’t even know who the fuck you are, man.’
Its so funny, those people who are like ‘hey man I’m a big fan,’ they can turn on a dime, especially when there’s alcohol involved. Then all of a sudden he was getting in my face. That was the moment when I said ‘I can’t put myself in this situation.’
TM: How did you get into stand up comedy in the first place?
CF: Actually, funny story, John Hodgman and I used to work together in a previous life. I used to be an assistant literary agent and we used to work at the same company.
In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say it…I kinda got him doing comedy. We were working at this place and I quit because I wanted to start doing stand up. He at the time was purely a literary-world publishing guy and he was telling me ‘oh my god, it just seems like such a weird decision, why would you start doing comedy?’
He was never a comedian, but he was a writer and he’s got such a funny way about him. He started doing a reading series in New York where he’d have literary people come and do comedic readings and stuff like that, and that’s kinda how he got his thing going. And then he published his book, and Jon Stewart was such a huge fan. But yeah, he’s a good fellow, and he could buy and sell me five times over.