Saturday Night Live’s Chris Redd gets a little wound up talking about the violence plaguing the city he calls home, and about his message to the youth.
“Man, first of all, stop killing. Stop killing each other, man. There’s another way. There’s more to life than all this street s—. And like, it’s not worth it. We need you. We need our young people, man,” Redd said.
The 33-year-old comedian, born in St. Louis and raised in southwest suburban Naperville before moving to Chicago to pursue rapping, then comedy, was in town this month to host Toyota’s Music Den at Lollapalooza.
He’s coming off a breakout first season as a featured player/writer with the storied SNL. “Come Back, Barack,” the ballad he co-wrote, then performed with SNL’s Kenan Thompson and Chicago’s Chance the Rapper, is up for an Emmy that would give SNL a record three wins in the Best Music and Lyrics category.
“This is one of my favorite artists,” Redd said. “And for Chance to sit there and vibe with it, and have fun with it on the record, and like love it, and be like, ‘Yo, this right here is a hit,’ it meant a lot. It’s a blessing.”
Moving to Naperville at age 8, the comedian attended Neuqua Valley High School. After graduating in 2003, he’d moved to Chicago to do the stand-up comedy club circuit, eventually touring with Second City.
“I lived on the West Side. I lived on the South Side. I lived on the North Side a bunch. I was couch surfing a lot,” said Redd, who took time to visit Chicago Public Schools’ Tilden High, in South Side Canaryville, during his recent visit, teaching improv and writing classes to teens. |
“I had lived longer in Chicago than anywhere. I’d been broke in the city of Chicago. I had been hungry. I had split Chipotle bowls into three so I could have three meals for the day. I had taken a nap so I could miss breakfast and save my money. I mean, I struggled in Chicago, so I feel like that makes me a Chicagoan.”
Redd traded Chicago for the West Coast just before he got the call last August that SNL Creator Lorne Michaels had liked his audition. He joined the cast for its 43rd season.
Before that, he’d snagged small roles on Chicago-based TV series “Chicago P.D.” and “Empire,” and been lauded for his role in the 2016 film, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” starring SNL alum Andy Samberg and Second City alum Tim Meadows. And last year was a good year for the comic. He notched his own half-hour Comedy Central special, and co-starred with Kathy Bates in the first season of the Netflix series, “Disjointed.”
It’s more than he could have imagined for someone who got sent to an alternative school for a spell.
“Neuqua told me they didn’t want me in the school anymore, so I went to this alternative school for a while. I was like never a dumb person, I just didn’t like learning in a racist environment. But I was very emotional as a kid too, so I would just react to that,” Redd recounts.
“I would always try to like hang out with my cousin who was from the West Side, because that’s where all the black people were and that’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to run the streets and be a gangster. And a rapper. And me and my parents kind of like beefed, growing up, because of that.”
Returning to Neuqua and graduating “by the skin of my teeth … college just wasn’t on my list of things to do,” said Redd. “I’ve always been a lover of comedy and studied it, basically to try to be funny for girls. I was awkward, an introvert. I felt intimidated talking to people, too much pressure. And I had a stutter. So I thought jokes would be the way to go.”
Watching the headlines about the violence in his adopted hometown, he said he often feels frustrated, wishing he could share his own life’s lessons.
“It’s just sad that these kids don’t get a chance to see life outside of their surroundings, that these educational programs are getting cut, that the police don’t do more to support these kids, that some of the parents aren’t doing more to support them,” Redd said.
“Just how much they go through on a day-to-day basis. They’re exposed to way more than I ever saw. And to see that just makes me want to do more for the city, to show them there’s another way,” said Redd, lauding the philanthropic efforts of Chance.
“I want to do more for the city as well. I’m gearing up to do a charity, giving opportunities to kids. It all starts with us, letting these kids know you just got to get out of these streets, man, and find another way. These dreams that you have, they’re achievable. I wasn’t supposed to be doing this. I just worked for it beyond all measure. Try. Don’t give up on yourselves.”