Who Is Chris Redd? 'Saturday Night Live' Comedian is Sharing His Perspective on NBC Show

Who Is Chris Redd?
Chris Redd as The Fresh Prince during "Fresh Prince" bit on "Saturday Night Live" on January 20, 2018. Newsweek interviewed Redd about his second season on the NBC sketch comedy show. Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

In the 43 years of Saturday Night Live's existence, Chris Redd is only the 19th African American to appear as a cast member.

While the number isn't in the least bit shocking considering the entertainment industry's racially-charged history, it's still an astonishingly bleak figure in the sense that the progressively funny SNL is the most popular and longest-running sketch comedy show on American Television ever. Well over 100 people have appeared on SNL as a repertory or featured cast member since it's 1975 inception.

Nonetheless, Redd's second season on SNL is an honor and a huge accomplishment. It also signals the speedy direction SNL seems to be headed—forward. Following Redd's first season on the show, Ego Nwodim landed a featured player spot on Season 44, becoming the 20th African American and seventh African American woman to snag a role on SNL.

As Redd continues to charm viewers with his hilarious sketches—like the impeccable Kanye West impersonation and music video bit "Trees" delivered on SNL's latest episode—his presence on the show could usher in an even broader demographic of young audiences of color and, even better, bring opportunities for more black people to appear and star on the show. At least, that's what the 33-year-old is hoping for.

Newsweek recently talked about all things SNL with Redd, including that hilarious cold-open monologue that everyone's been raving about. Check out the full interview below.

How does it feel to be back for another season?

It feels way better. I was frantic just trying to figure out what to do [on my first season]. It's a different type of anxiety having these different rules about how to do the comedy. Disjointed [Netflix series] was very freeing because I played this crazy dude and could rip and say whatever I wanted. Then I had standup, which I could do anything and say anything, go anywhere with. To enter this world where the people here with you are three times as famous and you're seeing these different levels of the game right in front of you, everything's harder. I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. You hear all these stories, then you get there and try to figure it all out for yourself. That's your first year. The second year I was a lot more comfortable just knowing how the job works. You still don't know what's gonna make it on the show, but being comfortable makes it better for me to create because I don't have to worry about if I'm going to get fired every day.

Is there a specific person on the cast that's been particularly helpful to you?

No cast member is better at being a cast member than Kenan Thompson. He is the big brother. From the first second I saw Kenan, he was so welcoming. Kate McKinnon is that way too, but I was intimidated by Kate. I didn't know how to ask her to work on stuff. Kenan was the one. He was black, approachable. I felt like I knew him my whole life, and he doesn't shy away from that energy either. You know some people are like, "Yea I get it, you feel like you know me but you don't know me." That's not Kenan at all. He's very welcoming. He's very willing to run through a bit with you. Even if it's a bad one, he's willing to work with you until you both decide it's not good. I've picked up so much from watching him. He's a master of the job. From the way he's chill when there's chaos around to the way he can edit a camera move within a scene during rehearsal, I'm picking up on all that. Everybody has something to learn from, but Kenan was the guy [I went to] anytime I had a question. He's been there the longest, and he's the best for a reason.

Who's the funniest?

Aw man. What a question! That's a trap. There's no way I can answer that question and not make somebody angry. Any given week anybody can be the funniest. These are the funniest people in the world. I've seen everybody be the funniest in a certain week. I'm not gonna answer that question the way you want it though. I won't do it [laughs].

OK, OK, how about this one then: How do you keep a straight face while performing?

Take "Diner Lobster" for example, when John Mulaney came back [on the show in April 2018]. There was not a rehearsal where we didn't crack up, and it was fun but you have to get the job done. My little trick is to laugh off camera. When that camera comes on me, I don't care how hard I was laughing before, I'm in it. I think I've been caught once only because I didn't know the camera was on me, but I try to film the whole time with no breaks. That makes it fun because people try to break you and I definitely try to break others. When I was doing the Kanye [impression], I was trying to get Pete [Davidson] to laugh. I was trying to get Kenan and Alex [Mofatt] to laugh off camera. I saw moments where I got them all to laugh, but [viewers] didn't see that because the cameras weren't on them. Sometimes you just can't help it. Sometimes it's so funny you just gotta let one go, but we're professionals and we know we have a job to do. It does make things entertaining though when things are hilarious.

Had you worked with Alec Baldwin before the "Kanye West Donald Trump Cold Open?"

I've worked with him but just in little spurts. That was our first time carrying a scene together and it was great. Alex is a big personality, so I wanted to be as prepared as possible to ensure I wasn't the weak link in the scene. I knew he was gonna bring it. After rehearsal, he said, "That was really good man. I see you sinking into it. Every time we rehearse you're sinking into it." Kenan said the same thing, so I knew I was in the right direction. I really take what they say to heart because they're very good at what they do, and they've been doing it longer than me. I'm not afraid to be a student of a situation.

People really enjoyed your impersonation of Kanye.

I really found a new love for impressions. I will continue to hone that. I'm a perfectionist and I love this comedy thing. I'm glad most people liked it and I will continue to just try to make it better and funnier. I had a good time. I have a weird love for Kanye so to work through my complicated love is good. I'm glad I got satire to do it.

You're from Chicago?

I was raised in Chicago, born in St. Louis. My family's from Mississippi. A lot of places have ownership over me, but Chicago's a place that made me the person I am and the comedian I am for sure.

Who's influenced you?

The usual suspects. For sketch and character work, Eddie Murphy all day. I'll never be able to do voices as good as Eddie, but the way he hooks himself into a character is something that I look up to a lot. Dave Chappelle. Chris Rock for his political views and angles. Richard Pryor was a staple in my household. My dad had Richard's albums. I used to sneak and listen to them. [My dad] didn't know, but I was definitely doing it. I was definitely getting my mug on, taking [Richard's jokes] to school and acting like they were my jokes so the girls would like me. I can name comics all day, but those are some of the people that I watched a lot to help shape how I do this.

What does it mean to be a young black man in 2018 on a show as long-running as SNL?

It gives me an opportunity to put my perspective out there, my angle and my take on what's happening. I think every comedian represents—at the very least—100,000 voices out in the world that want to see comedy from this angle, and my part on the show is a representation of so many people who would love to see something from a black perspective. We haven't had a whole lot of us on this show, especially all at once. I don't know if it's ever been this many black cast members [on SNL] all at one time. To see Leslie [Jones] and Ego do a sketch together that I can completely relate to, it's very cool and I know the world needs that. One of my goals is to make black people watch the show again, like whoever hasn't watched since Eddie Murphy [left in 1984] or hasn't watched in general. [Being on the show] also allows me to give another perspective to a demographic that isn't like me and lets people connect on things they don't know firsthand. If I can build some character work, make some cool songs and inspire young black kids to do this thing and push it farther than I did, that's cool too.