Comedy with a cause
Christopher Titus teams with Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon and Billy Gardell to raise funds for foster teens
By Carl Kozlowski 05/05/2011
Christopher Titus endured a lot of emotional pain growing up with a verbally abusive alcoholic father and a schizophrenic mother who ultimately committed suicide. But he lifted himself out of despair with laughter, becoming a standup comedian who turned his pain into riveting and relatable tales that eventually earned him his own self-titled sitcom on FOX.
Titus has come a long way in his career, with a third standup special for Comedy Central set to air July 4. But he’s kept his heart open to the hardships of others, establishing the nonprofit Insight Youth Project, which raises money for children from dysfunctional and abusive families, and using revenue from stand-up shows to help organizations that help teens who are homeless or in foster care.
On Saturday, Titus will join Dana Carvey, SNL alum and “Weeds” star Kevin Nealon and Billy Gardell, star of CBS’ “Mike & Molly,” in “Laugh Your A$$ Off, Save the World,” a fundraiser to benefit the Olive Crest center for troubled teens at Glendale’s Alex Theatre.
“There are 56,000 foster and homeless teens in Los Angeles, and that’s a big deal for me,” says Titus. “We want to eradicate the problem of teens being homeless from Los Angeles by 2020. I had a tough childhood, with a tough dad and an insane mom, but can you imagine living in the bushes by the 101 [freeway]?”
The Insight Youth Project seeks out private, faith-based charities because Titus believes state-run foster homes are often places where caregivers “are just out to cash a check,” and that private programs make more effort to truly help.
He chose Olive Crest — serving children and families in California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest since 1973 — because it provides housing, counseling and education for both troubled youths and their parents so that the families have a better shot at staying together before kids are placed in foster care.
“Right now they’re trying to fill a $150,000 shortfall for their counseling program,” Titus says of Olive Crest. “I really learned about these issues by volunteering with a Hollywood day shelter called My Friend’s Place. They told me these kids live in the bushes by the freeway, and I was like ‘holy shit.’ This is freakin’ Los Angeles, one of the most beautiful cities on earth, and economically we set trends and that’s not one we should be setting.”
Plenty of other social issues are upsetting Titus these days, fueling the outraged comedic sensibilities that flourished during the three-year run of his sitcom “Titus.” His new comedy special is called “Neverlution,” and is also rooted in his frustrations with the world.
“We’re a society built on revolution, but now we’re placated by Starbucks and iPads, and so we’re never going to get angry enough to have a revolution again,” says Titus. “We spend $900 billion on bullets and defense, and $90 billion on education. Why is Singapore kicking our ass on math and science? We’re not paying attention to what matters. I’m not Democrat or Republican, but that’s just messed up.”
Indeed, Titus is fiercely independent politically, finding faults with both parties. But mostly he believes that individuals should find a charity that they believe in and get involved rather than waiting on government agencies to do it for them.
“Just remembering what a screw-up I was as a teenager, I was a horrible student at 17 and they wouldn’t give me my diploma because I had to go to summer school to graduate,” Titus recalls. “But I turned into a guy with a Writers’ Guild nomination. Who
you are is a choice. What you want to be is a choice, and sometimes people don’t give these kids a choice. We need to give money to groups that give kids counseling and a different life.”