YouTube comic Chris Fleming catapulted to virality in 2012 with the release of Gayle, a series in which he plays the eponymous Gayle Waters-Waters, helicopter mother and suburban housewife extraordinaire. But while Fleming has been tied to Gayle for most of his career, he has recently been touring the continent as himself. Fleming brought his absurdity and hilarity to this year’s Just for Laughs for the first time ever, in his new stand-up show Showpig.
For someone so distinct looking, Fleming’s face is surprisingly malleable—a skill that makes for quality impressions and bizarre sketch comedy. Standing at a gangly 6’3” with a mop of curly hair and oversized glasses, he bears a striking resemblance to a young Howard Stern. To convincingly play 40-something housewife Gayle, he simply takes off his glasses and puts on a tank top. Fleming seems to have a knack for playing middle aged women; he considers himself identical to United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an impression which he developed into a sketch of its own.
“When [DeVos] first came out, I was like, oh I look exactly like that, and she was funny, in a horrible, horrible way,” Fleming said.
Fleming is also frequently confused with an entirely different Chris Fleming—a 50-year-old paranormal researcher.
“People will call me up frantically asking me, ‘Chris?! Why are you doing a séance in West Virginia? You’re not equipped to do that,’” Fleming said. “But what’s really most insulting is that people say ‘yeah he looks good for 50,’ like they’re not even that surprised. I’m freaking 30.”
Irreverent and absurd, Fleming moves and speaks at light speed. Gayle spits out verbose, Parmesan-related demands at her husband just as quickly as she sprints to her mailbox each morning to pick up her William Sonoma catalogue. Yet despite his strong command over speech and movement, Fleming gives little credit to his training at Skidmore college, where he studied theatre and dance.
“I think study is an over-generous term for people majoring in theatre,” Fleming quipped. “I didn’t get cast in anything, so in my senior year to get credits I had to beg to be the props master. In this really degrading moment, I had to grovel to be the props master and to convince the theatre chair that I was passionate about props.”
Instead, Fleming’s passion for comedy grew out of his involvement in a college sketch troupe, where he met his current collaborator and Gayle director Melissa Strype.
“[Sketch comedy] prepared me , the gruelling all night hours of that, editing, and getting poison ivy [while] filming sketches,” Fleming laughed. “Getting poison ivy is going to prepare you better than anything for a life in the arts.”
Even with all his academic and extracurricular experience, most of Fleming’s inspiration comes from growing up in rural Massachusetts and working odd jobs in Los Angeles. Fleming worked as an SAT tutor in Orange County, a job that would later be the basis for an episode of Gayle, when Gayle locks her daughter’s SAT tutor to a radiator so he can be on call 24/7. Gayle’s intensity is hardly an overstatement; Fleming recalls similarly baffling encounters with over-involved parents during a past stint as a tutor.
“One woman would just leave me voicemails like, ‘Hi Chris, what happens if the essay question just sucks?’” Fleming said. “At 1 a.m. she left me this voicemail, and I’m like ‘Well I don’t know Vicky, how am I supposed to answer that?’”
With his tour of Showpig winding down and Gayle on an over year-long hiatus, the future is murky for Fleming. However, he has long charmed audiences both real and virtual with his well-timed anecdotes and off the wall antics, and is certain to continue to break out of his YouTube shell.