It’s funny when writing as a passion turns into a career. Especially when you’re a comedian.
Chris Davis ’09 graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and is now using his creative writing background as a part-time comedian in Chicago.
Originally from Maywood, a southwest suburb of Chicago, he came to Illinois State after two years at the College of DuPage. He chose to further his education at ISU because it was close to home, but not too close. Davis always enjoyed writing but decided to join ISU’s business administration program when it came time to choose a major.
“I went into business but was always inclined to be a writer,” Davis said. “I didn’t though because I thought all there was to do was teach, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach.”
Searching for his academic niche along with navigating college life as a transfer student, Davis felt he didn’t fit in.
“I felt like I was out of place with my age group because most of the people my age already knew what they were doing,” he said. “I was really lost and didn’t know too many people, but then I went to Festival ISU.”
It was at Festival ISU—a traditional event that provides opportunities for students to interact with registered student organizations, business, and academic departments—that Davis got involved with NOIR Dance Troupe, a student-run dance organization that demonstrates a variety of dance styles. Their purpose is to entertain crowds, diversify the student body, and provide an outlet of expression for interested and experienced dancers.
“I wasn’t too involved with dance,” Davis explained. “But I remember seeing the troupe, auditioning, making it, and connecting with many of the people I am still close with now. It was the first student organization I was a part of, and I was able to meet people from various backgrounds.”
As Davis began to find himself within the Redbird community, he was also one step closer to figuring himself out in academia.
“I took a few classes in the business program, but then I started to learn more about the English program from Dr. Ricardo Cruz,” he said. “I realized there were a lot of different directions I could go.”
In his second semester at ISU, Davis switched his major to English. The change brought out Davis’ creative side and taught him to analyze texts from a different perspective.
“Dr. Cruz had an integrative studies English course about Biggie Smalls and Tupac,” Davis said. “It used a lot of poetry and really got me thinking in a different way.”
One of those different ways was performing. Davis didn’t think he would ever break out into the comedy business, but events and opportunities popped up around campus that were more influential on his interests than he thought.
“There were a few open mics that I went to hosted by LaRoyce Hawkins, who is now a current actor,” Davis said. “I was always too afraid to go up there, but it made me realize how much I enjoyed studying English and writing.”
“I was too timid and afraid to perform, but I think of those nights,” he added.
Between open mic nights and an interesting curriculum in his English classes, Davis flourished at ISU and graduated in 2009.
While working as a tech writer on different projects, he decided to educate himself more in the world of comedy and take improvisation classes at Second City in Chicago after a friend spoke highly of her experience there.
“ISU really made me fall in love with learning and education,” he said.
A self-proclaimed, unanimated introvert, Davis is the first to admit that taking this class forced him to overcome his fear of judgment and pursue a passion that he didn’t know he had.
“I was at a point in my life that I realized how safe I felt, and it was one of those moments where I saw myself,” Davis explained. “I was single with no kids and was searching for a social circle.”
Davis slowly learned that working with people in comedy was difficult. He was worried about offending his scene partners and had trouble acclimating to the group comedy environment. Although improvisation was not for him, those classes are one of Davis’ fondest memories and a crucial factor in his personal and professional growth. They taught the introvert that he actually loved speaking, writing, and making people laugh. This is when he found stand-up comedy.
“I like stand-up comedy because it’s my humor for better or worse,” Davis said. “I also like to write my own material and present my own personal flavor of comedy.”
Davis creates his jokes based on aspects of social justice and talking about issues that are relatable for his audience. His recent sets have been focused on cancel culture and other political issues. He also tries to break the existing stigma about comedians.
“Sometimes being a comedian is hard because I’ve been fortunate enough to lead a normal life,” Davis explained. “Some of our most famous comedians had hard upbringings and experienced pain at some point, which they emphasize to be funny.”
“I feel like this isn’t real for me sometimes, and I feel like an imposter,” he added. “A lot of these people had it a lot worse than me, and I made it into a joke.”
Despite his differences with other comedians, he is still involved in the community that exists because of comedy, which is not uncommon. He pitches jokes off local comedians, and they get jokes off one another.
Davis also still finds himself struggling with his introverted personality. The assumption that comedians are gregarious extroverts puts him in a tough spot.
“A lot of people didn’t think I could do it and having a lot of people doubt me was tough,” he said, especially because he also has a full-time job.
Comedy doesn’t pay all the bills, but one day Davis hopes that it can. Currently, he works a day job at a veteran’s hospital on the southwest side of Chicago in its IT department.
“I want to be consistently performing, and I want to make a full-time career out of this because I love it,” Davis said. “I am a writer first and foremost and even have some pilot episodes written for comedy television shows.”
In the meantime, Davis has performed across Chicago, at places such as Second City, the Laugh Factory, and Zanies, which is a “buffet of comedy” and has realized there are many different places and things to get into. With his performing, he has gotten used to feeling vulnerable and learned to break through the audiences’ walls with laughter, no matter how scary it is.
As a unique performative art form where the audience is honest about how they feel, over the years, Davis has learned that his favorite part of stand-up comedy is trying out new jokes and feeling that his sense of humor is relatable and people understand it.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster, but it’s rewarding and relieving,” he said.
Davis is thankful for the opportunity to be honest with his audiences and share the somedic side that he didn’t even know existed for the first half of his life.
Davis has advice for people who are trying to find their true passion, even if it falls outside of their comfort zone.
“My advice would be to just try it. Do the thing that you know in your heart you want to do even if you’re scared,” he said.
See a few of Davis’ shows at Just Chris Davis.