As my Junior Advisor (JA) last year, Chris Gay ’13 was one of the first people I met when I got to the College. I was a nervous first-year, but his hilarious wit and cheerful attitude put me at ease right away and kept me laughing all year long. On Saturday night, I got to sit down with him and share some more laughs as his senior year comes to a close.
I’ve never interviewed someone I knew before for One in 2000. This is weird … Why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Well, I’m a senior, which has been a fun experience. I’m from Ann Arbor, Mich., but I was originally born in Chicago, and I’m planning to return sooner rather than later. I predominantly do theater around here, which is what most people know me for. It was something I got into in high school, and it became the thing I did, which I really didn’t intend. But now I’m a theater major and I do at least four shows a year. [Laughs.] But it’s what I’ll remember most about the College, and it’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life, hopefully.
Truth time. Since I was your frosh, tell me how you really felt about your experience being a JA.
It was honestly amazing. I had Krista [Pickett ’13] as my co, and a really easy entry experience. We didn’t have any huge drama to deal with, and we could just have fun. It was better than I expected, because they trained us for so many situations that we never even had to deal with. It was a great year. I thought my job would be a lot of problem solving, which I did do, but it was mostly fixing the TV.
What was your favorite experience as a JA?
Moving in with Krista and meeting all of you guys, probably. When we were setting up the entry, I got injured a bunch of times, but I was so happy-go-lucky I didn’t even notice. I cut open my hand and dropped a bed on my feet twice. I was so afraid of the impression I would make on you guys, and I just kept talking: “Blah blah blah I’m so excited!” But after the first meeting, it went exactly the way I wanted it to. And those barbecues at the end of the year were great, too.
How do you feel now that you’re graduating and leaving the College?
I’ve had a very full experience here, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I have that nostalgia, but at the same time I’m ready. I’m ready to burst out into the world and show ’em what I’ve got.
Do you know what’s next for you?
I want to move to Chicago and start my comedy performance career. I’ve gotten into an improv club, and after a while I might be able to join a house team and start performing regularly. And I want to keep doing standup. It’s a great city for comedy.
What are your go-to stories for standup routines?
Well. One of my favorite bits that I love to perform [is] one of the first ones I ever wrote – and you have to know that before I got into theater, I was actually a very quiet person …
Excuse me? I don’t think I can even picture that.
I played football, tennis and basketball, and I was the quietest person at my high school, night and day. So during this period, I went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico with my church. And my friends were like, “Let’s dive into the jungle of Puerto Rico!” I just went along with it and so much s*** happened. I fell into a little water reservoir, and we got trapped in a village and hiked around a mountain. So I do a bit on that. A lot of my comedy revolves around my brother, because as goofy as I am, he’s way goofier. He gets himself into crazy situations, and as the older brother, I have to be there for him. He’s probably going to be the end of me.
What’s your family like?
I love my family. We’re a very tight unit. It’s me, my brother, my mom and my dad, and I have a surrogate older sister. We’re a laughing family. We moved a lot when I was little. From the ages of three to six, I think I lived in three different states while my dad was looking for a medical residency. And then we eventually ended up in Ann Arbor. I never got really home-bound, which I really like, because now I’m not scared to go far away.
I’m still stuck on you being a quiet child. How did you go from being quiet to being, well, how you are now?
It all kind of started because I transferred high schools at the end of sophomore year. I played a lot of sports before I transferred, but the academics at my first school were getting horrendous so my dad sent me to a tiny private school. My graduating class was 86 people. They didn’t have as many opportunities for me to play sports. I had always taken acting classes because they were easy A’s, so I took a class with this amazing teacher. If I ever win any prestigious awards, he’s the one I will thank first. At the end of class one day, he asked if I was going to do any theater here. I laughed and said, “No, no, just this one class.” He looked at me, and I think I offended him, because he told me, “You will fail this class if you don’t audition for the fall play.” I was outraged, and I was like, “You can’t do that!” But he could, so I tried out. It was a show called Shakespeare in Hollywood. Every season since then, I’ve done theater. I joined the improv club and I went from being the quiet guy to being the theater dude.
What weird stories from the life of Chris Gay do you have to share?
Well, last summer some friends and I went to Lollapalooza in Chicago, and I just interacted with some very strange people. We were at the Florence and the Machine concert, and they’re not my favorite, so I was just listening and chilling, but we were standing next to some people who were really into her. This one girl was doing this strange interpretive dance.
How do you even dance to Florence and the Machine? Their stuff isn’t exactly dance music.
I don’t even know. But she kept flailing her arms, which I kept dodging. I wish I could show people a video of this girl. So my friends and I moved over. And then they started playing “The Dog Days Are Over,” which has a lot of rhythmic clapping, and this guy turns around and starts doing the clapping a couple inches from my face. And I’m just like, “What do you want from me? I’m clapping as best I can!”
Aside from running into crazy people, do you have any hobbies that no one knows about?
Well, a lot of people know this, but I’m addicted to television. I actively follow about to 17 to 20 TV shows throughout a year, and I keep adding new ones, which is not good. But the weird thing most people don’t know is that I study television by watching these shows. I have notebooks in my room filled with notes on the TV shows I watch. I want to write and act in television. I love it. It’s a great medium.
What’s your favorite show right now?
Oh come on, you know the answer to that. My favorite show will always be Doctor Who.
Have you seen tonight’s episode? If you spoil it I’ll kill you.
I won’t tell you anything, but it was amazing. Clara [the show’s new character] is awesome. I would marry her. I got into Doctor Who through YouTube. When we got our new iMac, I decided that I was going to use it exclusively to stream television through YouTube.
Any Williams experiences you want to share?
Well, there was the time earlier this year that Combo Za was performing in Dodd, and [Campus Safety and] Security made us leave because we were a fire hazard. We ended up performing outside on the far side of Dodd Circle, in the parking lot, in the cold Halloween weather, with everyone sitting on the pavement watching for an entire hour. But the energy was amazing, and everyone stayed through the whole thing. It was a great show, and the audience was really engaged. I was almost in tears. It was so good.
It’s really a testament to how much Williams students need a good laugh once in a while.
Yeah, exactly. Joining Combo Za my sophomore year changed the way I did everything else at the College. Combo Za practices together three times a week, and we just do scenes together. We keep it pretty locked down during our shows, but during practice, I’m crying from laughter 90 percent of the time. I said this when I spoke at Claiming Williams – just go into a room and laugh, all the time. It will change your life. Just laugh.