Elliott, Chris 1960–
Elliott, Chris 1960–
PERSONAL: Born May 31, 1960, in New York, NY; son of Bob (a radio and television comedian) and Lee Elliott; married Paula Niedert (a talent coordinator), 1986; children: Abigail, Bridget.
CAREER: Actor, writer, and producer. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) studios, New York, NY, tour guide, c. 1979; Late Night with David Letterman television program, New York, NY, gofer, talent coordinator, writer, and performer, 1981–90; Get a Life television series, actor, writer, and coproducer, 1990–91; Saturday Night Live television series, performer and writer, 1994–95. Actor in motion pictures, including Manhunter, 1986, The Abyss, 1989, Groundhog Day, 1993, Cabin Boy, 1994, and There's Something About Mary. Actor in numerous television shows, including According to Jim, 2002–04, Everybody Loves Raymond, 2003–05, and King of Queens, 2001, 2006. Performer in improvisational theater and summer stock.
AWARDS, HONORS: Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Emmy Awards for outstanding writing in a variety or music program, 1984, 1985, and 1986, all for Late Night with David Letterman.
(With Adam Resnick and others) Late Night with David Letterman (television series), NBC (New York, NY), 1984–90.
Action Family (television special), Cinemax (New York, NY), 1987.
Chris Elliott's FDR: A One-man Show (television special), Cinemax (New York, NY), 1987.
(With rebuttals by father, Bob Elliott) Daddy's Boy: A Son's Shocking Account of Life with a Famous Father, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Adam Resnick and others) Get a Life (television series), Fox (New York, NY), 1990–91.
(Author of story, with Adam Resnick) Cabin Boy (screenplay), Touchstone, 1994.
(With others) Saturday Night Live (television series), NBC (New York, NY), 1994–95.
The Shroud of the Thwacker (novel), Miramax Books (New York, NY), 2005.
You've Reached the Elliotts (television series), CBS (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Chris Elliott's humor has been displayed in a number of venues, from his earliest appearances on the Late Night with David Letterman talk show to his own comedy series, Get a Life, in his 1989 book Daddy's Boy: A Son's Shocking Account of Life with a Famous Father, and in his 1994 film, Cabin Boy. His style is characterized by a combination of irony, sarcasm, and deadpan deliveries. Revered by comedy fans for his offbeat performance style and hip, penetrating wit, Elliott has achieved a level of cult stardom. J.D. Reed, writing in People magazine, dubbed him "one of the most original writers and performers on television." In 1994, he fulfilled a longtime goal and joined the cast of the television comedy show Saturday Night Live. Chris Nashawaty, writing in Entertainment Weekly, said of Elliott: "It takes a certain courage to see beyond his sheer weirdness and recognize the creepy genius underneath."
While Elliott's style is often defined as singular, a flair for comedy runs in his family. His father is Bob Elliott, who, as fifty percent of the legendary duo Bob and Ray, helped define the art of radio sketch comedy. As one of five children, Chris grew up in Manhattan, New York, attended private school, summered in Maine with his family, and eschewed college in pursuit of writing for the seminal Saturday Night Live show.
Once a writer, Elliott began writing himself into various elements of Letterman's show, frequently upstaging the host himself. As Chicago Tribune contributor Wes Smith stated, "he dares to put Letterman on while Letterman is putting everyone else on." Among Elliott's repertoire were the recurring "Fugitive Guy" (a take-off on the popular Fugitive television series), the "Panicky Guy" (who is sent into paroxysms of anxiety at the slightest provocation), and, perhaps his definitive Late Night incarnation, the "Man under the Seats." Despite becoming a highly visible and popular element of the program, Elliott left the Letterman show to star in, produce, and cowrite his own television show, Get a Life.
While Get a Life failed to catch on with a wide audience and was cancelled by Fox, a number of people, critics included, zeroed in on the show's quirky humor and oddball sensibilities. Rolling Stone contributor Jeffrey Ressner summarized: "The show plays like a brilliantly demented version of every straight sitcom from the Sixties—it's Dennis the Menace meets Twin Peaks."
Just prior to leaving Letterman's show, Elliott turned his hand to comedy of a literary sort. His 1989 book, Daddy's Boy, offers a somewhat fictional, tongue-in-cheek rendering of his early years. Elliott takes some liberties with the facts of his childhood, "portraying," as Bob Sipchen summarized in the Los Angeles Times, "his father as an 'insane, megalomaniacal superstar,' driven to bizarre and sadistic behavior by an insatiable lust for fame." Chapters relate apocryphal events such as the time a twelve-year-old Chris was forced to dress in a sailor suit and bald cap to meet his father's demand that they resemble each other. Other segments deal with such trauma-inducing events as a disastrous father-son excursion aboard the Andrea Doria (an ill-fated ocean liner) and a birthday party that descended to television news personalities Andy Rooney and Charles Kuralt wrestling shirtless. At the conclusion of each chapter, father Bob provides rebuttals to Chris's accounts. These rebuttals actually have nothing to do with the junior Elliott's claims and instead deal with such topics as shellac application and lighthouse history.
His childhood exposé has been characterized as "off-the-wall" by David Prescott of the Chicago Tribune, and as "absurdist satire" by Sipchen of the Los Angeles Times. New York Times reviewer Glenn Collins described Elliott's writing as "purple prose," and, comparing him to his famous father, dubbed Chris "a chip off the old block." Chicago Tribune critic Wes Smith's reaction focused on the book's release just prior to Father's Day: "It makes for just as good a gift as, say, a rechargeable bathtub regrouter, or a moustache makeover kit."
During his years with Letterman, Elliott occasionally took small roles in films, including the sci-fi adventure The Abyss and the thriller Manhunter. Despite his efforts to contribute to these serious films, he often found that his wacky reputation preceded—and subsequently hindered—his attempts at sober acting. Relating a recurring incident that occurred during screenings of Manhunter, Elliott told the Chicago Tribune's Prescott: "When the camera pans to me in my one scene, and people in the audience recognize me, they break up laughing." Realizing that his efforts in establishing a comic persona were more successful than he had imagined, Elliott told Prescott that "any film or television project I do now will either have to be something that I've written myself, or something that fits in with what I do on the [Letterman] show." He subsequently took a substantial supporting role in the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day and began to work on a storyline with his writing partner Adam Resnick. The script they developed eventually became the 1994 feature Cabin Boy.
In Cabin Boy Elliott stars as Nathanial Mayweather, a recent graduate of a boys' finishing school (the "fancy lads" at this school are purportedly early teenagers, however, many, Elliott included, sport full beards). In the process of heading back to his wealthy father's Hawaiian home, Nathanial accidentally boards a rickety old fishing vessel manned by crusty old fishermen. Mistaking the ship, which is named "The Filthy Whore," for an old salt "theme" cruise, he happily accompanies the sailors. Instead of being taken to Hawaii, however, Nathanial is made the fishermen's cabin boy and put through a series of misadventures on the high seas. Despite their cantankerous, often hostile, attitude toward him, Nathanial eventually bonds with the sailors. He also finds true love, battles mythological creatures, and, in the process, progresses from a cabin boy to a cabin man.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called the film "deliriously stupid," summarizing that "few comedies have worked this hard to make everyone on screen look this dumb." Other critics, while not enthusiastically endorsing the film, found favorable elements. "Most of Cabin Boy is impressively, even aggressively, surreal," wrote Tom Gliatto in People. Detroit Free Press contributor Henry Sheehan appraised that in Cabin Boy, "Elliott gives full vent to his truly cock-eyed comic persona."
Elliott's first novel, The Shroud of the Thwacker, is a mystery that parodies such contemporary popular novels as The Da Vinci Code and The Alienist. The story takes place in New York City in 1882 and concerns a psychotic serial killer known as Jack the Jolly Thwacker, who mutilates his corpses and leaves poems at the scenes of his crimes. Elliott himself appears as a character, when he is accidentally transported via time machine back to the teeming nineteenth-century streets of Manhattan. He joins the chase with the city's police chief, a reporter, Boss Tweed, and Teddy Roosevelt, the city's real-life police commissioner at the time. Somehow, latter-day figures such as singer Yoko Ono and radio personality Don Imus become involved in the plot, as does a roving gang of toddlers. "Think Caleb Carr meets Monty Python," wrote Tim Stack in his Entertainment Weekly review of the book, and Christine Perkins, writing in Library Journal, expounded upon that sentiment by predicting that "you'll either have readers rolling on the floor or rolling their eyes in disgust."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 2005, Carl Hays, review of The Shroud of the Thwacker, p. 38.
Chicago Tribune, September 9, 1986, David Prescott, "Out of the Seats, Into the Deadpan"; July 2, 1989, Wes Smith, "Geek with Chic: The Weird According to Late Night's Chris Elliott," p. 1.
Detroit Free Press, January 10, 1994, Henry Sheehan, review of Cabin Boy.
Entertainment Weekly, January 21, 1994, Owen Gleiberman, review of Cabin Boy, p. 36; July 22, 1994, Chris Nashawaty, review of Groundhog Day, p. 59; October 14, 2005, Tim Stack, review of The Shroud of the Thwacker, p. 161.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of The Shroud of the Thwacker, p. 804.
Library Journal, September 1, 2005, Christine Perkins, review of The Shroud of the Thwacker, p. 129.
Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1989, Bob Sipchen, review of Daddy's Boy: A Son's Shocking Account of Life with a Famous Father.
New York Times, June 14, 1989, Glenn Collins, "Oh, the Horror of It! Celebrity Son Tells All"; January 7, 1994, Caryn James, review of Cabin Boy, p. C12.
People, November 5, 1990, J.D. Reed, "After Letterman, Comedian Chris Elliott Decided to Get a Life," pp. 153-154; January 24, 1994, Tom Gliatto, review of Cabin Boy, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Daddy's Boy, p. 269; August 1, 2005, review of The Shroud of the Thwacker, p. 39.
Rolling Stone, February 7, 1991, Jeffrey Ressner, review of Get a Life, p. 87.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (November 27, 2006), biography of Elliott.