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TV Junkie Interview: Chris Franjola of E!'s 'Chelsea Lately' & 'After Lately'
Chris Franjola is a familiar face to anyone who has watched E!'s "Chelsea Lately" (Monday-Friday @ 11pm) as he has been on the roundtable panel in dozens and dozens of episodes and has been a writer on the series for hundreds more. As we discuss in the video above, "Chelsea Lately" is a very fast paced show: after her short opening monologue, Chelsea Handler goes to a roundtable of 3 comedian panelists and between the 4 of them, they split up 10-14 minutes in a discussion whose sole purpose is to elicit as many jokes possible during that period of time. In a best-case scenario, each person at the table gets 3 minutes of time.
On the surface, roundtable time on "Chelsea Lately" seems very competitive but if you watch closely, the panelists definitely give each other space, help each other along with setups, and make themselves available as targets for jokes from fellow panelists and Handler. If it seems like a panelist isn't getting their jokes in, Handler will often say "I want to hear from ______ on this (topic)" thus providing an egalitarian space for comedians that hasn't been seen in a long time. Comedy Central's "Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn" is possibly the closest identifiable predecessor to the roundtable on "Chelsea Lately" but "Tough Crowd" often degenerated into a testosterone-driven shouting match thus highlighting its heavily male-weighted lineup even more. These are different shows, I understand, and it's the differences that count.
One of the best things that has come about from "Chelsea Lately" is the standup comedy connection. Cast-members like Franjola and guest panelists are all standup comics and those more closely associated with the show participate in the "Comedians of Chelsea Lately" tours or they will frequently team up in comedy club appearances across the country. This May, Handler will be embarking on a new nationwide tour, "The Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me," and will feature at least three regulars on her show: Heather McDonald, Josh Wolf, and Brad Wollack.
Franjola himself is a comedic force to be reckoned with, with over 20 years of standup experience to his credit, he relishes his time on the show, and the new spinoff "After Lately" which just aired its third episode this last Sunday at 11pm on E! I expressed some frustration in dealing with some readers who have criticized "After Lately" for being scripted - which is the entire point of the show, it's a mockumentary-style sitcom about what happens behind the scenes of "Chelsea Lately." Franjola did tell us, however, that the events in "After Lately" have happened in some form or another in the offices of the show and were used as the basis for bits in the episodes. I guess that when you have that many comedians packed into a space, funny things are bound to happen. If anything, Franjola is completely appreciative of being able to work so closely with his friends, "who are all incredibly talented, working comedians," on these two very successful shows.
Another great angle to the "Chelsea Handler"/"After Lately" arrangement is that guests on "Chelsea Lately" can be written into the sitcom if they are game for it - Franjola has been more than pleasantly surprised at the support they've received from guests and who has been game to do some ridiculous "After Lately" shenanigans. Evidently there will be guest appearances by some major Hollywood icons in upcoming episodes of "After Lately" as Franjola hinted in the above interview.
Despite having all this fun with the E! shows, Franjola very much loves doing standup. His live show is very entertaining, as he engages in plenty of crowd-work and as well as hilarious personal anecdotes and stories. I don't want to spoil any of his bits but it's great to get so much more of him than the condensed snippets you see on "Chelsea Lately." The night I interviewed Chris, I watched his two sets back-to-back and because the crowds were so different, the shows were completely different experiences. He is an energetic comic, reminding us a bit of a young Robert Morse, constantly moving, head up, engaging the entire crowd, making sure everyone is on board: "You, sir! How old are you?" "Are you with him, ma'am?" "OK great, we're having a good time!" And we did.