Smack-Talk of the Town

“Chris Schiappacasse and the Fountain of Youth”
by Isa Hopkins, editor-at-large

The first time I ever saw Chris Schiappacasse in action was in the back room of Annie’s Social Club, a small, poorly lit punk club in San Francisco’s SoMa district.  I was one cider deep and trembling with nerves as I prepared to take the mic for the second time in my stand-up comedy career when the comic before me lumbered up beneath the lights.

“My name is Chris Schiapapapaaaaapapapaaaapapapa,” he began, popping the syllables of his last name with a rhythmic flourish, eyes indiscernible behind large, dark sunglasses.  He wore basketball shorts and an Insane Clown Posse t-shirt, his girth reminiscent of the man I would later learn to be his comedic hero, John Belushi.  “My last name is thirteen letters long,” he continued, uninflected and swaying back and forth.  “It matches my thirteen inches.”

Chris Schiappacasse is an institution, a fixture on the San Francisco comedy scene, well-known by comics and bartenders and, for the audiences who stumble upon him unawares, impossible to forget.  Although impressions are numerous, his style is, truly, inimitable, as much a vocal quirk as a consequence of his material.  He trades in everything from insult comedy to chinchilla jokes.  “Your mom has three c-section scars,” he’ll say to a show’s host.  “That’s why I call her Adidas.”

What is most remarkable about Schiappacasse, however, is also frequently unremarked upon.  He is heavy but boyish, with clear skin, round cheeks, and a mop of jet-black hair that frames an easy smile; he could be in college — hell, he could be in “Animal House” — but he turned thirty-eight this year.  We were all shocked the night he got on stage, announced that it was his birthday and then, after much prodding, revealed his age.  It seemed another stunt, a fabrication, a hyperbole on the order of his purported penis length.  If scientists could isolate whatever it is that keeps his skin so smooth and elastic, rich women would pay thousands to inject it into themselves without a second thought.

Schiappacasse is of Chilean extraction, where he has lived for some time (he has also called Brazil, that ageless place, his home).  His grandfather had hair the color of ink well into his eighties, so genetics are at least partially to  blame for his good fortune; exercise plays less of a role.  Interrogated about his physical habits, Schiappacasse admits to enjoying walking, as well as stand-up (“Does it count?  It is standing up”) and masturbation.  “I have enough shorts that I can stain them and still have another one ready to wear,” he says, labeling the sweat of his habit as his number-one skin-care secret.

Nutritionally, Schiappacasse is cautious.  “Stay away from brown foods,” advises one of the very few stand-up comedians working today who manages to also avoid alcohol.  So many clubs and bars in San Francisco pay their comics in free drinks that Schiappacasse is a rarity.  He also recently gave up smoking marijuana.  “Everything was funner on weed,” according to Schiappacasse, but further probing reveals a man with the self-confidence and spiritual principle to find drugs unnecessary.

This is what is most surprising about Chris Schiappacasse: his optimism.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be.  His popular web series “Hangin’ Out”, with Vahe Hova, features the duo hanging out and chatting with various other Bay Area comic personalities.  It is a relaxed show that thrives on conversation and genuine human connection — what reality television once aspired to be (full disclosure: your correspondent appeared as a guest in the show’s second season).  With other comedians, it might ring false, the warmth and ease of human connection lost behind one-upmanship and showboating.  With Schiappacasse at the helm, however, it is joyful.  He is a generous host, allowing — nay, encouraging — his guests to be funny.  He delights in the jokes of others, content to be a backdrop to their wit, and that is a rare and wonderful thing.

“I think when things are going bad, you have to trust that there is a reason why.  And that things will improve.”  So many in comedy are cynical, hardened by the hustle, but not this one.  “I am old. Not that old. So I have seen things. I used to be an atheist, but things changed me. Like running into people in weird places. Hearing certain songs walking by a store. That sends a message, after time. You just have at keep at it.”

To what else, beyond this zen life philosophy, does Schiappacasse attribute his enviably youthful looks?  “I shave once a week.”  Or maybe he just glows with pride from those thirteen inches.

Watch “Hangin’ Out”, or follow Chris on Twitter.  Alas, he has reached his Facebook friend limit and cannot add any new admirers.

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