Almost 30 years ago, “Seinfeld” aired an episode called “The Pilot” where Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza visit NBC to create a pilot on their own lives, to have the project crumble like a house of cards. When comedian Chris Distefano introduced his pilot, “Distefano”, he hoped to emulate Seinfeld in real life, to end up as his on-screen character. “I thought my career was over, but I realized that not being successful was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Distefano. “All the shows they picked that year were canceled after their first season and there’s a good chance my pilot did too. I would have given up the rights to my life story for nothing.
Distefano adapted after the failure of this pilot, as well as the eight others he shot for CBS and who had not received the green light. He faced more rejection than most in his life, but instead of shying away from comedy, he focused on the parts of his career that he could control. “It motivated me to launch my YouTube channel, promote my Instagram and do TV when it was right,” he says. “Back then it was painful but looking back it was a blessing. I used to be known as Chrissy Pilots and my first show that got picked is the one I’m going to do this summer – now I’m Chrissy Pickups.
Almost four years have passed since the loss of the pilot, and now Distefano is busier than ever. He’s about to start filming his new show for tru, which invites him to host a series of backyard bar-building competitions. On top of that, he also juggles two podcasts – “Hey Babe” with fellow comedian Sal Vulcano and his solo show, “Chrissy Chaos”. “With my two podcasts, I just want you to forget what’s going on in the world for an hour,” he says. “It’s about being funny first and my podcasts are something I will never let go of. Part of the reason I do the TV show is to go to LA to get content for my podcast and my YouTube channel – I don’t put all my eggs in one basket.
Distefano is well booked with a TV show, two podcasts, a YouTube channel, an upcoming comedy tour and possibly a few other projects that we are not aware of. However, at the end of the day, his biggest job is being a dad. Distefano has a young daughter and another on the way, the first never failing to keep him grounded despite his many successes.
“I did a special for Comedy Central before my 40s called ‘Chris Distefano: Size 38 Size’,” he says. “My daughter was 4 at the time and she would watch her favorite shows for maybe a minute before going to play with her toys. When we put on my special for her, she literally sat quietly for the entire hour. When it was all done, she stood up and said, “Not funny”, before going to comb her Barbie’s hair. I love this child.
Having a family made Distefano work harder than ever to be successful in acting, but it’s a career worth pushing forward. Initially, Distefano took a very different path in life and fell in love with stand-up while working on his doctorate in physiotherapy. “In my head, I knew I didn’t want to be a physiotherapist. I’ve always wanted to do stand-up, ”he says. “I became a pediatric physiotherapist, working with mentally and physically disabled children, and then I started doing open mics at a place called Maui Taco. I would burn the candle at both ends – I would work with the kids from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then do open mics for any show I could put on until 2 a.m.
Distefano maintained his double life for three years until he got his first major concert in the “Late Show with David Letterman”. It was the turning point that made him realize that he had to put both feet in the act and see what could happen. “My family was so angry with me, no one supported me,” he says. “When I was thinking about leaving, I had a session with a 6 year old boy with cerebral palsy. We were throwing a ball back and forth when I told her I was considering quitting physical therapy and doing stand-ups. He was the first person to tell me it was awesome, everyone told me how stupid I was.
“He said, ‘Well, isn’t that your dream?’ He continues. “I said it was and he said, ‘Why are you still here? This 6 year old in a wheelchair was the maturity of a 40 year old man and once he co-signed it I said, ‘Alright, I’m going.’ “
Even with nine failed pilots on his CV, Distefano never looked back. It just shows that when life knocks you out, you get up and move on to the next punchline.