If you only know Christopher Titus from his eponymous Fox sitcom, you’ve missed the bulk of the man’s work. In addition to stand-up gigs and podcasting, Titus has spent the last decade cranking out more one-man shows and specials than most comics do in a lifetime. But while Titus’s stage extravaganzas are always energetic and slick, their director’s-cut length never feels fully justified.
Titus is selling fifth special Voice in My Head, recorded at Fresno’s Tower Theatre in January, for $9 on christophertitus.com, and at an hour and 45 minutes it’s undoubtedly a good value. But it never makes a strong argument for its length. It’s not so much that Titus loves the sound of his own voice, although a case could be made for that (hell, Titus might be the first to agree with you). It’s that traditional hour-long specials aren’t good merely because they’ve met some Universal Length Requirement, but because hard decisions are being made about what deserves to be there and what doesn’t.
Like Jim Gaffigan’s high-pitched inner voice, Titus’s affable hyperactivity is accented by his “inner retard,” which gives rise to a bit defending the casual figurative use of “retard.” He also compares teachers’ unions to the mafia and asks women in the audience to indulge him while he talks about his “cunt” ex-wife. It’s not that Titus goes too far, but that he often doesn’t go far enough. He compares skiing behind his dad’s 500 horsepower speedboat (at the tender age of five, apparently) to being a civil-rights protestor on the other end of a fire hose in Selma, Alabama. It’s an attention-grabbing image, but Titus abandons it before it can grow into something truly subversive or unexpected.
Titus veterans know the drill: his dad was mean, his mom was crazy, and he’s a loser (or at least obsessed with thinking he’s a loser). The storytelling/verbal-memoir show’s breathless mix of family stories, loopy characters, and impassioned armchair psychology is equal parts Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin, and Adam Carolla, though Titus is definitely more Carolla than the former two. For all his sensitivities and self-consciousness, Titus ultimately casts himself as a guy’s guy whose humor is underpinned by the vague-yet-implicit dude-culture that seems irrelevant to many contemporary comics. It’s not a creative failing as much as a blind spot or crutch for someone who’s clearly capable of more nuanced appraisals of relationships.
To its credit, Voice feels brisk for its runtime, especially as it closes with an endearing life lesson about meeting Bruce Springsteen. It’s a microcosm of the special, which alternately presents Titus as neurotic and douchey, victim and bully, parent and child. The final product is impressively polished, given its relatively quick conception, but as a compendium of personal and professional failures, it cries out for the judicious editing that comics like Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan have proven they’re capable of when self-releasing their work.