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Comedian builds shows around cars

SUNDAY DRIVER -

November 27, 2005|By JASON STEIN

If art truly imitates life, and vice versa, then comedian Christopher Titus has got it made.

Who is Chris Titus?

He's is a hot-rodder. He loves custom grilles, raked windshields and chopped tops. And he has a real-life passion for fast cars. Now if only his make-believe life was real again.

Not that it bothers Titus that his TV series about a manic, whacked-out guy who's nuts about cars was canceled by a major U.S. network last year.

In real life, Titus is a manic, whacked-out guy who's nuts about cars anyway.

Coincidence? Hardly.

"I've had an interesting life," Titus once told Entertainment Weekly. "I was head grill man at a McDonald's. I was a pump gas guy. I was Darth Vader for kids parties at ice-cream parlors."

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But, mostly, Titus is all about cars.

In addition to his role as a nationally known stand-up comedian, Titus has found the time to buy and customize a 1956 Chevy Handyman wagon, a Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck with ghosted flames and a Dodge Viper, a ride he pushed to 160 mph one night when he was baited by a Corvette. Then there's his wife's daily driver, a tricked-out Ford sport-utility vehicle. And he still remembers his first car, a 1956 Chevy he bought for $1,000 from a guy whose wife begged Titus to take the car off her front lawn when Titus was a starving comic.

"When you hit the brakes, it would make a hard right," Titus once said. "But I put a lot of work into it, slammed the suspension and turned it into a mild custom."

Titus's passion is so convincing that Fox TV decided to make a sitcom out of it based on his life and inspired by Titus's close friend Chip Foose, a nationally renowned hot-rod builder and star of The Learning Channel TV show Overhaulin'.

Many of Titus's personal cars appeared on the show and some of them displayed Foose's handiwork.

"Being a godfather to Chip's kid is really good," Titus said in an interview with automedia.com, an Internet information automotive site. "I haven't met my godson, but I get a lot of free stuff."

When you spend as much time under the hood of a '56 Chevy as you do on new material, it's easy to see that the wrench doesn't fall far from the gear head.

"If someone didn't watch my money, I'd buy hot rod after hot rod after hot rod," Titus once said.

Born and raised in Newark, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco, Titus grew up in what he describes as a typically dysfunctional family. At 18 he began doing stand-up comedy and by 22 was touring the United States as a headliner. Two years later he married his high-school sweetheart and moved to Los Angeles where he began appearing on Comedy Central and landed acting roles on TV's Lois & Clark as well as other sitcoms.

When Titus changed his stand-up act in 1996, making it more personal, the response was enormous. He received rave reviews from critics and soon drew the attention of network TV.

But his automotive passion was always begging to be unleashed.

When 20th Century Fox signed him to a development deal to create and star in his own sitcom, Titus had a natural storyline. His character would live and work in a small coastal town in northern California (sound familiar?). His character would own a custom car shop and build hot rods (sound really familiar?).

The show was picked up by Fox for two seasons before it was canceled.

"What I don't understand is that the show had better ratings than the Simpsons," Titus once said.

Neverthless, Titus is already in the early stages of a deal with NBC to do a similar type of show, hopefully involving cars.

These days he still writes a monthly column for Good Guys Good Times Rod & Custom magazine where he talks about life and hot-rodding.

He has appeared on The Learning Channel, hosting the hot-rod show Rides. He has been grand marshal at national hot-rod events. And he still makes sure to sprinkle a good dose of automotive material into his stand-up act. And there's no doubt plenty more to follow.

Just another day of life and art merging in Titus's highway of life.

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