Chris Fairbanks
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Chris Fairbanks

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"Missoula native 'Bites Back’ at reality TV on Comedy Central"

Chris Fairbanks doesn’t much like so-called reality TV shows. And he definitely doesn’t have the hots for his dad.

So you can probably imagine his consternation when the lights came up on the set of Comedy Central’s “Reality Bites Back” a couple of months ago, and he found himself pitching pick-up lines to his own dad.

“It was a pretty mean prank,” he said of the sequence in the show, in which he was challenged to come up with the best one-night-stand pick-up line and pitch it - not knowing that it was his own father on the receiving end in the darkened room. “I was pretty embarrassed about that one. But at least it wasn’t my mom.”

The nine other contestants on the program suffered that prank and more - and were later judged for their performances - in the course of shooting for the eight-episode series, which begins airing tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Fairbanks, a Missoula native and UM fine arts graduate who now works as a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, was invited to participate in the show shortly after barely missing the cut for the final round in the popular series, “Last Comic Standing.”

“I was on one episode (of “Last Comic Standing”) and I was picked for the finals, so I was supposed to go to Las Vegas for the next round; but then they told me they’d picked too many people so they cut me,” said Fairbanks. “Then the next day I got this call asking me to be on this series, and they said I didn’t even have to audition.”

Fairbanks is unclear how he ended up on the radar of the producers of “Reality Bites Back,” but after they explained the concept of the show - and told him what he’d be paid - he cautiously took the chance.

“They said it was a parody of all these different reality shows,” said Fairbanks. “I told them that I hate reality television, and they said that’s perfect. They said the show would be along the lines of 'Reno 911,’ in terms of how it makes fun of 'Cops’ ... . It paid pretty well and I was guaranteed to be on at least the first and last episodes - and the winner would get $50,000 - so I figured I’d give it a shot.”

Fairbanks’ concerns about what he’d gotten himself into grew as the shooting date approached, especially after he learned that the company producing the show was Three Ball Productions, the independent producer of such reality shows as “Beauty and the Geek.” Then he found out that contestants would be voted off the show by their co-contestants in each episode - a hallmark of most copycat reality TV shows.

“I figured I’d get kicked off the first episode because I’m not very competitive,” said Fairbanks. “Next thing you know, we’re shooting the episodes and I’m punching gladiators and trying to kill people with a paintball gun. I didn’t know I had that in me. I don’t think it’s healthy for me to be in that situation of war-play because there’s this other guy I don’t know who shows up.”

Though Fairbanks isn’t allowed to say how long he survives in the eight-episode series, it’s clear from his shiny new laptop computer and the month-and-a-half vacation he has taken in Missoula since the show wrapped up production that he doesn’t get cut in the first episode.

And he says he is ultimately happy he took the chance on the show, which in each episode lampoons other reality shows, from “American Gladiator” to “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“One thing all the comics had in common, we could have all used the money,” said Fairbanks. “And then we all had our moms and dads there in the first episode, and we were living together; so we really got to know each other well. I’ve stayed in contact with about half the other (contestants) since we finished shooting, which is great.”

How it all will translate in his career as a stand-up comic is unclear. Since first discovering his comic skills as a member of the popular former Missoula improv comedy troupe “Bob’s Family,” Fairbanks has worked as a stand-up comic in Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles.

These days he keeps pretty steady opening for Greg Behrendt (the popular author of “He’s Just Not That Into You”), and has occasionally scored appearances on shows including “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and as a host of skateboarding shows on Fuse TV, a cable network.

It’s enough to get by, but not a great living.

“The only way to build a following and start headlining shows is by touring with a known comic or getting TV credits,” said Fairbanks. “I have no idea how people will view 'Reality Bites Back.’ As far as whether it really opens doors. I can just hope it really takes off.”

- By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian


Still working on that hot first release.



Chris Fairbanks, a young comic who left the scenic comfort of Big Sky Country in Montana ten years ago to join the Texas comedy circle, has been getting a lot of attention. In the past few years, Chris took first place in 2003’s Funniest Person in Austin contest, attended Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival in their "New Faces" showcase, starred as "Randy" on the MTV reality series "The 70’s House", as well as in other, un-aired MTV pilots, received 1st runner-up in Comedy Central’s Laugh Riots contest, and has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. He currently is an action sports correspondent for the Fuel TV network, just appeared on Last Comic Standing (season 6) and is a series regular on Comedy Central's "Reality Bites Back" airing July 17th. Chris resides in Los Angeles and makes his living as a club touring stand-up comic and actor.