A Comedian, A Toddler, and Raffi Walk Into a Bar …
What happens when a rising star in standup comedy brings an infant into this world? He goes out in search of Raffi.
When Sunny came, Chris Garcia was ready in the sense that he and his wife Val had the diapers and crib and bottles and all that gear you need to bring an infant into the world. But he was not exactly prepared for the turn from “farting around and drinking beers” (his words) to the sleepless never-ending responsibility of parenting an infant. No parent every truly is, but you’d expect one who also happens to be a standup comedian — someone who has chosen a career that hinges on spontaneity and late nights — to be all the more taken aback by the need for planning, organizing, and steadiness.
Chris Garcia’s work is wholesome in the sense that it is borne out of his Cuban heritage, it dwells on family conflict (his mom and dad are prime characters), and sincere emotional reflection is woven into everything he does. His 2019 podcast, Scattered showed off how this comedian was far from just a joke teller. In it, Chris deals with his father suffering from dementia and offering dying wish that has him face his past in a way that few of us would have the courage to take on. It’s a heartbreaking and uplifting journey that shows the great depths that this funny guy could go.
Chris recently linked arms with Fatherly and Rococo Punch to produce a new podcast, Finding Raffi, about the legendary songwriter. It might seem like another big pivot, but Chris and Raffi — as you find throughout the series — are one and the same in so many ways. They love to laugh, they want nothing more than to celebrate and honor children, they think using bananas as phones might be the height of comedic achievement. We sat down with Chris to talk about life as a new dad (Sunny just turned one), what Raffi’s really like, and what’s next.
In your standup, you talk a lot about your Cuban heritage. You talk a lot about your sensitivity, and you’ve mentioned things like using “journal” as a verb. How has becoming a parent steered these things that you’ve been wrestling with in public in your act?
It’s interesting. You don’t know how it’s going to affect you until you have a kid. You could imagine what it’s going to be like, but you don’t know until you have a kid. And I talk about my dad a lot in my acts, pretty much a centerpiece of my act. My dad was born February 4th, died the 5th, and my daughter was born February 6th. It feels almost biblical in proportion.
This is all one big thing. I was the son who talked about the father and now I’m the father with the kid. And immediately upon having this kid, I just thought about my dad so much. You’re like, “Oh fuck, was I an asshole when I was a kid to my parents?”
You also have so much of a deeper admiration and respect and love. I already had that for my parents but that grew in such a beautiful way. I also felt a wonderful sense of responsibility. For a comedian, that’s not what we get into comedy for. We’re like, I’m just going to be a comedian. I’ll work one hour a night and play video games and fart around and drink beers. That’s why you get into it.
So, you’re avoiding responsibility in many ways. But when you have a kid, there’s no running from that responsibility. And I really loved that. I found so much comfort in knowing that I was bringing this kid into the world and was responsible for her feeling healthy and safe and loved and nourished and protected and free.
What has parenthood been like for you so far?
I’m not going to lie. It’s really hard and very exhausting. But it’s a beautiful experience. You really get a sense of your family line. And that gave me so much pride. You always want to leave your kid off better than you were and stuff like that. But I also felt like my dad did a great job and I even want to do a better job. I want to do as good a job as he did.
I’ve also grappled with my sensitivity and my relationship with my parents and all of that. It’s all true and it’s all stuff that I deal with. But when you have a kid, you get a sense of the world beyond you. It slows down time. I’ve just really enjoyed being a dad. I wasn’t sure I would. Everyone in my life is like, “You’ve been a dad since you were five years old.” But I wasn’t sure. And I’ve really taken to it. I think it’s a lot of fun.
You’ve said your parents had to figure out parenting as they went along. What of them do you see yourself imparting to your daughter?
Well, my parents didn’t have dads themselves. And so I’m like, How did you do this? How did you figure this out? They lived in Cuba during a very difficult time in its history. And they did such great job with me and I want to pass those great traits along.
My dad was an endless cheerleader. Just rooting for me so hard that he would almost come to blows with little league umpires. He was always rooting for me and always thinking about my future. My parents knew that they had a wonderful opportunity here in the United States and they wanted to give me every chance to succeed. They sacrificed everything for that. And I think that’s a beautiful thing to do for a kid.
Even though they had to be scrappy and had to figure out ways to do it and didn’t have a ton of money, my parents always put my education first. They always had me involved in all sports. My dad took me fishing and camping and all that stuff. And they gave me a ton of opportunities to do whatever I wanted to do. I ended up going to a great college and getting a great education and then throwing it all away for standup comedy.
But I would love to pass that along to my daughter — just to be such a fan of hers and to root for her and to put her in a position to live her dreams, which I have. Being a standup comedian is literally my childhood dream.
One of the things that stood out to me when listening to “Finding Raffi” is that you’ve talked about using comedy as a way to unpack in public some of the stuff you’re dealing with. And you’re doing so in real-time. I like hearing you wrestle with Raffi’s insights and hearing the gears start spinning.
It really has been incredible. When I was approached to do this podcast, I was maybe two, maybe three months into being a dad. I had randomly listened to Raffi for the first time like a week or two prior. I was such a music snob that I didn’t want to play Elmo, I didn’t want to play “Baby Shark”. And my wife says, ‘I think you like Raffi because I like Raffi.’ And we started playing Raffi and Sunny loved it. Shortly after that, I was asked to do this podcast about Raffi?
So I thought this could be a cool way to learn about this fascinating person, this one-man Beatles of children’s music. And also go through and process this time of my life as a new father with this new daughter. And it’s just been incredible to get to know Raffi and to learn about all of his philosophies and his idea of child honoring and respect and what that being a respectful parent is, and accepting a child as a whole person, individual to themselves, not as perhaps his parents and my parents.
Sometimes your parents, especially immigrant parents will raise you as an extension of themselves. Where you are pretty much fulfilling their version of the American or Canadian dream or something like that. But this really getting to know Raffi and speaking with him and all these experts that are in child development and climate activists, all these different experts that have just been incredible has really caused me to slow down and be more intentional with my parenting as I’m becoming a parent.
I feel like I almost got to go to, like, parent school. When you’re a parent, you’re just thrown into the fire and you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t really have any time to think because you’re just reacting to stuff, right? You’re like, Oh my gosh, change the bottle. You’re not sleeping. You’re a maniac that first year. And this is really giving me pause and created an opportunity for me to really think about these things. Really think about if I’m treating my daughter with respect, if I’m being a good and mindful parent. And I feel like I have incorporated a lot of these things as best as I can.
I’m not like a hippie or anything, but I got to have my own little guru when it comes to child development, parenting, and stuff like that. And, what an honor. What are the chances that any parent gets to have this relationship with this type of person?
And are you guys still in touch?
We haven’t spoken in a while. We had a terrible falling out. No, I’m just kidding.
I’ve interviewed him over Zoom probably around 10 times and I haven’t spoken to him since the podcast came out. I was really hoping to meet him in person, because of the pandemic, I didn’t get a chance to. That would’ve been really fun. But he’s met [my wife] Val over Zoom. He’s met Sunny over Zoom. And he has been so kind with his time and his heart and stuff like that.
Hopefully you get to meet him one day.
I think that would be so fun because he’s very thoughtful. But you get a sense that he is also very silly and fun aside from he is very, very serious and very composed, eloquent person. You can tell he is a goofball, and he wants to talk about baseball and hockey. Just like any of us.
From the very beginning, he’s cracking jokes and stuff, and you get him going on. The climate crisis and stuff, he gets very serious or certain he’ll get very serious, but then he’s funny. He wrote Banana Phone.
Do you have a favorite song of Raffi’s, after all this?
The other day, it was “Thanks A Lot,” which is a really nice song because it feels great, and the guitar is really beautiful. But then “Banana Phone” recently, just because it’s such a banger. I also love the idea that Raffi didn’t make children’s music for like a good five years in the early nineties, and the first song he came back with was “Banana Phone” and it’s like, Batman’s back to save the day. So, I love that aspect of it too – a good comeback story.
Of all the things you do –– stand up, TV writing, podcasts –– what’s on the horizon that you’re most excited about doing next?
Well, I’m excited to finish the podcast. We’re still recording. We have five more episodes. And so, I’m excited to work on those last few episodes and reflect on this time with Raffi and this time as a dad. I’m also very excited to go back on the road. Standup has been dead for a couple of years because of the pandemic and because Sunny is so young, we’ve been very careful.
I’m going to [do standup] again tonight for the first time in two months. Then I’m going to Denver in a couple of weeks, and then I’ll be in New Jersey and going to Arkansas and Oregon. I’m going to start hitting the road again and I’m just so excited because I’ve done it for 15 years and standup is my favorite. Especially now that I’m in a new phase in my life, I have all these new things to talk about. I just want to get back out there and talk to people all over the country. I’ve been able to relate to people as families, because I always talk about my family in my act. But now I get to relate to other parents and I think that’s going to be really cool. It’s a whole new audience.