|photography by Joshua Martin|
Although it’s supposedly set on the South Pacific island of Tonga, he’s dressed in a sheet symbolizing an African robe, and holds a couple of CD covers to his mouth to emulate the lip plates found among the women of some African tribes. Never mind that the whole thing is inherently racist; when Christopher Smith begins riffing in the “clicks” used in several African languages, the result is hysterical.
“Don’t quit your day job” is advice more often heard than heeded by aspiring performers. But what do you do when one is almost a continuation of the other? If you’re Smith, creative group head at The Richards Group and the agency’s go-to guy for funny copy, you moonlight a lot—improv with the Ad-Lib Players and solo standup for anyone who’ll hire you.
“I was always the class clown,” says Smith, a 36-year-old native of upstate New York. “When other kids were stealing dad’s Playboys, I was sneaking listens to dad’s George Carlin albums.” Smith studied history and advertising at Penn State, where he played trumpet and met his piccolo-playing wife, Heather, in the marching band.
“I moved to Dallas in 1994 and got mugged within two hours,” Smith recalls. “Guy came up to me while I was unpacking the car, held a gun on me and said, “Welcome to Dallas, m*****f*****!”
A gig at a now-defunct advertising agency led to a tryout at Richards. “It was a six-month trial without any opportunity to write anything funny—financial copy mostly. Then I had the chance to jump in on 7-Eleven with some humor. Next came some funny Irish songs for Bennigan’s, and then my big break: writing for Motel 6. Eventually I became the guy people call for funny stuff.”
Recognizing Smith’s performing abilities, the agency calls on him to emcee company functions, such as the “stairwells,” in which personnel gather along the agency’s interior stairs to meet new clients and hear announcements. “My two lives blend together there, but also in general because humor informs the work and the work informs the humor,” he says. “An advertising agency is a wonderful place to observe the foibles of people.”