Khris Francis :: Ogunquit’s outrageous comedy meister
Ogunquit's Khris Francis has moved across the street from the Front Porch to Oxygen (formerly Inside Out) to continue his act-the longest-running solo comedy show in New England history - but the outrageousness he's known for goes on.
"I'm gonna fuck with you big time," Francis tells a straight man attending the show with his wife, and he means it. Francis will take the guy through his paces off and on throughout the show - while trying to offend everyone else in the audience and poking fun at himself as well - and for his troubles, offers the guy a free shot at the end of the show.
"Hands behind your back," Francis directs the man. "Now, bend over and take that shot glass in your mouth like you're sucking my cock."
The audience howls, the wife looks mortified. Still, Francis is quick to notice and brings the wife up to the front for a final dance with her husband, while giving her compliments and extolling the virtues of love.
For Francis, it's all about healing. "Explicit sexuality levels the playing field," he told EDGE in an interview after a recent show. "I like to show people that we're all the same, we all come from straight people. We need to stop the divisiveness and bring people together."
Happy in new home
Francis is very happy at his new home in Oxygen, run by James Horan and Nick Cleveland, whom he described as "two very hard-working men who have turned this place around into a viable, successful business." Francis approached them about moving his act to Oxygen last August.
With nightly hour-long shows, there’s more of a sit-down-and-be-entertained feel to it than the come-and-go freewheeling chaos at the Front Porch, where Francis spent five summers. During shows, even on a breezy night, owners had to close the many windows at the Front Porch to keep young listeners on the street below from hearing the material.
Francis was ready for a change. "I came to Ogunquit for peace," he said.
Khris Francis (a stage name using his first and middle names) grew up in rural Hollister, California, which he described as the earthquake capital of the world. "I was a tractor baby," he explained. "My grandfather would ride us around on the tractor until we fell asleep."
Although there were four in his immediate family, there was a large extended family on the Italian side.
His parents were not keen on little Khris taking up performing. "I took piano, guitar and organ lessons, but I had to fight for them," he said. However, his grandmother encouraged him and brought him to all his gigs. "When I headlined in Las Vegas, I put her in the star booth," Francis recalled with a tinge of sadness. He had taken care of her for the last eighteen years of her life, before she died a few years ago at the age of 90.
Although Francis opens his show with a song, punctuates his jokes with chords and riffs while sitting at the piano, and improvises a song based on audience suggestion, it still may surprise his fans to discover that his performing career started in a rock band.
And that he once taught music to children in a Catholic school.
"When the rock band broke up after four or five years," he recalled. "I needed to work." He found a gay piano bar in San Jose and quickly became lifelong friends with Jeffrey McGee, one of the bartenders.
"I was not adept at speaking to people at that point, but between songs you need to keep people interested," Francis explained. "I noticed that people would flock to Jeffrey’s bar and he would insult them." Francis began observing his friend and asking for pointers, which evolved into the comedy act he is known for today.
"Eventually, I had to temper it a bit because people would be afraid to walk by the piano," he said.
Francis began his Provincetown career in 1989, staying for sixteen summer s- at times, he performed up to three shows a day - where he lived near Norman Mailer and John Waters.
Besides his "longest-running one-man comedy act in New England history," Francis earned raves for his revues in Lake Tahoe in 2000 and 2005. In 2004, he played the Riviera in Las Vegas. "I went in as a headliner at the Riviera, which was unheard of," Francis said. "I had never performed in Vegas before that. I was terrified."
Why didn’t that early success translate to big-time Hollywood or New York stardom? "I could have gone that route but I think I’d rather go for contentment than whatever," Francis said with a swat of his hand. "My goal was never to be a star, it was to work and make people laugh." Pausing for just a moment, he spread his arms wide. "And look what I have."
In Ogunquit since 2005, he lives in a house on Berwick Street and walks to work every night.
He can’t say enough about Ogunquit. "Only 1200 of us live here year-round and we all look after each other. The town is gay and straight and it works," he said, noting that they were solidly for Gay Marriage when it came up for a statewide vote in 2009 (the measure lost by a slim margin).
Off stage, he has even started writing and recording music again. His own compositions, serious music.
Now 49, he was asked how he would celebrate the big 5-0 next year.
"I don’t really celebrate birthdays," he said. "It’s just another day of another year."
Francis pointed out that he is of the generation that is very intimate with AIDS and death. "Jeffrey McGee and I are the only two people left from our community," he said. "I went to thirty-six memorial services." He admitted that the AIDS crisis helped him better deal with grieving and death.
Francis used an old quote to explain his career and life: "Comedy is tragedy plus time. Comedy is a healing aspect of tragedy."
Still, he’s aware that his brand of comedy sometimes crosses the line and offends. "Listen, it is the artist’s role to push buttons," he said. "I’m pissed if someone doesn’t walk out once in a while."
Francis added, "I like George Burns’ definition of comedy: if you laugh, it’s funny."
Khris Francis appears at Ogygen Bar nightly, Wednesdays through Mondays, through September 6. For exact times and dates, go to www.oxygenbarogunquit.com. For more about Khris, go to www.khrisfrancis.com.
Watch this interview with Khris Francis: