Chris Elliott may not be a household name. But one look at his mug will instantly conjure up images of a hive-ridden stalker with a shoe fetish (a.k.a. Dom "Woogie" Woganowski) from the now-cult classic flick There's Something About Mary. Or maybe the creepy caretaker in Scary Movie 2. Or the adult paperboy Chris Peterson, who lived in his parents' attic in the sitcom Get a Life. Or perhaps Peter MacDougall, the creepy comic-book purveyor -- and the bane of Robert Barone's existence -- in Everybody Loves Raymond.
Yes, Chris Elliott, who's in town this week to sign his new novel and host a screening of Mary at the Alamo Drafthouse, is that guy -- the man who has made a career out of being weird and socially awkward. "I think I'm definitely a homebody," explains Elliott. "Whether it's my parents' basement or my own basement, I'm most comfortable in a basement."
But longtime fans know that he's much too talented to simply pigeonhole as "the weird guy." Elliott is the first to note that he's "not going down in history as anything." Yet thanks to his wry writing and comic delivery, most critics consider Get a Life to have been ahead of its time and credit it with influencing the entire ironic comedy genre. Heck, considering his hilarious and colorful career as writer, stand-up comedian, producer and director, the "weird guy" role just adds to Elliott's already impressive street cred.
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Elliott returns to his writing roots with his new "historical" thriller/spoof and time-travel escapade, The Shroud of the Thwacker. The novel chronicles the adventures of three gumshoes hot on the trail of a notorious serial killer, Jack the Jolly Thwacker, in 1882 New York City. (Elliott's version of NYC features a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that welcomes immigrants from the Hudson River, and Midget City, a hamlet on the edge of Brooklyn.) The twisted plot even features the detective talents of present-day Elliott himself, who suddenly becomes a character in the book when it becomes apparent that, for example, gas-powered wooden cell phones require a more contemporary brain.
Shroud isn't Elliott's first foray into book-writing (he co-wrote the Mommy Dearest spoof Daddy's Boy with his father, funny man Bob Elliott, in 1989). He says his new book goes beyond his silly and goofy style. "This sounds like a middle-aged man saying something here," explains Elliott, "but I play the oddball guy as a business because it's what people want from me. The book is an art form."
Woogie fans take heart: Though Elliott wistfully says he'd like to spend his remaining days writing novels, he's not giving up the freakish roles as long as he keeps getting calls for them. (He'll appears next year as "Eugene the Gator Guy" in the movie First Time Caller.) "I don't have as much of a passion to do that stuff anymore simply because I'm getting older," he admits, "but when I'm doing it, I'm having a great time."
So are we, Chris.