Christopher Fitzgerald is balancing a bottle of wine on his chin. It’s a childhood trick that he taught himself when he first became interested in comedy and performing. He used to challenge his friends that he could balance anything on his face that was “bigger than a breadbox and less than 50 pounds,” and he’s proving (quite impressively) that he can still complete the task.
But then again, there isn’t much Fitzgerald can’t do. He sang while walking a tightrope as the title role in Barnum. He transformed into a hunchback to play Igor in Young Frankenstein. And eight times a week, he sings opera, spring jumps over a chair, and mercilessly pursues a girl in Waitress on Broadway.
“To do the work that I want to do well, I have to be in touch with the juvenile, totally free, sometimes grotesque, open energy place,” Fitzgerald says. “And to put yourself in that place, you have to be a dork and strange. But the flip side is, I also take it really, really seriously. I take being silly seriously. I’m my harshest critic.”
It’s only 1 p.m., but Fitzgerald is on his third interview of the day. The seventh floor bar at the W Hotel in Times Square is relatively vacant, save a bartender preparing for the evening rush and a few hotel guests walking around. He’s no stranger to the Tony Awards rush—he earned his third nomination for his portrayal of the odd-but-loveable Ogie in Waitress, which marks his eighth Broadway show. (When I mention the number, he says “I’ll trust you on that.”)
While Fitzgerald’s resume is full of zany characters, he insists he doesn’t explicitly choose “character roles” or “comic relief” bits but just takes the parts that interest him. He grew up in Maine in the late 70s, early 80s back before DVRs and streaming existed, and he learned about comedy by watching reruns of Abbott and Costello and the Jackie Gleason Show.
“They spoke a language that I understood, or I wanted to speak in,” he says, also naming Carol Burnett, the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin as inspirations.
And Fitzgerald isn’t seeking recognition, and marvels at the fact that he’s nominated in a “season with such incredible featured actors.” “It’s all just gravy,” he adds. “The alchemy that it takes to get yourself into a position where you could be nominated for something like a Tony Award, there is so much luck involved.”
But he is doing some things differently this year, particularly in terms of his style. For his first two Tony nominations, which he earned for Young Frankenstein and Finian’s Rainbow—he wore the same Paul Smith black suit, even though they occurred six years apart. (He points out that he’s also wearing a Paul Smith shirt today, and he applauds the designer’s attention to detail and hidden flourishes, like color on the underside of the buttons and a rainbow ombre pattern inside the cuffs.)
But this year Vogue is styling Fitzgerald, and he’s also worked with Brooklyn Tailors on some of his looks for the season. “When you’re 5’5”, it’s really hard to buy suits, to buy shirts, to buy pants, anything! You have to tailor everything,” Fitzgerald says, noting that Brooklyn Tailors caters to shorter men, and he’s recently obsessed with the designer Peter Manning, who had a boutique in DUMBO for men 5’8’’ and under. “It’s not a debilitating challenge, but it goes right to the ego part of you, not feeling like there’s something that’s catering to you, that fits you. You’re always in a world that is outsized, and in some ways, that’s probably made me funny and crazy; it’s probably helped that part of myself.”
I note that my boyfriend fits the height requirements for Manning, and Fitzgerald becomes ecstatic. “He’s gotta go! It’s gonna change his life! I’m not kidding. He’s going to cry.”
Fitzgerald describes his style as a “slightly older skater dad vibe” and calls himself a “profound nerd,” likening himself to his character, Ogie, in that they both have an array of different interests. While Ogie writes poetry, sings opera, and performs in historical reenactments, Fitzgerald grew up playing soccer, doing magic, singing in an acapella group, doing the school play, which coalesced into what he does for a living.
One thing he doesn’t have in common with his Waitress character is how he found love. While Ogie matches up with his (spoiler alert) future girlfriend Dawn online, Fitzgerald met his wife, Jessica Stone, 17 years ago when they were doing Babes in Arms at Encores! “Online wasn’t even a thing!” Fitzgerald jokes.
The two have worked together in several shows, and Stone has even directed Fitzgerald in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Williamstown Theatre Festival.
“To this day, there’s nobody I’d rather work with,” he says. “And I know some people are like, ‘How could you work with your spouse?’ And sometimes it’s challenging, like anything in life, but we really do share such a strong sensibility and taste. So there’s just nobody I feel gets me and my strengths and my weaknesses, and no one that inspires me more than her—as an actor and as a director, and as a wife and as a mom. I mean, she’s an unbelievable person.”
The couple lives in Brooklyn with their two sons, 7-year old Emmett and almost-9-year-old Charlie. Fitzgerald loves spending time in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, where he’ll run lines for a show or just work on characters.
He’s also a big fan of the cheese shop, the Ploughman, and says he loves to cook for his family, particularly under a time crunch where he’ll throw things together from the refrigerator which doesn’t sound too different from what Jenna (Jessie Mueller) does in Waitress with her pies, although those concoctions are probably a bit more thought out.
So if Fitzgerald was making a Tony Awards pie, what would it be?
“Have Fun and Look Sharp Pie,” he says, after a lot of thought, joking that he shouldn’t say “Loser Pie.” “Bananas, topped with a very light lemon whipped cream. The bananas are for having fun, and the base is maybe a graham cracker base? Or maybe a cookie crumble base! With a beautiful Madagascar vanilla cream center, with bananas in it. Maybe they’re spiced a little bit. And it’s topped with that kind of lemony whipped cream. So it’s kind of serious, but light.”
Just like Fitzgerald.