By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Unfortunately, Lynette, I’m just too exhausted to do that. I have been trying to sell out for weeks, and let me tell you something, selling out is a lot of work and frankly not very profitable. That’s why I’m not going to say those terrible things about you that I just said. About you. Which are true. You ungrateful whore.
“Let’s look at kittens!”
Behind Leavins’ perennial stubble, hangdog eyes, cryptic tone and meticulously droll timing lies a 40-year-old bachelor-satirist, toying with Internet celebrity while clinging to his privacy. He refuses to discuss his family, or even his brief stint volunteering with the Glendale Humane Society (GHS) during his first few years in Southern California.
But Ellen Leyda, GHS’s volunteer coordinator, remembers Leavins from 2006: “One dog had cancer, and he took her home so she wouldn’t have to spend the weekend in the clinic. He was very compassionate for the animals, a lot of care.”
“Volunteer work is a private matter,” Leavins tells me in a follow-up phone call after the interview at his apartment. “I really don’t want to go there.”
After 15 seconds of dead air, I tersely remind him that I am trying to write a profile, and that asking a guy with a pet show about his volunteer work with animals doesn’t seem to be unduly intrusive. Leavins bursts out laughing, then implores, “Please don’t turn me into the Mother Teresa of the animal-sanctuary movement. I volunteered there a very short time, and after I changed neighborhoods, I never went back.”
Leavins’ MacBook is populated with a treasure chest of thousands of submitted pet photos, which, he says, he doesn’t quite know what to do with. He’s the digital age’s answer to Charles Phoenix, who has also built a cottage industry on found art — in Phoenix’s case, discarded SoCal photographs collected from garage sales and eBay — which he too presents in live performances. Phoenix has perfected a jocular narration to retro slide shows, including, say, snapshots of Disneyland in the early ’60s, or of a young married couple, circa 1973, she with a bouffant (outdated even then), he in bell-bottoms and lacy silk shirt, standing awkwardly by the swimming pool of their West Covina home — all etched in Kodachrome now tinted with age. These subjects are the parents and grandparents of Leavins’ current fan base: “misfit teenage girls,” he says, “and women in their 30s who like to knit.”
Leavins has been posting photos in a subsection called “Sexy Viewers” — benign glamour shots of attractive women, with their pets nestled near or within cleavage. This has drawn complaints from two camps: the gay market, and those women in their 30s, both demanding that cheesecake and beefsteak be served in equal portions.
The following letters, and the video responses to them, were delivered by Leavins, on various episodes of his show and in his deadpan style:
“Yo, Chris, my name is Lars. I am a gay bear, but lately you have been featuring a lot of girls with cleavage on your show. You need to start showing sexy shirtless guys. It is the teen girls and gay bears who made you a star, and if you don’t give us what we want, we will destroy you. Enough sexy girls. More shirtless guys.”
“Thank you for your letter, Lars. Yes, many of my female viewers send me sexy pictures of themselves, like Julie in Arkansas, who was kind enough to snap this photo of herself after a night of drinking, with Sparky, her Chihuahua resting on her bra. I would happily display shirtless male viewers, too, Lars, but how am I supposed to do that when I have no male viewers? Let me clarify that: When I have no male viewers who admit they watch a show about puppies and kittens. You see, the only reason I know I have secret hordes of men is because they send me e-mails asking to see more boobs!”
With the female complainant, Leavins employs a viciousness that recalls Don Rickles’ comic assaults on his own constituents. Here’s Leavins’ response to a writer named Deborah after he had posted some images of “hot male flesh”— at Deborah’s request:
“I’m only doing this as inspiration to the thousands of women like Deborah, single ladies in their 30s, with three or more cats, who watch Cute With Chris. Don’t give up on your dreams. Throw away your clogs, and believe that somewhere in the space between your 11 cats and your six litter boxes and the 39 squeaky toys on your bed, there is room for a man in your life. Unless you want to turn lesbian, which I would totally recommend. I mean, wouldn’t it be easier just to date another crazy cat lady?”