One would think, given his holiday album, “A Very Darren Crissmas,” that Darren Criss would be kind of obsessed with Christmas. This is not quite accurate, he said. “However, aside from the convenient, yet eye-rolling pun that is the title, it is a very me collection of songs.”
For example, the actor, singer and songwriter updated the second track of the recording, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” a 1953 novelty hit originally performed by a 10-year-old, with an almost hip-hop feel. “I don’t take myself too seriously,” he said.
He did, however, take home an Emmy for his visceral 2018 portrayal of Gianni Versace’s killer in Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story”series. (The actor humbly described it as a “participation trophy.”)
But back to the music. Mr. Criss has developed and is starring in a cabaret version of “Crissmas,” currently running at Café Carlyle in Manhattan through Dec. 10. Afterward, he’ll take the show on the road, with stops in Morristown, N.J., on Dec. 11, Huntington, N.Y., on Dec. 15 and Ridgefield, Conn., on Dec. 16.
Mr. Criss, 35, along with his wife, Mia Swier, 37, a producer, and their 8-month-old daughter, Bluesy Belle, split their time between Los Angeles and Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.
At home.Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times
MATCHA, THEN FRISSON Never really drank coffee. Grew up in an Asian household drinking real, bitter Japanese matcha you’d be ill-advised to consume on an empty stomach. Not that sugary Starbucks stuff.
These days, however, being a new parent in my 30s, I have gotten into espresso. It’s helpful. Only a very specific type, though. Terrified of sounding pretentious here, but, yes, I only drink ristretto (“restricted” in Italian). This is just a shorter, more condensed shot of espresso. When we downsized to Hell’s Kitchen in October, we stumbled upon this cute, 47th Street coffee shop called Frisson. Felt pretentious asking, “Do you guys do a proper ristretto?” But these guys were like, “Of course!” Been going there ever since.
PRACTICALITIES First off, never in a million years did I think I’d live in Hell’s Kitchen. Mia and I have lived mainly downtown: Chelsea, the Village, Lower East Side. But, when she became pregnant, I started thinking, you know, since I’m doing Broadway shows roughly every other year, it’d make sense to be close to the theater.
BROADWAY ZONE Upon leaving my apartment, I encounter one of two genres of person: tourists or theater people. And they’re easy to tell apart. I run into colleagues: musicians, stage hands, directors. This sort of busybody theater world contained within a few block radius. Radii?
CRACKS You have to have a certain constitution for Hell’s Kitchen. Yes, there’s the crazies and the commercial hoo-ha, things many Manhattanites hate most. And yes, the neighborhood is dirty and smells a little weird. But I’m kind of invigorated by it. And I know where the cracks are.
COSMIC Plus, Mia and I love being able to walk to Cosmic Diner. Just your typical, no-frills greasy spoon. Don’t know if the pandemic changed it, or if I changed, but before this year, most of my memories at Cosmic were definitely between the hours of 3 and 7 a.m. Don’t think I’d ever been there during daylight. Eat some grease, to try to put a dent in your hangover, that’s my line. Not to say we’re hung over. We’re responsible parents. Obviously.
KEEP IT SIMPLE Big fitness guy. This is my first time living in a building with a gym; we’d always lived in older buildings. But my routine’s still: Give me an hour and a park bench, and I’m good. Run down Hudson River Park, maybe down near Little Island, which is so cute and gorgeous. Then I’ll box jump onto a bench. A box jump is a jump squat, except you’re leaping onto a higher surface. I love it.
FROZEN Of all the eye roll-y, New Age-y things you could make fun of a guy who works in Hollywood for, I’ve gotten really into cryotherapy. They’re often booked on Sundays, but I try to get in after the workout, feels like a full-body ice pack. Helps with inflammation. During our “American Buffalo” run on Broadway this year, Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and I would go and get some cryo done in between the matinee and evening shows. We were very much like theater homies. There’s a spot right on Central Park South called the Fuel Stop. You’re essentially standing in a fridge,inducing a sort of fight-or-flight response.
THE COLD CHAMBER When I first tried it, I was like, “Well, what do you do in there for those three or four minutes?” And the cryo guy was like, “Oh, we play music and dance around.” And I was like, “Oh, awesome. What would you recommend?” And, I’ll never forget this, the cryo guy said, “Daft Punk.” Of course! So, now I blast dance music and kind of two-step in the cold chamber. I like being in the chamber. When you walk out, all these endorphins are released. Though maybe it’s all a wild placebo, and in a few years scientists and bloggers will say everybody who did cryo back in the 2020s were suckers.
BEWITCHING HOUR But, let’s not forget the placebo effect is, nonetheless, an effect. And yes,being New Age-y again: I find blue light very destructive for sleep. So, if I really want to watch something, I have blue-light-blocking glasses. But, in general, I do less consuming at night, as it seems the next song or musical can only be written in the wee hours. Though my wife and I did just finish watching the new season of “Derry Girls.” Once Mia falls asleep, I’m out here in the living room with my guitar and piano. My brain is most active when everyone’s asleep.
THE TANK But, truth is you’re always writing, whether you like it or not. Input via sonic cues, always on. Ideas haunt you constantly. So, at night, it’s often less about coming up with lyrics and melodies than it is about organizing what’s already in the tank.
For example, my wacky Hippo riff was actually the result of walking around department stores for years, Christmas after Christmas, hearing that ’50s novelty song and saying to myself, “You know what’d be funny?” Then finally sitting up one night and doing it.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Darren Criss on Instagram @darrencriss.