Christopher Meehan grew up as the youngest of eight children in a happy Catholic family in San Francisco, hoping that he would have a large family of his own someday. But like so many singles caught in the age of online dating and apps like Tinder and Bumble, the Santa Monica-based St. Monica’s parishioner found that the plethora of choices provided the opportunity to consider unlimited people without forming a deep connection with anyone.
A conversation with his friend Megan Harrington, in which they both wondered why they were still single, inspired her to ask Meehan to help other singles discover the answer to finding their spouse by putting his own dating life under observation. A veteran actor and stand-up comedian, Meehan agreed to be the host and one of the subjects of the new documentary “The Dating Project,” which follows five Catholic singles across the U.S. as they try to find Mr. or Miss Right over the course of a year.
That experience also inspired him to create his own solo comedic storytelling show about his quest, called “Swiping Mr. Right.” The show, which combines hilarious stories with impressive physical comedy, debuted to packed houses last weekend at the Santa Monica Playhouse and continues there Sept. 28 and 29.
“Megan wanted to follow me for a year and interview my mother, and with several hours of interviews, plus reading a lot of books and researching trends on dating and relationships, I found a lot that was pretty disturbing,” says Meehan. “There was an article I found that said that we’ve started treating dating like consumers and focus on presenting the best aspects of ourselves, which isn’t human.
“We have so many aspects, because people get angry or depressed, all these feelings that don’t look good on a dating profile,” adds Meehan. “So we have this thing that’s been sold to us that’s not true, it’s just the feeling of love. I realized that the human spirit is so much more than what we do for a living and our bodies. It’s a smidgen of our gift of being human.”
The effort put into “The Dating Project” has already paid off, with Harrington and her producing partner Catherine Fowler Sample gaining backing from veteran Catholic producer Steve McEveety (“Braveheart,” “We Were Soldiers.”) He provided the budget and Paulist Press has since signed on to create a distribution deal, with the film debuting Sept. 24 at the Downtown L.A. Film Fest at the L.A. Live cinemas.
In creating “Swiping Mr. Right,” Meehan wanted “to call out the true self versus false self that we present.” He found the time to dig deeper into his life by giving up television and Bumble for Lent after realizing he had become addicted to them, and started going to more church events and classes determined to meet women with qualities he could truly value.
Working solo was a new experience for Meehan, who had spent 14 years performing as part of a comedy team with his brothers Michael and Howard. Known as the Meehan Brothers, they made it to the semifinal round of NBC’s comedy competition “Last Comic Standing” and staged several national tours of often-improvised comedy.
Their onstage connection was forged by the “unspoken language” they developed in childhood, using humor to gain attention amid their frantic yet loving family. He recalls that his parents set an example of a solid relationship and that “Catholicism was the center of our life in our living room,” helping them overcome adversities that included his father’s death when Meehan was just 9 years old.
“Their faith was so strong that they knew things would work out no matter what came, that as long as they are consistently within God’s grace and actively seeking it they would be OK,” says Meehan. “My parents knew that their relationship had to stay intact and be their primary focus, because if they fell apart, everyone does.
“Growing up with that family was a lot of fun, because you learned to be really quick, and sarcastic to deal with stuff,” he continues. “I call it emotional mapping, cause you’re fighting for physical and emotional space and any sort of peace of mind. But it was super-duper creative, since limitations are such a useful tool for creativity.”
Meehan’s creative spirit has guided him through an acting career, which has included more than 90 commercials and numerous TV guest-acting appearances. He also created the satirical Christopher Meehan International Film Festival, which drew hundreds to St. Monica’s in 2015 to watch him in a short comedy film.
The fest was a highly successful fundraiser for the parish’s charity work with an African orphanage, collecting more than $15,000 for the cause. Now, with the creation of “Swiping Mr. Right,” he’s continuing his efforts to view acting as a vocation more than a career and create work that has a positive effect on others.
“I always thought I’d keep myself available for my career and be able to drop everything to take an acting job, and I also thought that something better was always around the corner relationship-wise,” says Meehan. “That was at the expense of relationships. “But [writer and Christian apologist] G.K. Chesterton had a two-word answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?,’ saying ‘I am.’
“The responsibility rests solely on my shoulders, and I have to look at my own behavior,” he concludes. “I had opened myself up to the romantic illusion of marriage in a very self-centered way of ‘what do I get out of it?’ but while a relationship is work, it provides meaning and happiness rather than just fun and freedom. That’s what we should strive for.”
“Swiping Mr. Right” plays Sept. 28 and 29 at the Santa Monica Playhouse, located at 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $20. Visit swipingmrright.brownpapertickets.com.
“The Dating Project” screens at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Regal L.A. Live, at 1000 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $15. Visit Dtffla.com/tickets.