Bryan Callen – It’s A Man’s, Man’s World
by Jay S. Jacobs
Stand up comedian. Actor. Podcast host. Father. Occasional color commentary guy. Seeker of knowledge. Chronicler of sexual roles.
You don’t want to be the dude responsible for keeping Bryan Callen’s résumé current.
You’ve seen him on TV, or on the big screen, or in the comedy clubs. His filmography veers wildly from a recurring role inThe Hangover films to doing serious time in Oz to being an original cast member on MADtv. He has played a corporate shark on How I Met Your Mother, a recovering alcoholic on Seventh Heaven, the guy who beats up Santa Claus in Bad Santa and a sportscaster in Warrior. He also shared the screen in two recent Kevin Hart comedies – Ride Along and About Last Night.
However, perhaps his favorite role is host of the podcast The Bryan Callen Show, in which he uses his gig as the host to learn as much about life as he possibly can.
Now, as he plans his latest and greatest comedy special, the world is Bryan Callen’s oyster. And it’s only getting better.
We recently caught up with Callen to discuss his life as an entertainment renaissance man.
When did you first realize you were funny? How did you decide you wanted to be a comedian?
I grew up all over the world. My family moved around to different parts of the world. My pop would come home like, “Hey, we’re going to Saudi Arabia!” I was like, oh that sucks. I have a dog and friends. I’d get thrown into a whole different set of circumstances with a whole different group of people. Basically, I realized that the way you get guys to like you, if you want to make friends, is be a jackass or be good at sports. I was okay at sports, but I was a bigger jackass. I was a better jackass. So from a very early age I had to learn how to navigate and ingratiate myself to a group of people. Now I get paid to do it. When I get up on stage, it doesn’t even occur to me that that’s what I’m doing, probably because I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid.
Your comic persona is sort of as a guy’s guy, a dude who drinks and talks sports and goes to strip clubs, the type of best friend that most guys have and most of their wives just barely put up with.
I try more to talk about really the problem with masculinity. You feel one way, but society makes you do another. You still have testosterone and a caveman, but so much of what our DNA is about is very inconvenient and downright inappropriate in modern day society, right? So, in that sense, that’s kind of what I try to express, the fact that I feel so different than the way I’m expected to behave.
Who are some of the comedians who inspired you to take it up?
I was never inspired by comedians. I was in fact always inspired by authors and dramatic actors. I wanted to be Robert De Niro or Christopher Walken. I wanted to be a pro athlete, like Michael Jordan or… Andre Agassi, whatever. I suppose you’re usually fascinated with what is a mystery. I never found comedy to be as much of a mystery as say someone who could write an amazing book and weave a story together. I guess you get to a point where writing something funny is not as much of a challenge as is the idea that you’re trying to be dramatic and tell a story while being funny.
At this point, you’re on TV, film, a comic, have a podcast and lots of other things going. When do you get to sleep?
(laughs) Well, to keep it going, one of the things that bothers me is how delicate I am. I do need sleep. I do need food. I always say if you’re a nice guy, miss five hours of sleep and miss two meals, then come talk. One of the things that I resent about my own biology is the fact that I’m so goddamned precious. But my children are what really ground me. Playing with my son. My son and daughter, they demand that I slow down. They demand that you put your phone away and look them in the eye. You’ve always got to be writing just to develop a following. People expect new tricks. It’s not like being a musician where you can sing the same song. You have to come up with new tricks. That requires you to be in what I would consider a comedic mindset, where you’re writing all the time.
As a traveling stand-up comedian, when you meet people do they always expect you to be “on” and funny?
Not really. I think what happens is when you get a little bit more known, a lot of times people just look at you a little bit like you’re an alien. Here you are, you’re making us laugh for an hour straight. They don’t know how you do that. It’s like how I look at a surgeon or something. I remember I was sitting on this plane and this guy sits next to me and he recognizes me. He asks me all kind of questions. He was very excited. He said, “I’m sorry to be asking you all these questions. I’m a fan. It’s fun to meet somebody from your business.” I said, “Listen, man, if you were a brain surgeon, I’d probably be doing the same thing as you.” He said, “I am a brain surgeon.” He pulled out all of his medical things he was working on. Boy, let me tell you, did the tables shift? He couldn’t get away from me fast enough by the end of that flight. I was literally asking him every question under the sun.
How often do people come up to you and go, “Hey, aren’t you that guy?”
Yeah, well that is the level of my celebrity. Life as Bryan Callen. Unless I’m in parts of Canada, it’s usually “Aren’t you that guy?” I’ll take it. I’ll take it. When I’m Bryan Callen, that’s when I’ll be able to afford the two million dollar house.
You were one of the original cast members of MADtv. How did you get involved in that show and what did you learn from the experience?
I learned that sketch comedy is VERY difficult. It’s way more work than fun. I learned that I was in over my head. It was sort of a baptism by fire. I was thrown in with a bunch of really experienced sketch comics. I did the best I could. It was a privilege to be part of something that lasted that long. I guess I learned basically if you want to make something really good, there is this idea that it should be easy. That is not true.
Your first recurring role after MADtv was on Oz, a very different kind of show for you. What was it like to be on such a realistic and dark, dramatic series like that?
We had a lot of laughs on the set. The Hell’s Angels would hang out. It was a rough group. The people that you’d see in the background shots were a lot of times real prisoners, had been real prisoners. It was a very realistic, depressing environment. It was also a great place to be an actor. I will say, that when you do a movie or you do a TV show like that, and it’s dramatic, it’s not a lot of fun and games. There’s a lot of waiting around. People are trying to be a character and hold on to their preparation and in an emotional state. A lot of times it can be a lot more work. You’ve got to be very conscientious and disciplined about how you use your energy. [When I was in] The Hangover II, it was like, yeah, well hanging around with you guys [is normal] because I’m around comedians. When you’re around actors, everybody is in character. You’ve got to be ready all the time.
What role do you think was most like who you really are, and which role was hardest to get a grasp on?
I think, believe it or not, the role I did on Seventh Heaven where I had to play an alcoholic. This guy whose life had hit a certain point. My biggest fear was the threat. I never wanted to create the role. Look back and say, wow, that could have been. I think that’s what drove me to sobriety. I suppose, that role, believe it or not on Seventh Heaven, which is a family show, they wrote me an incredible role. I was an alcoholic, tending with my booze and my lost family. So that was kind of difficult. But, mostly, honestly, the roles I’ve had the hardest time with were roles on stage, original productions. You get on stage, you better be a masterpiece by the end of the piece. That’s where technique and craft come in.