Standup Is Where Bryan Callen’s Heart Is
How much does Bryan Callen love comedy? Well, as he puts it, “If you said, ‘Bryan, you can either never have sex again or never do standup comedy again,’ I would probably never have sex again.” Callen’s original plan was to focus solely on acting, a job that he’s had measurable success with, considering his appearances in films like The Hangover and Ride Along, along with TV roles on How I Met Your Mother, Californication, and The Goldbergs. But standup is where his heart is. “It’s what made me feel authentically myself.” Callen closed out 2016 with the December release of his latest standup album, Never Grow Up. I talked to him about the album, his starring role in the upcoming Goldbergs spinoff, and his wildly popular podcast with UFC fighter Brendan Schaub.
Your new album came out recently, but didn’t the video version of the special come out already?
I only released the special to my fans on the podcast in a very limited way. They got it as a package with this sketch show I did with Fox Sports. A lot of people haven’t seen the video. I think they’re shopping that now. So this is actually the first time — other than the limited launch — that it’s available.
When I was prepping for this interview this I saw that somebody put your special up on YouTube at 1.25 speed, probably hoping it wouldn’t be detected.
It’s one of those things where it’s like, what are you going to do? It almost doesn’t matter. It’s funny, you do a special and it takes at least two years to get it where you want it, maybe three. It’s literally the best you can do. Then you put it out there and you really make no money off of it. You just want people to see it. I’m not going to get rich off this thing, but at least I put it out there. It’s like, “This is the best that I can do. I’m proud of it and I guarantee you laugh for at least an hour.” When somebody puts it up there it’s a bummer, but what am I going to do?
On the album you talk about how your dad was a marine who never smiled. Is your dad still around?
He sure is.
Does your comedy make him smile?
No, but he likes it. He just stares. My mother says he’s just nervous. “He doesn’t want you to do poorly.” I’m like, “I’m never going to do poorly. I’ve been doing this too long. Tell him not to worry.”
You also addressed how fortunate you are to be an older, straight, white male getting paid to do comedy.
I’m lucky. That’s why I don’t pray. I’m afraid God’s going to be like, “This guy’s praying for something? He wants more? How about space camp?” I’m very well aware of how much worse it could be. That’s important. Perspective is so important. That’s why I think comedy is important. Comedy is a great neutralizer. It brings everybody together. We live in a polarized time, man. 50% of our country is not talking to the other 50%. That’s not good for democracy. Vigorous spirited debate is good, but we live in a time where were we brand each other with names and outright just diss each other. This branding breaks down stability. It breaks down discourse. Human beings are very complicated. My thoughts change daily, hourly. I hate everybody, I love everybody. I’ll see a dude I want to punch in the face just because I don’t like his mustache, but then I love him and I want to hug him. Things change. My taste in women has changed over the years. I used to like crazy, curvy freaks and now I like skinny, elegant women, as long as they’re perverts. You can’t just brand anybody with a name, but that’s what we do. Comedy is a way for me to be politically incorrect while I’ve got you laughing at the same time, so you can’t really get me in trouble.
But isn’t that also a great time to introduce ideas to people? If you can get people comfortable and laughing, you’re in there.
I think so. You know what you find out about comedy? That people aren’t nearly as sensitive as you think. You don’t want to humiliate people. I don’t like embarrassing people and I don’t want to humiliate anybody, but it’s fun to kind of poke fun at the whole situation. Like, illegal immigration is a problem. There was this illegal Mexican guy who I watched dig a hole alone in an afternoon. He didn’t even need a drink of water. I was like, “Look, man. You might be illegal, but you’re okay in my country. That’s about as American as it gets.” With comedy you can throw the whole checkers board in the air, shake people up, get them thinking on a human level, not on a rational level.
You’re right. Most audiences aren’t that sensitive. It’s usually other comics. I’ll also throw bloggers in there.
It’s mostly liberal, academic, white kids…white kids of privilege who feel guilty. It’s a lot of people who have never played a sport, never been in the military, or have never been punched in the face. I don’t want to hear it. Don’t be a tyrant. Don’t tell me how to speak. Don’t tell me how to think. Comedy is probably the last bastion of free speech. I can get on stage and say whatever the fuck I want and hopefully I piss off 10% of the audience. If I do that I’m doing my job.
Did you start out as a comedian first or an actor first?
Acting. I only wanted to be an actor. I worked very hard at it. I didn’t start doing the road until 2006-2007. Acting was everything to me, but comedy was something I got into when I had an honest conversation with myself where I was like, “Look, man. You’re a medium white guy.” It’s not like I walk into a room and they say, “We’ve got to have that guy!” I wasn’t even that good at acting. I was okay, but I wasn’t going to knock your socks off because I didn’t like it that much. But comedy was always something that I did naturally. It’s what made me feel authentically myself. It’s play for me. I would do comedy whether I got paid for it or not. I’ve done big movies, but it all pales in comparison to comedy. If you said, “Bryan, you can either never have sex again or never do standup comedy again,” I would probably never have sex again.
What if you weren’t allowed to masturbate either?
Oh God, now you’re hurting me.
These are the big questions we have to ask ourselves, Bryan.
I’d probably end up in jail. I think I’d kill somebody.
Would you say that the first thing that got you onto people’s comedy radar was being a part of the original MADtv?
Yeah, probably. But like most opportunities, I blew that. I could have turned it into something but…sketch comedy is too much work and I came into it with very little experience. I didn’t know what I was doing. But the answer is, yes, it put me on the map, if by the map you mean obscurity. What was cool about MADtv was I proved to myself that I can compete in this crazy marketplace. I was on TV. That’s a big deal for an actor/comedian. I couldn’t believe I made it. That’s what you kind of dream of.
You’ve also got two podcasts right now.
I’ve got mine and The Fighter and the Kid. The whole M.O. is humor, transparency, and inspiration. It’s just two guys, a cage fighter and a comedian, talking the way we would anyway. I think we’re a voice for a lot of frustrated men who can’t speak their minds. But we’re also fair. We’re very open about our own flaws. I think we’ll get 5 million downloads this month. It’s great.
You toured The Fighter and the Kid live and sold out a bunch of shows, right?
Yeah, dude. We sold out The Wilbur in Boston. It’s crazy. The other podcast I have is something I’m revamping. It’s the Bryan Callen Show, but it’s actually called Mixed Mental Arts. We’re trying to create a consensus where we talk about the world’s problems from a practical, non-ideological, problem solving platform. We’re pretty ambitious about that.
Tell me about The Goldbergs spinoff.
I have my own spinoff on ABC of my character from The Goldbergs, Coach Mellor. They’re great writers. These guys are so good. Adam Goldberg and his team, Mark Firek, Lew Schneider, great writers. They’re so pedigreed. They’ve written on the best shows on TV for years. When you work with people like that it’s astounding. It’s amazing how much they know. I never have to improvise on The Goldbergs. That’s the first time I can ever say that about any show. When you’re on a TV show or a movie — The Hangover, anything — they improvise. They pay you to come up with your own stuff. You’ve got a script, but then you can play around a little bit. I never have to do that on The Goldbergs. That’s how good the writing is.