‘The Dumbbells’ Find a Balance Between Being Funny and Fit
Perhaps it’s comedy’s self-deprecating backdrop that causes it to rarely intersect with health and fitness. Most people tend to side with the Average Joes over Blade, Laser, and Blazer from Globo Gym, but there is room for comedians to be both healthy and funny, especially in today’s food-conscious society. That’s where Eugene Cordero and Ryan Stanger — who each have the uncommon distinction of having worked professionally in both fitness and comedy — have truly found their calling with their podcast: The Dumbbells.
Cordero improvises on Mondays at UCB in Los Angeles with The Smokes, plays a Vietnam vet in Kong: Skull Island, and used to be a crossfit trainer. Stanger has appeared on Comedy Bang Bang and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is at UCB on Fridays with Bangarang, played college football at Cal, and has worked as a personal fitness instructor. Their unique resumes are the reason why The Dumbbells, a podcast in which they answer questions from comedians on health and fitness, is not just entertaining but informative. Tips on what to eat, how to exercise, and gentle nudges to consider working out while listening are beneficial, but the relationship between the hosts and the guests, and the hosts with each other, helps The Dumbbells stand out as a more fun road to fitness than most.
It turns out there’s actually a way for comedians to be both self-deprecating and healthy.
How did The Dumbbells podcast first come together? What was the inspiration behind it?
Eugene Cordero: In the comedy community, a lot of people started coming up to both of us at various times asking random questions about working out or nutrition, because they knew that we’re both in the business of it but also just live our lives doing that.
Ryan Stanger: Eugene went on some podcasts and gave fitness advice on Don’t Get Me Started with Will Hines and Anthony King, and also on High and Mighty with Jon Gabrus. And then I did a show called We’re Gross with Gilli Nissim at the UCB theater in LA, and I just answered fitness questions on stage and people laughed. It was fun; some information, some comedy. I heard Eugene on those podcasts and we’re buddies so I said, “Hey, we should do a show and have comedy people on and make it funny and accessible.”
Eugene: Our focus was mainly to make sure that it’s still fun and then filled with some information to keep you or get you motivated to at least start or continue doing what you’re already doing. Which I feel is not happening as far as fitness-based podcasts.
Ryan: They’re not always accessible. Tons of information, very dry, didn’t feel like they had a real-world application. The people talking on those have to know that some of it is horseshit or not realistic. We thought our angle could make it fun and funny, and if something feels weird we’ll call it out. Then also to get those podcast comedy people that you see a lot to talk about health and fitness, which is not something they normally do.
Eugene: I listen to my fair share of podcasts, and I think we were inspired by the conversations that I had with Gabrus, and also being a guest on Doughboys and a bunch of other podcasts.
Ryan: Doughboys for sure. We’re huge fans of the show and listen to it all the time, but something we love about that — aside from those guys being so great and funny together — is that talking about chain restaurants is a nice motor underneath the conversation. Thinking about what we liked about theirs, we’ll ground it around fitness but still have fun conversations and wherever it goes, it goes.
What do you say to the people who say, “If I’m not fat, I’m not funny”?
Eugene: I understand that people have to fit a certain aesthetic to play certain parts, but we’ve addressed this on the podcast and in life: You can still be bigger and be healthy. There is a healthier version of a big guy. That healthy version is the one that’s gonna be around to keep getting those parts. No matter how good of shape I get into, I’ll be considered a character actor just because of the way that I look. For instance, John Goodman is great regardless. He’s a smaller John Goodman now and you’re not gonna go “Eh, he’s not the old John Goodman.”
Ryan: It’s one of those things where, if you look at the commedia dell’arte or all these archetypes, you feel like “I’m the fat person in this and if I lose that part of my identity then it’ll affect my work.” I think you’re always best served being healthy. I think you’re gonna have your body type and it’s gonna be some version of that, but healthy is probably always the best way.
Eugene, in Kong: Skull Island, you play a soldier, but before that you went through a body transformation where you lost a lot of weight. A few years ago did you ever think you could play a character like this?
Eugene: I think in general, everyone wants to be a superhero. I may have thought “It would be great to be in a superhero movie,” but at that time, when I was at my heaviest, I thought “Maybe I’ll play the butler. Maybe I’ll play the mayor when I get older.”
Ryan: Finely aging into the mayor role.
Eugene: Or the commissioner. You see yourself as “the cop that didn’t catch up to Batman.” As much as I wanted to be an athletic guy, I was also just not that happy with where I was in my life. As I started working out and getting in better shape and felt better about myself, I think I opened up the possibilities of booking more things. I also did hear the note, while I was auditioning for stuff, that I never looked big enough to be the fat guy and was never small enough to be the leading man. So in my head, I just needed to be the healthiest version of myself that I could be. Even auditioning for Kong, I still had body dysmorphia to a certain extent: “Man, can I really be playing this role?” When I did Drunk History and was playing the Hawaiian chief, going into it I saw myself, like, holding a pineapple and grapes and it was just gonna be kind of like an emperor on the throne. That was my mentality rather than being a warrior. I think that was that first moment where I was really like “Oh, I guess I am sort of changing my category a little bit.”
Ryan, you went through a different body transformation. You were a 250-pound fullback at Cal, and then you went down in weight by losing muscle mass.
Ryan: Yeah, I didn’t want to be that size anymore. It’s a whole other set of things that you have to do to maintain that size. I just knew that it wasn’t good for me in the long term and I knew that the eating I was doing was unreasonable for like a normal life. So I started making adjustments. It’s been a long road. There was stuff I did back then that I’d never do now in trying to get down that wasn’t the smartest, healthiest way. That’s something that we talk about on the show a lot. All these starts and stops are fine, it’s all part of the journey. You can’t bow out or quit — it’s all part of it, it all counts.
Eugene: Things will burn you out, and then things are gonna feel revived in your workout routine, and even your eating lifestyle, and you just have to be a human being about it. You can never try to be a robot or a monster.
Ryan: Just committing too much of a monk-like existence.
Eugene: Not immediate results, just a change in the way you look at how you live your life.
People love great transformation stories, and over the long haul that seems like something that will be fun to watch with The Dumbbells, though you haven’t had any guests return quite yet to report progress.
Ryan: I guess we’re at the stage now where we could really do it. That’s one of the huge things that we really wanted to do on the show, even before we started recording, was that we definitely want to have people come back, good or bad. You can learn just as much from people who didn’t stick with stuff. There’s no right or wrong.
Eugene: However, I think there is gonna be a little bit more of like a new sensitivity in asking people to come back. If there is a “I haven’t done anything” kind of thing, they might be a little wary of coming back this time. But maybe not.
Ryan: We’ll go find them like A Current Affair. “We just wanna ask you a couple questions!”
Eugene: I think within the next few episodes, we’re gonna start getting into that. We’re a little bit past 30, I think. A decent amount of time has passed.
Is there an episode or topic that you think is a great place for people to start? Maybe if they want to get started exercising again and don’t feel great right now.
Eugene: I think the Marcy Jarreau episode is a good one to just kind of hear a different perspective that is not ours. Just because she’s coming from a background that is not like me and Stanger, and also, her mentality of working out is very specific but also relatable.
Ryan: A cool one, if you know everything and not in a negative way, if you’ve tried everything and you know all about exercise and nutrition, have worked with trainers for years, but are still not doing it is Kulap Vilaysack’s episode. She has exercised a ton, worked with a trainer, and she knows exactly what she needs to do, but she just wasn’t doing it because she’s very busy with work. We talked about it and I felt like we came up with some interesting work-arounds and different ways of looking at things to start. There’s people that have tons of experience with exercise but for whatever reason aren’t doing it. There’s not anything magic we can tell them — hers is cool because we do an hour and a half on how can you start back in.
Do you think your own improv on stage is changed by your own fitness?
Eugene: The thing that’s the most affected is the after-show stuff — what I’m eating and drinking post-show has been affected more than my actual comedy. But because improv is based on your own life, I’m sure a lot of my what I’m pulling from is more fitness-based, or focused on that. Because that’s what’s important in my life, in the same sense of now that I’m a new dad, I’m sure I’m improvising with that mentality because that’s what’s in my head right now.
Ryan: Looking different, I would be self-conscious on stage: “How am I being perceived, because I’m not the normal comedy body type?” or something. I might have played a little more nervous early on. I didn’t feel like I had the audience. My guess is that 90 percent of that is in my head but also it informed a style of play — either working against type or working with type, in a way that I was more conscious of.
Eugene: Thank God that the scope of comedy has changed, in a good way, that it’s not about being a doughy guy necessarily. You’re seeing superheroes be funny, so it’s okay. It’s okay for Ryan Reynolds to be in shape and for Chris Pratt to be in shape, and The Rock to be in shape, and Kevin Hart to be in shape.
Ryan: And to be comedy stars.
Eugene: That’s a more modern take on things than the unfortunate Chris Farley mentality, or Belushi mentality, of being the bigger guy who is doing all the funny things.
Ryan: The good thing about being the mean, dumb jock is that if I say something kind of smart, people lose their minds. I get a lot of credit that I don’t deserve.
The comedy community is often closely associated with being consistently social. Parties, drinking, late night diner stops after a show perhaps. How do you deal with the social situations while staying healthy?
Eugene: I think it’s just a lifestyle realization: What is important to me? And what is important to that social aspect? If I need to have a couple of drinks in a night, then I have a couple of drinks in a night. And if you need that in your life in order to stay social, then you do it. But again, how many nights a week do you have to go out? I think that’s also an age thing; if I were 22 and talking to myself right now, me not going out at least five nights a week is not in the cards. Does that mean I have to get hammered every night? Technically no, so I probably wouldn’t, but I’m definitely out. Get excited about the moments where you’re hanging out with your friends. Doing that show with The Smokes pretty much every Monday at UCB, if that means we always grab pizza afterwards, then I’m not gonna not do that. I’m gonna have a beer and some pizza and that’ll be my thing. And those other nights when I’m home, I’m gonna eat well. Same with being social. None of our friends nowadays are going, “Bro, you’ve only had six beers?” If anything, somebody’s going “Do you want another drink?” and if you say no, then they’re happy they don’t have to buy two drinks.
Ryan: Yeah, and my card would get declined. If you’re gonna embark on something where you’re going to limit what you’re taking in, let go of the fear that you’re not ever gonna have those foods that you used to love, or social nights, or drinks. That’s not gonna happen. You will find a way to incorporate those things. A lot of people get anxiety about that. There may be a time where you’re not allowing yourself to have pizza because it’s a trigger, but it’s going to be re-introduced, so let go of that fear. And then have a realistic self-inventory where you say, “What do I want?” Have that inventory, be realistic about it. Eugene in his twenties had to go out five nights a week. Have that and then ask yourself, “What do I want in my life?” with fitness and nutrition. Be realistic. Then look at that inventory and see what lines up and what doesn’t. There will be enough things that you will still have a fun, fulfilling life.
Eugene: Also having the mentality of not shooting yourself in the foot before you do it. You can’t worry about the things that haven’t happened yet.