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March 25, 2014.
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 in The 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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
You seem to get
brought in to play oddball supporting roles in stuff like
The Hangover and
Old School and The Goods. How fun is it to come in and be
a go-to-guy for laughs?
I wish I was a movie star. I always want to work
more. I always want a bigger part. But that's just not how it works
sometimes. So I take what I can get and I try to do the best I can with
You've just done two
movies with Kevin Hart,
Ride Along and About Last Night. Coincidence, or is he
Yeah, Kevin is stalking me. (laughs) No, I
actually think he's so prodigiously talented. I love the guy. Kevin is
impossible not to love. He's such a hard-working, good person. He's
just always funny. He's just one of those incredible people. I've
never worked with anybody where I can never keep a straight face,
because I never know what he's going to do. He'll just surprise you.
He surprises himself, I think.
You mentioned it was
fun to do a dramatic role on
Seventh Heaven. Would you like to do more drama?
I guess so. I'll do whatever. The thing about me
is I like doing anything that feels like a challenge. I like trying to
find something in the role, so even if it is small, I'm going to try to
be memorable. The biggest thing about me is when I look in the mirror
and I did this a long time ago I went into comedy because when I walk
into the room and they look at me, it's not like, "Hey, let's use the
medium white guy with brown hair." Well no. That's not how it works,
man. So I had to make myself memorable. That's why in The Hangover,
well what can I do here? Let me do a character so people will
remember me. He owns a wedding chapel. What kind of guy does that?
That forced me to find a way for people to remember me. Because they're
not going to remember me just because I'm Bryan Callen, medium white
guy. You've got to do something different. You're not getting a part
just because you are a good actor. In this business, you've got to have
You've had a
recurring role on
How I Met Your Mother.
What was that like and are you sorry to see the show end?
Yeah. I never really watched it much, but it's a
great show. I'm friends with a lot of the people on the show. Again,
when you're doing these things, you don't realize they are going to be
hits. You don't realize that it's going to be a big deal, but it was.
When you're doing it, it always just feels like another show. What you
remember are the people that you work with. That's the big part of it.
Lately, on TV you've
been in a bunch of episodes of
World's Dumbest... What's the dumbest thing you've ever
The dumbest thing I've ever done? Well... God,
that's a long list. I'll tell you, rescuing two pit bulls and having
two huge macaw parrots and moving my girlfriend into my house at the
same time. That's a lot to manage. It didn't work out too well with
any of it. My pit bulls kept fighting. Me and my girlfriend fought a
lot. And the birds made a lot of noise and were gross and were a
Your podcast is
interesting in that you don't just pull out the typical celeb types. I
like the fact that you touch on all kinds of things, politics,
literature, music, sports, whatever. What do you look for in a guest?
I look for people that are answering and wrestling
with big questions. The questions that matter. What I mean by that is
that there are a lot of real issues. If you talk to the average doctor
or talk to the average person, you are going to be entertained. The
business doesn't require that you think deeply about issues. I realized
that there were a lot of people writing books and thinking for twenty
years on a subject. Like Jared Diamond won a Pulitzer Prize for
Guns, Germs, and Steel. This is a guy who said: Why is there a
difference between... for example, people who live close to the
equator. Why does sub-Saharan Africa not have as much as Northern
Europe? Why did they not go in step? What happened that Northern
Europeans had so much and people in Africa had so little? He took
twenty years to answer that question with a seminal book. Those are the
kind of people I learn from. My podcast is less about talking popular
and way more a selfish endeavor. I'm trying to see how
much I can learn. I get to talk to people who would never speak with
me. William Bernstein, who wrote The Four Pillars of Investing
and The Birth of Plenty. Or Charles Mann who wrote 1491.
These are eminent historians and very, very smart people. I guess my
criterion is: Is this guy going to be dynamic? Does this guy have
something to say? Am I going to learn something? Is he going to change
my paradigm? My thought paradigm. My mind.
Who or what would you
consider the fantasy ideal guest for your podcast?
That's a great question. That's a great question.
It's funny, when you meet some people, you have to have the right
questions. I'd really have to think about that. I think probably Ray
Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is a futuristic guy. He's a professor. He
wrote a book called The Singularity is Near. He predicted the
internet. He is somebody who I think has been more accurate in
predicting how we are going to live than anybody else that I know of. I
think the Wall Street Journal called him "The Thomas Edison of
our time." Sure, I'd love to talk to a President; Barack Obama or
something. [But] I think I could predict a lot of what those kinds of
people would speak about. I had a chance to speak with Arnold
Schwarzenegger for two hours. He was great, but you're not necessarily
going to learn as much as you are with somebody who is actually an
innovative leader of thought. Like Ray Kurzweil. So, it would be
someone like that, I think.
You also did a very
impressive job of color commentary in the movie
Warrior. Is color
man yet another hat that you want to try on?
Well, I love the fight game. I'm not
qualified to call fights. But I've spent enough time on a mat and I
think I know fighting. I love the game so much, I know fighting more
than just boxing. I'm not a total novice about it. For the most part,
I just told them, "Fight and roll camera and I'll just call the fight as
I see it." That's how we did that. Of course, there was dialogue, but
at the same time I was given some leeway, because I knew what I was
talking about. I started out in ju-jitsu, I've wrestled enough, I've
done enough boxing to at least be able to talk about it. I'm not going
to win it, but I can talk about it.
As an actor, what are
some movies that you most wish you had been a part of?
Oh, boy. I got into the movies because of Raging
Bull. When I saw what Robert De Niro did I was 19 years old I
had never seen anything like that. When I saw what he did in The
Deer Hunter, in that Russian roulette scene, I didn't even know how
to put it into context. I just knew that it made me feel so deeply. It
just really shook me up, to realize that there was this thing called
film this crazy collaborative process is a powerful, powerful tool.
You know what else did? Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Some of these
movies as a young man hit you where you live. When you say to yourself,
I got to actually wake up and be on set how I'm written. I've got one
go around. There are so many movies you'd like to be a part of, but
what Sean Penn does what he did when he was a young man those things
really affected me deeply. There are actors that are cool and there are
actors that break your heart. Like Mickey Rourke does. Those are the
actors I really [like]. Mickey Rourke, De Niro and even [Christopher]
Walken. And Sean Penn. When you're a young man and these people are
these very macho, male figures, getting out there and crying and doing
the things that you're not supposed to do as a man be sensitive, be
reckless, be vulnerable, be weak, surrender, throw yourself to the
ground those are the things that give you life as a man. That breaks
me from what society tells you you're supposed to be. Being a man, and
especially being a straight white guy in America, it
comes with parameters. Those parameters get reinforced, sometimes
specifically. So, maybe I was looking for a way out of that.
What kinds of things
bring you back to the old days? What makes you nostalgic?
All old movies. It takes me back. I watched An
Officer and a Gentleman recently and I started crying. When he
said, "I've got no place else to go. I've got nothing else." Also
I actually just today
interviewed John G. Avildsen, director of the original
One of the greatest movies of all times. I went to
theater school with his son.
Is there a certain
movie that if you are in a bad mood it automatically cheers you up?
Oh, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Airplane!, Monty
Python & the Holy Grail. The great classics are always fantastic.
Is there something
you watch when you need a good cry?
No, because I don't need a good cry. (laughs)
Even if I did, I wouldn't admit it.
What movie are you
most embarrassed to admit that you totally love?
Oh, man. That's a good one. Gee whiz.
Well, I'll tell you what. What I love... and I never
tell anybody this... but figure skating. Figure skating brings me to
tears. And so does So You Think You Can Dance. So does The
Voice. So does The
Best of American Idol. If you want to
see me cry, I'm in my hotel room and I'm not watching porn, I'm watching
all those shows with my ear plugs on and Kleenex. But don't tell
Your secret is safe
Yeah, sure. Right.
What movie do you
absolutely hate that everyone else in the world seems to think is great?
Well, you have to be careful with this. But
Hollywood is full of movies that take an unoriginal idea and they put a
bunch of talented people around it. Any movie usually that has been
manufactured artificially. It's a little bit like when you see these
planned communities. Somebody has planned them out before. The cities
and communities where people live in or have homes in are those that
sprung up organically. And were usually the inspiration of one or two
people behind it. So think about the great story. There was always one
person who came up with an idea that made them laugh or cry. Those are
the best ones. The same goes for great songs.
You've done so many
different things in your career. How would you like for people to look
at your body of work?
I don't take it that seriously. I don't look at my
own body of work. I guess when I think about that, I think of my
children. Having children, it is the first time I ever thought I hope
my children look at me and I hope they don't say, "Eh, he's a fraud." I
hope they say something like, "He really did something original as a
comic." So my standup is really where I place a lot of energy. I'm
about to shoot my special probably in June or July, I'm not sure.
It'll be the best I can do. It'll be the best I've ever done. That I
hope doesn't break my heart. I hope I'm proud of it. I do so little
that I'm proud of. I do so little that I can even watch myself in. I'm
just my own worst critic.
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