I remember some advice I got about 25 years ago which I attribute to legendary broadcaster, Peter Gzowski (but where he got the advice I couldn’t say). When it games to interviews, his practice was to not sit there with a strict list of questions but it was more to discern 2 or 3 topics that you wanted to explore with the guest. A line of questions is a fine thing however (and this will come as a disappointment to any radio producer who spend hours developing question lines for stupid hosts like me), they are a very rough map to “suggest” where the interview should go. For me, I’m interested in the subjects that we’ll discuss and if you listen well, the questions will take care of themselves.
It’s part of the challenge when you sit down with a famous actor or musician who spends a lot of time doing the circuit of press junkets answering the same 5 questions 34 times with the occasional oddball getting floated.
Bryan Callen is a perfect example of this. I don’t think it’s under-stating it to say he’s known for sketch comedy work on MADtv or for his two roles in the 2 Hangover movies. Others may know him as a funny stand-up comedian and still others might recognize his commercial work convincing men to switch to Gillette razors. What I’m saying is that on the surface, the waters may be shallow for fishing out some insightful discussion in those areas. What can I ask him about his two small roles in The Hangover that he already hasn’t recounted elsewhere? MADtv was 15 years ago. And even though I personally enjoy the smooth clear shave the Gillette Fusion Proglide® gives me (product placement!), I can’t see it turning up much fodder for flapping of gums.
So, it’s off to the blogs and Twitter, bless their random hearts. Press clippings are fine, but if you really what to see what people notice about the lives they live, just read what they choose to comment upon or write about.
So, a perusal of Bryan Callen’s online life led me to talk with him about the nature of the Modern Man and how North American society deals with him.
RUSSELL BOWERS: How’s life treating you?
BRYAN CALLEN: I feel as though I won the jackpot. If you put me in historical perspective, I’m a white, American male getting paid for what I love to do. I don’t really work. I jump onstage and act like a jackass and I get paid for what I used to get in trouble for in school. Life is treating me pretty well.
And as you, Russell, can tell – the audience can’t see – but I’m a hell of a good looking man.
My shoulders go on for days.
My jaw line could carve a trophy.
RB: I can absolutely account for this.
I found a bucket list of your’s and let me run through the Top Five things on the list.
Number 1. Run through a field of wheat.
RB: Number 2. Frolic through a field of wheat.
Number 3. Run through a field of wheat and catch the one you love in your arms.
Number 4. Run through a field of wheat on a horse.
And number 5. Run through a field of wheat on a horse, sword hung low and chop off someone’s head.
BC: I’m not a violent man, but everybody in their lives knows at least one person that could get their head cut clean off and everyone would think, “He got his head cut off! I’m not laughing about it, but I’m just saying, He was such a douche.”
RB: We have fields of wheat and horses in Alberta.
BC: I know and that’s why I’m here. I’m gonna rent a horse and I’m gonna ride it, and if I see a woman I fancy, I’m gonna swing down and steal her.
I’m a man. An old-fashioned man.
I catch my own food and I churn butter.
There, I said it.
I’m trying to write a lot about how we live in this exponentially automated and computerized world, and so, everything a man was genetically programmed for and how men have evolved over the millennia – our aggression, our bigger bone structure, our stronger jaw, our muscles, our testosterone – that was all necessary for just living day to day. You had to catch your own food. You had to work the land.
Now you swipe a credit card or you push a button. Testosterone is becoming this useless juice, but we’re still producing it. I think it’s an interesting social phenomenon to watch men find ways to burn off their testosterone. They sit in gyms and lift weights in a corner just to look like good breeding stock and they watch UFC and cage fighting is a big deal to them.
But it’s all simulation. Look at video games.
Video games are so popular because it is a simulated outlet for male aggression and male strategizing and all those things that go along with it. It has almost nothing to do with violence. It has more to do with a masculine expression. It might be a clumsy expression, but it’s an expression. We’re even fighting wars now with our thumbs. Technology is coming with lots of promise but its own set of problems and maybe it’s just a way of pushing us out of our biology.
RB: How do you think that competitive spirit plays itself out in your life or career?
BC: I always try and stay outside of competition and I try to never compare myself to other people. I’ve got too many friends who are famous and it would make me feel bad. I just keep doing what I do because it’s just a way of expressing myself.
The real truth is there is no difference between what I do and say, my buddy, who’s now doing a movie with Sean Penn. He’s there every day doing scenes with Sean Penn. That’s a big deal, right? But the fact of the matter is, if you look at what I get to do, which is get up onstage, make a bunch of people laugh and be a mini rock star in a place like Calgary, that’s pretty cool. It doesn’t mean that if I was doing a movie with Sean Penn it would be more fun. It means it would just be fun to talk about.
As far as competition is concerned, I keep my expectations very low. It’s incredible that I’m even working in this business. I’m always a job away from unemployment. It’s never been any different and never will be any different. That’s all you can do. Keep building your audience, keep moving forward and be happy that you have a place to express yourself.
RB: You had an amazing run on MADtv and another calling card for you these days are the Hangover movies. When you get offered a job, sometimes it looks promising, but can it descend into something you didn’t actually expect?
BC: Yeah, I did a show called Bank of Hollywood that Ryan Seacrest was producing. I get offered hosting gigs but I don’t want to be a host. This particular game show, I said, “I don’t want to host,” but they said, “No, no, no. They want a comedian and you’re gonna add your own spice and it’s basically like Talk Soup.”
It was a remake of a British show so I asked what was the concept. They were very vague with everything and then I get there and they want a straight-up host. So now, I’m in a $2000 suit and I’m reading from a teleprompter. On this show, you had Candy Spelling, the late Aaron Spelling’s wife. You had Vanessa Rousso, a poker player. And Melody Thorton from The Pussycat Dolls. They were the rich panel and poor people had to come up and they had to beg for money. If their story was moving enough, they got their money.
It was absolutely in every way the most horrible thing I had ever been a part of, and here I am the host(!) and I had to usher in these poor, desperate people who would be crying about how their brother was sick and dying and they needed this money so they could start a business – and they never had a good business plan. It was always a disastrous business plan. They had no thought into it. They were just desperate. People would start crying and the rich panel would give money away or they wouldn’t give money away. These poor people would have to compete or be sent off.
“Hey, thanks a lot for humiliating yourself on national TV. Get out of here. You don’t get any money. Maybe you get an iPod.”
I don’t believe in that kind of charity. I don’t believe in just giving for giving’s sake. I believe in inspiration. I believe if you’re gonna give to charity, it should be inspired charity. Teach a man to fish, right, instead of giving him fish.
Sometimes you find that you’re part of the problem – and I don’t want to be that. I don’t judge things but I have so much fun in anything I do and you always work with great people.
I mean who knew what The Hangover would become? When I went to do that, it was a small movie with a bunch of non-stars. Todd Phillips – he’s the writer/director – who’s a friend of mine, he’s a genius. The guys wake up and they’ve got a hangover. Their whole life is crazy. They’ve got to figure out what happened.
When I showed up at the table to play Eddie, he was written like a guy from New York, in a track suit, and this familiar, “You don’t remember me? I’m Eddie! Hey, what happened to you?” So I said to the director, “You know, if he owns a wedding chapel, maybe he’s not from New York. If you move to Vegas to open a wedding chapel, well, that’s a guy who speaks in this Eastern European – Middle Eastern accent. He should be from Armenia or Lebanon or Israel, something like that. He should be very dark. Be aggressive. He should be able to get not just chicks, but guns. ‘I can get you anything you want.’” Todd loved it and started laughing and that was how Eddie was born.
RB: You’re inspired by music. You play the drums?
BC: I’m taking drum lessons. I’m inspired by anything I can’t do. By great authors or great musicians. I just think it’s incredible so I try to be a part of that.
RB: Is it the rhythm?
BC: Well, you haven’t seen me in bed, but the answer is yes. A friend of mine, Fiona Apple – I love her. I think she’s an incredible artist. I’m also friends with Harry Connick, Jr. Both of them said to me after they saw me do standup – “What you do is similar to what I do. Music and comedy are both rhythm.”
There is a rhythm to comedy. I would argue that people laugh because you surprise them. It’s a magic trick. You have them going one way and you surprise them with another outcome. There is a rhythm to music and comedy is very similar. You’ve got to get the audience on your rhythm, on your vibe, if you will. If you do that properly, it’s very similar. It got me thinking if you study music, which I’m doing now, it’s very beneficial to anything you do, I think. The point is I’m really rhythmic.
RB: Is there a type of rhythm you enjoy more than others.
BC: I like it slow and grindy. What are you talking about? No?
RB: You’re into salsa?
BC: I love salsa. I like dancing. In fact, I was gonna look up on the Internet if there were any salsa classes that I can take.
RB: There are some in Calgary.
BC: I’m literally gonna get involved in that. Tomorrow and the next day. I want to do some salsa.