As Marilyn Monroe once said: if you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything. So let’s just say Bryan Callen can make me jump out of a plane while tap dancing if he wanted. Um, that was a weird image.
Anyway, suffice to say this guy is hysterical. A real class act. And one of my favorite interviews!
Bryan got his start as an original cast member of MAD TV. He then went on to play numerous roles on the small and big screen including, “Old School” “Bad Santa”, “Sex and the City”, “Entourage,” “Californication”, “7th Heaven,” “King of Queens,” “Stacked,” “Las Vegas,” “West Wing,”“News Radio,” “Significant Others,” “CSI,” “NYPD Blue,”“Suddenly Susan,” and “Frasier.” He recently finished a two season character arc on USA’s “In Plain Sight.”
He also was in several episodes of “How I Met Your Mother.” His most recent TV role was Captain Frank Dashell, leader of the Undead Task Force, in the short lived but critically acclaimed MTV comedy, “Death Valley” but his most popular role is as Eddie, the Middle Eastern owner of a wedding chapel in a little movie called THE HANGOVER. Not to mention his role as Samir, in HANGOVER II where he played basically the same exact character only Samir had thick, curly, hair and darker skin which is actually a good look on Callenconsidering his Irish/Italian heritage has left him with a ruddy complexion and thinning, mouse-brown hair. His most recent role on the big screen was in the Lion’s Gate drama WARRIOR where he did an excellent job playing himself.*
Hey Bryan. Thanks for taking the time out to speak with me. I appreciate it. I’m sorry that Pittsburgh couldn’t give you better weather to come in to. It’s gonna be a bit snowy. Is this your first time to the city?
So I was on your website, and I read that you’ve traveled pretty extensively. I’ve always wondered, people say music is the universal language, but how about comedy. How much do you need to modify jokes when you travel to different places?
It’s very interesting because essentially, with technology and information being what it is today, we are exposed to eveyrthing at the same time and to the same suff. So what used to be a New York joke you couldn’t use in L.A., it’s now an American joke, an international joke. So the jokes you do here will work in Holland. And it’s because we are all privy to the same info in real time. And that’s just the information age.
But you know, I will say this: There’s a fundamental difference between ethnically mixed crowds and conservative crowds. They’re just not as rambuctious and not as ready to laugh.
Like the other week, I was doing a show for a more Latino/Cuban. And they were just electric, man. But you know, with the Orange County conservative crowd, you really have to pull out the laughs.
How much do you tour and then how much do you do television work?
My bulk of living is earned through touring. Touring is a challenge. It’s fun to get away and get in a different world and every audience is different. A nd I love the experience. I never know what I’m gonna get.
I interviewed a comedian once who said he never has bad days, because it all just ends up as material for his show. How much of your real life enters into your act?
I get paid for what I got in trouble for for my entire life. My poor father pulled his hair out. I get paid for that very sort of thing. I’m an adult and nothing has changed, I just learned how to harness it. If you’re not insecure and a mess as a person, don’t bother being an artist.
This idea we have as a culture that strives for happiness and comfort, yeah, go ahead. But I need all my fears and insecurities.
And you know, man, here’s another thing. It’s all generated from the fact I wanted to be a big powerful football player. I wanted to be a navy seal a special forces bad ass. I talk about it on stage. I talk a bout I never grew the size of my father 6’4. I had these ideas that I wa s gonna grow up to be Superman, when in fact, I’m the extra in the movie.
Rude awakenings are exactly what you draw from.
And you know, I’m happy when I surprise myself with a new bit. When I make myself laugh. That’s what comedy is. Comedy is surprise. I’m leading you down a path and then I take you somewhere else you didn’t see coming. And you laugh. Comedy is about surprises.
You’ve been doing comedy for thirteen years. Does it ever become easier?
No. never. It’s never easy. The biggest problem is all of a sudden you get to a point where you have one hour. I was talking with Dane Cook and he said, “You’re ready to push the reset button.”
And it’s true. You’re ready to shoot your one hour and you’re ready to shoot your episode, I’m ready to start from scratch. And Dane when through this. Dane is so great at what he does and it’s because dane was willing to look bad and try whatever he could on stage. The difficulty is you got to always rearrange and change your way of thinking. Starting from scratch is literally shifting your whole mental paradigm. What’s gonna work before is not gonna work ths time.
Lastly, earning a living as a comedian is incredibly difficult. Earning a living as an actor is incredibly difficult. And you’ve successfully bridged the two and created a pretty steady career with it.
Balance: To be an artist, and not to be too lofty with the word or anything, but to be an artist, it’s all about self expression and there are different mediums in which to do that. I started as an actor and standup started as a way for me to get noticed. You know, I look in the bathroom mirror and there’s nothing really noticeable about me. I’m gonna be cast as the ‘guy’ or ‘every day guy’ and that’s fine but that’s not a career, so I started doing standup and standup now has become sort of a venue and a platform for me to play different characters. My shows are not shows. They’re theatrical experiences. A thematic story with a theme. I never looked at it as bridging any kid of gap. It’s the same thing except maybe a different gear, but it’s all the same. It’s all communication and forms of expression.
Advice: don’t be derivative. Do what you think is funny. What your ashamed of is probaly the gold you have to mine and put on a show.
*giving credit where it’s due, that fabulous bio up top was written by Bryan Callen. I just took bits and pieces of it to post here.)