Bryan Callen Comes Alive!
Comic dishes on Death Valley and Showtime Special
Comedian and actor Bryan Callen is a familiar face to viewers of MADtv and 7th Heaven, while also having memorable scene stealing moments in both Hangover blockbusters. Callen started out on Wall Street as a financial analyst but quickly realized that life as a civilian wasn’t in his cards and turned his career towards acting and show business. After doing stand-up around New York City for several years, Callen relocated to Los Angeles where he was selected to be a member of MADtv’s flagship cast. Callen would go on to lend his comedic talents in such notable series as Fat Actress, How I Met Your Mother and HBO’s Entourage. His first one-hour comedy special was recently picked up by Showtime and is set to premiere later this year.
SanDiego.com spoke with Callen while on location in South Carolina, and discussed his early years as a comic in New York and what fans can expect to see in his upcoming Showtime special.
Are you filming a movie on location right now?
Bryan Callen: We’re shooting nights, so I actually got home around six in the morning. We’re down in Charlotte, North Carolina, shooting on a lake. It’s a really pretty place.
What can you tell us about the film?
BC: The film’s called Sleeping Around, and my character basically sleeps around with everybody which is a lot of fun. I’ve been running around with nothing but a sock over my privates and I have a goatee. A very sexy little goatee which makes guys in the south want to punch you in the face. I’ve been out here almost a month.
When you’re on location, do you try to go out to the local comedy club to get a set in or are you just too busy?
BC: I’m trying to do that at The Comedy Stop. You work such long hours. It’s so funny how the reality of being an actor on set and doing movies; I wish everybody could see it, because if everybody saw what actors actually do for a living, all those tabloid magazines would be out of job because nobody would care. You sit there for 16 hours and I swear to you, a half hour if it maybe is acting. That’s the thing about stand-up is I miss it when I’m away from it because there’s nothing like it.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
BC: The first time I ever did stand-up was at Stand Up NY, in New York City. I have it on tape somewhere, I couldn’t move my face. I blanked through my set and it was all because I invited all my friends who thought I was a funny guy and here I was trying to be professional about it. After the first time you do stand-up, for about a year every time you realize you have to get onstage, your whole day is ruined. because it’s such a crazy unnatural thing. Now after stand-up for 20 years I don’t even think about it. I just shot a one-hour special, and Jeremy Piven I used him in my act and he was really funny and he looks at me and he said, ‘How come you’re not warming up? You’re just talking to me and you’re about to go onstage. Aren’t you nervous?' It didn’t even occur to me, I realized that I’ve been doing this so long that it feels more natural in some ways than when I’m walking around having an awkward conversation about the weather.
What was the driving force behind you pursuing stand-up comedy as a career?
BC: If you grew up with a normal childhood then you’re probably not funny. If you grew up with a lot of dysfunction then you have a much better chance. I don’t know a comedian worth his or her salt that came from a really stable, normal background. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I’ve just never seen it. I think for me, I was moved around every two years; I would go to a different country. I was moved around constantly. So when I’d get to a school I had two ways to get in with somebody: sports or by being a jackass. I was an alright athlete, but I was a little kid that wasn’t going to win any awards. So I realized very quickly that if I was a complete jackass and if I could make people laugh they would respond to me. I think that’s how it happened. I just would jump around and be like, ‘Hey everybody, look at me! I’ll do this for attention!’ I made friends that way.
How old were you when you did your first set at Stand Up NY?
BC: I was probably 26. I came to stand-up kind of late in that sense.
Did you go to college?
BC: Yeah, I graduated from college with a B.A. in History, and then I started working at Lehman Brothers, which now no longer exists. I realized quickly that I was going to die if I had to be a civilian. I can’t stand work. I don’t even like acting. To be on a set all day waiting for my shots to come up.
Do you remember your last day of work as a civilian?
BC: The big boss; I can’t remember her name, she told me point blank, ‘We kept you around because you were good for morale. Because you made your deck laugh.’ I swear to God. I didn’t know anything. It’s very hard to work somewhere for 16 months and learn nothing. I learned nothing about finance. I just didn’t care.
What was the first club you became a regular at in New York City?
BC: Stand Up NY with Terry Hoffman, and the Comic Strip. The Comic Strip was so good to me. This guy Lucian, just liked what I did, so I was a nut. I started by doing animals, I’d just start talking about what it was like to be a penguin, like a legless flightless bird in the middle of the south pole. He seemed to like that.
Were you already acting by this point?
BC: I was always an actor; I was an actor before I was a stand-up comic. I was doing stand-up because I thought, 'Well this might be a way of getting myself seen.' And it did, that’s how I got MADtv.
How long were you acting for when you decided to try stand-up?
BC: Probably two or three years.
When did you decide to move to L.A.?
BC: I was literally brought out for MADtv. I was going to sit and try to do stand-up and maybe some theatre and stuff, then this show called MADtv came out, and I remember my manager said, ‘Hey they’re looking for a leading man type to be funny. So put yourself on tape.’ I got flown out to L.A. I think I got MADtv because I had to get the part; I just had to. I think it was August and I couldn’t go back to New York. I was temping at Goldman Sachs, and I was running coffee and making faxes.