by Brenda Hillegas
After a quick round of phone tag, Bryan Callen calls me from Los Angeles, where he is getting a start to his day and planning on boxing later in the afternoon. “Badly,” he says. But it still sounds like a good time. We chat a bit about That Music Mag and my attempts to revive the culture section of the magazine. His interview is going in that section to promote this week’s four-night stop at Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia.
Callen himself is a very cultured person, whether he’ll admit it or not. The actor and comedian was born in the Philippines and lived overseas for the first fourteen years of his life. Due to his father’s job as a banker (or a spy, according to Callen), the family moved to places like India, Greece and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. No doubt, being bounced around from place to place had an influence in Callen’s career as a comedian.
“Comedy is a forbidden fruit,” he says. As a boy being thrown into different schools in different places, along with a language barrier, he wanted to fit in. “There are two ways to do that,” Callen continues. “Play sports or make people laugh. I was never going to a be a pro athlete. I’m a much better jack ass.”
After attending college at American University in DC and studying acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, he spent time living in Hoboken, NJ, “in a shitty apartment with my dad paying my rent.” In 1995, someone encouraged him to make a tape and send it to the producers of a new sketch comedy series, MadTV. Callen became one of the original cast members on that show.
“All you’re told as a kid is how impossible it is [to become an actor],” he says. “Somehow, I got that job. I had no business getting it. I’ve never done sketch comedy before. I’ve never been on TV. The writers, the actors- they all had more talent than me. I thought ‘what am I doing here?’”
Since MadTV, Callen landed jobs on a number of television shows including Oz, Frasier, Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother, and so many other top shows of the past decade. Callen has also shown up in comedies like Bad Santa, The Hangover and Ride Along.
We begin to talk about 2015 and what’s coming up for him in the New Year. He’ll be reprising his role as Coach Miller on The Goldbergs and shooting his next comedy special. He pauses to do something “very LA” and orders a protein shake. “How LA is that? Ordering a protein shake during an interview.” He makes it very clear that he wants to punch himself in the face for doing that. “Health is a fetish in this town.”
Back to his 2015. Podcasts. The day we spoke, Callen was going to be recording his The Fighter and The Kid show for Fox Sports, with Joe Rogan as the episode’s guest. Callen is a regular guest on Rogan’s podcast as well and also hosts The Bryan Callen Show and co-hosts Ten Minute Podcast with Will Sasso and Chris D’Elia.
He’s looking forward to what 2015 brings for The Bryan Callen Show, where he talks to “comedians and really smart people”. The podcast has a wide range of guests such as authors, comedians, entrepreneurs, journalists and many more interesting people who aim to make a difference. “People don’t have time to read,” he says, so the goal of the podcast is to bring awareness of thoughts and ideas to the table that people may not know are out there.
Callen mentions Adam Grant, the youngest full professor at Wharton, as a recent episode of the podcast. With Grant’s New York Times bestseller, Give and Take, he was brought on the podcast to talk about the book and share some insights on who makes the best leaders. Grant is an example of the type of person Callen is looking forward to featuring in the upcoming year.
Then, he pays for his protein shake and praises his co-hosts on Ten Minute Podcast. “Will Sasso is the most talented guy in Hollywood,” Callen says. “And Chris D’Elia is becoming a big star.”
I ask him who or what else he thinks will be big in 2015, but he says he often stays out of the business of predicting what will be good or not. “It’s impossible to predict with so many moving parts and factors [in this industry].”
We segue into his stand up act, another thing impossible to predict in terms of success for comedians. “I develop a following, but when I come back I need to have a new bag of tricks. It doesn’t get easier, it gets hard. But a good hard.” He says there are three things you can’t fake- fighting, sex and comedy.
Like fighting (and boxing), Callen says there is no illusion to comedy. Nothing can help you, not even publicity. This is why he plans to “always change it up” when he is performing live. Especially with his six shows over four nights in Philadelphia. But as to what to expect, “it all depends on how I’m feeling, the crowd, who is in the front row.”
For some good laughs and unpredictable content, grab tickets to see Bryan Callen at Helium this week with special guest, Jim Ginty. His stand up tour will be coming to a halt after his Philly stop and he is getting ready to enjoy ten days in Bora Bora with his extended family. In March, he starts up again in Kentucky and will certainly have a new bag of tricks next time he rolls into a comedy club.