Imagine if your first claim to fame was being featured in an article as the "top partier" at the top party school, Florida State University. It'd be kind of a crazy thing right?
Now imagine Oliver Stone read that article and bought the rights to make a movie about your life. Then that fell to the wayside. Then the Fresh Prince discovers you and nothing happens. And so on, and so forth.
That kind of disappointment would demoralize most, but not Bert Kreischer. He was able to turn those near wins into actual successes. He's hosted five television shows, several standup specials, and written a new book Life of The Party: Stories of a Perpetual Man-Child. Bert is now regarded as a master storyteller and is host of the Travel Channel show Trip Flip where he takes random, unsuspecting people on an immediate 5-day vacation of his choosing.
Bert was kind enough to have a little chat with with us on the phone, where we discussed his many ups and downs, the impact writing a book has had on him, his family life, and even one of his recent dreams.
What was the transition like going from Rolling Stone's "Number One Partier in the Nation" to television star to stand-up comic?
I would say that transition was entirely ego-dissolving. I think it was humbling. Humbling is so overused, humiliating is a better word. When the article came out, I felt like I was famous, I was at Florida State. I moved to New York and realized none of that mattered, I wasn't a stand-up comic. I had to work the door.
I was like "Wait, Oliver stone optioned the rights to my life... I had a book deal on the table..." and it fell apart. I was bummed out. Then Will Smith discovered me, and I was like, "I knew it! I knew I had the goods! I knew it! (Laughs) Then that dies, and you're like "Damn it, I didn't have it." Then you get your next show, and then you're like "I'mmmm back!!" By like the third run, you get to this place where you're like, "OK, here's the deal, I'm not shit. I'm just very lucky to be working." (Laughs) You get real humbled, but in like a come out of prison kind of way.
By the way, everything's going along great in my life, but I do a weekend at the Des Moines Funny Bone and I say, "I'm so grateful to be here, thank you guys so much. I miss you. I can't wait to see you next year." I'm well aware that all success is fleeting, and you are just a dog chasing its tail.
So what do I like? I love doing standup, I enjoyed writing a book. Don't know if I'll do another one. I love the Travel Channel stuff, Trip Flip, but at the same time, everything's kind of fleeting. I'm well aware of that, and worst case scenario, I have standup to fall back on.
You had Life Of The Party: Stories Of a Perpetual Man-Child come out recently. This being a first for you, what was the process like? How did it affect you?
The book made me very vulnerable. The writing process of it was actually a blast. I will write another book, but the publishing process is a little too introspective for me. Because you get into marketing selling a book, and what sells out there and what attributes you have that may sell a book. At a certain point you're like "Hoof, how do people see me?" It was a little eye-opening for me, you know? You whittle me down to, "This guy robbed a train, check out his book." And you're like, "I'm a little bit bigger than that," but you're not, you're really not.
To a consumer you need to be a five word selling point. I've never been comfortable with selling myself. That's why I love doing standup and Trip Flip. I love promoting Trip Flip because I'm not promoting a project I did by myself, it's a project like 150 people worked on for eight weeks.
So, writing the book was fun, I enjoyed the writing process a whole lot, any artist probably enjoys the process. Selling the book is tough, you have to disconnect a tad, and I had a hard time with this one. I loved it. I say I'll never do it again, but in the self-defense mechanism kind of "what if the never ask" way. You know what I mean? (Laughs) I have an idea for a second book that I pitched to an editor but I still have work to do with it.
It's well known you have the big party animal, crazy guy reputation. What's it like balancing that image while also being a husband and father of two?
I'm so glad you asked that, and I'll tell you why I'm glad. Someone gave heat to Matt Lauer for asking the head of GM what it was like to be a CEO of a major company and a mother, and they were like, "You wouldn't ask a man that!" I didn't say a word, but I was like "I always get asked that!" (Laughs) That's always in my questions, "What's it like being a party animal and a father?"
Well, it's a little bit different than running GM, but it's a struggle. I'd imagine it's a struggle for any dad, but for me, I know it's public, and because I'm irresponsible. So imagine if I were a professional gambler, cut from that same cloth, I guess. People kind of furrow their brows and they're like, "Ooohh, I know you're making money, but is that healthy? Don't you want to see your kids graduate?" It's tough.
What I've started doing is started to incorporate forced, healthy activities into my road trips. Now I'm doing 5Ks when I'm in town, so if anyone has a 5K, hit me up, I'll be there in a heartbeat. I just ran a 5K on Saturday, which means on Friday you dial it back a bit, and then on Saturday you end up passing out early. So my two hardest partying nights of the weekend, it's how I'm controlling myself. Does that make sense? I sound like the Uncle Buck's non-smoking program (puts on deep voice), "Well start with cigars, then move into chewing tobacco." (Laughs) But that's what I've been doing lately. I'm signing up for a marathon in six months, so I figure if I'm in shape, I'll be fine.
I just went to the doctor too, I'm doing well. Got my heart and liver results, and I'm doing fine. That's my only real concern is my health and being around for my kids. I'm no different than any other parent. Suffice to say, my kids are a bit rough and tumble. They're ready for an apocalypse. If we have to ditch our house, get in a car, and fight zombies, my kids are not going to be the ones to crack. They'll be like, "No, no, no, no, my dad tickled me so hard one time, so hard I shit the bed. I'm fine. We're good for this."
How are you able to do both the touring and the TV show?
A perfect example is, I have this buddy putting on a group of shows for Comic Con, and I'll be down there shooting for Travel Channel there too. So I was like, "Great! I'll double up!" Doing standup at night, and the Travel Channel stuff during the day. I double up a lot. I once reached out to Doug Stanhope, and he helps me set some shows up in Alaska. I'm not doing the standup for the money those nights, I'm doing it to keep warm, sharp, and to keep writing.
If you have shows, you keep writing. If you don't have shows, you stop writing, that's how it works. After the shootings, I do full blown weekends, which are for the money. Where you do Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then you're home on Monday.
I love it, because travel has always allowed my comedy to be separate from my Travel Channel show. I don't think anyone who comes out to my stand up is usually a fan of Trip Flip. But people who see my standup, check out Trip Flip. So it's win-win for the (network), until I get Louis CK big, and their like, "Huh, maybe we need to dial that joke back a bit about your daughter's diarrhea."
I'll say this also, my relationship with the network has taught me to grow up a tad bit. When you're a young comic, you're so aggressively anxious to get famous or recognition. You want to get punched in the face onstage to get famous. All this stuff runs through your head. Then, when you get on the Travel Channel, you're making enough money where technically, you don't have to do the road. You don't have that instinct that panics. You can take your time to find your genuine voice. And go, "Am I talking about this for shock value? Or because I'm passionate about it?" That's one the blessings about being at the network.
They've allowed me the patience to find my honest voice in a lot of respects. I've taken chances I've never taken. I'll take chances on stage with anything. I'll take my shirt off, I'll bring people on stage, and I'll have people translate my act into sign language. The real chance you're taking is to be a little more sensitive and go, "Hey who am I? What am I doing?" as opposed to just trying to shock. I know what's going to happen if I take my dick out, it's not a chance. They're going to scream, tables are going to get knocked over, someone's going to complain, and a lot of people are going to laugh. You're not taking chances, you know? So, I think that's been the blessing of being at that network.
On Doug Benson's podcast, Doug Loves Minis and Doug Loves Movies, there was a period of time, and you seem to still do it sporadically, where you'd leave Doug a voicemail entailing the previous night's dream. It's been a while since you've done it last, would you mind sharing one with us?
Not at all. I will preface this with the fact that sometimes I will listen to Hardcore History with Dan Carlin to punctuate my dreams. What it does is kind of weave my dreams through his stories, which are so fucking good.
So, I had a dream the other night I was on a Viking long ship, it was a Viking ship not like you know them, it had a big post up in the middle and I was tied to the center. I couldn't tell if I was a chick or a dude, I just know I had really long hair in an Anthony Kiedis kind of way. I wasn't wearing a top. They were taking me to a foreign land. When we hit shore, that's when I got my instructions, which were: I had to take this poisonous shirt to the guy who was in charge of the village and had to try to sleep with him. But I had to get the shirt on him first, or I'd have to actually sleep with him.
That's when the panic started setting in, and then I'm like, "What part of the shirt can't I carry?" Because it's a Viking long ship, we don't have hangers, like it is a poisonous shirt. I get into the village, I go into the guy's hut and tell him, "I came for you, and I brought some presents." And he's looking at me like a piece of meat. I then said, "Let's take that shirt off and put on this one." And then he's like, "Take off my shirt and put another one? Are you out of your fucking mind?"
So then I was literally being chased around the room by this guy trying to get him to put this shirt on, until I'm just like, "Fuck it!" And I run up and bear hug him with the shirt, and then I wake up. I wake up, and it's on Hardcore History "Prophets of Doom," and I wake up to Dan Carlin saying "...and that's how they killed Martin Luther." Now I have to go back and figure out which parts were Dan Carlin, and which parts just came out of my own brain.
Bert Kreischer, Thursday, July 10 to Sunday, July 13 at the Fort Lauderdale Improv, One Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets are $20 plus fees. 18 and older. Visit ftl.improv.com.
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