“I have never had more fun at a party in my entire life!” crows boisterous and dudely stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer midway through his new Netflix special, Hey Big Boy. The relevant facts are these:
- He’s not wearing a shirt.
- Hey Big Boy’s title refers to the way Kreischer is usually addressed by his family, including his wife LeeAnn and their two teenage daughters, Georgia and Ila, all of whom live with him in Los Angeles and appear frequently, on a first-name basis, in the bawdy and embarrassing stories that fuel his comedy.
- For example, the party in question was thrown in Georgia’s honor on the occasion of her first period, with guests encouraged to wear red, a red velvet cake offered for dessert, etc. (She named her period “Jason,” as it arrived on a Friday the 13th.) Two teenage boys were invited but not told the party’s theme, and Kreischer found their confusion especially amusing.
- In 1997, while in his sixth year as a student at Florida State University, Kreischer was profiled in Rolling Stone and officially crowned “The top partyer at the Number One Party School in the country.” (Quote: “I mean, look at me, I’m not a great-looking guy, I’m 20 pounds overweight, but I can show you pictures of girls I’ve hooked up with, and you’d be like, ‘Whooosh!‘ I’m telling you, it’s just so easy to hook up here.”) That article in turn inspired the 2002 Ryan Reynolds comedy Van Wilder; Kreischer was not involved with that movie at all but is chill about it.
- All of which is to say that coming from this guy, “I have never had more fun at a party in my entire life!” is a profound and legitimately heartwarming statement.
- Seriously, Kreischer tells the period-party story, and indeed delivers the whole of Hey Big Boy, shirtless. It’s his trademark: The first thing he always does when he hits the stage is partially disrobe, to the crowd’s whooping delight. Whoosh! Same deal with his two previous Netflix specials, 2016’s The Machine and 2018’s Secret Time. Same deal with pretty much any comedy set he does anywhere. You get used to it.
Two additional relevant facts: Given the COVID-19 pandemic, this is both a terrible time, health-wise, to be a stand-up who performs shirtless, but conversely a grimly fantastic time to be releasing a new Netflix special (Hey Big Boy is out Tuesday) to what is, due to the resulting quarantine, very possibly the largest captive audience in global comedy history. “I know that I am washing my hands like crazy, and my daughter Ila has asked that I stop doing meet-and-greets and going to bars, because she’s like, ‘Dad, you’re definitely the one that’s going to get it,’” he told me, chatting on the phone in early March. “She goes, ‘And you’re the one that’s going to spread it to thousands of people.’”
Kreischer and I spoke back when COVID-19 was a grave concern in America but had not yet brought both sports and live cultural events, for starters, to a total standstill. (His immediate tour dates are now, of course, postponed.) “You know, it’s crazy, I’ve been doing shirtless meet-and-greets for I couldn’t tell you how long, and I’ve been taking pictures with hundreds of people, and going to bars—I never even got the common cold,” he says. “I never get sick. Knock on wood.”
What else can you do right now but laugh, and the more inappropriate the laughter, the better? Kreischer is an incredibly cheerful and wantonly NC-17-rated human: One of the more tasteful bits in this new special involving his wife, LeeAnn, is an anecdote about the time she caught him watching a porn video with the title “No Mercy for My Throat.” Like Anthony Jeselnik or his close friend Joe Rogan, Kreischer is both ungovernable and seemingly uncancelable: Hey Big Boy revs up with a long vignette in which he orders the same drink (black coffee) from the same black Starbucks cashier every day, and tries to entertain that cashier with a succession of extremely off-color jokes, to the eventual horror of two white women standing nearby. Soon, he’s moved on to his tales of being the world’s least responsible gun owner. Use your imagination for all this, but his imagination is more, uh, vivid.
That Kreischer somehow stays lovable even at his riskiest is, of course, his superpower, or one of several. He is also a memoirist, and an avid podcaster, and a former travel-show host of the bear-wrestling variety, and a social-media expert, and above all a sublimely gifted storyteller: His first Netflix special, The Machine, climaxes with his lengthy tale of semi-accidentally joining the Russian mob during a college trip. That story began life as a Joe Rogan podcast bit and viral Facebook phenomenon, and is now set to be a whole-ass feature film with which he’ll be at least a little involved.
Kreischer and I talked about his skyrocketing career, and his very patient family, and how those two entities uncomfortably and perfectly intertwine. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
During that Starbucks black-coffee story, you talk about why a joke is funny, and you say, “It’s got to be the last thing you think I would say. That’s why it’s funny.” You’ve got this huge audience now that I think loves you in part because they know that you’ll say anything, almost. Is finding that last thing that they think you wouldn’t say more challenging now? Is it getting harder to top yourself?
Not really. You know what’s so funny is I think with just enough misdirect, you can find the thing. When I was younger, it was hard. I think I’ve gotten better, and I think now you just got to—the things that make me laugh are the things that just came out of left field. It’s literally shocking almost. Like when Dave Chappelle goes, “So I kicked her in the pussy.” It punches me into laughter. So, I don’t think it gets harder. I think it’s the fun part about it: It’s the challenges. Getting your punch line, doing it the first time, seeing that it’s a tad bit easy, and then twiddling it and working it until you get to fine-tune it where you say the thing they weren’t thinking. That’s the fun part of the job, really.
Watching all three Netflix shows in a row recently, I was struck by the effect of just knowing your family’s names: Georgia and Ila, they feel like real characters, like real people. There’s a huge difference between “Take my wife, please” and “Take LeeAnn, please.” Was the idea from the beginning to make these Netflix shows feel like the Bert Kreischer Extended Universe? How does that first-name specificity add to what you’re doing?
I didn’t really put much thought into it at all, originally. I’m an open book, and when I do stand-up, and when I write a book, or even when I do a podcast, I usually say the person’s name that it happened to, and I say their exact name, and that can be super problematic. And I think I did it immediately to my family, where the podcast connected the tissue, where listeners were like, “Oh, I feel like I really know Ila. She was on the intro read for the podcast last week, or she was on LeeAnn’s podcast.” And now it’s on this special, and I’ve literally had to run jokes by them, because I was like, “Hey, I’m going to talk about your period.” And they were like, “Oh, OK.”
Yeah, how did that conversation go?
Initially, I put it on Instagram Stories: I filmed Ila’s period party and all of it on Instagram Stories, and we all thought it was a big laugh. That night, I got into bed, and she came into my bedroom and was like, “Hey, big boy, I need you to pull that down. I didn’t realize that I’ll go to school tomorrow and everyone will know I’m on my period.”
”Can you take that off your Instagram Stories?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah. Of course, baby. Of course.” So, I pulled it down, and then I tried it onstage, and I came back, and I said, “So, Ila, that period party, I’m telling it onstage.” I did it in Louisville, or Lexington. “It got a really big response, and I think it’s good.” So, then I told it on Conan, or half of it, and she started getting fan mail from little girls that got their period.
Saying, like, “Hey, thank you for letting your dad share that. I got my period yesterday and I was super freaked out, but my mom showed me the story your dad told online, and now we welcomed ‘Daryl’ to our family.” So, when Ila heard that, she was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. The story needs to be bigger, Dad. You need to tell it on a special. It’s a good story.”
Is there anything they’ve out-and-out rejected? Stuff that you’ve really wanted to talk about?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Anything with body hair. Anything with body hair.
That feels like a good line to draw. I don’t disagree with them about that, I guess.
I had the funniest fucking interaction with her one night, right? We’re having a back-and-forth, like a regular back-and-forth, and as we get done, I’m walking out of the house, and she looks at me and she goes, “Hey, that doesn’t go onstage.” And I went, “God damn it!”
I was watching The Machine the other day, and one of the very first things that you say is, “Growing up sucks dick,” and I figured I would check in four years or so later to see if that’s still true, or if it’s now truer.
I keep hearing this thing over and over again about “it’s a privilege to get old,” and I’m like, “Fuck that.” I want to be young again. I want my daughters to be young again. I don’t want them to be 15 and 13. I don’t want them to go to college in two years. That bums me out. They’re still little girls. I don’t know how we did it, but they’re still very young girls for some reason. They’re not boy crazy, and they’re into softball, and anime, and I just want it to stop. I want it to stop. I want it to freeze right now, and I don’t want it to go anywhere. You know? So, yeah, it still sucks dick.
Also in The Machine, during an embarrassing sex thing, LeeAnn says to you, “You’re going to talk about this onstage!” And I was wondering if there was one specific moment in the early days when you first started talking about her onstage, and she was a little embarrassed or even pissed at you, but then she got over it and now she’s totally blasé about it. What was that process like?
The very first joke I had about her—I had a couple jokes, like, I had a carrot-cucumber joke, but I think she was cool with it, because you could have inserted any girlfriend.
But I had a joke, I was with Ian Bagg and Tom Segura, and we were doing a show at the Brea Improv, and I told the story of her giving birth, and about how she shit all over the place, and she was pissing, and they gave her an episiotomy, and I saw, and it looked like a shark’s mouth. It was really in detail. So, I’m in the green room, and they’re both like, “Dude, you got to do that story. That story murders. You got to do that story tonight.” And I was like, “Really?” “Yeah, yeah. Why don’t you go last? Really close the show out and do that story. Promise you’ll do that story.” I go, “Yeah.”
So, I get onstage, I close the show out, I do that story, I get offstage, I’m in the green room, and they’re dying laughing: “Dude, we’re so happy you told that story.” I said, “Really? Why?” And they go, “LeeAnn’s in the audience with her stepmother.”
I was like, “What the fuck?” And LeeAnn walked in with her stepmother, who is Baptist, from Georgia, small town in Georgia, and LeeAnn was ear-to-ear smiling, and she was like, “That story is fucking hilarious.” And I was like, “You’re cool with it?” She goes, “Yeah, that’s what happened. I got to be cool with it. You’re not lying about me. It’s just funny.”
And that one story switched everything, and I started going, “OK, it’s this open, vulnerable place of real stories that happened in my real life.” It really changed the way I wrote a lot, and she’s been cool. There’s only one joke she’s ever not liked. It was an anal-sex joke, and she just says, “I just don’t like you talking about it. It sounds gross.” And we didn’t—we never had anal sex, and that was my beef.
She’s like, “I don’t like that joke. Pull that joke.”
When you start talking about your guns and you say, “If you’re for guns, you’re going to hate this joke, and if you’re against guns, you’re really going to fucking hate it” ... is keeping that equation balanced something that you do consciously? When you’re talking about anything at all political, is it important to attack it from both sides? Or is it just that the funniest thing wins, period?
Funniest thing wins, in my opinion, but for whatever reason, whatever broken part’s in me, the reason that I go onstage is I want everyone to laugh. I want everyone to have a good time. I never liked comics who went up and alienated people; I don’t like comics who go up and try to alienate parts of the crowd.
I’m not saying you can’t be political, but just be conscious that for me, I want to make sure everyone has a good time. I don’t want anyone to feel less than human. I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m isolating their politics. And also, I know what I look like, and I know I look like a bro meathead, and I know that there are a lot of bros that are in my audience, and I know that there’s very open-minded diehard liberals in my audience. So for that joke, it was an experience I had where I bought the gun and I started working on it onstage and I was like, “This really does play to both sides in my head.”
I’d been saying that line, “If you’re for guns, you’re going to hate this joke, and if you’re against guns, you’re going to hate this joke.” And then I took it out, and on the last show, JoAnn Grigioni from Netflix was like, “My favorite line in your special, you aren’t using ... I love that bit, because I’m really against guns, and at the beginning of the bit, you started losing me, and I didn’t know, but when you said that, you had me. Because I knew you were going to bring it back. You were going to win this for me.” And I went, “Oh, that’s interesting.” So, I threw it back in, and it stayed.
Just thinking about how polarized the country has gotten in the span even from The Machine to now—you’re releasing this special into an election year. Is there anything you did differently, or didn’t do? Or is it essential to what you do that you’re not making any kind of statement or picking a side?
It’s essential. Look, I flip-flop all over the place. I was for Bernie, then I was for Biden, now I wish Elizabeth Warren were back in the race. I don’t have an educated opinion on anything. And I think for me, it matters that I don’t get up there and spit politics, you know? My job as a comedian is, if you’re having a shit day, I want you to giggle. I want you to come in and giggle. And that’s it.
Do you have any insight into how the Russian Mafia story became this beloved, viral, enduring thing? There are millions of stand-ups out there with millions of “long, crazy thing that happened to me” stories like that, and they’re all trying to achieve what you achieved there. Is there a secret sauce to telling a story that makes people want to hear it over and over again like that?
Well, I think I got very lucky in a number of respects. I got a great opportunity, as a young comic, to do the road and practice that story for probably four years and get it good.
I probably did that story for about four years before I recorded it, and I don’t think anyone would get that opportunity again. That was just a weird place in stand-up where no one was doing specials the way we are today. And then also, I posted it on Facebook four years ago. I didn’t think anyone was going to see it—I just figured it would just disappear on Facebook. And the first night, it got 3 million views, and then the next night 9 million, and then it just grew up to like 40 million, and then people started ripping it, and it would get 100 million views, 180 million views. Just went crazy.
Here’s why that happened: When people shared that video, when that video got posted onto their Facebook page, their first comment, by default, was the top comment from my page. The top comment from my page was left by a woman who had gone to school with me, and she wrote in the comment on my Facebook page, very early, “I was in Bert’s Russian class, I was on this trip. This story’s 100 percent true. He fucking robbed us.” And then she tagged everyone in our class. And so when anyone would rip it, especially content providers, and post it on their page, they would write in big block letters on the top and the bottom, “This is 100 percent a true story.”
Also, I think I worked that story really well. It ends very strong: It’s got a great callback with, “Fuck that bitch. This is Russia.” But it didn’t always have that, and I think the fact that I got to work that story for four years—tighten it, and close on it every night—is something not a lot of people are going to get the chance to do anymore.