Even in peak 1960s form, James Brown couldn’t hold a candle to Bert Kreischer, who is currently the Hardest Working Comedian in Show Business. In March, Kreischer dropped Hey Big Boy, the year’s second most watched stand-up on Netflix. Then a couple weeks ago he followed it up with The Cabin — a raucous, five-episode series following the overworked comedian ostensibly taking time off to recharge in a cabin in the woods.
Instead of taking time off, however, Bert took the opportunity to throw a weird combo of celebrities (Tom Segura vs Joey Diaz; Donnell Rawlings vs Bobby Lee; Caitlyn Jenner vs Nikki Glazer; Joel McHale, Anthony Anderson, Gabriel Iglesias, Deon Cole, etc.) out of their comfort zones into the wilderness. Although the mere existence of the show itself seems to contradict its initial raison d'être, The Cabin’s success was immediate, making it Netflix’s most watched unscripted show the week it premiered.
As if that weren’t enough in this Year of Chaos 2020, in between Netflix productions Bert somehow found the cheat code to squeeze an entire tour into a summer when almost everyone else was home trying to figure out how to even make a buck (or at least master sourdough). Produced by Hotbox, Bert’s innovative Hot Summer Night's Tour utilized drive-in theaters across America to play 59 shows in 35 Cities, making it the top-grossing comedy tour of 2020.
With still several dates left on the itinerary, it’s clear nothing is slowing Bert down. The amicable and forthright comedian took time out of his jam-packed morning to talk shop with Maxim, share his favorite episode of The Cabin, spill the inside scoop of what really went down between Kaley Cuoco and Ms Pat, and reveal why on Earth he and Two Bears One Cave co-podcaster Tom Segura let a dominatrix strap their loins to a tazer (spoiler alert: to see who would scream the safe word first).
You are clearly insanely busy these days, so really appreciate the time. Where are you this morning?
I am in... oh shit. I really don't know where I am. I have no idea. Let me pull out my map; I do not know where I am. I am in... St. Louis. Sorry. We drive through the night and wake up on the bus and then literally pull into a city. And this past two weeks has been really aggressive.
On the last episode of your Netflix show The Cabin, the Hot Summer Night's Drive-In Tour bus pulls up, right? Since the show was recorded before COVID, was this tour all planned before the COVID shutdown?
No, it was not. So it's a little confusing, I’m sure. But we shot all The Cabin in January, and when we were ready to submit the show to Netflix they weren't happy with the ending. And I had said, "Hey, you know what? I'm leaving for tour right now. My bus is out front. I wonder if we could shoot something and send it to you and see if you like it." And so me and my cameraman for my tour shot an alternate ending to The Cabin that Netflix liked better.
It's amazing you managed to do this tour at all, especially when the whole world is scratching their heads trying to figure out what they’re going to do with themselves. And you guys are out doing a full-on national tour.
The first show was in North Carolina. I think that was in June — it was early. So I came up with the idea March 17th when my Netflix special Hey Big Boy dropped, and I called my agent Nick and I was like, "Yo, get me into drive-ins." And he was like, "It's not a thing." And I was like, "No, let's make it a thing. Let's figure it out." And he was like, "I don't even think the drive-ins are open."
I listen to Bill Burr and other comedian podcasts a lot, and you can hear the regret on these guys' voices of really not being able to perform; they really want to get out. Now all these legends — Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, etc. — are coming to you asking, "How is this tour done?" How did that feel for the first time in your career being the trailblazer? Is that fair to say?
Yeah, I mean, trailblazer's a huge word. I don't think I'm a trailblazer, but to be ahead of the curve in our industry in anything. I mean, you know we all give big props to guys like [Marc] Maron and [Joe] Rogan for starting this podcasting thing. When you talk about podcasting you're always going to reference them. And to be listening to Rogan's podcast and hear him and Colin Quinn talking about possibly doing shows, and then them say, "Bert's doing this,” they're like, "Yeah, I know, he did 700 cars the other night."
Now Colin and Joe are both my friends, but also I'm huge fans of theirs, and I respect them beyond measure. So to hear them talking about me on Joe's podcast, and it's not about, "Did you see his dick?", or like, "Did you see him naked?" It's touching, and it's moving, and it makes me feel amazing because that's all you want really is the respect of your peers.
I bet, because no one was touring — the entire endeavor took balls.
It may have come out really foolish. Hey I could've done this, gotten COVID the first run, spread COVID to everyone, and everyone would be like, "Bert's a fucking idiot." But doing it right, and setting down pretty firm ground rules about not interacting with anyone, having zero contact with me and my team with everyone, making everyone wear masks. And to hear these guys talk like that, or to have Brian Regan call me and go, "Hey, can I talk to you about these drive-ins? Is it cool if I do them or is this your thing?" I was like, "It's not my thing, I want everyone to do them." To have that conversation is like ... I called my wife and was like, "Brian Regan just called me!" I called her, I was like, "Jim Gaffigan and I were on the phone for an hour talking about drive-ins." The respect of your peers is better than money, in my opinion.
Yeah, and those are quite some peers, too: Gaffigan, Regan, Rogan, Quinn…
I mean, David Spade and Rob Schneider were talking about me about doing drive-ins, and I'm like, "Fuck..." I mean, I know those guys, but it's very moving, and I think any comic that says they wouldn't feel exactly like I feel is lying. We all want the respect of our heroes, you know?
The way The Cabin starts, which was planned and organized pre-COVID, was the idea that you're super overworked: you got the podcast, the comedy tours, you raise your daughters, take them to soccer practice, and this litany of things of how busy you are, and then you're like, "Let's go to the cabin to recharge." And of course you couldn't even take The Cabin off, that's kind of the running joke between you and your wife. And then COVID comes and the whole world basically shuts down, and then you're still doing these tours. Is there any regret that you didn't take any time off, or you haven't slowed down? It seems like you just keep accelerating.
Yeah, I wish I had some sort of definition of why I do that or what's wrong with me, but I think I am a genuinely a workaholic. The closest I can say is you ever hear the stories of the guys that won the Super Bowl, and then they were like, "And I thought that would fill the void, and then the next morning I was like, 'What's next?'" You're like, "It didn't do anything for me, I just won the Super Bowl."
I feel like that with The Cabin. The Cabin just premiered and did very well, everyone liked it, I got a ton of emails from people that I look up to saying that they enjoyed it, and literally I was like, "What are we shooting next?" I feel like when I'm sitting on my hands I'm losing my mind. So, I did take some initial time off, I think it was like 60 days, no booze, worked out, got in shape when COVID kicked in.
So I don't know, I'm definitely not an overachiever, I'm not an alpha personality, but I'm just a guy that I want to do things, I want to make things.
It’s just funny that the whole conceit of The Cabin — Bert taking time off to regroup and recharge — was neutered by the show itself. You didn’t take any time off.
Hey Big Boy streamed on March 17th, stay-at-home orders were I think March 15th, and I was on the phone March 17th with my agent going, "We need to think of something to do. I can't just sit here idly and not tour. We need to be in front of this, we got to do something." I think everyone was like, "Hey, let's take a break.", but I just was like, I took both my podcasts, and I doubled the episodes. Me and [Bill] Burr used to be twice a month, me and Tom [Segura] used to be twice a month, and we both went to every week.
I added more podcasts on Bertcast, I think I doubled the episodes I was doing. I started writing a movie script, and then we went into pre-production on The Machine movie that we hopefully will shoot in March. I just can't sit idle. And it's juxtaposed with my lifestyle where I like to party and have a good time, the fact that I think I'm very punitive of myself, I wake up and I go, "Hey, man, you feel a little hungover, get the fuck out of bed, go run." I mean, by the way, sidebar, I've run like 800 miles this year, so I'm trying to break 1,000 miles jogging this year.
I really enjoyed The Cabin. I thought it was what a lot of people needed, which just happened to be uncannily good timing for what everybody's kind of going through. I'm sure you know a lot of people who escaped to Big Bear, or Montana or wherever, and kind of did the same thing. Which of the episodes do you think best nailed what you were trying to achieve with the show? Not which one was your favorite, or even the best, which episode do you think best captured the vibe of what you were trying to achieve?
That's a good question. I think probably Segura and Joey Diaz. That was the first one we shot, and I think that was the most organic, the most let the comic shine, and it kind of defined how we shot all of them. That was with the emu, the half an ounce of marijuana, the crystal cleanser, yeah.
The one person I kind of really liked a lot was Bobby Lee, because he came across as so sincere. Some of the people were uncomfortable opening up, but Bobby really seemed into the whole essence of what you were trying to do which is like, "Hey, let's just open up and talk about our shit." And Donnell was very protective, like a little bit distant, and you could see Bobby just kept chipping away until he finally broke down.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, that's my wife's favorite, my wife fell in love with Donnell at the end of that. She was like, "I love Donnell because he's like, 'No, no, no… okay, just give me the box.'
I want a little inside scoop on the Kaley Cuoco episode. When Joel [McHale] whisked her from the table, was that the last you saw of her? Was Joel saving her from this incredibly awkward situation with Ms. Pat, or was that just part of the gag?
No, no, no, I think Joel was definitely very protective of Kaley, and in a weird way I was very protective of Pat. I've known Pat for a long time, and I knew Pat wasn't trying to be mean, I knew Pat was just trying to be honest and share her insight and hopefully finding a middle ground, and Joel was definitely like, "I understand you're trying to be honest, but it's coming off like..." There's a lot that was cut out of that, that I think would've explained a little bit more.
An observer could definitely tell there was a rising tension, and that Ms. Pat wasn't really into hearing Kaley out.
Yeah, I mean technically... For me to speculate on anything of that conversation would be for me to put words in a black woman's mouth or a white woman's mouth, which as we both know is toxic as fuck these days, so I wouldn't do that. I can just say as an observer it seemed like Pat probably didn't have a lot of friends that looked like Kaley growing up, and I'm assuming Kaley didn't have a lot of friends that looked like Pat growing up, I'm guessing.
Your comedy routines are stories, like "Holy shit, this happened! Holy shit, that happened!" The Machine, or you wrestling a bear. It's like Johnny Knoxville on Jackass when he puts on the bulletproof vest and they shot him, you're asking, Are you freaking insane?! Are you at all worried that you’ve set such an impossible standard of danger in your comedy that you feel compelled to do crazy shit, and keep raising the bar?
No, I have that in me inherently. I don't think about it too much, meaning like I just do stupid shit and I'm an impulsive person. So I end up getting myself into situations — I'm like a drunk Forrest Gump. I mean, literally, five days ago me and Tom Segura were in a dominatrix house with electrodes on our dicks, having our dicks shocked at the exact same time staring at each other seeing who would say the safe word first.
By the way, I didn't think about my career when I was doing this, I didn't think of my kids, I didn't think of my wife, I just thought, "I love to giggle, I know Tom loves to giggle, this one is going to make us laugh hard as shit.” And it did, and it was epic, and I would do it a million times over again. Same thing with the coffee enema, with getting involved with the Russian mafia. I got involved with a Haitian gang in Miami one night probably 10 years ago. I just end up biting off more than I can chew in essence.
I mean, oddly enough I partied with Johnny Knoxville before he was Johnny Knoxville. Rolling Stone Magazine called me the “#1 Party Animal in the Country,” and ESPN wanted to do a series of commercials so they sent these two actors in a tour bus down to Tallahassee to party with me, and one of them was Johnny Knoxville. Me and him were drinking at my apartment in Tallahassee, this is probably three or four years before Jackass, I don't know, '97? So, we were drinking in my apartment, dressed in drag, full lipstick, full makeup, tons of chicks, throwing each other down a flight of stairs.
So I have a drunk Forrest Gump-ness about me where I do end up getting in odd situations. Spent the night in a favela when I was working at Travel Channel. I mean, I also have a problem saying no, I think that's another thing. Like I did the show Hurt Bert, I did the show ... even Bert The Conqueror, I was the first person to jump off the stratosphere, jumped out of a plane with Rachel Ray, swam with great white sharks out of the cage. I just have a hard time saying no, and part of me goes, "It'll make a great story.”
You have some really infamous stories/bits that people always want to hear. What is that like as a comedian? Because obviously you go see Def Leppard you want to hear “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, but what do you do as a comedian? Like with Andrew Dice Clay famously everybody would just yell out his punchlines, it almost became a cliché — and then you have guys like Louis C.K. who famously rewrite their entire set every year. Personally how do you balance that?
My take is I look at it this way: if I'm performing in a bigger venue than I did last year to more people, then there are actually people that have not heard that story. Also from whatever you saw on Netflix, you will always see a brand new hour when I come to your city. And hopefully not just repurposed themes…for me it's a brand new hour, and hopefully I've grown as a comic.
And then my deal with my fans is after my new hour if there's a story you want to hear I’ll always give it to them. I'll say, "I can tell Flying Dildos, I can tell Fight a Bear, I can tell Rachel Ray, I can tell Finger in the Ass, I can tell Starbucks, or I can tell The Machine." And everyone always wants to hear The Machine.
And stories are different, in my opinion, than a bit. A bit is if you heard the bit you lose the laugh, it's predictable. But with a story it's always changing, it's always in flux. I don't tell The Machine the same way I did when they heard it on the internet. I've got like nine sidebars inside it of jokes that make me giggle, because I got get bored of it where I go off on tangents, and I let the story breathe.
I think a lot of comics got the wrong message from Bill [Burr] and Louis [C.K.]. Bill and Louis were the ones that created the, "Hey, let's do a brand new hour every 18 months." I think a lot of comics did themselves a huge disservice by thinking they needed to hold their standards to Bill and Louis. Bill and Louis are game-changing comics, they changed the way everyone does it, and I'm like, "Not everyone needs to do that." If you're just performing at Funny Bones it's okay to tell a bit that murders, and tell it a couple times. We used to do that before Bill and Louis changed the game, you know?
Right. Kind of hard to hold everyone to Bill Burr’s standard.
I do think unless you're a comic playing at theaters, and charging 35 bucks for a ticket, and selling 7,000 tickets in a weekend, unless you're that guy, dude, just murder. Just murder. When you get to the level where Bill and Louis are, then you could hold yourself to their standard, but until that time, there's no reason for you to not have a great set to strangers, you know?