Current “The Goldbergs” scene stealer Bryan Callen is returning to Madison Sep. 21-23 as part of his ongoing comedy tour.
The comic and actor was last in the city for his podcast, “The Fighter and the Kid,” with fellow comic and former UFC competitor Brendan Schaub.
Before landing his first role on MTV sketch comedy show MADTV in 1995, Callen was commuting from his Hoboken, New Jersey home above a Chinese restaurant to New York for his temporary job at Goldman Sachs.
“My life sucked. I was basically invisible. I was like, ‘Do you want me to make more copies? Would you like more coffee? Sure I will! You went to Harvard because you paid attention in high school! I’m a loser, I’m trying to be an actor but I’ll try to be Hemingway in my time off!’,”Callen said.
However, Callen traded Goldman Sachs for “The Goldbergs” and “The Fighter and the Kid,” and hasn’t looked back since. Although acting is difficult work, according to Callen, the comedian thoroughly loves it.
“I’m on the Goldbergs and have a blast doing it, so much fun. Best time I’ve ever had on a TV show because the people I work with are so great and fun,” Callen said.
Callen prefers stand-up comedy over the big and small screens to share his comedic takes on society. He feels he can be more bold, and discuss sometimes controversial topics.
“I want to talk about how we are very tribal apes. Race and sex is a better way to put it, the differences between the sexes,” Callen said.
Those topics might have caused a negative crowd reaction 10 to 15 years ago, but Callen gets only laughs when he brings humor to the touchy subjects. He believes these topics resonate well, due to the “tyrannical time” we currently live in. According to Callen, the internet has created a collective consciousness, an agreement among all people on what the core values of life should be.
“We just argue about the different methodologies to get to that point. It’s a little bit like saying, ‘we all believe in freedom’ but then we have these arguments about how to get to that maximum state,” Callen said.
Callen uses a socially conscious strain of comedy to illustrate how different facets of society operate and compete with each other.
“One side says we’re going to liberate the oppressed and the other side says no, we’re going to have respect for authority and strength. I try to talk about that,” Callen said.
Callen spent his first 14 years outside the country. Born in the Philippines, Callen traveled among several countries after his birth in Manila, spending time in India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Greece and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
Such frequent moving in such a short period of time forced Callen to make friends very quickly.
“I wanted people to like me, so I figured out a way to make them laugh,” Callen said. “I love laughing and I love making people laugh. It’s my favorite thing in the world.”
In the midst of globetrotting, Callen acquired a broad perspective and worldview.
“One of the things you come away with is the fact that the U.S. is not the center of the earth,” Callen said. “By the way, most people are a lot more similar than they are different.”
Callen draws on his recognition of similarities among people and his observations of the constantly changing political climate to come up with new material.
“It’s easy because there’s a low-grade civil war, at least a low-grade war of ideas going on in this country. We’re in a real cultural war,” Callen said.
Callen finds it fascinating that some people seem to be more interested in bashing someone who holds opposite views, rather than solving the problem of how to heal divisions in the country.
He also believes people have stopped thinking for themselves in favor of associating themselves with a group or “team” that can do the thinking for them.
“All you have to do is get the bullet points of the team that makes you feel right and then you let the leaders of that team do most of the talking for you. You just cheer your team on man, you try to belittle, attack and weaken the other team,” Callen said.
Callen takes pleasure in turning his observations into farce, describing it as even “really fun.”
Bringing attention to conflicts in society might not itself bring about change, but that’s not Callen’s intent. He doesn’t believe he could change anybody with his comedy nor does he think his material could change anybody’s mind. He just wants to observe, speak honestly and tell the truth.
“I think the only way to make any change is to lead by example and make change within yourself,” Callen said.
Callen hopes to make a change to his resume soon. The 50-year-old is currently creating a television show to pitch to different networks.
“You know how Anthony Bourdain goes out and finds the best restaurants? I go out and try to find the best ideas to solve our problems,” Callen said. “What I’m going to do is bring in real thinkers, the leaders of thought in various fields and I’m going to try and solve all the problems.”
Callen’s social consciousness mixed with a passion for finding humor in tense environments is what makes the comic so special.
“At the end of the day I’m a comic. If you come to my show I’ll guarantee only one thing. Not that you’ll learn anything, but you will laugh,” Callen said. “You’ll laugh hard for at least an hour. By the way, harder than any movie you’ve seen, how about that?”
You can judge for yourself if Callen is telling the truth from Thursday, Sep. 21 through Saturday, Sep. 23 as he headlines Comedy Club on State next weekend.