Bryan Callen: Perfect Self is Already There
Comedians are funny not only because they are witty, but also because they say what people want to say but cannot in public. It is the art of understanding people.
Bryan Callen: Comedian, Actor
Bryan Callen is a comedian and actor. Born in the Phillipines, Callen spent the first fourteen years of his life overseas in countries like India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Greece and Saudi Arabia, before moving to the U.S. Callen got his start as an original cast member of MAD TV. He then went on to play numerous roles on the small and big screen including, “Old School” “Bad Santa”, “Sex and the City”, “Entourage,” “Californication”, “7th Heaven,” “King of Queens,” “Stacked,” “Las Vegas,” “West Wing,” “News Radio,” “Significant Others,” “CSI,” “NYPD Blue,”“Suddenly Susan,” and “Frasier.” Also, he recently finished a two season character arc on USA’s “In Plain Sight”
-----First of all, why did you accept this interview, It is not as large as the mass media you are accustomed to?
I've never had an agenda. I've never been motivated by popularity. I'm more motivated by substance, and I think that also I very much appreciate anybody. I suppose it's always thrilling to me to make a connection with anybody from somewhere else. And if I can have an impact on, then it is great. Interest and Passion. Those are the things that I pick up on, even in emails sometimes, which was I found from you a little bit.
-----What motivates you is passion?
Yes. I love motivation, effort, and interest. It doesn't matter if you have 1 million twitter followers. If you're a young person just trying to get ideas out there, I like your idea. I like what you're trying to do. We spend a lot of time fighting for something, but we lose anyway. I don't think winning is the point. I think the point is to reach. The point is to try. Become a better person if you try.
-----Why did you want to become an actor/comedian/performer? What kind of difficulties did you experience, and how did you overcome then?
I didn't necessarily choose it but it chose me. I don't think anybody should be an artist. It chooses you. It takes a great deal of work to refine and to distill your expression. I think that an artist's life is actually a life of discipline. Learning where to place your energy. There are a lot of artists that have not-so-disciplined lives, but sometimes they're disciplined.
Art chooses you, and it's up to you to listen to it. Somebody says, "Mom, Dad, I want to play piano". "Mom, Dad, I want to be an actor." "Mom, Dad, I want to be a comedian." "I want to be a painter." And parents, even my parents, would say, "No, you're crazy. Don't be crazy.” I knew that was going to happen and they were going to be worried, but I knew also that if I didn't do that, I would be a small person and a coward. I felt like I wasn't going to be listening to the true me, my primal urge, who I really am.
-----Very interesting, So it just naturally happened?
Yes. An artist never has any satisfaction. The great dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham said, "An artist's job is not to judge his own work, it is to keep going and to do it". You will always have a sense of queer dissatisfaction, always a sense where I didn't get it right. Even me, I think of how many people laugh. Sometimes it needs to be better.
Most of our lives we have been polite. Look at the Japanese society. The Japanese says, "You have to be very polite. Protocol, manners, discipline, all these things are very important but we are all different. When I'm on stage, I can say what I want, I can be who I am, I can move the way I want. Do you know why they laugh? It is because they recognize that inside of them. They come to say, "I feel just like that. I didn't know it until he showed it to me, but I'm laughing because he surprised me. I'm laughing because I recognized it for the first time in me.” That's what I think great writing, great art does.
-----When you write a script, what kind of process do you go through?
When all these people are laughing, I forget when I wrote it, or how I wrote it, or why I wrote it. I'm always surprised at how it all comes together. How did it come together over two years? How? I don't know. Writing, painting, and singing, it's an act of faith. I believe that the song or story already exists. It is already somewhere up there. It is up to you to keep showing up and channel it through you. Keep showing up in faith. Anything you try to do, when you're an artist, it's an act of faith. I know I can do it. I know it's there. I have to keep showing up every day until it reveals itself, until it shows itself through me. I'm not making it; it's coming through me. I think it's a much better way to look at life.
I don't like when artists take pride in their own work. It is not yours. You happen to have the certain wiring. Whatever happened, you channeled it through you. Why do you make art? Why? For girls and money? No. It is to make the world a better place; to remind the world of what is possible. Remind humanity that there's a much higher level.
We as people should be reaching beyond ourselves. We are not the measure of all things. Sometimes when you read a great story or see a great movie, you cry. It’s because it creates a feeling in you that’s bigger than you are. It humbles you, and you realize that there is something beautiful, bigger, and all encompassing. You are overwhelmed by the beauty in the world. This is what I think the ultimate goal is. This is all I care about.
I'm not that great man, not even close, but at least I can try to surprise and to shock myself with my work at the end of my life. For what? It is just because I can. Maybe it will make the world a better place. That's what I love. This is my god.
-----What are important criteria when you make a big decision?
Usually, you know what you have to do. A big decision is not a big decision. A lot of times, you know the answer and the rest is denial. The difficult thing is how do I do it? I don't think there are big decisions. What do I do if I want to quit my job, and I want to become an actor, but my father always wanted me to be a doctor? He paid for medical school. How could I be an actor? My father paid for law school; I'm supposed to be a lawyer; otherwise I'll shame my family. You know the answer. The big decision is how do I tell my father? How could I disappoint my friends and family? That's the decision, but I don't know if there are any really big decisions about what you're supposed to do. You know what you're supposed to do. There are hard decisions sometimes but for the most part, you know the answer. Human beings are afraid of their own greatness. A lot of great athletes when everybody is looking at them, and they are supposed to perform, they give themselves an injury to take the pressure off.
-----In the 21st century, there are many people who are materialistically abundant but are not fulfilled. How can they find fulfillment in life?
You can have everything materialistically. I know so many people with money, who are very successful, who fly first class, drink good wine, or have a nice view. I think there is a certain catastrophe to success. When you get successful, you see a luxurious life: nice clothing, house, status, reputation. These things can make you fat: spiritually and physically fat. I don't think they are the answer but the struggles and challenges are. Putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you don't know if you can do it or not makes you better at something. You know, human beings have a need for safety and certainty. I know I want to have a house. That's very important, but you need some uncertainty and some adventure. You need to live in a world where you're not sure what's going to happen next. When people come back from war, it is hard for them to adjust. Why? Because of the adrenaline of not knowing what's going to happen next.
-----What is the most important thing you have learned in your life?
Learn what not to think about. Learn what not to do. Don't worry about what to do. Most people are doing lots of things every day to ensure their own failure. Learn what not to think about. Here is a good question: "If I knew I could never fail, what would I want, and do?". Now you're starting to ask the right questions and your body will start to move in that direction. Don't think about who doesn't like you. Don't think about what could go wrong. You have to be critical and analytical. Everybody should make a "not-to-do list," not a to-do list. There is a law of subtraction, not addition. Don't worry about what to add to you. You don't need to add anything to you. Learn how to get everything out of the way. Look, when Michelangelo carved the statue of David, he looked at the marble and said, "It's in there already. I just have to know what to take away from it. I have to know how much stone to get out of the way.” Human beings are the same way. Your perfect self is already there. Learn what to move out of the way. Don't worry about adding. Learn what to move and what not to think about. Learn what to move out of the way.
-----So, the point is to make yourself simple. Then, you can reach a better quality question that will enrich your life.
Yes. We are always thinking along the lines of safety. I think Schiller said, "Man is never more himself than when at play." What is play? Play is not cocaine and hookers, no. Play is what you would do for the sake of doing it. What you would do just for it. I would do comedy regardless. I don't do comedy to make money. I make money now, but I don't do it for that. I never did it for that. I love making people laugh, or hearing people laugh.
Everything is okay. I'm never going to be a professional, but when I get better, I learn to move my head. You know, stuff like that. I feel like I'm learning something that's very difficult. That's play. Play is to be free. Play is what you do when you are free. That's what you should think about. What would you do anyway? What would you do if you made no money? What would you do if it didn't come with any status? What would you rather be doing? I'm not saying you shouldn't do a job like be a lawyer or a doctor. I'm not saying you shouldn't make money. I'm not saying you shouldn't have a good job with healthcare. If you have it, there is no problem.
Have something else that you are passionate about. Have something else that that makes you feel like you are also enriching your life.
-----If you could make a call to 20-year-old Bryan Callen, what kind of advice would you give to him?
I would say, "You are enough. Learn what not to think about, and the things that you really want to do. Do the best of your ability. Do it with good faith and with patience, and know that if you keep showing up every day, you will be satisfied and fulfilled. I don't know if you'll win a trophy; I don't know if you'll make lots of money, but you will be fulfilled, and you'll like what you see when you look in the mirror.
-----If you could leave one message to make the world better place, what would be your message?
I think the world is so incredibly diverse and different, but I do think that all of us should strive for freedom of expression. I believe strongly in meritocracy. I just believe that all of us should be striving for individual freedom, personal responsibility. Our governments should be governments that facilitate that privilege, that human right. We don't have countries with institutions that protect property rights, individuals, and minorities; whether they're women, gay people, or whatever they are. When you marginalize people, you erase their potential and weaken your country.
It is very important for all countries to provide safety for the gentler spirits, artisans, and your innovators. It's important to protect the rewards that come with that kind of effort. If you don't, you will not have a better way to do something. The truth is freedom. The truth is expression. The truth is letting people do what really matters to them; letting people come up with a better way and rewarding them for that, protecting them, and allowing them to do that. Freedom comes with responsibility, but take the responsibility. That's how you make the world a better place.