Everybody has to start somewhere. In Firsties, we talk to some of our favorite pop-culture figures about the many first steps along the way to their current careers.
Though he initially rose to fame due in part to a 1997 Rolling Stone article that dubbed him Florida State University’s “top partier,” Bert Kreischer has since made a name for himself as both a stand-up comedian and host of television programs like FX’s Hurt Bert and Travel Channel’s Trip Flip. His piercing laughter has also entertained (or annoyed) listeners of Doug Loves Movies, WTF With Marc Maron, and The Joe Rogan Experience. Kreischer’s latest project is an autobiographical book, Life Of The Party: Stories Of A Perpetual Man-Child, out now on St. Martin’s Press.
First time doing stand-up
Bert Kreischer: My first stand-up experience was in Tallahassee at a club called Potbelly’s. A little bit of a backstory: Rolling Stone had written an article about me where they said I was the “the No. 1 party animal in the country.” In it I guess I said that I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. So there was this radio station, and I thought they were putting on this stand-up show to help me get my foot in the door for stand-up, but what they were doing, in actuality, was setting me up for disaster. They had four national touring comics, though now I know them to be feature acts. These four comics went up before me and each did about 20 to 30 minutes, and then I closed the show. And if you know anything about stand-up, you know what a nightmare that is. Four comics just doing 20 to 30—which means they all do 30—and then I close out the show. They told me to go up and do 45. And I had never done stand-up in my entire life.
The only thing I remember distinctly about that night was that one of the comics gave me the best bit of advice before I went up onstage. I ordered a beer and he pulled me aside and said, “Listen, I’m not going to tell you what to do and what not to do. You’re a grown-up, but drinking before you go onstage turns into a really bad habit where you can only drink and go up onstage. If I were you and this is this your first time, do it sober.” So I did it stone sober, which is so against the grain compared to the way I was living my life, back then especially.
Anyway, I went up and was a moron. I did stream-of-consciousness and talked about the other acts and whatever came to mind and I killed. The morning station ended up offering me my own morning show. They said, “You’ll sit with this guy for like a month or two and then he’s going to move to New York and then it’s going to be your show in Tallahassee.” I literally thought I’d struck gold. I was like, “Dude, I got a job out of that fucking article,” and I thought that this was how it goes. Then I talked to the radio guy and I was like, “Why would you leave?” and he was like, “Who the fuck wants to stay in Tallahassee?” I heard him very clearly and said, “You know what, not me.” I thought if I had gotten success that quickly, all I have to do is move to New York and everyone would be beating down my door.
First weeks in New York
BK: When I first moved to New York, I didn’t know anyone. I knew this guy named Diego—I think that was his name—and he was from like the Canary Islands and he spoke no English so all we’d do is drink rum and point at a map. That’s all we could do.
I also didn’t know what a studio apartment was then. Basically, it was a kitchen and a bed, and the only privacy you get is if you’re walking to the bathroom. So I got a bag of weed and would go to bars in the East Village. I would meet people that were my age and say, “Hey, you guys want to get high?” and we’d go back to their place and smoke weed and I would pretend to pass out and then I’d get to stay at their place. That was how I got by. I did that two times tops before I passed out at someone’s house and John Beamer—who I had gone to fucking high school with and had known since I was a child—I smoked weed with his roommate and he walked in and he saw me sleeping on the couch and he was like, “Bert Kreischer?” and I was like, “Beamer?!” and then I ended up staying with him.
Beamer was the one who got me up onstage for the first time in New York. Now it sounds like a who’s who lineup of open mic’ers, but it was Demetri Martin, me, and a guy named DJ Nash who now runs a show on NBC called Growing Up Fisher and was also the reason I got my first pilot. That little group was part of a Monday night open mic that DJ ran and that also spawned Ed Helms. Jordan Rubin was always there. Bobby Kelly, Jim Norton, Pete Correale, D.T. Benny, Ben Daley. It was a place where you could get a set because DJ filled the room.
First time he thought about writing a book
BK: The first time I actually got a book and said, “I wonder what this is about,” was the book Naked. I had read books before, but not beginning to end. I think I have massive learning disabilities—we’re learning that with my youngest—but the first book I read beginning to end was Naked by David Sedaris. It really redefined reading for me, because I was like, “Oh shit! I didn’t know people wrote funny books!” I thought every book was boring as fuck and you literally had to trudge through reading about a post-apocalyptic world where honey was the favorite thing that everyone tried. Anyway, I read David Sedaris and then I read it all.
I read some older books when I worked at Barnes And Noble, like some of the American classics. I read a lot of Hemingway. I fell in love with Hemingway’s prose and with the way he wrote. I feel like he’s talking to me, like we’re in a bar and he’s not trying to jazz it up and sound smart, he’s just being him. This has no connection to my book, but I love his titles. I fucking love his titles!
So anyway, Chelsea Handler wrote a book and everybody talked about it at the club. Then Jim Norton wrote a book, and when Norton wrote a book, I was like, “Fuck!” My dad has always told me that I should write book. He says, “You have all these crazy stories, you should write a book.” When I read Jim’s book, it was still Jim. He’s not pretending to be someone smarter than he is. The reason I like it is his voice.
So then I told the story about how I became “the machine” on [The Joe] Rogan [Experience] and I mention that I’m interested in writing a book. My old agent gets in touch with me and is like, “Let’s go out and try to sell it.” This is what solidified all of my thoughts: I went out to get a cup of coffee with my agent and two managers. And I get a cup of coffee and as I get it, the guy says, “How do you usually take it?” and I say, “Black, like my music.” I go to pay and he says, “No, no, no. It’s an honor.” And I’m like, “What?” and on the top of the lid is written, ‘The Machine.’ And I went, “Oh my God! I’m fucking writing this book!” By the way, this is the very beginning of me telling the machine story as it happened. Today, I’m like “Fuck! What have I done with my life?” I’m 41 and I’ve created this Frank The Tank picture of myself and everyone sees me as that guy, but I don’t give a fuck.
Back to the book. I got really excited about the process. I don’t know how much you know about the book-writing process, but they always want you to have a ghostwriter if you’re a comic. All the comics that you know wrote the books—except for Jim Norton and Chelsea Handler and Jen Kirkman—had ghostwriters. There are a lot of people that wrote their own books, but there are a lot that didn’t. I was like, “Fuck that!” I don’t know what mentality this is in me, but if I’m going to put my name on a book, I’m not going to fucking lie. My book already seems like a bunch of lies strung together. In my book, I try to be as honest as possible so people can see the true connected issue, but I was like, “If I’m fucking telling my stories, I’m writing them; I’m not letting some guy take a hold of what he believes needs to be the truth or doesn’t need to be the truth.” I was like, “I’m going to take part in the things that need to be the truth and need to be in there because I will sleep better at night knowing I have written it.”
I just sat down and wrote down 20 stories that I thought would be good for the book. I started writing them and then I gave them to my wife and she would then read them, correct them, and spell-check them. I don’t have that kind of brain where I can spell-check. I would rework them and then send them to my editor and he’d have questions and I’d answer those questions or I would expound on things that he wanted to know more about and then, pretty much, it was done. Then we did a round of punch-up, which I thought I’d excel at, but I swear to God I did not. I really respect those guys that get $250,000 for punching up scripts, because it’s an art form.
First big break
AVC: What do you think your first big break was? Was it the Rolling Stone article or was it something that came later?
BK: It’s weird, because comics tend to look at our big breaks differently than the outside world does. Right after 9/11, my buddy Grimes moved out to L.A. and he said something about the Rolling Stone article and I explained to him that I’d actually tried not to let people know about that, because I didn’t want to be recognized as the guy that was in Rolling Stone, I wanted to be recognized as a good comic first. My buddy Grimes was like, “Are you fucking ridiculous? You never would have had the balls to move to New York if that article hadn’t been written about you!” And for the first time I heard that and was like, “He’s totally right.” In turn I gained massive respect for guys like Ari Shaffir, Sam Tripoli, and all my friends who just decided they were funny and gave it a shot. I have this article behind me, and I think without that article, nothing would have happened. Nothing. And it was luck, dumb luck, but that literally became my calling card.
It’s the reason Will Smith did a development deal with me, it’s the reason CBS did a development deal with me, it’s the reason I got The X Show and those were all three big breaks back-to-back-to-back. The reason I was on The X Show was the reason I got Hurt Bert and the reason I did Hurt Bert was why I’d been working. So I have to give it to, as lame as it is, the Rolling Stone article. That lottery ticket landed in my lap and it gave me the courage to do what I’m doing today. It has to be the biggest break because it gave me the courage to fail artistically and say, “Fuck it! At least I can party!”
The one time that I remember thinking that I might have professionally just changed my life forever was an ICM showcase I did where I followed Earthquake and Kathy Griffin. Everyone was in the back fighting about who had to follow Earthquake and I, coming out of New York, loved following black comedians because I felt like I could borrow their energy for a minute. So I was like, “Yeah, I’ll follow him,” and so they were like, “Great.” This was back in ’99 or maybe 2000 when they put on showcases and they were packed with industry people. Everyone was there—all the Seinfeld writers, all the Friends writers—and I went up and I destroyed literally so fucking hard. When I got offstage, it was one of those moments where Barry Katz shuffled me into the hallway behind the Laugh Factory and said, “Don’t speak to anyone, get in the car and get out of here. Everyone is going to want to talk to you. We need to set up meetings; you are going to make a lot of money.” I remember calling my buddy Miles, who was the only one who would answer, and I said, “I think I did really well!”
First time he met Will Smith
BK: Once again, this is the reason I didn’t want to have a ghostwriter is because I remember that story; when something didn’t happen to you, you have no attachment to the truth. I’ve run into that in the past with people that have told my stories, but it was very basic. Will Smith’s boys discovered me in a club. And they told me “I want to do a deal with you, but you have to get Will to like you. If Will likes you, it’s a deal.” I was like, “Done.” In my head, this was my sweet spot. I’m a huge hip-hop fan, and I’ve been a huge Will Smith fan since “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” I knew everything there was to know about Will Smith. So I was like, “You just sent a fucking stallion into the Kentucky Derby.”
Anyway, I went into the music studio where he working, and they were like, “Mr. Kreischer, walk in here. Mr. Smith will be here in a second.” I walked in and it was this huge dance studio. I mean, mirrors everywhere; there was a ballerina bar and two folding chairs in the center and they said, “Grab a seat.” I grabbed the chair with my back towards the door and Will Smith walks in two minutes later like a hurricane of personality and I am on. I’m like, “Oh my God, I love you! I love hip-hop, I love Biggie, I love Tupac! Who killed Tupac, who killed Biggie? Did you know he was on the cover of my Rolling Stone magazine? I love Jada, did she have sex with Tupac? I love black people!” I literally rambled to him for an hour and he listened. When there was a break, he would interject with a very poignant insight and I was like, “This guy is fucking amazing!” It was almost like a perfect date. Then, all of a sudden, he was like, “I like you.” And I was like, “I like you!” He was like, “What are you doing tonight?” and I was like, “Nothing” and he said, “Lets go to the movies!” and I was like, “Perfect.” He said, “Meet me at Planet Hollywood at 7,” and I was like, “Done!” So I get up and I walk out.
I called my dad and he was like, “Oh, buddy. What did he say again?” I said, “Dad, he wants to go the movies at Planet Hollywood at 7. I think it went really well.” He said, “Buddy, I think he wants to queer you. A lot of these celebrities are closeted homosexuals so they find young talent like you and they offer you dreams of a sitcom and movies and money and they bring you into a room and it’s called the casting couch and they make you fuck them and they fuck you and then they put you on the road. No one believes you. Who’s going to believe it, right? Will Smith and you?” I said, “Dad, that’s impossible. I just spent an hour with him in a dance studio.” He said, “Where?” and I said, “Never mind. There’s no way Will Smith is gay. I just hung out with him.” He said, “Buddy.” My dad is old school, so if it’s too good to be true, it’s not true. He’s like, “Buddy, what’s more likely: The fact that you’ve been doing stand-up for six months in New York and the biggest movie star in the entire world has handpicked you to make a sitcom about your life and he’s going to pay you six figures and you’re not going to have to work for a year, or he’s gay and he wants to fuck you in the ass?” And I was like, “Oh my God, I’m getting fucked in the ass!” I go, “What do I do?” and he said, “Show up. Eat shit and cash checks. I’m just telling you so you’re prepared. When you have his dick in your hand and mouth, be ready for it.” So I’m like, “All right.”
So I show up wearing overalls with a sweater over them. I think that was my look back then. I ask the lady if Will Smith is there, at Planet Hollywood, and she goes, “Oh, he’s in the back.” I go in the back and there’s a mannequin of Will Smith and I go, “No. I’m looking for the Will Smith, I need to see Will Smith.” And she was like, “Sonny! Movie stars don’t hang out at Planet Hollywood.” But I was like, “Do you mind if I wait for him?” and she said, “Sure, knock yourself out.”
Anyway, I’m sitting there and all of a sudden there’s a 6-foot-7, 350-pound black dude named Charlie Mack—who is a real dude. There’s a song about him. He says, “Hey, uh, are you Bert?” And I go, “Uh, yeah” and he says, “Downstairs,” and I go, “I’ve got to fuck this guy, too? This is going to be a long night!” I go downstairs and there are nine black dudes sitting in a room with a folding table in the middle and I’m like, “Are you shitting me?” It’s one room with a velvet curtain on all walls and he goes, “Down here.” I sit down and I don’t make eye contact with a fucking soul. All I’m thinking about is the math of how much dick I’m going to have to taste tonight and then, sure enough, Will Smith comes in with Jazzy Jeff and I’m like, “How many guys is this?” Will looks at me and is like, “Guys, this is the guy,” and everyone starts walking right at me and I am literally about to grab a knee when the curtains open and a beautiful, private movie theater shows up.
Will looks at me and goes, “Grab a seat, I’ll grab us drinks.” We watched American Pie, and it was beautiful. I had the greatest time. He was awesome and at the end of the night he goes, “What’d you think?” and I go, “It was great!” and he said, “No, I mean what did you think of the room?” and I go, “It was beautiful.” And he said, “What about the people in it? You said you were a hip-hop fan. Look around.” So I looked around and he goes, “That’s Biz Markie!” and I said, “Shut the fuck up!” and he’s like, “That’s Kool Moe Dee,” and I’m like, “Holy fucking shit, are you shitting me?!” He’s like, “You said you were a hip-hop fan.” And all I’m thinking to myself is, “I could have fucked Biz Markie?!”
So that was my Will Smith story. He was the greatest guy, I ended up working with him for a year. Two or three years later I had a movie that was going around that needed some help and he threw his hat into the ring and said, “I’ll produce it if you guys want to make it, if that’ll help things” So he’s the greatest guy in the world. Not gay, not that that matters at all.
First drink he ever took
AVC: How old were you when you had your first sip of alcohol?
BK: I want to say it was seventh or maybe eighth grade. We drank peach Schnapps by the gym at a football game. In a weird way, I liked the legend that I was drinking. All the kids in my class were like, “You were drinking?” like it was a bad-boy thing, but I didn’t get drunk. The first time I got drunk—like drunk—was in ninth grade with Alan and Canaan behind Alan’s house. We drank Natty Lights. The only reason I know that is because we left them back there and Alan’s mom brought them in and dumped them on the table in front of us and was like, “You guys are busted!” I was drunk and just smiling ear-to-ear. I was like, “I could give two fucks.” I had no anxiety left whatsoever and I remember looking at Canaan and he was smiling back at me and I was like, “This is going to be a good year!”
First time he got too drunk
BK: I was a weird drinker in that I was afraid to get sick, so I never got sick once in high school. The first time I ever got sick from drinking was during my freshman year of college during initiation for frat pledges. Once you became pledges, then you had to go out and drink until you got sick and so I just was like, “Fuck it, I guess this is going to happen.” Then I got really sick and threw up all night long. That, by the way, is the most asinine, horseshit fucking thing that carries on. These older boys that are only a few years older than these younger boys insist they throw up to prove themselves. I didn’t do that when I got a little brother.
You want to hear something crazy? I had two little brothers and they both turned out gay. That makes me almost proud because you had to select your big brother and they either saw me as gay or as a safe place because I’m a very sensitive person. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but I’m a very sensitive person to other people so I never made them get drunk until they threw up. I just said, “Let’s just have a good time and if you want to get high, we’ll get high and we’ll just laugh and just go out and have a good time and I’ll pretend like I’m forcing you to drink, but don’t worry, you’re not going to get sick.” And they were like, “Seriously?” and I was like, “Unless you want to, but you don’t have to.” And so none of them did and they all had a blast and I stayed close to them all in college.
Two of them were virgins and then I ran into one in New York at Bryant Park. I saw him and was like, “Oh my God, what are you doing?!” and he looked nervous and I saw there was a dude’s hand in his back pocket and I was like, “Oh, hey. What’s up?” and he said, “I’m gay!” and I said, “It’s cool.” He said, “You probably knew in college” and I said, “I had an idea. You were 22 and still a virgin.”
You like how I took your question and turned it into its own story about gays?
First date with his wife
BK: My old roommate—and he’ll deny this—wanted to date my wife. He had a crush on my wife and I’d never been the guy that understood the nuances of what a woman needs in life or in relationships. So I was like, “I don’t really date.” I normally just hooked up with chicks. I went to a bar, got drunk, and then hooked up.
Anyway, I hadn’t been on a date in a while and I liked [my wife] a lot. I remember thinking, “This is the kind of chick that you can fucking marry!” So I asked her on a date, and my roommate told me there was a restaurant we’d love, and it turned out to be a gay bar. I didn’t realize it until after we’d ordered the appetizers, but Eddie Izzard was there. I remember that distinctly, because Eddie Izzard was walking around in drag and I was like, “Hey, there’s Eddie Izzard!” and then I remember thinking, “This is a gay bar!” It was off Third right next to the farmers’ market. Anyway, we went there and ended up having a great time. She was the only woman in there and we ended up having a blast and we kissed and the rest is history.
First day as a dad
BK: I can tell you my first instinct as a dad. You get caught up in this whirlwind of emotion and realization of feelings. Do you have kids?
AVC: No, not yet.
BK: When you give birth, you have a moment with the baby, but then they have to do a bunch of things with the baby, like clinical things. They have to wash it and clean its eyes out and they have to clean its lungs out and give it a bunch of shots and do a blood test and a bunch of stuff. I remember they were washing [his daughter] Georgia and she was crying really bad and these feelings had never been available to me. I didn’t know I could love like that, and I was crying and she grabbed my little pinkie finger and she stopped crying and I started bawling. And I started telling her, when the nurse was out of the room, all the things that were going to happen in her life and how I was going to be there for all of them and how she can always hold my hand. Now I’m sobbing uncontrollably and the nurse comes back in the room and she’s like, “What’s wrong?!” and I’m like, “I’m not [pretends to catch his breath] really that [pretends to catch breath again] emotionally acceptable to human beings until right now.” Then they take you back and teach you how to swaddle, which is basically how you roll them up into a joint and put them into a box.
Then in the middle of the night, you go to sleep. I immediately have single-guy dreams and Georgia starts crying, like sobbing, screaming and I sat up in a cot and said, “Would someone get that?!” and I realized, “Oh, that’s me. That’s me forever. I’m going to be getting that. Mother of God, I’ve made a mistake.” But then I went over and got her and it was amazing. Your first week of having a baby, you’re really resilient because it’s brand new. A month in, you’re like, “This is really ridiculous.” Six months in, you’re like, “I can’t fucking do this! I have to get rid of this thing!” And then when you have your second kid, the first second they cry, you’re like, “I made a fucking big mistake again!” They’re crying and I’m like, “Mom should go get that. Mom should go take care of that.” But it was me!
And now I’m just an emotional fucking wreck. I feel like every move they make or every step they take defines them in life. Isla, my youngest, she struck out both times this week at her softball game and I literally had to take a Xanax because I was having full-blown anxiety.
AVC: She probably won’t remember it, but you will.
BK: Yeah, I’m a great dad! But I love the place I’m in right now with the girls. I wish they would never get older than this, because they can still cuddle with you and jump up on you and if they run through the house naked, you don’t feel like you’re committing a crime. You were a little girl once, so you probably remember those feelings.
AVC: Sure. And they still think you’re funny and not embarrassing to them.
BK: I took them swimming with sharks the other day in Hawaii, because that’s what I do on Trip Flip. I take people on adventures of a lifetime on my Travel Channel show. The girls had seen me and said, “We want to go swimming with sharks.” Trip Flip is an amazing experience for me getting people to do things that they’d normally never do and to get them out of their comfort zones and get them to see what adventure and travel is all about. But, man, when you do it for your daughters and you’ve got them in the cage and there are 20 sharks swimming around and circling them and they are bubbling with adrenaline and looking to me as their protector, it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done as a dad.
We start season four in September and I’m going to bring them to a bunch of different places with me. I’m like, “Screw it! Call it homeschooling or whatever the fuck.” You have to inform the state when you take them out for half the year and Isla may need the school, but I’m going to take them out and have them see a bunch of shit that we do just so they can experience life, you know?
AVC: You could make it part of Trip Flip Families.
BK: Oddly enough, the network is talking about it because we’ve had such a great experience with the show when we do it with kids. The network is like, “Maybe we should do a spin-off where we’ll go to school and take a field trip where you take a bunch of kids swimming with sharks.”