Brian Posehn has never been one to shy away from discussing his own shortcomings on stage. Much of his stand-up comedy over the years has centered around his poor self-image (his assessment of his appearance: “I look like a bunch of farts put on a man costume”) and how his love of comics, science fiction, horror, heavy metal, and weed have gotten him into trouble over the years.
Somehow, though, Posehn’s latest stand-up special and album Criminally Posehn feels like the 50-year-old comic is mining even deeper into his neuroses and anxieties for material. He addresses his issues with depression and how that leads him to indulge in snacks. A chunk of the hour is given over to an examination of his body, and another about how he clogged the toilet in his hotel room one harrowing day. It’s as fearless as it is funny.
The special, which was released on Seeso on September 23rd, also marks the first time Posehn has sat in the director’s chair for one of his own specials. If you’ve followed his career, that move shouldn’t come as a shock as he’s one of the hardest-working comics out there, juggling film and TV roles, writing projects and stand-up as ably as anyone. We caught up with Posehn to talk about these many irons in his proverbial fire, the benefits of being as completely forthcoming as he is in his comedy, and his first-ever starring role in the 2015 Christmas-themed comedy Uncle Nick.
Paste: In listening to this album and the previous stuff you’ve put out, you are very honest and a little hard on yourself. Is that almost a cathartic thing to open up about that on stage to a bunch of strangers?
Brian Posehn: I think it is. I mean, it wasn’t intentional, but I don’t go to therapy anymore, so I think that’s honestly… I think you’re perceptive in noticing that. It wasn’t something I decided was gonna be my therapy but I feel like I don’t need to anymore. So it must be because I talk about everything on stage, so…
Paste: I’ve always appreciated that about your stand-up. Especially in this one, you were pretty open about going through a depressive period, and that seems to be something that I hear a lot from different stand ups. Do you have some thought about why it is? Why so many comics are dealing with that?
Posehn: I don’t know. I wonder if…not every funny person I know has been in therapy, but it feels like most of them have. But I feel like a lot of it may, on the surface, seem unrelated to stand-up but like, with my thing, a lot of the reasons I was in therapy were still issues about childhood. And going back to being on stage, I think that’s common with a lot of guys. It’s not a current thing. It’s something super old, and at least with me, I’ve talked about it. I talk about it a lot. I address my childhood. It also has something to do with my tastes being pretty much stuck to a particular time. All the things I liked when I was a kid I still like, and I still wear those on my sleeve.
Paste: You’ve been doing stand-up for quite a while now. Does it feel easier now? Are you able to get up on stage and extemporize, or do you feel like you need to have things partially worked out before you walk up there?
Posehn: I’ve always been the guy that has to prepare. I write everything out. Literally, I used to write the entire joke out. Now it’s all in my head, but everything has to be worked out before I go on stage. That said, there are nights where I’ll riff but it’s not something I set out to do. I know guys who go on stage to work out a bit. With me it’ll just sort of happen. I try to go on stage with everything prepared. Sometimes you get bored and say things a different way and then that sticks. But I’ve always been more for the prepared thing.
As far as stand-up in general being any easier, I mean, the confidence is there but you still run into the same things, at least in my experience. I’m still in comedy clubs. I’m not always playing to my fans, which I do a lot, but I do find myself in front of people with their arms crossed, going, “Is he really talking about Star Wars for 10 minutes? Oh my God, we just sat through a bit about Spider-Man, now this?” So I still run into that. It keeps me on my toes as somebody would say. I don’t know why I said that.
Paste: With this new special that’s coming out on Seeso, you were also the director, which I think is a first-time thing for you, true?
Posehn: For stand-up, yeah. I’ve directed videos and sketches but yeah, that was the first time doing that. And it was with Bobcat Goldthwait, who’s an old pal. With him showing me what to do and how to not fuck it up, basically.
Paste: Always good to have someone like that around!
Posehn: Yeah. He’s an old friend who I’ve known since before I moved to L.A., which was 25 years ago.
Paste: And he’s been doing a lot of directing with his films and the stuff he does for Jimmy Kimmel’s show.
Posehn: I know comics love working with him because he’s one of the coolest guys in the business. and for me, because he’s also a friend, it just makes it easy, you know? if you look at my IMDB, I work with my friends a lot, and that’s for a reason.
Paste: Is directing something you’d like to devote more time to?
Posehn: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, being a horror fan, there’s still the fantasy of doing that: writing and directing a horror film. But outside of that, I’m planning to do more videos. If we do more With Bob and David, I’d love to direct sketches with them.
Paste: You’re known, I think, primarily as a character actor, but last year the movie Uncle Nick that came out, which you had the lead role in. How was that experience for you to carry a project like that?
Posehn: [laughs] It was terrifying. It was something I wanted to do for a long time, and it kinda felt like I wasn’t gonna get to, so when it came up…I loved the script. And the funny thing about it is, a really close friend handed it to me. It was something he was producing with these guys, and I was the number one guy, and I was in their head. It was always written for me. You would think I would’ve sat down and read it immediately, but instead for a million crazy reasons I didn’t read it for a while. I was just like, “Well, it can’t be good if it’s for me!” Finally my buddy kind of beat me up about it. And then the second I read it I was, like, “Oh yeah, this is the thing I’ve been waiting to do.”
I hate all the actor-y things and actor-y clichés, but it was really fun to stretch and get to be in every scene and to really carry it. It was a lot of pressure and I feel like I did pretty….I don’t know, there’s scenes…it’s hard for me to watch but ultimately I’m really proud of it. There was no resting. You’re moving fast when you’re shooting that low budget of a movie. We just banged it out. Luckily there was also no time to sit around and go, “Oh God, I sucked so much in that last scene.” You couldn’t really think about that until you were driving home from Pasadena.
Paste: Is it hard for you to watch yourself in things you’ve acted in?
Posehn: Not for me normally, no. I think what it is is that I’m at my heaviest there. I just lost a ton of weight so that’s a part of it. That’s the 320 lb. version of me, and I have my shirt off, which nobody should see. The fact that people had to use their streaming service or pay money to see my disgusting body. And we have a stunt penis in there. but no one wants to see my real penis either. But this one, the stunt penis, it looked like…I think it was as old as my actual penis. It looked like it had been crafted 50 years ago somewhere in the Valley and has been in movies and had been thrown out of Burt Reynolds’ Trans Am at one point. It looks run over.
But, anyway, there’s a lot of reasons for it to be hard for me to watch. I’ve never cried in a scene, I’ve done fake crying and sitcom-y crying, but…actually that’s not true. There was a Sarah Silverman episode when we adopt a robot and bring him to life. We had to cry like we were losing our real kid, so we did cry for real in that. This was the first time I’ve done a monologue when you have to cry. I’m not a trained actor, as anyone who looks at my work could tell you. For me that was the biggest thing, being able to get through that. So it’s sort of uncomfortable for me to watch now.
Paste: Having done that project and having done something where you’re carrying a film like that, is that something you’d be open to doing the future?
Posehn: Oh absolutely! I’d love to work with Steve Agee again, and we’re talking about something that he and I could carry. We had so much fun for the four years of being the B stories on Sarah Silverman. He and I would love to do something where we’re the A stories, you know? So that’s something I’m looking into doing, finally having my own show. Of course it’ll be with another dude that looks like me.
Paste: Beyond that, do you have anything else you’re working on?
Posehn: I have so many things going on at once always. It’s how I stay sane. I’m finally doing a book. Every one of my friends has done one and every stand-up I know has done one at this point. Open mic-ers at this point are getting deals to write books, so I figured it was finally time for me to do one. I’m doing it with Da Capo Press. I really like the people over there. They’ve done Doug Stanhope’s book and a bunch of metal buddies of mine: Scott Ian and Corey Taylor from Slipknot, the guy from Pantera. It’s why I ended up doing my stand-up album with a metal label. It just makes sense to go where I fit, you know?
Paste: I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a bunch so I apologize in advance, but as someone who wrote for the comic Deadpool for a number of years, how was it to see the movie version of that story?
Posehn: Going into it as a fan already, and I mean…the back story was one of the reasons for me working at Marvel because I’ve been a fan for a long time. I was brought in in the late ‘90s around the Blade movies, when Marvel didn’t have a ton going on. I think it predates even the first Fantastic Four movie, which I also pitched on. I pitched on doing a Deadpool movie like, who knows, 15…almost 20 years ago now. So, part of me was like, “Oh, let’s see how this is!” There was a little bit of that. but I’d heard so many good things and even my writing partner Gerry [Dugan] saw it before I did. He was like, “Dude, they got it! They got the tone.” And I absolutely feel like they did. That’s the voice that was in my head for four years writing it. I feel like they nailed it. And say what you will about Ryan Reynolds…I’ve been a fan, and I think that’s kind of the perfect part for him. He was awesome. And the level of violence…I feel like everybody’s gonna wanna do an R rated superhero movie after that. They proved that you can do it. It’s totally like the comic, as over the top and insane as we always tried to be.
Robert Ham is a regular contributor to Paste and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, out now via Regan Arts. Follow him on Twitter.