In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Comedian, podcaster, and actor Kurt Braunohler is a fan of the absurd. He once raised $4,000 to pay a skywriter to pen “How Do I Land” over Los Angeles, and he’s tubed the disgusting L.A. river and driven a Jet-Ski down the Mississippi from Chicago to New Orleans. While his latest professional project—a Comedy Central special called Kurt Braunohler: Trust Me, premiering this Friday night—is a little more straightforward than, say, a 12-minute version of “Kristen Schaal Is A Horse,” he’s also about to become a dad for the first time, something that should provide him with plenty of opportunities to subvert the mundane for years to come.
1. If you could spend the rest of your life inside one movie or TV show, what would it be and why?
Kurt Braunohler: It would be The Abyss. That was my favorite movie probably from age 12 until I was in college.
Well, it’s either The Abyss or the movie North Shore. They’re both water-based. North Shore is kind of a B surf movie, but it’s the most classic surf movie. That was my favorite movie before The Abyss. But then The Abyss seems great because it seems like it would have a future, because you’re going to interact with really smart aliens who want to help humanity. It feels like that has more legs to it.
The A.V. Club: Kyle Kinane told me that he and his sister used to quote North Shore all the time when they were growing up and that it was the peak of hilarity to them.
KB: It is a very funny movie. I can quote it. I can probably repeat every single line in the movie. It’s probably the movie I’ve watched the most in my life, which probably says too much about me.
AVC: Did you own it?
KB: Oh no. We would rent it. We would rent it over and over and over again.
2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase? How often do you use it, and what circumstances?
KB: Honestly, when I am by myself, I’m ashamed to say that I definitely use the word “cunt,” but to yell at men. And I only call men cunts. I’m kind of thinking of it more in the British sense. In the British sense, you call your mom a cunt and that’s not offensive. It just has such a pop. It feels like a verbal punch because of the hard “c” and “t” at the end. It feels more evil than “fuck,” I think.
AVC: “Fuck” has become such a nothing word. It doesn’t have any heft.
KB: I want to try and stop using “fuck.” I was watching the special and I realized how much I just casually said “fuck,” and I wasn’t happy with it. I want “fuck” to be purposeful. I do think that each time I say it, it is for emphasis, but I feel like there were too many fucks in my special.
AVC: When you’re saying “cunt” and you’re talking about dudes, are you sitting at home just like, “Oh man, that guy’s a cunt”? How are you using it?
KB: No, it’s driving. “Cunt” is primarily a driving word. “You fucking cunt, just go!” Like that.
Also when ordering ice cream. “I would like some ice cream, you fucking cunt.” That’s the two times I use it. But then it’s very playful.
3. How did you spend your last birthday?
KB: Well, today is my birthday, but I haven’t done anything today.
AVC: Happy birthday!
KB: Thank you.
Last year, I forced all of my friends to backpack and hike four miles up a mountain to spend the weekend in a cabin up in the middle of nowhere. Many of my friends really did not like that at all. So I spent my birthday torturing good friends.
AVC: What are you doing this year for your birthday? Do you have plans tonight?
KB: I’m not doing anything. I’m waiting for my daughter to be born, so I’m just keeping it pretty chill.
AVC: Next year, you’ll have a cool dad birthday.
KB: Exactly. This is when birthdays die for me and become just for someone else. I had the last big hurrah last year, and now I’m very satisfied. I’ve had a good run of birthdays, and now no one will notice when I die.
AVC: You should at least order takeout or something.
KB: I think my wife is going to take me out to dinner. Something pretty chill.
4. What’s the worst professional advice you ever received?
KB: I’ve thought about this a lot. I do have an answer for you, but I feel like, in general, people never give me advice. I don’t know why, because I want it desperately. I still want advice. I don’t know why people think I don’t. I have theories on, maybe, why people don’t give me advice, but every comic I talk to, they’re like, “When I was starting out, this guy told me to never touch the mic stand,” or, “This guy told me blah blah blah,” and I’m like, “No one ever fucking told me anything.” I was looking for it! I needed to be told things so badly. But no one ever told me anything, and I really wish they had.
One thing that my buddy told me was more advice on going in for auditioning. He’s a great actor, and he books everything he auditions for. He told me to just always be late. Like, be really late. And then go in and act like you don’t give a shit about them. I tried it. It doesn’t work for me. They just wouldn’t see me. But that’s what he would do, and it would work for him somehow. I don’t really understand it. He’s just got that specific fuck-you vibe.
AVC: Have you ever gotten bad feedback from an audition?
KB: No, but right after I finished taping the special, a good friend of mine who saw the taping came up to me and was like, “The special’s so good. If I have just one note for you, you should lose this whole piece.” And I was like, “That’s the title of this special. That’s the through-line to the whole thing. You want me to get rid of the whole reason for the existence of the special?” And then she was like, “Forget it, forget it. Don’t worry about it.” And then I just fucking freaked out for weeks, because it was already done. There was nothing I can do.
AVC: Have you given anyone bad advice?
KB: Probably all of my advice is bad advice.
My wife and I actually have a new show coming out on Audible on April 17. It’s a relationship show, and at the end, we give advice, and our advice should not be taken, really. It goes off the rails. So, yes. I have given people bad advice over and over and over again.
5. If you were a medical doctor, what kind of doctor would you be and why?
KB: Well, first off, I would want to be a pretty chill doctor.
AVC: Not an ER doctor?
KB: Not an ER doctor.
My mom was a pediatric nurse, so I think I’m just going to have to say I would be a general pediatrician and just deal with kids. You probably have neurotic moms, but you don’t have kids who are hypochondriacs, for the most part. I think that’s probably the most annoying part of being just a regular general practitioner is hypochondriacs, who just say, “Something’s always wrong,” and you have to make stuff up for them.
6. What’s your perfect Sunday?
KB: I’m just going to answer this earnestly. Is that the intention? Because I could make shit up here.
AVC: No, earnestly is fine.
KB: I wake up early and we go on a big hike somewhere beautiful. Well, no. Here’s what it would be: It would be surfing in the morning, hiking in the midday, and then meeting friends at a bar at like 3 p.m. and getting drunk and then watching television at night. That’s ideal. A perfect day.
AVC: Day-drinking figures prominently into mine as well. It just feels like the laziest, nicest thing to do.
KB: It really is. It’s just like, “You’re not getting anything out of me, suckers! I’m drunk at 3!”
7. What you get snobby about?
KB: I used to be really snobby about music. I’m not as snobby as I used to be, though. I have this great bit about not getting mad about music anymore. It just happens when you get older.
I think I’m probably only snobby about comedy at this point. I watched a special on Netflix last night—and I will not, of course, name what it was—but I watched it, and in the first five minutes, I was just like, “Holy shit.” I couldn’t stop talking about how terrible it was. I was shocked that it was on my television. And so I think comedy is probably the only thing. But that’s not even, like, a snobbishness. It’s almost always a self-comparison on some level, so it’s even grosser because it’s more tinged with jealousy.
Maybe I’m snobbish about surfing. That’s a possibility, but I’m also not good enough at surfing to be really snobby.
AVC: How can you be snobby about surfing? What are you snobbish about?
KB: Oh, there are so many things. There are unstated rules that happen in the water, even the way you put your board on your roof. There’s a way to do things that I think is right, and if you do it the wrong way, I think you’re a kook. The way you wear your pants. The way you wear your wet suit. Everything. I could be snotty. But, again, as I get older, it’s just like, “who gives a shit?” Everybody’s pretty dumb about most things. Give them a pass.
AVC: How long have you been surfing?
KB: Since I was 14. I grew up surfing. That’s all I wanted to do.
AVC: Well, then you have the right to be at least a little bit snobby about people cutting in front of you on waves. And as far as comedy goes, that’s your job. You know when it’s done properly or not.
KB: Yeah, but I used to be very snobby about music. I was a real dick about it. And really, it took marrying someone for that to change. I married my wife, and my wife and I, our music tastes couldn’t be more different, and so I’ve simply given up that snobbishness because otherwise it would be impossible to co-habitate in the same house.
AVC: Are you an indie rock nerd?
KB: At my peak snobbishness it was probably punk and indie rock. I would say she’s a little too indie rock, but she also comes from more of a ’90s old school hip-hop background.
AVC: When all your friends are music nerds, it’s very easy to become very myopic about it.
KB: And then you think that’s all there is. And then you realize, “Oh no, you’re the weirdo for knowing minutiae about Steve Albini’s recording schedule in 1992.”
AVC: Steve is the ultimate snob.
KB: Even he’s chilled out.
I got to meet him. I did a show at the Hideout in Chicago and got to meet him and it was like all my indie rock dreams came true. I did not explain to him that I had a glorious mushroom trip in 1992 that centered completely around him and that he was the definition of life itself. I didn’t get a chance to tell him that.
8. What book have you read the most?
KB: God damn, these are so revealing. I’m just going to reveal myself to be a very shallow, shallow person.
I don’t really read books, but I think I’ve read this book twice or three times. It’s a sci-fi trilogy by this guy Dan Simmons and it’s called Hyperion. It’s the Hyperion trilogy. It’s very well written. To make it sound better, the first one is kind of a reinterpretation of Canterbury Tales, which is nice, but then after that it’s just action, sci-fi, and weird shit happening.
AVC: Why did you read that more than once?
KB: I love it. It’s a great story and super fascinating and interesting. There are a bunch of different stories in there that involve time-travel romance, which is probably my favorite genre of story to read, and I always think that’s very heartbreaking.
AVC: Are you into all the time-travel shows that are out now? There are quite a lot of them.
KB: I really like Travelers. It was a Canadian show that’s now on Netflix. It’s excellent.
9. What are you afraid of?
KB: That’s been a question that I’ve been sitting down with when I’ve been writing stand-up recently, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
AVC: Becoming a dad is probably scary.
KB: Yeah, that’s the main thing. It’s a) becoming a dad—that’s what I’m definitely most scared of—and then b) after I become a dad, it’s having a daughter, because I think it’s just terrifying. Women in the world get the short end of the stick all the time in many, many ways, and so it’s just terrifying to be like, “Well, this is the world we chose to bring you into. I’m sorry.” It’s not knowing how to prepare for that.
AVC: At least you’re aware of it. That’s a step in the right direction.
KB: It doesn’t help much, though. It’s like a step against a fucking tsunami wave.
AVC: Do you feel as prepared as you can be for your daughter?
KB: We’re very close and ready for it to happen. Now it’s the torture of waiting.
AVC: You’ll never be as prepared as you would like to be.
KB: No, and that’s the thing, too. You just do it.
10. Who are you a big fan of that we wouldn’t necessarily guess that you’re a big fan of?
KB: I would say Doug Stanhope. That’s something you might not guess from my comedy, but I love watching his stand-up. I think there are always things that surprise and overwhelm me in how insightful it is while at the same time being so offensive. It’s really, really smart, and well thought out. He’s doing comedy that is always concerned with justice on some level, and I think that’s incredibly admirable. It just makes me laugh so much.
11. What advice would you give your younger self?
KB: Start stand-up earlier. I started when I was 29. That’s really late for anybody.
I was doing improv from 22 to 29, and I thought I could make a living doing improv, and then after seven years of still having a day job, I was like, “Maybe I need to fucking write something.”
I had been waiting. I’d been like, “I’ll write something when I have something to say.” That’s what I kept saying to myself. And it’s like, “No, you fucking idiot. Just start writing and you’ll find what you want to say.” If you’re waiting for inspiration, you’ll wait until you’re dead.
That’s what I wish I had done. I just wish I’d started writing comedy when I started performing comedy.
AVC: At least the improv probably prepared you in some sense for doing stand-up.
KB: Eh. It is such a different beat. I’m happy I have all the improv experience that I have, but after three years, honestly, you just delve into the fucking minutiae of improv and it’s all about creating a scene—creating mini plays, essentially—which after you fucking get it under your belt, you’ve got it. I was teaching after three years. Once you start teaching, it’s like, “Okay, I’ve learned what I’m going to learn here.”
At 29 years old, it was like I completely started over again. 100 percent, started from the bottom, which was very humbling for someone who has been doing improv for seven years. And when you’re doing improv for seven years, you’re an old soul of the improv world. But at the time, I just found it so exciting that I didn’t find it frustrating to start over.
AVC: Do you think it’s harder to make a living off improv or stand-up? Are there more stand-up jobs or improv jobs?
KB: It’s so much harder to make a living off improv. Improv is so rarified and for such a specific audience. Improv requires your audience to be informed about what improv is. With stand-up, anybody can sit down and watch stand-up and laugh at jokes. That’s the reason I finally got out of it. I put so much energy into with improv. You can only perform it at a place where people are, essentially, taking improv classes so that they just appreciate what’s happening.
That’s what’s cool about stand-up. You can just fucking plop it down in the middle of anywhere with people who are actively hostile to laughing, which is a lot of clubs, and fucking force them to laugh.
Bonus 12th question from John Larroquette: Who is one person that you’ve met that you regret not becoming better acquainted with?
KB: I mean, so many people. There are so many people that I’ve met, and I just never paid attention to anything other than having fun most of my life. Only in maybe the past six years did I start thinking of what I do for a living as a valuable craft that needs to be nurtured in some way. And so, for the most part, I just was like, “Yeah, nice to meet you,” and just walked away. I’ve met so many great comedians and never followed up with them, never did anything. I was just in my own little fucking weirdo world. So I would say almost everyone? I don’t have a specific regret.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person, not knowing who you’re asking?
KB: “How many times do you have to fail at something before you think, ‘Maybe this just isn’t for me’”?
AVC: Do you have an answer for that?
KB: I was just talking about this with my friend yesterday, who is a sculptor. He’s a marble sculptor, and that’s a very specific thing. We were both talking about how both of our lives, or the majority of our lives, are filled with rejection. You’re just working all the time and almost 99.99 percent of the time, all you hear is the word “no,” and so we’re both asking ourselves, “How long do you continue to do this thing?”
I don’t have an answer for it. Well, I mean the answer is that you just can keep doing it. It’s the only thing I know how to do. So I don’t have another choice. I’m just going to keep doing comedy because I don’t know what else to do. I have no other applicable skills. And he’s kind of in the same boat, too. So my answer would be: Paint yourself into a corner so that you don’t have any other option but to continue forward.
AVC: Well, with some caveats. You wouldn’t be like, “I’m going to start getting into dunking basketballs, no matter what.” You’d understand that you can’t will yourself into doing that.
KB: I mean, I am I am six-foot-four. Maybe I could get into dunking basketballs.
Usually something minorly hard, I’ll give up right away. If I haven’t given up right away, I guess I have to just stick it out.