with Kam Williams
Headline: Aspiring Comic Talks about His Big Break
Born in Princeton, NJ, Bret Ernst spent nine years paying dues on the comedy circuit after college before landing his big break. That arrived in 2005 when actor Vince Vaughn tapped him along with three other up-and-coming comedians to perform in the Wild West Comedy Show. Now, the concert film of their barnstorming tour of 30 cities in 30 days has arrived in theaters, giving Bret a shot at national fame, as the movie will undoubtedly familiarize audiences all across the country with his face and name.
Here, he talks about Vince and his co-stars, about making the movie and about his hopes for his career.
KW: Hi Bret. I heard you’re from my hometown, Princeton.
BE: Well, I was born there, it’s on my birth certificate, but I was a baby when we moved to Passaic. It sucks being born in Princeton, and then ending up in community college. It set the bar pretty high for me.
KW: In the movie, I found it touching when you spoke backstage about your older brother dying from AIDS. Is that part of your act, too?
BE: In my act, I talk about him in the present tense, just because I don’t want the crowd to feel uncomfortable. The gift of being a comic is being as open and truthful as possible. I had also lost my father as well while growing up. I was talking about it one night, and it was weird because my father took his own life.
I was joking about it, and there was a lady in the crowd whose son had committed suicide, By no means do I like talking about it, if it’s going to make people uncomfortable, but at the same time, it is my life. Afterwards, she came up to me, crying, and said that it was the anniversary of her son’s death, and that it made her feel better. The point I’m making is that when you’re open about yourself, you expose yourself to people. And the gift that I have is that I know everybody is the same. Everybody has the same wants and the same fears.
KW: I liked that you guys took a break from the tour to visit Katrina victims, too. The movie wasn’t just comedy, but it had a heart as well.
BE: Well, thank you. You have to credit Vince and the filmmakers for that.
KW: Are you still friends with the other three comedians in the movie, John “Cap” Caparulo, Sebastian Maniscalco and Ahmed Ahmed?
BE: Oh, yeah, of course. In fact, Sebastian, was just now calling me while I was talking to you. We’re all close. We had years in the trenches together even before this movie. We knew each other’s families, watched Super Bowls together, hung out and did stuff together.
KW: In the film, you’re shown as being very hard on yourself after one performance, even though the crowd was raving about you. Why was that?
BE: You know, man, I’m sure you’re the same way. I’m always trying to outdo my last performance. That’s the only way you get better. You have to challenge yourself and be honest with yourself. That night, I stumbled over some of my words, so I just wasn’t happy with my performance, even though the crowd liked it.
KW: How did you decide to try standup comedy in the first place?
BE: I always wanted to do it. But my first dream had actually been to play in the NFL. I played football in college, but in the back of my mind I knew I was good at making people laugh. I was always the class clown. I went to some rough schools growing up, where I became good at “Yo’ Momma” jokes.
KW: Was this a black neighborhood?
BE: Yeah, predominantly black. That’s really how I got into it. And playing sports, I was always in the locker room, ranking on people, going for the jugular. So, it was always something I wanted to do professionally. To make a long story boring, I would do open mic nights, and then I had a hi-hop show in college where people would call in to try to get me with their ”Yo’ Momma” jokes, and I would get them back. That became my thing. That’s kinda’ how I got my start. So, I knew I could write radio scripts. And once I graduated from college, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I just started going and going and going and going, and haven’t stopped since.
KW: Jimmy Bayan, realtor to the stars, is curious about where in Los Angeles you live?
BE: I live in North Hollywood.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Would you describe yourself as happy?
BE: Yeah, man, I’m happy. You have your bumps and bruises, but you can’t dwell on that. I’m definitely happy. I like that: Are you happy? That’s a good question.
KW: The Chip and Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
BE: I’m reading it right now, actually, Freakonomics.
KW: Oh, yeah, that’s excellent. I reviewed that.
BE: And I also actually just finished the Steve Martin autobiography, Born Standing Up.
KW: How is it? I want to read that.
BE: It’s very good, but it’s not like Pryor Convictions, though. I’d read that one first, because Richard [Pryor], just like he was with his standup, was very open in his book. I love reading biographies, people’s journeys. Like, if you look at how Malcolm X started, and that whole journey from being a criminal to becoming a preacher to becoming an activist to, at the very end, understanding where he was wrong.
KW: How do you expect this movie to change your life?
BE: I don’t know, dude, there’s no way to gauge that. This is a tough business. I expect something to happen, but I don’t know whether it’ll be great, or something minor. But I’m very excited, and very thankful. You hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I don’t know what else to do.
KW: Another moving moment was at the end of the tour when Sebastian started crying, thanking Vince, and saying no one had ever given him a break before.
BE: You know, I got upset, too, but I ran behind the curtain. I wasn’t man enough to let anybody see me cry. I told the cameraman I’d break his camera if he filmed me. At least Sebastian was man enough to cry on camera. We were all pretty affected by it. Once he started, everybody else followed suit. It was a very moving moment.
KW: Vince Vaughn seems like a really nice guy from all the backstage footage.
BE: I always ask this about somebody. First of all, is he still friends with the kids he grew up with? Second of all, when somebody leaves the room, does he start talking about him? That’s a quality of a dude I don’t want to be around. If you ain’t friends with the people you came up with, that means there’s something wrong with you. And if you’re going to talk about somebody when they leave, that means you’re going to talk about me, too. Vince is friends with everybody he came up with. He’s a loyal guy. Look at what he did for us, putting his stamp on four guys nobody knew. He liked us from seeing us in the comedy clubs. That’s a testament to who he is. What you see is what you get with him, and that’s really rare in Hollywood.
KW: Is there anywhere that fans can reach you?
BE: Yeah at www.breternstlive.com/.
KW: Well, thanks for the time, Bret, and best of luck with your career.
BE: Anytime. Take care, man.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
with Kam Williams