This stand up comic has been on Comedy Central, Wrestling Society X, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, Weeds, and CSI. He’s been all around the United States, coming next month to Boston for the first time. Here’s my interview with Bret Ernst!
Alex Obert: What are your earliest memories of watching stand up comedy?
Bret Ernst: The thing that really got me was when I was a kid, I saw Eddie Murphy Delirious on a VHS tape. I wasn’t supposed to see it, and I saw it. That changed everything.
Alex Obert: What was it about him that you liked?
Bret Ernst: I just never really saw stand up that way. I didn’t really know what it was, I saw it on TV as a kid, but it was that performance that changed everything. It made me go, “Woah! I wanna do that!”
Alex Obert: Where’d you go from there with watching it?
Bret Ernst: HBO used to show a lot, like the Young Comedians Special. I remember seeing guys like Sam Kinison and Dice Clay on HBO. I think stand up is best to watch on cable and back then, HBO was really in the game. And then in the nineties, when they had Def Comedy Jam with Martin Lawrence and all those guys, Joe Torry. I just remember watching that shit as a kid and as a teenager.
Alex Obert: What were you like when you were starting out?
Bret Ernst: Just same old, same old. Open mics, doing jokes about being in my twenties. (laughs)
Alex Obert: Did you experience anything that caught you off guard such as hecklers?
Bret Ernst: Yes, about six months in, I bombed pretty hard. I pissed off a whole crowd.
Alex Obert: How do you get up from that?
Bret Ernst: It didn’t really bother me. It pissed me off that I felt like I failed. But the first time I bombed hard was my first six months. Then I just got back up again. It didn’t deter me in any way. I just said, “Well, I’ll never do that again!” (laughs)
Alex Obert: Who were your colleagues at the time?
Bret Ernst: This was in Florida, so it was a guy named Carl Rimi and this kid named Adrian Mesi. They’re still doing stand up now. When I had started in Florida, Daniel Tosh was already contemplating moving out to LA. He was transitioning. But he was ahead of me already. But I would see Tosh at a couple shows. There was also Jimmy Shubert, but these guys were already in the game. I was just startin’ out.
Alex Obert: Who do you go to see present day?
Bret Ernst: Present day, my favorite comedian is Bill Burr. I love Bill Burr. I love Sebastian Maniscalo, I think he’s great. I love Joe Rogan. There’s a bunch of guys out there that I really like.
Alex Obert: Have you ever been apart of roasting?
Bret Ernst: Yeah technically, I’ve played football my whole life, so all we did was make fun of each other. But never in a roast setting, so to speak.
Alex Obert: Would you be open to doing that?
Bret Ernst: It’s not really my style of comedy, but if I know the people, yeah.
Alex Obert: Several years ago, you were a commentator for Wrestling Society X. Two stand up comedians, like you, ventured into a different television setting on That Metal Show, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine, do you follow them?
Bret Ernst: Jim, I know pretty well. We were just together recently. We did a podcast together. Jim is pretty cool. He’s a good dude. The other guy, I don’t really know that well.
Alex Obert: And speaking of That Metal Show, what’s on your iPod?
Bret Ernst: My choice of music really sucks. I like old school freestyle music, like Stevie B. I love The Carpenters. (laughs) I’ve got a lot of Wu Tang on there. Some country too. As far as rock goes, I’ve got Pantera on there. I’ve got Tool, I like Tool. They don’t suck! Stevie B. sucks, but the rest of them don’t.
Alex Obert: What have you used for intro music over the years?
Bret Ernst: Just anything. I like hip hop. I like Nas.
Alex Obert: How do you feel the life of a comic is similar to that of a musician?
Bret Ernst: There’s so many similarities. Comics, musicians, wrestlers. First of all, we’re all live performers. Second of all, we don’t really make a lot of money up front. And it’s not about the money. Most of us are in it for the love of it. Good musicians put themselves out there, their heart and soul out there. There’s so many similarities between anybody that does a live performance. Again, they put themselves out there. That’s the one thing I wish both sides of the aisle would respect, whether you agree or disagree with somebody. Especially an artist. They put themselves out there and dedicate their life. It’s their lifestyle. Musicians understand, they perform in venues. They perform live. There’s a lot of respect. And the same thing with wrestlers, I remember listening to a couple wrestlers talk and I’m like, “Holy shit! They sound like a comedian’s conversation.” One wrestler’s like, “Hey man, there’s this promoter up in Northern California. He pays two hundred dollars a match. I can get you in on that.” The other guy’s like, “Yeah, that’s great. But if we ride out there, I can’t take my car because it’s not working. Can I ride with you?” It’s all similar to what comics go through. Open mics and driving to four different cities in four weeks. Just getting by so you can do what you love to do.
Alex Obert: What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
Bret Ernst: As far as club gigs, I’ll be at Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan. The 27th through the 30th.
Alex Obert: What do you enjoy about performing in New York City?
Bret Ernst: I love the crowds, man. They can handle edgy, but they’re also smart.
Alex Obert: Where do you like to go to perform and where do you like to go to watch a show?
Bret Ernst: I know it sounds crazy, but I’m not really a fan of stand up, I don’t really go and watch it. When I perform, I’m mostly in LA. As far as cities go, I love New York, I love Chicago, Nashville’s great. Portland, Oregon’s awesome. San Francisco’s great. Denver’s phenomenal, it’s a great city. The Dallas area is great too.
Alex Obert: What do you get out of performing?
Bret Ernst: I like being as honest as possible. I like the honesty of it. Especially in today’s society when everybody’s so polarized. I tend to be pretty smack dab in the middle, to be honest with ya. I don’t know any comics that are real conformists. The honesty is probably my favorite part of stand up.
Alex Obert: Do you listen to a lot of stand up?
Bret Ernst: Just when I work with them. I’ve been doing it for sixteen years. It’s kind of like visiting Disney Land, and then working there. It’s a different ear that you listen to it with. But there’s so many guys I can listen to and realize the brilliance of what they’re saying. This guy I’m working with, Drew Michael in Chicago, he’s great. Young guy coming up, but he’s got some really brilliant bits, although he needs a haircut. (laughs)
Alex Obert: I also understand you have a podcast.
Bret Ernst: Yeah, it’s got two names. I call it The Bret Ernst Show, which isn’t that brilliant of a title. I also call it Another Fucking Podcast because everybody has one. But we were featured on the front page of iTunes for the new and noteworthy ones. We’ve actually picked up a lot of gain, and I was surprised how successful it’s becoming in a short time. I’m not doing Marc Maron and Rogan and Bill Burr type numbers, but we’re doing pretty alright.
Alex Obert: What inspired you to start a podcast?
Bret Ernst: I tend to be very opinionated on things, which is good for a podcast. I’ve had numerous discussions with guys who have said, “Yo, you should do one!” Not that I hesitated, but my schedule was pretty hectic, man. I had like a thirty five week schedule on the road and I originally was at this one studio which folded. I just got with this other one called Network Studios. It was more timing than anything. But I really enjoy the form. My cohost Pete Giovone, we really compliment each other.
Alex Obert: Aside from stand up and podcasts, what else are you into?
Bret Ernst: I’ve been auditioning. I had a couple pilots that didn’t go last year. I love acting, man. I’ve done a couple episodes of Weeds, did CSI. I enjoy the acting aspect of it too, it’s a lot of fun.
Alex Obert: Speaking of TV, a show I mentioned earlier that you were on, how did you get involved with Wrestling Society X?
Bret Ernst: Believe it or not, that was one of my favorite gigs I ever did. At the time, MTV was inquiring about maybe doing something with me. At the time, with their programming, I didn’t know if it was up my alley, so to speak. It wasn’t really anything that I was into. And then my agent called me out of the blue and said, “Listen, I don’t know if you wanna do this or not, but they’re trying to bring professional wrestling to MTV.” And I was like, “You’ve gotta get me in on that, man.” I’m a huge mark, I love wrestling. Always have. My grandfather was involved in it back in the Dennis James era. I just grew up watching it and I just love it, man. I was also a co-host on Roddy Piper’s podcast as well. I’m just a big wrestling fan. I love it.
Alex Obert: What was it like watching the matches with various musicians on WSX and getting to commentate with and get to know these guys, some of which would become big? And then some that were already big, like Zakk Wylde.
Bret Ernst: We would open the show with them performing and then they would come up and we would do an interview. And then we would commentate together on the matches. It was cool, it was cool being around them. It’s cool being around anybody that’s successful in what they do. Zakk was a character, man. I really love that guy. What I like about him, he’s very unapologetic. You could tell this guy’s raised some hell in his life. (laughs)
Alex Obert: What was it that you loved about Wrestling Society X as opposed to the traditional product of other wrestling companies?
Bret Ernst: When that was running, it wasn’t more about the physique, so to speak. You had a lot of undersized guys there that were doing tricks, just flipping off of everything. And they did a lot of hardcore type matches, like the old ECW. And they would fight with chains in the parking lot. We had great storylines and what they were doing in the ring was very acrobatic. It wasn’t so much about being juiced up and ripped. All these guys were good camera men. They could literally put themselves over and they had good characters. And they wrestled with heart, a lot of heart.
Alex Obert: Did you hang out with anyone in particular and get to know them?
Bret Ernst: I became good friends with the guy who played Matt Classic, Colt Cabana. He was really great, man. Really funny guy, lot of personality with that guy. I loved his character, his name was Matt Classic and he wrestled the old school style with the test of strength. I loved his character, which we didn’t really get to showcase that much on the show. But when he would wrestle, he was old school in world of new school. Him trying to wrestle and adapt for the younger guy, it was a pretty cool character. I really enjoyed Matt Classic. I got a kick out of him, I thought he was great. Vic Grimes was great. Everybody that was on that cast. It just seemed that everybody there was very supportive of each other. There wasn’t a lot of hating on each other. They were all in it to win it. They were all hoping the show would have been more of a success, which it was, we tested pretty high with MTV. We were on MTV, MTV2, and the Latino version as well. I don’t know why it fell to the wayside, but it is what it is. MTV changed all their programming. Now it’s a lot more reality stuff. A lot of times, networks will do that. They’ll revamp their lineup.
Alex Obert: I feel like it would have fit better in the days where there was ECW and MTV had shows like Beavis and Butthead.
Bret Ernst: Yeah, I agree.
Alex Obert: The ring announcer was one of the best parts of the show.
Bret Ernst: Yeah, his name there was Fabian Kaelin. He was great, man. He was really into it too.
Alex Obert: How did the setup of the arena develop?
Bret Ernst: Yeah dude, it was great. We had it in a warehouse. It had a great feel. There was an announcer there named Kris Kloss and this other kid named Danny Ramirez, who was a referee there. I believe they were doing underground wrestling throughout the state of California. The people that came to the show were legitimate wrestling fans. They really got a kick out of it. Like I said, it was a lot of fun, man. MTV took a shot, so you’ve gotta give ’em credit for that.
Alex Obert: Next month, you are doing stand up in Boston, do you have any stories of performing there in the past?
Bret Ernst: Actually, it’s my first time in Boston. We were trying to do the Wilbur and the schedule didn’t work out. And they opened up this club called Laugh Boston, it’s a brand new club. I’m excited to come through there, man. I’ve had a bunch of people hit me up saying, “When are you coming to Boston?” So I’m really excited to see the turnout and I’ve been in Boston a hundred times, I’ve just never performed there.
Alex Obert: Where else do you hope to perform in the future?
Bret Ernst: I think Boston is pretty much the last on my bucket list in the United States. Denver was up there and then I started performing there within the past two years. Pretty much been in every major city, man. But I’d like to go over to London. I’d like to go overseas and do some stuff too. I’ve been in Australia and that’s about as far as I’ve gone overseas outside of the country, other than Canada. But that’s still like America as well. And China, believe it or not, is really blowin’ up. A good friend of mine, Butch Bradley, is over there now performing. There’s a real comedy boom going on over there. I’d like to get over there too.
Alex Obert: When you visit various cities, what else do you do while you’re there?
Bret Ernst: I just check out the sights, man. That’s why I love certain cities. There’s a lot of cities with character. You go there, you hang out with the people. But I like to check out the restaurants, like what kind of food they’re known for.
Alex Obert: What are some of your favorites over the years?
Bret Ernst: I love Chicago, it’s got great restaurants. Nashville’s awesome with the great barbecue. I’ve performed in New Orleans. In the French Quarter, they have some great Cajun restaurants over there. Of course, New York. New York is what you think it is. It’s great. New York’s got everything. Nightlife, best restaurants, it’s really a great city. Philly’s awesome too, by the way. I go to the cheesesteak stands, they’ve got Geno’s, Tony Luke’s.
Alex Obert: Do you watch any of the food shows?
Bret Ernst: Yeah, I love the Food Network, man. I love Man v. Food. I actually ate at a place at the place in Connecticut where they have the peanut butter pizza, Wooster Street Pizza. That was pretty strong!
Alex Obert: Speaking of Man v. Food, what else do you watch?
Bret Ernst: Being one of these guys on the road, I binge watch series. I just got done watching Breaking Bad, love that series. I love The Wire, it was phenomenal. Of course, a big fan of The Sopranos. I like Boardwalk Empire, it’s great. You can notice a criminal theme in my choice of viewing, by the way. (laughs)
Alex Obert: And movies, what are some of your all time favorites?
Bret Ernst: Favorite movie of all time is Rocky, hands down. Love The Godfather. Amadeus is one of my favorite films. My favorite comedy is The Jerk with Steve Martin. I love the Airplane movies. Old School was phenomenal. The Hangover movies, those types of comedies. But I’m more into the drama. And I love The Avengers, I love the superhero movies too. I’m a big fan of comic books, man. One of my good friends who actually did the cover of my album is one of Marvel’s top cover artists, his name is Greg Horn. You should check out his artwork, it’s fuckin’ crazy.
Alex Obert: In closing, do you have anything you’d like to plug?
Bret Ernst: Just my podcast, go to my website, breternst.com. You can subscribe to my podcast, I got all my Twitter feeds, everything is consolidated in one area. You can follow me on Twitter, @breternst.
Alex Obert: Alright, sounds good! Thank you very much for your time.
Bret Ernst: You got it, buddy! I appreciate it, man!