Less than a minute into Bert Kreischer’s latest special, he rips his shirt off.
The move is met with thunderous applause in Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, where he shot the hour that’s dropping globally March 14 — though you get the sense that that’s the response wherever Kreischer goes. After all, the married dad of two has been performing bare-chested for as long as he can remember. It’s not so much a gimmick, he says, as it is the way he feels most at ease. “It’s so my comfort zone,” he explains over the phone.
Kreischer’s new set, which he’s titled “Razzle Dazzle,” has him making comedy hay of such subjects as bodily emissions, being bullied by his teen daughters, Georgia and Isla, and the explosive end to his family’s escape room outing. The Jax-produced special, his third for Netflix, is directed by Jeff Tomsic and executive produced by Kreischer, along with his wife LeeAnn, who also features prominently in his material, Tony Hernandez, John Skidmore and Judi Marmel.
He talked at length (and shirtless) about his daughter’s input as well as his comedy aspirations and his experiences in Hollywood.
You’re about to release your fifth special. What was important to you with this set?
I wanted to give my girls a bit of a voice. I don’t know if I totally accomplished it, but that’s what I wanted to do. It’s funny, I’d started writing the material in January 2020 and then they grew up so much during the pandemic. At first, I couldn’t figure out why I was running into such a roadblock with the hour. But what had happened was by the time I recorded it, Georgia was in college and Isla was driving. They’d matured so much. And so I felt like I needed to find ways to show that and to show the fact that they bully me now.
Your whole family features prominently in the hour, and I’m curious to what extent they have input, and what those conversations were like before you go out on stage?
Fucking awkward. (Laughs.)
Well, Isla Grace has become hyper-aware of making sure she’s represented the way she wants to be represented. I made that kid famous by accident. I didn’t think it through, and so she definitely had final edit of that special and the jokes.
But they were still told on stage, yes?
Yes. I said, “Let me tell ’em, if you don’t like ’em, we’ll take them out [of the special].” In the end, if I’m not mistaken, she only took out one. And with that one, she went, “That’s a secret.” She’s always had the ability to say that to me. I mean, some of the funniest things she’s ever said, about her growing up, she was cool enough to let me talk about. Like, her period. But there were other parts of her growing up that she wasn’t comfortable with and she’d say to me, “This doesn’t go on stage.” I remember one time going, “I’ll give you $1,000. This is the funniest thing anyone’s ever said in the fucking world.” I mean, there was a joke in the special that I pulled out that I offered her $10,000 for. I was like, “I’ll give you $10,000. It’s so funny, baby.” And she goes, “Nah, I don’t like it.”
What about your older daughter?
Georgia is my Jiminy Cricket. And I didn’t even realize it until she left for college. Suddenly, I was having a hard time coming up with material and I kept being like, “Why am I stumped?” And what it was was that Georgia and I would watch [my wife] LeeAnn and Isla interact with us, and Georgia would highlight the stuff that was really, really funny. And when Georgia knew it was funny, then I knew it was funny.
She’s your barometer?
Yes. I was stumped one night on stage, and Georgia called me randomly and I answered the call from stage, and the place went nuts. She goes, “Dad, did you talk about the escape room?” Then she told the story on stage.
The one that you tell in the special, I assume?
Yeah. I did the escape room with her and I had actually tried [talking about] it on stage, but I was so far off from what really happened and why it was funny. Georgia was just like, “We only brought you there to watch Papa loose his shit and you have a panic attack, Dad.” And I was like, “Oh that’s right.” She was like, “Don’t you remember, Papa threw Nana into a steamer trunk? You were probably too busy shitting your pants.” And the place is falling apart, just crying laughing listening to her say this stuff. Then she goes, “Mom solved the whole thing and then that old lady scared the shit outta Papa,” and the place just explodes. I literally said to someone after, “Grab a recording of that, that’s how I write this story.”
You tell another story about one of Isla’s school dances, which becomes a story about gender and “wokeness,” which is as close as you come to politics in this set. [The story centers on a teacher who’s eviscerated by L.A. parents because she’d assumed the children’s gender and paired them up boy, girl.] Where’s your comfort level as it relates to politics on stage?
My take is always, “This is how I view the world, comedy first.” And I’ll always defend comedy. The most horrible thing you can say in the most awkward situation sometimes is the funniest, and if it makes one person laugh, for me, it’s always worth it. I largely move away from politics just because I don’t know anything and because my job is to make you laugh. So, with that story, I wanted to be very clear about where I stand. I said, “I want every child in this world to feel 100 percent awesome 100 percent of the time and I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen. That is how I feel.” But there’s also an over-wokeness that happens in Los Angeles where it can get a tad bit tedious and so, if anything, I’m calling my hometown on their shit.
And obviously this was a fucking joke. These people take themselves so seriously. And by the way, I’m in Omaha telling this story, and when I say, “I think every kid should feel awesome 100 percent of the time,” the place goes nuts. And when I say, “I do not care whether my daughter dances with a boy or a girl, I will do everything in my power to love her and support her,” the place goes nuts again. And then when I say, “As long as it’s white,” the place goes nuts again. The joke was right there. How do you not go for it? And those people [in the audience] get it, they get that it’s a joke, and we all love each other and we’re here for the right reasons.
You selected Omaha for your special, and I’m curious what factors into the decision of where to shoot?
That’s a really interesting question and I don’t think enough comics think enough about this. It’s super, super simple: I want to perform in a place that has not seen this hour and I want to perform in a place where I can sell a ton of tickets. Comics will go, “I was in Denver two weeks ago, they were cool, I’ll just do Denver again. They’ve seen it, but it’ll be new people.” No, it’s your fans. You’ve got to be really careful about making sure that you’re showing them what you’re showing the Netflix audience for the first time, so that they respond in the same manner. It’s why I’m hyperaware not to mention where I’m performing when I get on stage. I just go up and do the hour that you’ll see on TV. Another thing, if you’re having trouble with tickets, you need somewhere that’s got good local radio and Omaha does. I’m so glad you asked this question because I think a lot of people would just assume I chose Omaha because it’s a red state and it has absolutely nothing to do with that.
I certainly wondered how the audience factored into your selection. I assume the laughs are in slightly different places or at different volumes as you move across the country...
You’d be shocked but my audience is identical no matter what country I’m in.
Interesting. How would you characterize your fans?
Big dudes with beards with wives that are hotter than they deserve. They’re probably some sort of sports fan. They love beer. They probably love weed. They definitely love a good cigar. They have a big group of friends that they stay tight with. They’re big podcast fans and the majority of them aren’t political. I actually have a buddy who’s running for office in a place that I’m going to, and he asked me to bring him up on stage.
And you said no?
I said, “Absolutely fucking not.” That audience would be like, “Did you just bring politics on stage? Did you really just bring up a politician? I don’t care if you know him, get him the fuck outta here.” These are party dudes and they’re looking to have a good time. And probably some beer products.
You rip your shirt off within seconds of the special starting. Do you ever feel trapped by the whole shirtless gimmick? What happens if you were to lose weight? Or is that a non-starter given how core being shirtless now is to your act?
Lacey, these are the best questions I’ve ever been asked.
I know you mentioned you worked out before this…
I work out mostly so I can maintain my lifestyle. (Laughs.) I would absolutely love to lose weight. I would love it just for comfort reasons. I’d sleep better. I’d have less heartburn at night. I’d move around better. But I do not feel trapped by taking my shirt off. Taking my shirt off is so my comfort zone. Honestly, I feel so much more relaxed without a shirt on, you’d be shocked. I’m shocked. I also do not notice that I’m fat. I think I look good, which I guess is crazy. Like, I’m looking at myself shirtless in the mirror right now, and I’m thinking, “I look great.”
Wait, you’re telling me even this interview is being done shirtless?
Oh yeah. I’m shirtless right now. I mean, I was naked for half of it. (Laughs.)
But I take my shirt off naturally. I’m really just not a big fan of shirts. Like, I remember I went to a big meeting in Hollywood and I had to wear a fucking collared shirt, which is the worst, and we got done and I walked out and ripped my shirt off immediately. It was at CBS Radford.
As in, you were still on the CBS lot?
Still on the lot. And I didn’t realize that the producer was walking out behind me and saw me take my shirt off. He was like, “Dude’s the fucking real deal. He does it for real.”
Speaking of such meetings, do you feel like Hollywood has known what to do with you and your talent?
No. I don’t think they have, but I also don’t think it’s their fault. Listen, actors are so much better than comics in almost every respect. Like, they don’t mind waiting around, they don’t mind getting a line read, they don’t mind listening to a director. It’s like they really love the collaboration. Comics? Comics are like, “No, I know what makes me funny. This is what I do.” And I know I’ve felt that way. Especially when you go up on stage and you make people laugh every night, you feel like, “I know what my recipe is.” So, it’s hard for us to fit in that mold. I’ve certainly had a hard time sitting in a trailer. And a call time? Like, “Hey, we’re not gonna need you until two.” I start going, “How come I can’t get there earlier and help?”
As a comic, you’re used to wearing all of those hats.
Yeah, when we make our thing, we’re the producers, the directors, the writers, the actors. So, it was a learning curve for me. I will say, the people I worked with at Legendary [on his forthcoming movie, The Machine] were so fun to work with. I said to my agents and managers, “I had a fucking blast, if they’re going to be like this, line me up for movies for the rest of my life.”
What made the difference?
They trusted me. Like, really trusted me. They made me feel like I was running the show. Now, I did not run the show, but I felt like I was. (Laughs.)
So, what’s left on your professional bucket list?
I’d like to make more movies. I’d like to continue touring. I’d like to have a media company that does all the BTS for my movies and helps with my marketing the way that Kevin Hart does. I mean, he’s the model. He’s the guy on Mount Olympus. The way that he’s running his business, I can’t believe more of us didn’t pay attention earlier. I’d love to have an eighth of what he has. I’d be the happiest man in the world.