Comedy’s Best Friend: Brian Huskey

Photo by Seth Olenick

Brian Huskey is a good man to know, but not in that mafia way. Nope. He’s just your average fall-down-laughing funny man who manages to befriend and work with just about everyone you adore. Currently, Brian plays Chet on Childrens Hospital, contributes to the Onion News Network and keeps stealing screen time in your favorite comedy films.

I recently sat down with Huskey after he recorded his guest spot on the new Apple Sisters episode. We talked about character work, what all the young kids are up to these days and how to fix the Internet.

You’re a longtime UCB performer, particularly with the weekly improv show Soundtrack. How important is it to you to have that weekly creative outlet?

Absolutely important. Maybe more so for my wife, because she can tell when I don’t get to do it a lot. Fred Willard does the same thing. He made it his goal to do an improv show for as long as he could. It’s the equivalent of a session man who has to have his jazz jams. It’s all for yourself, but the audience thinks it’s for them.

You have a very public image as the guy from the Toyota minivan commercials, or the guy from the Sonic ads. But comedy nerds definitely know and love your work, particularly in Los Angeles. Is that a balancing act for you?

The comedy nerd side is what I’d want to do, all the time. And I have had some conflicts with commercial stuff where my comedy doesn’t necessarily jive with theirs. And, again, it’s a slow learning curve for me. I was surprised at the way some people reacted to the comedy things I’d done, because, to me, they hired a comedian. That’s what I was there to do. Now I’m more aware. When I got the Toyota commercials, they found a video I did with Seth Morris called The Smallest Cock in Porn. And they came to me and said ‘what is this?’ But it worked out anyway.

Your characters tend to be just off-center. Do you find that more satisfying that big, outlandish characters?

Yes. I’m really interested-slash-obsessed with the guy who seems to have everything together but just below the surface something is not well. With huge characters, you’re not reacting to anybody. Or everyone is just reacting to you. Groundlings sort of became that style. They’ve actually gotten a lot better. I saw a show when I first moved out about 8 years ago, and it was just catchphrase characters. Like, literally: “Hillbilly Lawyer.” And more recently their stuff is so much more balanced. I also think there’s something more interesting to everyone having the capacity to be a straight man to anybody else. But at some point someone is going to see your quirk.

Photo by Lizel Estipona

How do you feel the comedy landscape has changed around you in the past five years?

People are coming back around to it. Comedy got a little used up and spit out in the late 80’s. Also, UCB has become more of a presence, and – god, this sounds old – but the younger kids are really getting into it. I do sometimes wish there was something like that when we were growing up. It’s just a great place for some really way out-there shows. Obviously, the Internet itself has had a huge impact.

Has that resurgence led to more work for you, as a comedian?

I started (acting) really late. I was a photographer, I was in a band. I moved to New York to do photography, and I got to know Rob Corddry. We were roommates, and we started performing together. But that wasn’t until I was 30 or 31. So for me, I started getting work because I had that ten-year learning curve. And the ice started to break a little bit, but not necessarily because comedy became more popular…there’s also the idea of maintaining a presence, just being around… I heard a story the other day about Richard Dreyfus and how he just decided he was going to be a celebrity, not just an actor. Everyone thinks ‘how did Richard Dreyfus become famous? He’s just this neurotic man about to explode.” For whatever reason, that’s the thing that’s been the hardest for me to figure out: how to maintain that presence. I’m slow to learn any of this business stuff.

Speaking of presence, you’re pretty active on Twitter, but don’t have a Tumblr. And are probably the only comedian in Los Angeles who doesn’t have a podcast.

There are people who have an understanding of how to use all of those different mediums, and I am not that guy. I think it’s like music, where someone has to turn me on to it, but I’ll never search for it myself. If it’s not within my arm’s reach, really, I can’t comprehend it.

In terms of podcasts, I think you really have to have an interest in that stuff. There are so many now, that it’s almost like making internet videos. It’s daunting, the idea of just dumping this thing into the bubbling soup of the Internet.

My wife and I have this debate: if the Beatles could exist now, is this a time in history when they could cut through the digital noise and still be a worldwide phenomenon? It’s hard to know. Are the odds lesser because there are more people putting their own creativity into the same space for others to find it, or are they better now because back then there weren’t all of these avenues for success? What would their cultural reach be?

How important is free content to ultimately getting paid for what you do?

One leads to the other. Ultimately, I think the free content is just another tool…monetizing it is always a risky proposition. The internet is such a random place. The business model of those who figured it out is all based on convenience. Amazon, Google, they just cater to peoples’ needs. I mean, was there ever a time when TV first came around, when they started to say they would charge for the transmission of the airwaves?

I don’t know if the difference is that the networks built their own infrastructure to broadcast out their signals. It’s the reverse with the internet. It just exists. And that’s where the money falls off. The closest the internet came was Chatroulette. Just sending out content and getting paid in penises.

Brian Huskey is a comedian currently living in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter: @thebrianhuskey.
You can also see him on tonight’s (August 18th) episode of Children’s Hospital as Chet, alongside Earwolf hosts Rob Huebel and Kulap Vilaysack.