Baron Vaughn is one funny dude with the coolest name in stand up. His style is super high energy, fun and just plain silly. Perfect for SO! He’s been on a number of TV shows from late night appearances to his role as Leo on “Fairly Legal” (the shows best character!). We’re positive you’ve seen him before and we know you love him. We had the pleasure of talking with him, so dig into this one with the wonderful Baron Vaughn.
Serial Optimist: Hello Baron! How are you? We’re very happy to talk to you! You seem like a very smart guy. So, first things first, what was the last book you read and what was it about.
Baron Vaughn: I’m always reading a few things at a time. Sex at Dawn – a very controversial book about human sexuality that bucks a lot of societal norms. Marriage: A History – a controversial book about the age-old institution proving the fact there’s no such thing as “traditional marriage.” And Controversial Book* – A controversial book about how books can become controversial. (*Not real)
SO: That last one seems the most realistic. Did growing up in Las Vegas foster your love of performing? Or did your family help more with that side of things? Were you always interested in being a comic/actor as a child?
Baron: I was always conscious of performers growing up in Vegas. It was impossible to avoid commercials, billboards, and the like. “Singers! Dancers! Magicians! Comedians!”
I was being yelled at by signs ALL THE TIME. I was all “Shut up, signs!”
And they’d be all “I SAID Singers! Dancers! Magicians! Comedians!”
And I was all, “Wait a minute yo. Yo money. What was that last one yo?”
I was fortunate enough to go to a performing arts high school in Vegas. My family was supportive as well. Of course, there are darker truths about my childhood to talk about, but I’ll save those for my stand up when I can buffer the discomfort with pee pee and poo poo jokes.
SO: I want to see those talking signs! And I’m so glad you listened! Keeping on the stand up track, who gave you your big break in that world?
Baron: Not sure if there’s one clean answer to this question, but I’ll give a lot of credit to Lisa Leingang who was the first “industry person” to lay eyes on me. Back when I was doing lots of bringer shows in NYC, there was one at the original Gotham I loved. One time, Jim Gaffigan (one of the first comedians to talk to me and treat me like a real comedian) stopped by to do a set and there was an NBC camera crew following him around or something (someone told me, didn’t see for myself). Next day, I got a call from a random 212 number. It was Lisa. She was working for NBC. She saw my set at the show and was just curious to know how long I’d been doing stand up. She said some very nice and encouraging things. Felt nice and encouraged. That year, I auditioned for the now defunct HBO Fest in Aspen. Didn’t get it, but I came to find out that Lisa put my name forward as a person they should see. The following year, I got it.
SO: Way to go Lisa! You’ve accepted your nerdy side now, but what was life for you like when you wanted to hide it? Any embarrassing stories?
Baron: I never hid it. I never thought of myself as a nerd as much as I thought of myself as whoever I had to be at that time. There was never an identity I claimed because I knew I would change with the more I learned. Also, I was a social chameleon. I could fit in in most circles. I was a good navigator. So, to me, the whole story in itself is embarrassing. Nothing particular springs to mind. Yet.
Baron: Victor Varnado had the idea for the format of the show with the stand up, storytelling, and animation. So he spearheaded the whole production and asked some comedy friends to do it. Was a really fun experience and experiment. I met Eric in NYC maybe in 2005. I was aware of him because we both had roots in the Boston comedy scene. We didn’t really start to become friends until maybe 2007ish. As of late, we’ve lost touch. Friendships happen in waves. Right now it’s a wave of Twitter replies.
SO: Your CDwas released in 2011. How does it feel to have all that material recorded and available for the world to hear? Do you do any of it on stage now? Do you literally feel like you were raised by cable?
Baron: Very happy with my CD. Very glad that material is out there. I think it’s solid and a good representation of who and what I was at that time. I’m trying to move in a different direction now. I’m evolving. At least I hope I am. Or I’m wasting my time.
I have a new hour of material since I did that CD and am still writing. On the road, probably 10% of my act right now is stuff from the CD. At least half of the Comedy Central special is from the new stuff.
I learned a lot about life from TV and movies. It reflects back all the things we think and do. My parents were concerned I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between TV and reality. On the contrary, when people behave in a way I saw on TV I would always think, “People do that? That’s not real.”
Baron On Conan
SO: I think that about people too! Like, “Hey, person, stop acting like a TV character!” So, how was playing the character, Leo, on “Fairly Legal?” Did you have time to do stand up while shooting? Do you miss it?
Baron: Filming a show is really fun. Especially when you’re with a cast and crew you like. I really genuinely liked the people I was working with on “Fairly Legal.” It was fun to be on set hanging in Vancouver. Yeah, we shot in Vancouver! It was cold and the money looks weird! DOLLARS ARE COINS ‘N SHIT! I actually didn’t do a lot of stand up first season. I didn’t know a lot of Canadian comedians and didn’t want to come off as a dick saying “I’m big in the states” in order to get on shows. I didn’t do stand up for 4 months when I shot the 1st season. That’s the longest I’ve gone without doing it for my 11 years. Second season, I made sure to correspond with comics and did a lot of shows. I also drove down to Seattle quite a bit to do shows. I refused to get rusty again.
SO: Why did you start your podcast Deep S##! and do you enjoy recording it? Is it more about the guests you get or would you also be happy with just you and a mic?
Baron: I enjoy doing the cast of the pod. I like having that forum to find out exactly what it is I think and feel about things without the urgent pressure to turn it into bits. It allows me to more effectively turn them into bits. I have my little introduction and signoff before each episode around the guest in the middle (known as The Maron Model), so I have my soliloquies and enjoy them. However, I enjoy being able to bounce ideas of a funny/smart/interesting person even more.
SO: You recently taped your own Comedy Central’s “The Half Hour” in Boston. How excited are you for it to air? Did it feel good to tape it in that city?
Baron: I’m looking forward to the “The Half Hour” airing. Excited to see what people think about it. It’s a really great calling card to have as a comedian. I’m especially excited to see how much I’ll have changed from that person in a year or two.
Boston is where I started doing comedy. And the first room I went up in is right around the corner from where we taped. It added a sprinkle of history and progress for me. Really enjoyed the audiences; not the cold.
SO: Homecoming at its best. Baron, you have a few late night spots under your belt (“Conan,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”). This is a recent debate, so, do you feel like it’s still important for comedians to have these late night sets? Does it still help a comedian’s career?
Baron: The only people who care about those spots are other comedians. The people who watch the show tune in to see the host and maybe one of the guests. It’s a show named after a guy they’re watching on screen the whole time. And a comic is the 5 minutes right after the host says, “And now? Not Me!” You have to have done all those spots and then some for the exposure you got from just one appearance 20 years ago. So is one late night spot an amazing boast? No. Are 10 spots? Maybe. They help in the sense that they prove you must be doing something right. It used to be that getting on those shows meant, “I made it!” Now, they mean, “I’ve started!”
SO: Which is a greater treasure, love or fame?
I recently drove by a cemetery on a hill. There was a funeral happening. As I slowly drifted by, I saw the cars parked up the hill spilling mourners into the afternoon. It was not a conservative amount of cars, and it wasn’t a ridiculous amount. It was like the porridge in the middle: just right. It was an amount that let me know all those people meant it. I remember thinking, “Wow, if I get that exact number of people show up to my funeral, I did good. Any more or any less, I’m a dickle cheese.”
SO: Thanks Baron! And double thanks for giving us the phrase “dickle cheese!”
SO Note: Baron Vaughn ladies and gentleman! Follow him @barvonblaq. He’s super funny, I wouldn’t lie to you. Check out his website baronvaughn.com. Subscribe to his podcast Deep S##! on iTunes. And keep an eye out for his “The Half Hour” episode on Comedy Central!