The casually striking suit, the 6-foot, 5-inch big-boned physique and occasional wink-smirk combo, they all jumble to stir up an evocative portrait, something of a gubernatorial funny guy.
“We had to convince people I was really coming,” Vaughn speaks with rising force about his latest pet project, “and, like, what the ‘Wild West Comedy Show’ actually was. People were like, is Vince gonna come and rope horses, what’s happening here?”
It’s really called Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show – 30 Days and 30 Nights – Hollywood to the Heartland, and yes, that’s a mouthful, but a fair summation of Vaughn’s hastily planned, documented comedy excursion into Middle America.
“I had the easy part coming up with the idea. They had to book every venue in six weeks, get the buses,” he says, referring to the film’s producers.
From concept to reality, the tour took Vaughn and his hand picked crop of fresh comedians down the road less traveled.
“I’m from the Midwest, and a lot of the cities outside of Los Angeles and New York, they don’t get the opportunity to see great comedy, the up-and-coming acts, so we wanted to bring that to their own back yards,” he says.
Vaughn acted as host, drawing the crowds with his sizable name recognition. Not a traditional stand-up comic himself, he would partake in unrehearsed skits between acts with random guest stars, oftentimes last second. One skit even finds him and longtime collaborator Jon Favreau working a recreation of a scene from their influential college cult mega-hit of the ’90s, Swingers.
Although such ideas were initially met with rampant enthusiasm, Favreau explains the nature of the comedy club crowd: “As soon as the novelty’s over, it’s unforgiving, you run out of good will. It’s often a beer-swilling college crowd, so we’d go backstage and scramble under pressure, figure out stuff to do.”
One of these instances involved producer Peter Billingsley coming onstage to hollering cheers, celebrating the former child star of A Christmas Story.
“Yeah,” Billingsley admits, “you have a moment, but then it’s ‘ooh, alright, Ralphie. Great. Get off stage.’”
And so the attention turns to the true core of the show, the men who have to deliver the laughs one after another for an entire set – the comics (Sebastian Maniscalco, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Ahmed Ahmed).
Wild West Comedy Show offers a glimpse not only at their stand-up acts, but also into the psychology of the still vulnerable entertainers on the rise, constantly looking for validation, plus an unexpected run-in with Hurricane Katrina that puts the young comics face to face with real human tragedy.
“I chose these guys because their style of humor was from the heart, it was about them, their families, and when you can be personal about yourself, people open up to that,” Vaughn explains. “A lot of comedy is acidic, and I’ve found in life that that can shut people down, make them feel like they’re under attack.”
Reflecting on the film, Vaughn admits he was looking for a challenge, and found one. Billingsley jumps in: “Nobody does 30 nights in a row. We were naïve, crazy. Even rock bands take a night off.”
The entire project was a physically exhausting experience.
The director, Ari Sandel, speaks up: “We shot 18 hours a day, close to 600 hours total, and each city along the way had its own story.”
He describes one shot he reviewed while beginning the long editing process. “The camera just slowly tilted to the side, and I realized I had fallen asleep,” he laughs.
Even before it’s release, some of the comics are reaping the benefits of their high profile exposure from Vince Vaughn. Sebastian Maniscalco mentions he’s gotten his own Comedy Central feature and a DVD release.
“My sister called today to say, ‘I saw myself on HBO with you. I’m a star now,’” John Caparulo smirks, “and I was like, ‘ha, good for you!’”
Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show releases in theaters Feb. 8.