WE TALKED WITH BRAD GAGE, a Franklin-born writer, actor and host based in Los Angeles, about his Wisconsin roots and his new show on Social Club TV, “Munchie Run,” in which he takes baked comedians to fast-food drive-thrus, getting their best weed stories along the way.
What was it like growing up in Franklin?
I think growing up in Franklin, at least looking back, is kind of a classic Americana situation. I grew up watching shows like “The Wonder Years,” which was shot in California, but shows like that depict this kind of picturesque small town feel where you know your neighbors and you ride your bike around and it’s just kind of the this ideal of the American life of a young kid growing up, which I think we know now is the white experience of America growing up. It has exactly been the same for the African American community and other POC communities. But that was what I had in Franklin.
How did you become interested in acting and comedy?
I loved goofing around, and one of those things, those adaptive behaviors that I took on as a kid when I was okay at sports and I was not super popular, is comedy. I memorized all of the Dr. Evil parts of “Austin Powers” and I would do a bunch of the Will Ferrell sketches and Chris Farley sketches at the lunchroom table. I really found a place there and luckily, it worked out. And so I, from a very young age, was interested in acting and Hollywood and being in movies and stuff like that. I was pretty dead set on moving to Los Angeles pretty much ever since I was maybe five or six years old.
And were there any opportunities in Franklin that helped foster that love for entertainment?
I owe — and I tell her all the time — I owe so much of my early development as a storyteller, as someone who’s literate at media, I mean, media literacy was taught so strongly in our TV tech program, and that was Gail DeClark. Gail is still a friend of mine and a big proponent of the work I’m doing. I talk with her frequently. She ran the TV tech program [at Franklin High School] pretty much single handedly. […] Her program was fantastic. We learned how to edit, how to storyboard and shoot and create a show and write things and be aware of the message that we’re conveying, being aware of what types of audience we’re going after.
A huge thing was every two years, she would take the TV tech older kids, usually seniors and juniors, on a trip to Los Angeles. And that was completely eye-opening and my first taste of what it could be like. She took us to the Jay Leno “Tonight Show” back in the day because she knew producers and Jay came out and talked to us specifically. We went to “Mad TV.” She knew all these producers on shows like “The Amazing Race” and “The Simpsons,” and it was just fantastic. She still does this, and I have given talks — she has a panel of people out here — I’ve done talks with Tom Kenny, who’s the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and has done a bunch of other stuff. I’ve been on this panel with people like that and spoken to the kids, and I think, you know, some of them are just there for a trip and some of them are truly interested in a career in the entertainment industry, and I think it’s something that probably a lot of schools don’t have the resources for or access to, or the type of person like Gail. And so I do owe her a lot, but she knows it because I thank her all the time.
How does your Wisconsin upbringing come through in your comedy? I know we’re pretty easy to make fun of.
I think the accent is fun to use. I have a sketch that did pretty well on Facebook that was me basically doing a Wisconsin accent as a version of one of my uncles talking to camera about how ridiculous things are in Los Angeles compared to southeastern Wisconsin. I think that connected with a lot of people in Wisconsin because there’s a lot of pride there. And to me, I mean, people have, since I came out here, just sensed a Midwestern-ness. And I think that is a kindness, an openness, a politeness. And I don’t have hard edges the same way that people from other parts of the country might, and I like that!
What was your inspiration for “Munchie Run” and how did it get made?
It originated with a YouTube show called “Drunk Driving.” It’s the same premise as “Munchie Run,” just with alcohol. I released the first episode of that in 2015 or maybe 2014, and so I’ve been working on this idea for about six years. And it was just a combination of wanting to hang out with some of my favorite comedians, to celebrate my love of alcohol and the culture, the stories. A lot of people drink, a lot of people have partied in their past, high school, college and beyond, and everybody has a drinking story, for the most part. And usually they’re some of our most epic stories. They’re exciting. They’re dangerous. They’re very new. It’s when we are developing as people and really finding our social voice and POV. And so I wanted to do a show that celebrated those stories told by the funniest storytellers I know, while I got to flex my hosting chops, which is kind of my main love, is hosting, facilitating stories.
So when my friend Rob Fee was working with the people at Social Club, he was asking me if I had any show pitches. I pitched it to him and immediately he’s like, “We have to do that show.” And so it was a very quick process. We just booked some great comics and got some GoPros and shot the thing. We did eight episodes in two days, which, you know, I’m eating all the meals. It was a pretty grueling two days of eating eight fast food meals on camera. Not the worst job, but, you know, I had to take a break with some salads the next couple days. And so that’s kind of how the show happened. And we’ll see what happens from here. It’s something I’m also trying to develop as a TV show, because it works in that format if you extend it out with possible recreations or animated segments for these stories, and you have, like, two guests per episode. so that that can kind of build out into a half-hour TV format as well.
Kind of like a “Drunk History” style recreation thing.
Exactly. It’s “Drunk History” meets “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” It’s very simple and cheap and so I’m hoping to sell that to a network eventually.
I hope you get to! And who was your favorite comedian to work with on “Munchie Run”?
Very tough to say favorites. But I will say if you watch the episodes, because I love them, they are all hilarious comics. I’ve seen all of them, but I’ve performed with some of them personally as well as a stand-up. But I think the most I’m laughing, you know, a comparable to “Ace Ventura” experience when I saw it when I was eight — I was laughing so hard during the Steph Tolev episode, and she’s a fantastic Canadian comedian. […] And you can see it in the episode! I’m cracking up for real. It’s a lot of me laughing in the show. It’s just fun. I think that’s why it connects with people. It’s very simple. It’s really fun and people have their own high or drunk stories with this situation so that it’s a very relatable show. […] It’s short and fun and light. And there’s enough that weighs us down every day that it’s nice to just literally lighten it up, get a little high from the comedy.
And what was your favorite fast food place to drive through?
Well, it’s not just my favorite fast food place. It’s my favorite restaurant, and that’s Taco Bell. I grew up in Franklin, you know, there was a lot of underage drinking going on. That’s where a lot of my stories come from, and Taco Bell was our hub. The parking lot of Taco Bell was where we would meet, and then go find out whose house we were gonna go to. It was near 76th and Rawson in Franklin. It’s still there.
It was not only a hub for my friend group and I, but it was a place for me and my grandfather who I was extremely close with, and we would bet on Packers games with tacos when I was in college. That was our way of staying connected, because he was born and raised in Milwaukee. So yeah, Taco Bell, no matter what, is always going to be my favorite fast food restaurant.
Yeah, I noticed on your website you describe yourself as a Taco Bell evangelist.
I am. I could talk about Taco Bell and its various items for a long time, for a very long time. And I have made sketches about it. There’s a sketch with me and Heidi Gardner, who’s now on SNL, that’s online, called “The Hot Sauce Connection,” which is about Taco Bell. And she loves it too. So it’s one of those things that’s just been a big part of my life.
How are you doing as an entertainer going through this pandemic where your industry is shut down?
I mean, there are so many awful sides to this pandemic and the lockdown and there was a few weeks of being in a funk. But after that I realized that it was an opportunity for me to have the time to work on the things I wanted to. […] Basically I’m currently putting myself through a self-imposed graduate program about masculinity, gender issues and female empowerment.
And what content are you putting out related to that?
It’s called the Real Feels Project on Instagram and on YouTube. It’s a combination of two things. It’s a podcast that is looking at people’s view on masculinity, on how we can evolve and educate ourselves and what truly matters to people. I interview a lot of performers and entertainment people and I try not to talk about industry stuff and inside baseball and all of that because there’s enough shows like that. I realized that is not what’s most important, which changes from person to person, but for me, my eyes have been opened up to the issues of masculinity that influence systemically every aspect of society and in myself, and I’ve had a big reckoning with a lot of the way I look at the world and the way I interact with women. I have already made videos on topics from Mr. Rogers and “Tiger King” to Joe Rogan. […] It’s really fun to investigate these things and not be worrying about, “When’s my next audition?” because none of them are happening right now.
LA is a very egocentric place. Acting is a very egocentric vocation. And the reason why the cliche is that no matter how much success you get, that sadness or hole is still there is because fame and money are a salve on top of a root problem, so you need to go a little deeper and figure out what is actually important. What are you missing and how can you help? And I think it’s been so helpful for me to ask myself, “How can I help?” instead of, “What can I get?” It’s been a very thoughtful and revolutionary thing for me internally and personally, just as much as it has been for our country. It’s been a revolution of thought.
You can watch “Munchie Run” on Social Club TV here, or stream it on AppleTV, iOS, Android and Roku.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.