Interview: Dax Shepard Talks "Hit And Run," His Troubled Past, & Being Honest With Comedy

Interview: Dax Shepard Talks "Hit And Run," His Troubled Past, & Being Honest With ComedyInterview by Matt Barone (@MBarone); Photography by Clarke Tolton
People first saw you on MTV’s Punk’d, alongside Ashton Kutcher during the first season. What did you learn from your time on Punk’d?
Well, I will say that, to this day, it was the biggest test of my acting, for sure, because it was real life, and people either believed you or didn’t believe you that you were punking them. So, in that sense, it was a great education in being natural and not broad or over the top.

 
Other comedians I know love to bash Tyler Perry, but I think there’s something quantifiable about art. The people who go to Tyler Perry movies fucking love Tyler Perry movies.
 

I was very aware of the fact that Punk’d may be my first and last time on television, and that I had to break out from that role—it was life or death for me. They didn’t pay me for being on Punk’d, so, just to survive, I knew I needed to transition into movies. But I’ve never had the shame about being on Punk’d that the media wants me to have. I’m not embarrassed that I was on Punk’d. So many reviews of Parenthood’s first season started off like, “You’ll never believe who’s good on Parenthood—the guy from Punk’d!” [Laughs.] I did an episode of the new Punk’d this year to show people that I’m not embarrassed by it. I don’t know why I would be.

You mentioned that you’d been writing Hit and Run scenes that started off dramatically and your natural inclination is to make them funny. Where does your love and appreciation for comedy stem from?
I had to go to Special Ed classes all through high school because I was dyslexic, so I had to leave the classroom when they came and got all the stupid kids. The embarrassment of that could have turned me into one of the Trenchcoat Mafia guys. But I figured out how to make fun of the situation faster than anyone else. Comedy has always been my defense mechanism. My response to everything has always been, “What’s funny about this? What can be funnier about this situation?”

That’s the route I chose. There were a lot of things in my childhood that were not Norman Rockwell-y, so that’s just my worldview. That’s just how I deconstruct information. [Laughs.]

I’ve spoken to a bunch of comedians and comedic actors, and the majority of them talk about how their comedy derives from really dark childhoods. It’s pretty fascinating.
Yeah, and there have been a couple of comedians who talk about coming from a more pleasant background, and I think their comedy reflects that background, and it’s not good or bad. I don’t believe in a hierarchy for comedy, or anything, for that matter. If you have an audience, you have an audience, and no audience is any better or worse to have than someone else’s audience.

Other comedians I know love to bash Tyler Perry, but I think there’s something quantifiable about art. The people who go to Tyler Perry movies fucking love Tyler Perry movies. That being said, I just saw Billy Crystal’s one-man show about his dad, and he explains how when he first expressed an interest in doing comedy, his dad immediately was like, “Well, let’s go get all the best comedy albums ever made and let’s sit down and study comedy!” And I was like, “Oh, he had that dad. OK, I didn’t have that dad.”

Most comedians I know didn’t have that dad, and that explains why Billy’s comedy is, for the most part, lighthearted and uplifting. But that’s certainly not my take on life. My kind of comedy is more concerned with weird sex stories and weird drug stories.

The dynamic between your character and Kristen’s character—ex-criminal and an ex-perfect girl—comes directly from your real-life relationship’s early days. When you’re writing that, is it surreal, or even difficult, to get so personal?
Not for me, no. My character in Hit and Run, like me, has so many flaws, and Kristen’s is just as perfect as she is. In real life, I have a lot of character defects and a lot of shortcomings, but I’m hyper-honest. That’s one of my few good qualities. I’m not embarrassed by being human; my fallibilities as a human unite me with other humans.

 
The embarrassment of [going to Special Ed classes] could’ve turned me into one of those Trenchcoat Mafia guys. But I figured out how to make fun of the situation faster than anyone else. Comedy has always been my defense mechanism.
 

I have fucked up a million times in my life and I will fuck up a million times more, and I like exploring the frailty of human beings. I hate people who judge Miley Cyrus’ parents. I find that to be so laughable that anyone would be up in arms over the fact that this girl took a cell phone picture of herself or maybe smoked pot. If you raise your kid all the way to 18 and those are the two worst things he or she does, you’re a hero.

I’ll go on Howard Stern and talk about all the ways I’ve fucked up. I’m not embarrassed that I’m flawed. So writing is just an extension of that. I enjoy watching that. I’m more drawn to that than to superhero movies; I like stories about people who have demons or have something fucked up that they’ve done.

That outlook would really lend itself to drama, I’d think, so it’s interesting that you still manage to find comedy in everything you do when you’d probably be really good at writing straightforward, humorless dramas.
Right. Well, I would like to say that there’s definitely some broad shit in the movie, but it’s all sincere. There’s not one scene in Hit and Run that’s written with the intention of getting a laugh, though it’s definitely a comedy. Our biggest runner is, by far, the revelation that Bradley Cooper has been fucked in prison, and that always gets the biggest laughter, but that came out of a honest, sincere conversation between my best friend Nate Tuck [one of Hit and Run’s producers].

One time, we were watching this HBO show Hookers at the Point, and in it there was a scene with this guy getting a blowjob from a hooker in the backseat of a car, and while he was getting blown, he started saying, “I want some balls in my mouth! I want to suck some balls!” And then she was saying, “Oh, you’re kinky.” Me and Nate were saying to each other, “What is going on psychologically with this guy?” [Laughs.] He had said that he’d just gotten out of prison, and this led to a very sincere and long conversation between Nate and I about, “Do you think black guys maybe don’t feel gay in prison fucking white guys because we’re such pussies?”

We were really theorizing about how that’s the way they feel in prison, and how we would feel if we were black guys fucking white guys. In the movie, it’s clearly a joke, but it is something that did come from a honest place at one time. [Laughs.] It wasn’t constructed solely to be “funny.” It actually is a sincere thought I’ve had, and everything in the movie is a sincere thought or argument I’ve had.

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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Tags: dax-shepard, hit-and-run, comedy, parenthood, abc, kristen-bell, august-september-2012-issue, my-complex
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