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Q&A: Brian Posehn on Comedy, Metal and Reclaiming Nerddom

Comedian and actor Brian Posehn is no stranger to Athens. A huge player in the early days of the alternative comedy scene, Posehn has frequented the 40 Watt stage over the last few decades and is set to return Friday. The self-professed nerd and massive metalhead got his start as a player on HBO’s influential sketch program “Mr. Show” and has gone on to be a successful screen and voice actor, in addition to his legendary stand-up career.

Flagpole: The first time I saw you was in 2008 at a 40 Watt show you did with Mastodon. I was 17, and it was both my first comedy show and my first metal show—a pretty life-changing experience! Can you talk about your history with Athens?

Brian Posehn: Oh man, the 40 Watt is a legendary club in one of the coolest Southern cities. [The] first time I came through was on the “Mr. Show” Hooray for America tour almost 20 years ago. I’ve been through town a handful of times since, and I’ve always had a blast. I’ve recorded an album there, and of course the night opening for Mastodon was super memorable… I’ll forever remember the dude in the middle of the floor who just flipped me off the entire time, because he was anxious for Mastodon and wanted nothing to do with my goofy mug and my silly stories.

FP: There has been pushback against some of the more insular and toxic nerd behavior on the internet. It’s not unusual to see someone receive death threats on Twitter over something as simple as being cast in a Star Wars or Marvel movie. What’s your take on taking nerddom too far?

BP: Oh man, I do have an opinion on this, and as a guy who has identified as a nerd for most of my life, I consider myself a senior nerd now. And the internet has definitely become a toxic place for nerds and fandom. The entitlement of some young nerds has surprised me, and in some cases [it] really grosses me out. They expect these huge franchises to follow their every whim, and they complain if it’s not exactly what they wanted or if the casting is not what they pictured.

The fact that a few nerds bully other nerds with misogynist or homophobic comments is super puzzling to me. As nerds, we, of all people, should always be inclusive to anyone who has the same interests as us. We need to police ourselves and push the bullies out, as well as protect each other and the people that create the art that we love. 

FP: Are there any particular metal albums that are grabbing you right now? Do you have any connections—outside of Mastodon, of course—to the sludge-metal scene that’s so active in Georgia and throughout the South?

BP: I dig He Is Legend. They’re from North Carolina, I believe. They’ve been around for a while, but are relatively new to me. I love the new Sacred Reich, Death Angel and Tool records, but I’ve been into those three bands for a long time. I do frequently check out new metal, but it’s usually new music from bands I’ve followed a long time that I wind up connecting with the most. [I’m] not familiar with too many newer local bands here, unfortunately, but yeah, I have been a fan of Mastodon since the beginning and consider them friends.

FP: You’re a pretty active voice actor—a lot of comedians I talk to are. What do you think draws comedians specifically to that realm? Do you have a particular voice role that you look back on as your best work?

BP: Well, I can’t really speak for other comics, other than the fact that most of us have a distinctive voice. I certainly do, and I kind of fell into voice acting because of my deep, weird voice. People would hire me knowing certain notes I could hit. Then, through that, I have found other characters or voices that I can do. 

I would say Jim Kuback on “Mission Hill” is my favorite character I’ve ever played in animation. He’s a self-aware hipster, close to me in a lot of ways—probably why I was cast to play him. Most of my characters utilize my deep voice and slow, methodical way of talking, so it’s extra fun when I get to break from that, like in “3-South” and a lot of the more recent kids’ animation I’ve done.

FP: Do you have any upcoming projects, acting or otherwise, that you’re really excited about?

BP: Yeah, I just finished a comedy-metal record for Megaforce Records. It’s called Grandpa Metal, and I wrote it with my buddies, Scott Ian, Brendon Small and Joe Trohman. It features a bunch of silly metal songs and guests from Soundgarden, Slayer and Slipknot—and some bands that don’t start with an S.

I’m currently writing new jokes for my stand-up act and super close to recording a new special. I also have a tiny part in “The Mandalorian,” the live-action Star Wars TV show coming to Disney Plus in November, and my nerdy head is gonna explode over that. The fact [that] this giant Star Wars nerd is now part of that universe is a total trip.