By James KeastSeán Cullen might be more successful if he was easier to pigeonhole — as a comedian, actor, writer, TV personality, amateur hockey player or musician. If he’d only picked one and really focussed, he’d be much more marketable. But the restlessly-minded Cullen, since reaching a career pinnacle of having the Barenaked Ladies open for his musical comedy act Corky and the Juice Pigs in the late ‘80s, has only become more scattered. He’s hosted the Gemini Awards twice (and won one of his three Gs for hosting it), and has rocked mics on radio and a live talk show as well as gracing comedy and dramatic stages around the world.
But it was this year that Cullen seemed suddenly ubiquitous — his strange, often surreal brand of comedy frightened some Playboy bunnies when he made it to the final round of this summer’s Last Comic Standing. Now, he’s returned to his musical comedy roots with his brand new album I Am A Human Man, in which his tendency to break into song is superseded only by his oddball take on, well, humans. Canada has long tried to shed its image as a nurturer of comedy/music hybrids (now that we’ve lived down Moxy Fruvous, and Barenaked Ladies just aren’t funny anymore), trust Cullen to take a contrarian role and bring it back. With jazz hands.
What are you up to? I am currently writing on a couple of animated series for kids, developing my series of children’s novels for TV (Hamish X, published by Penguin Canada) and writing a new series of novels for Penguin entitled The Misplaced Prince. I am performing on Hotbox, a new sketch show for the Comedy Network and touring to promote my new album I Am A Human Man distributed by Fontana North. I am also working on a new musical for Broadway that’s in the writing stages.
What are your current fixations? I’m loving sushi, cheese, Hellboy, Neil Stephenson, Heroes, David Byrne, Stars, Ben Folds, the Beatles and the Leafs. I love TFC. I am into the Good Times Hockey League of the Arts.
Why do you live where you do? I love Toronto because it is such a diverse, safe and creative place for me. I love the pick-up hockey. I love to walk the neighbourhoods. I spend a lot of time in the Silverlake neighbourhood of Los Angeles: vibrant, nerdy, artistic and full of alternative weirdoes.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art: I've really been loving Neil Stephenson: read his Confusion series. Anathem is also amazing. He makes physics so engaging and entertaining, hard to believe but it’s true.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why? Playing Massey Hall was pretty astounding. To have been on the same stage as Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot was pretty cool. I swear I could smell Neil.
What have been your career highs and lows? My career high would be performing on The Tonight Show. Career low would be getting booed off in Southampton, England.
What¹s the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig? A director recently said: "Tell the little girl to slap him in the face and call him fatso.”
What should everyone shut up about? I think everyone should shut up about George W. It’s obvious he was a dick. Obscurity would suit him best.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself? I like that I can create lots of different projects in different media. I don’t like that I procrastinate while creating them.
What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday? I get up. I drink coffee and eat a croissant from Caflouti. I go play pick-up soccer in the park. Me and my wife and son go to the pub and eat brunch then a hockey game with the Jokers Hockey club in the afternoon. Roast beef dinner and a fist fight with Satan. Then sleep.
What advice should you have taken, but did not? I should have listened to my profs when they told me to do the grunt work. Everything is in the details and the details are grunt work.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you? I think I would kick someone out of band/bed if they stabbed me. And only then if the wound was deep.
What do you think of when you think of Canada? I think of beavers playing guitar and being hit by Bobby Hull wrist shots. And snow.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money? I bought Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band on Apple LP.
What was your most memorable day job? I worked as a landscaper for a day. It was a brutal job. I worked as a shipper receiver in a venetian blind factory. I didn't enjoy it.
How do you spoil yourself? Usually, I get drunk and leave myself out in the sun. Or I eat chicken wings. Or I buy more hockey jerseys.
If I weren’t a comedian I would be: If I weren’t a comedian, I would try to be a writer. But I am one, so I’d try to be a hockey player.
What do you fear most? Death. And strangers... for they bring death to our village.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on? The sight of unattended luggage at the airport.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter? Cloris Leachman slapped a sandwich out of my hand once.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them? Winston Churchill and I would serve him victory pudding.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead? I think my mom wishes I’d be a priest...of Isis.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral? "Weighty Ghost” by Wintersleep.