How To Make Your Idol Hate You, In One Unfunny Comedy Audition

May 4, 2014
Originally published on May 5, 2014 10:03 am

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers. The following is what you might call an "almost big break."

Kurt Braunohler is now a successful working comedian. He has his own podcast, a well-reviewed comedy album and a weekly variety show in Los Angeles. But for years, he struggled to find work in comedy.

Several years ago, Braunohler got close to what could have been his big break, when he got a call from his manager about a major movie audition.

There was just one catch: The part required an actor who could speak German.

That condition presented a problem.

"My joke on stage is that I realize I look like the IT guy from the Nazis," Braunohler says, "but, weirdly, I don't speak German."

But Braunohler's manager was not deterred.

"[My manager] calls back and he's like, 'Can you speak with a German accent?' And I was like, 'Well, a comically bad one,' " says Braunohler.

When his manager called back one more time, he told Braunohler he had an audition.

"This is going to be a disaster," Braunohler remembers thinking.

As it turned out, the audition wasn't just for any movie. Braunohler would be auditioning for a significant supporting role in Sacha Baron Cohen's 2009 film Brüno.

Not only was the mockumentary poised to be a huge blockbuster, but Braunohler calls Baron Cohen his "comedy idol." Braunohler was up for the role of Lutz, Brüno's assistant in the film.

"I was like, 'This is it!' " Braunohler says. " 'You come out to L.A. for two weeks and then you get your big break! And then you're a movie star!' "

When Braunohler arrived for the audition, the stakes were high.

"I show up, and there are like 35 people in there," he says. "Behind a big wooden desk is Sacha Baron Cohen. And the very first thing that the director says to me is, 'So, we understand you can speak fluent German.' "

Braunohler did not say that there had been some kind of misunderstanding, or explain that his manager had oversold his German language skills.

Instead, he says, "I just look at [the director] like, 'Yeah, I do [speak German].' "

So, Braunohler says, the director told him to begin improvising — in German — with Baron Cohen.

"So then Sacha Baron Cohen, my comedy idol, just speaks to me in German," says Braunohler, "which, to me, sounds like a series of whistles and clicks. And so I just look [Baron Cohen] dead in the eye with a big smile."

Braunohler said a string of what might be charitably called German-sounding gibberish.

"Sacha looks at me like a dog who just heard a whistle," Braunohler remembers.

Baron Cohen looked confused, Braunohler says, "as he should be, because I have just walked in to essentially the biggest job interview of my life, and when asked a simple question like, 'So tell me about your resume,' I've looked him dead in the eye and just gone, 'Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah,' and then smiled at everyone in the room like an insane person."

Before being outright kicked out of the room, Braunohler says, the casting director, who had brought in Braunohler for the audition, insisted that he get a chance to improvise, this time in English.

Baron Cohen and the film's director acquiesced.

"Then I just get up and Sacha just begins to denigrate me and do humiliating things," says Braunohler, "which is his character and how he treats his assistant in the movie. And at one point he — Sacha — takes his glasses off, and he says, 'Clean my glasses.' "

Braunohler's first impulse was to reach for them with his mouth.

"And then I licked his glasses all the way around," he says, "and [Baron Cohen] totally broke [character], and was just like, 'Clean those off.' "

At that point, Braunohler was kicked out.

"But to my memory, there was a moment where he no longer was Brüno, but that was Sacha telling me to clean off those glasses," Braunohler says. "So no matter how awful that was, there was a moment I do believe Sacha Baron Cohen broke [character], because he hated me just that much.

"So at least I can put that on my belt: hatred of my idol," he adds.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's time now for our series My Big Break, about triumphs big and small. This next story comes from comedian Kurt Braunohler and it's about a big break that might have been. Let's just leave it at that for now. The story starts a few years back when Kurt was in L.A. and struggling to get work in comedy. That's when he got a call from his manager.

KURT BRAUNOHLER: First he said, do you speak German? And like my joke on stage is that I realize I look like the IT guy from the Nazis. But weirdly, I don't speak German. He's like, OK and he hangs up. And he calls back and he's, like, can you speak with a German accent? And I was like, well, like a comedically bad one. And he hangs up again. And he calls back and he's, like, OK, I've got an audition for you. And I'm like, this is going to be a disaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: I show up at the audition and the first audition is just with the casting director who's a very awesome lady. I improvise in this terrible German accent with her. Vell, Vat we going to do tonight? Ve're going to have some fun? You know, like, it's terrible. Like, German people are, like, what is that?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: And that goes well and then at the end of that, the casting director says to me, do you speak any German? I'm, like, oh, you know, a little bit. I speak a little bit of German. And then she says, well, OK, would you speak some German to me? And so I know she doesn't speak German. So then I just make up some German-sounding words to her and put them together. (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: She's like, great, you know, we're going to bring you back tomorrow. And then at that point she's, like, do you know what this is for? And I was like, no. And she said, this is for you to play the assistant to Sacha Baron Cohen in the new "Bruno" film. For those of you who don't know who Sacha Baron Cohen is, he's like Ali G, he was Borat. And I was like, this is it. You come out to L.A. for two weeks and then you get your big break and then you're a movie star, like - and I really did not anticipate what would happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: So the very next day I show up and there are like 35 people in there. Behind a big wooden desk is Sacha Baron Cohen. And the very first thing that the director says to me is, so we understand you can speak fluent German. And I just look at him and I'm, like, yeah, I do. And he's like, great, well, we're just going to have you start off by speaking some German with Sacha.

And so then Sacha Baron Cohen, my comedy idol looks at me and just speaks to me in German, which to me sounds like a series of whistles and clicks. And I just look him dead in the eye with a big smile and I just say (Foreign language spoken). And then with a big smile, just look around at all the producers like, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: Sacha looks at me like a dog who just heard like a whistle, like he's confused, as he should be because I have just walked in to essentially the biggest job interview of my life. And when asked a simple question like, so tell me about your resume? I looked him dead in the eye and just gone, blah-blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah. And then smiled at everyone in the room like an insane person. So he is confused as he should be.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: And then he kicks it over to a producer who is straight up German. I remember him saying (Foreign language spoken) I think and I just remember looking at him and just saying, naim. He probably said, what's the name of your mother and father and I just went, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: And the director's like, well, thank you, we have you on tape, which means get out. And the casting director, bless her heart, she speaks up, you know, like, he's really great at improvising. And Sacha and the director was, like, OK. Well, I guess we'll have you get up and improvise with Sacha. And I was like, in English? She's like, in English. It's like, OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: And then I just get up and Sacha just begins to denigrate me and have me do humiliating things, which is his character and how he treats, you know, his assistant in a movie. And at one point he - Sacha takes his glasses off and he says, clean my glasses. I just instinctually first impulse reach for them with my mouth, like to grab them in my mouth. And then I licked his glasses all the way around and he totally broke loose just, like, clean those off, like this was the end of the audition for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRAUNOHLER: And that was it. Like, I was kicked out at that point. That was definitely the end of the audition. But to my memory there was a moment where he no longer was Bruno but that was Sacha telling me to clean off those glasses. So no matter how awful that was, there was a moment I do believe Sacha Baron Cohen broke because he hated me just that much. So at least I can put that on my belt, hatred of my idol.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Kurt Braunohler may not have gotten that part, but you can find his podcast on iTunes. It's called "The K Ohle." And his latest comedy album is called "How Do I Land?" We want to hear about your big break. Send us an email at MyBigBreak@NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: And for Sunday that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. You can follow us on Twitter @nprwatc and I'm on Twitter @arunrath. We're back next weekend. (Foreign language spoken). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.