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October 13, 2015

How Bert Kreischer Conquered The Travel Channel's 'Bert the Conqueror'

by Danny Gallagher, posted Aug 1st 2010 1:00PM
Bert Kreischer, host of 'Bert the Conqueror' on The Travel ChannelComedian Bert Kreischer has come a long way from his seven-year tenure as a perma-partying undergrad at Florida State University. Fellow students knew him as a funny, raucous freak who could turn any room into an out-of-control throwdown, filled with wild laughter, crazy stories and jokes, a distinction that scored him national attention thanks to a popular profile in Rolling Stone.

Since then, he's taken his knack for friendly wisecrackery on the road with stand-up shows that routinely end with a few beer-inspired challenges. He's even brought his unique sense of fun to television with the one-man pain factory show on FX, 'Hurt Bert,' and his thrill-seeking challenge show of extreme rides, dips and dives on The Travel Channel, 'Bert the Conqueror.'

How is that an improvement from his days as the "Number One Party Animal" in the nation? For starters, now he gets paid for it.

Even a seasoned party animal like Kreischer can find room to grow -- enter the Travel Channel venture. Kreischer said his experiences on his show aren't just about conquering rides like Terminal Velocity, a 150-foot freefall, or Scorpion's Tail, the country's first looping water slide. It's also about beating his own inhibitions and fears. Kreischer just wrapped the first season of his hilarious travel show and made some time during a stand-up stop in Alabama to talk to us about overcoming his fears, how he's changed since becoming an amateur stunt comic and his eye-opening experience with a "greased pole" in Massachusetts. It's more touching than it sounds (not that way, sickos).

How did the Travel Channel show come about? Did they come to you or did you go to them?

They had the show idea and came to me. I don't know if it was entirely fleshed out when they pitched it to me, but they started talking about all of these crazy, wild adventures and getting into communities and finding out about what people are doing and do what they do. And I just turned it down right off the bat, because I had done stuff like it and it's so not in my comfort zone. It's not in my box. It's not what I think I'm good at, to give a normal perspective of these insane events. So I sat down and laid in my bed. I was in Des Moines, Iowa. I thought to myself, "This is an opportunity to spend a few months on the road not doing stand-up. To, like, literally fill up a bucket list of stuff."

I was like, "I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna carpe diem, seize the day. I'm gonna do it." I called my agent back up and said "Let's do it." I gotta be honest with you, in retrospect, it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. I've literally had so much fun, not just with the crew or the show, but the people. Not to sound hokey at all, but we did this greasy pole competition in Gloucester, Mass., and they have this saying, "Vivo Saint Pietro!" We chanted that maybe 5,000 times during the day as we walked through the streets and got out to this greasy pole 30 feet above the ocean out in the middle of the bay. I found myself saying that to myself and I thought, "Man, I've had some really great experiences on the show."

Wow, I never thought I'd ever hear such a touching story about a greasy pole.


But about your comfort zone, are you just not a "heights" or "roller coaster" type of guy?

I'm not an adrenaline junkie. I met Johnny Knoxville in college and I'm not Johnny Knoxville. He's a wild man. Ultimately, every part of him is crazy, fun, "Let's just do it and do it." I'm not that guy. I'm the guy who sits back and says, "I don't know. That water looks rancid. If we get it in our mouth, we might get giardia." I don't know how these shows keep getting pitched to me. I don't know why I keep doing them so much. I guess people just like watching me scream.

Well you do have kind of a unique, Bruce Campbell kind of scream.

[Laughs] That's nice.

But it seems like you enjoy it at the same time.

When I jumped off The Stratosphere [in Las Vegas] and landed, I had so much anxiety building up to that jump. I thought the people who truly appreciate thrill-seeking and daredevil activities are the people who never do them ever. The person who would really appreciate this jump off The Stratsophere is a person who is terrified of heights and overcomes that fear and does it. There was a guy who was a veteran from Iraq going to the jump as well. I asked him if he was nervous and he said, "Nah, I've jumped out of planes." When he landed, he was like, "Yeah, that was pretty good" and when I landed, I literally had this religious moment when I started almost crying. I thanked everyone from the mayor to the shot girl. In doing these, I end up appreciating them more. I end up taking half the stories on the stage, and half the time people will say, "I can't believe you jumped off a building" or "I can't believe you drag raced."

Has it changed you?

I don't have as much a fear of heights as I used to. I used to have a debilitating fear of heights. I'm a little more adventurous than I was. I think the show has helped break down some of the fears I had -- definitely about roller coasters. I was terrified of roller coasters when we first starting shooting the show, and now I look at them and think "Oh that's gonna be an awesome ride." The last roller coaster we did was one called The Intimidator in Carowinds that's a tribute to Dale Earnhardt. It's just insane. I rode it for the show and we wrapped and me and the crew rode it one more time. I rode it in the back and it was one of the best roller coaster rides I've ever had. So I think it helped break down some of the fears I've had.

Don't get me wrong. I still have a terrible fear of working with animals. I never want to work with animals.

Yeah, I saw the video of you being a rodeo clown on your website.

Oh gosh. There's no way to explain to an animal, "Hey let's just go 50 percent and then we'll have a beer and call it a day." Animals just go 100 percent and it's insane.

Have you have been really seriously hurt on any of your shows?

On 'Hurt Bert,' I broke my ribs and broke my foot when I got mauled by the bull, and on this show, I tore both of my hamstrings "blobbing" in Texas. You have a partially inflated vinyl balloon and you sit on the end and some guy on a platform above you jumps on it and shoots you 40 feet in the sky. I got shot so high, I tried to correct myself in the air and literally kicked out both of my hamstrings. I looked like I was on a treadmill with an incline of 12 that no one could see.

What kind of insurance do you have?

[Laughs] You know it's so funny, every time we do these shows, I always assume it's covered in the deal. I never have any idea.

You say that these types of stunt shows keeping coming to you and you don't know why, but why do you keep saying yes?

Because I have no will power, I have no self esteem and I want to be on TV. [Laughs]

What happens is I hear the original pitch and I say "I don't want to do that." Then I lay in bed and I go, "Man that would be awesome." I have that adventurous spirit as I lay in bed after I've had a few cocktails. Then the day comes when I have to get on the plane and do it, [and] I start getting nervous about it. When [The Travel Channel] first pitched it, one of the first things they wanted to me to do was jump out of a helicopter over an active volcano in Chile and all I heard was, "Oh, I'm going to Chile? That's going to be great. I'm gonna have sea bass. I'm gonna have some great cocktails on the ocean. This is going to be a blast." I don't think these shows through.

Do you take a lot of Xanax?

[Laughs] On 'Hurt Bert,' I literally took every prescribed Xanax they could give to me. On this show, I've done a 180. I just grin and bear it.

When I jumped off The Stratosphere, I could have easily taken a Xanax that morning and barreled through and not been as stressed as I was. When you do some of these events like the greasy pole competition, everyone was drinking the entire day and I didn't drink at all, only because I want to be available. I want all of my senses about me and I want to be able to relate the experience in a sober way. I want to be there. I want to feel it. I look back at The Stratosphere jump and I'm so glad I didn't medicate myself and I felt it, because I think I got past some huge fear of heights that I've literally had my entire life.

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