Call him the Pete Best of reality shows, or the Andrew Ridgeley of televised singing competitions—just don’t call him out on national television. That’s the lesson Ryan Seacrest learned on Wednesday night when he made a botched joke about Brian Dunkleman, who co-hosted American Idol in its first season before making one hell of a botched career move. Dunkleman, who’s since worked on Celebrity Fit Club, done some voice-over work, and gotten plenty of comedic mileage out of his woeful detour, spoke with TV.com about what he’s up to these days, and why Seacrest should leave the jokes to the professionals.
Brian Dunkleman: Yeah, that was very cool. People really came to my defense, which is a satisfying thing.
Do you think Seacrest intended it as a slight?
Yeah, I think so, sure—but it was a joke. Well, it was an attempt at a joke. But unfortunately for Ryan, instead of a laugh, he got applause. That’s never really been his strong suit. But it was a joke, and whether it was mean-spirited or not is irrelevant. A joke’s a joke; you can either take it or you can’t. And quite honestly, once you’ve had Jimmy Kimmel say in a monologue that you should be punched in the face, and at this point you’d probably be receptive to a knife in the gut, I think what Seacrest said was pretty tame.
You’ve lived through being outranked by Howard Stern. Seacrest is probably nothing compared to that.
Oh, yeah. You come out of there alive, you’re bulletproof. You know, it’s not really surprising to me, the timing of this. From what I hear, Seacrest was acting really off-the-wall that night. Is that right? I’ve been reading about it online…
Ever since Simon Cowell announced that he’s not coming back this year, Seacrest has seemed a little rambunctious.
That’s why the timing doesn’t surprise me. Dancing with the Stars has replaced Idol as the number one show for, what, the last two weeks? I’m sure that’s sending Seacrest into a panic. It’s not surprising that he would act crazy to get attention, or throw my name out there—he’s done things like this before.
Do you ever feel like the situation is a double-edged sword? For the longest time, there was this feeling that you were the one who blew it by not sticking around, but now it seems like a lot of people remember you fondly, and in the meantime, Seacrest has gotten so huge that there are millions of people who absolutely can’t stand him.
It’s definitely a double-edged sword. Because, let’s face it, it’s the only reason that people know who the hell I am, and it’s created a lot of opportunities. They haven’t been major, news-breaking opportunities, but I’ve been working pretty steadily. And, you know, backlash is gonna happen after a certain amount of time with anybody. Financially, yeah, I made a mistake of Biblical proportions. There’s no denying that. But I left to do what I wanted to do. My dream was to win an Academy Award. But my other dream was to win the Super Bowl, and there’s a chance that might not happen either. [laughs]
You’re working on a pitch for a show called American Dunkleman, a scripted comedy based on your life after Idol. Do you want to talk about that a bit?
Yeah, sure! We’re trying to pitch that, and I have a half-hour standup special that’s supposed to be airing on Showtime, and one of the producers happened to see American Dunkleman online right after we put it up, and he liked it so much, he became interested in using it. We’d show it, and do little interviews—ironically, it would look a lot like American Idol—and then lead right into my standup. Hopefully we’ll get a little play out of that. I think it’s a great idea for a show. I wouldn’t have to make anything up—if you’re a guy who passed up one of the biggest shows in the history of the world, these things just happen to you, and I think it’s funny. That’s my sense of humor. Some of my favorite shows are Ricky Gervais’ Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
It definitely plays into the zeitgeist of the comedy of humiliation that’s big right now, and you clearly don’t have a problem laughing at yourself.
After a certain amount of time, what choice do you have? I’d just stay home and never leave the house if it really affected me that much. It’s been eight years; you have to laugh at it. The things people say to me almost every week—and you’re like, how can you be that stupid? I was playing golf, and I hooked up with these two guys on the course, nice enough guys. And one of them was like, “Hey, man! You were on American Idol, right?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said “If you were still on that show right now, you would be a multi-millionaire!” I said “Wow! You’re right! No, I never really thought about that. Is that why I’m playing on a shitty municipal course with you?”
My mother’s 80th birthday was last year, and one of her friends came over and was asking me, “Do you have a million dollars like that Seacrest on TV?” And I said, “Uh, well, no, ma’am, actually, no.” “Well, that’s a heck of an opportunity you blew.” Now, I know it’s wrong to punch an 80-year-old woman in the throat, but honestly, what would you have done?
It was definitely a career choice that’ll give you a lifetime's worth of material.
It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the great comedy that comes from great pain. Wouldn’t it be ironic if this little shout-out from Seacrest helps to get the show sold and to revive my career? I’m sure it wouldn’t bother him at all.