Brian Posehn on Discovering Anthrax and Finding Comedy in Metal – Humor of the Beast
Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy.
Brian Posehn is truly living a metal nerd’s ultimate dream. He’s appeared in big-time sitcoms like Big Bang Theory and Seinfeld, beloved for his roles in cult favorites like Mr. Show and The Sarah Silverman Program, recorded songs with Anthrax’s Scott Ian for his standup albums, and even co-wrote comic books for Deadpool. But now the comedian fulfills another dream that was over 6 years in the making – Grandpa Metal, an album that further cements his musical partnership with Ian and features guest appearances from a slew of metal heavyweights.
We spoke to the comedian in advance of Grandpa Metal’s February 14th release. He shared how Anthrax always stood out among the metal bands that shaped his youth, what teenager Posehn would say if he found out he became friends with a metal icon like Ian, why its bittersweet to finally release the late Jill Janus’ last recordings, what it was like to convince Chuck Billy to cover “Take On Me,” and what’s left on his nerdom bucket list.
What is it about Anthrax that resonates with you most?
Of all the bands I got into as a teenager, I think I have more in common with Anthrax. What drew me to them is there sense of humor. These other bands I loved didn’t really, at least on the surface, have much of a sense of humor. So many thrash bands I was into were the opposite of Anthrax – they were SO serious, unless they were doing a B-side song where their sense of humor came out.
When did you first discover Anthrax?
I liked Anthrax before I realized they had a sense of humor. I got into their first record, Fistful of Metal, where I knew nothing about them – I just bought it because it looked kick-ass. As a teenager I was like, “Oh my god, that guy’s getting his face split open with a fist!” It was amazing. It came out when I was in high school.
That was at the same time where Metallica became my new favorite band, and they’re pretty serious. And Iron Maiden could be seen as silly, but you could never say that about them. So much heavy metal doesn’t have a sense of humor, and as a teenager I would hate if you made fun of a band I liked. If you belittled metal, you were an instant enemy. I even hated This Is Spinal Tap when I first saw it as a teenager because I was like, “You guys are making fun of this thing I love!”
But then as I stuck with Anthrax as a fan, their sense of humor [stood out] – and the fact they wrote about Stephen King and they didn’t look like a metal band all the time. Some of the other bands I liked wore strictly jeans and t-shirts, then these guys started wearing shorts and mixing it up…
It’s so weird that Anthrax has actually become my friends because as a fan, I was like, “These guys are kinda like me!” I felt like I had more in common with them than anybody else.
What would teenage-Brian Posehn say if he found out that he not only became friends with Anthrax, but also musical collaborators with Scott Ian?
[laughs] He’d probably say a lot of expletives. It’s surreal, and it’s still not lost on me that Scott is one of my best pals. And through him, I’ve met everybody else. There really aren’t a lot of my heroes I haven’t met at this point, and it’s mostly due to being pals with Scott.
Teenage me would go, “No way!” because teenage me has been made fun of by Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. and James Hetfield of Metallica [laughs]. So the fact that I was able to get Scott Ian to not make fun of me to my face and become friends with him, teenage me would be impressed.
When was the first time you saw Anthrax live?
It would’ve been [during] Spreading the Disease. Like I said, I got that first album when it came out, and then when Spreading the Disease [was released], they did a West Coast tour…
All of those shows were crazy – seeing Exodus and bands like them play all around the same time. I think Anthrax even played with Exodus on that first tour. I’d have to double check because all of those shows were a blur. Those first thrash shows, I was thinking, “I’m gonna try not to get my face kicked in!” [laughs]. But also I remember falling at an Exodus show in Sacramento in the early days, and I was immediately picked up and I realized that wasn’t what people were trying to do. But those first couple of thrash shows I went to were pretty intense.
What do you recall from the first time you actually met Anthrax?
It must’ve been ’97 or ’98… they were playing the House of Blues in L.A. and I went solo. I was hanging out at the bar, and their roadie came out and said, “Hey man, are you on the list?” “No, I don’t know these guys.” Then he goes, “Do you wanna meet them?” “Uh, yeah! Absolutely!”
So I went upstairs, and they were hanging with Slayer before the show. The only people in the dressing room were Anthrax and Slayer, and I remember barely being able to keep it together because of all these heroes being in one room. Then I met Scott, and he’d been a fan of Mr. Show. I knew he had a sense of humor, but to have him like a show I was involved in was insane! And we’ve been pals ever since…
How did your friendship transform into working on music together?
Soon after we met, we were working on the Mr. Show movie [Run Ronnie Run]. There was this scene I had written where this fat kid who was made fun of for being kind of useless starts kicking ass. And they wanted to play “Problem Child” [during the scene], and I was like, “Man, that is SO on the nose! I couldn’t be a bigger AC/DC or Bon Scott fan, but I don’t want that song in this scene.”
So I asked Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, “Can we just write a song?” And they said yeah. So I went to Scott and said, “Hey man, let’s just write a nu metal anthem about this kid,” [because Korn and nu metal were so popular at that point] and we called it “Ass Kicking Fat Kid.”
We wrote and recorded it together, and we had such a blast that when I signed to Relapse Records, I went, “Well I want to do more of that” … We did “Metal by Numbers” first, and we even did a Titanica song from a Mr. Show sketch. Then after we did that a couple of times, we were like, “Man, we should do a full record!”
We went to talk to a couple of labels, and when Megaforce Records made the offer I was like, “Holy crap!” It took six years to get it done, but to finally have it be this cohesive thing that I’m really proud of and [to have it released by] this label that I’ve liked since I was a teenager is all a really cool thing.
It’s really a full circle moment.
Yeah, for sure! And [to release it within] the same year that I’m in [the Star Wars series] The Mandalorian makes me feel like, “Well, I guess I’m done! All these dreams came true!” [laughs] If I can have John Carpenter kill me in a movie, then I’ll just tap out.
I’d say getting killed in a Star Wars TV series is as high up there as getting killed in a John Carpenter movie!
Well yeah, and I’ve been in horror movies like The Devil’s Rejects. Plus [I’ve gotten to co-write] comic books where I’ve had Deadpool reference Pantera while stabbing people, so I feel like I’ve done my work, but there’s still a few things I want to do.
So what else is left on your bucket list?
I hate when people say “I want to direct,” but I want to direct! [laughs] I directed a Steel Panther video and done some other things, but I would love to do a horror movie at some point – either a horror comedy or a straight up horror movie where only a couple of funny things are said and it’s just brutal. That’s still a dream.
I love that Grandpa Metal not only has a great lineup of guest appearances – everyone from Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg, to even Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil – but that each song really is a tribute to a specific sub-genre or style of metal. What was the thought process behind choosing which genres were going to appear on the album?
It happened sort of organically. The first couple of songs we wrote were “Satan is Kind of a Dick” and “1/4 Viking 3/4 Pussy.” So I already was like, “Here’s the Slayer song, and here’s the Amon Amarth style song.” Once I had that, it sort of made me go, “Well, what other genres can I comment on?” But the fact that I had already done “Metal By Numbers” and “More Metal Than You” made it [easier] because those songs already comment on types of metal or things that I noticed in metal.
As the record started to flesh out, I did “Goblin Love” which is my take on “Muskrat Love.” It had this black metal feel, even though it winds up being an ad for a dating app at the end. But I wanted it to feel like a better produced, early black metal song.
Then as the record was winding up, we were three songs short and I was like, “Well what are we missing?” Scott was really busy, so Joe Trohman [of Fall Out Boy and The Damned Things] and I wrote the lyrics to the title track of Grandpa Metal, and I knew that was a good fit. So I said to him, “Let’s do a Halloween-themed, Rob Zombie / Marilyn Manson arena rock type song about our favorite monsters!” That just felt like a fun, dumb metal thing to do.
Being a horror nerd, it seemed like an easy one to write. And I couldn’t believe no one had ever done a song called “Monster Mosh”! We actually looked online to see, and I was like “I can’t believe no one did that!” [laughs] Once I had that title, it just felt so right and obvious.
The other one was Steel Panther inspired – it was like, “Let’s write the dumbest cock rock song! Let’s write a song that Steel Panther would go, ‘Nah, that’s too stupid.’” [laughs] “Let’s out-dumb them!” So on the song “Big Fat Rock,” no joke that we came up with was too dumb or was just dumb enough, if that makes sense.
When I heard that song, it made me think of every 80s metal track with rock in the title, and it suddenly dawned on me “Oh man, that really is just a metaphor for penis…”
Oh yeah, there’s so many! Aerosmith, KISS, AC/DC, all of those bands [just singing about their dicks]. But I loved those songs as a kid… I mean, KISS would think they were masters of the double entendre, but they were NOT! I love KISS, but there is nothing subtle about a KISS song. And that’s what we were going for – we were like, “Let’s be even more unsubtle than those guys.”
Was there anyone who appeared on the album who surprised you the most with their performance?
No, everybody did exactly how I envisioned. I didn’t have to do a ton of convincing, but when I went to Chuck Billy [of Testament] about doing “Take On Me,” he was like, “… Really?” I was like, “Yeah dude, you’re going to crush it!” He even asked me, “How do you want me to sing it?” “… Like Chuck Billy.” I had it in my head, and he delivered it exactly [what I was looking for]. I LOVE that dude’s vocals, and have since the first time I heard them. It’s the same with Steve “Zetro” Souza [of Exodus] on that song.
But overall, just having Jill Janus on that cover and also on “Goblin Love” … she wound up being a friend of mine and I really miss her. She was a little nervous about doing a funny song like “Goblin Love” because she felt like she hadn’t really done that. But I was like, “I know your voice, but I also know you’re funny. You can do this!” I actually re-recorded my part on the song, because once we recorded her, I was like, “Oh shit, I got to pick it up a notch!” She crushed it on the first take. She was so funny, but also sounded like a crazy goblin [laughs]. So I had to re-record my part because I felt like I did not “goblin it up” enough…
That track on the record will always be… not even because she’s gone, but I’m just so happy with it. But now that she’s gone, it’s bittersweet.
Was it a little hard or emotional for you to re-listen to the song for the first time after Jill passed away?
Well it sucked, but a big part of it was… it sounds corny, but I know she has so many fans who will now get to hear her on something new. At least there’s that. I love what she did and can’t wait for other people to hear. And maybe I’ll turn some people onto her. Who knows? I hope some people who aren’t aware of what a badass she was [now know], and those who did know what a badass she was now have two new songs to prove it.
It really is a loving tribute to Jill and her talent – similar to how Grandpa Metal is humorous but loving tribute to the genres of metal you admire.
Yeah, and even going back to “Take On Me” and “The Fox, What The Fox Say” – I did metal versions of them because I love metal, and I feel like any song is better if it’s metal. I’m not going to go online and read what people think of this record, because I already saw one-person comment about “Take On Me” saying “Who asked for this?” I don’t give a shit if nobody asked for it! I asked for it! I wanted this! I think it’s awesome, and I hope other people will hear and think that to.