The story behind the true-life train robbery that got Bert Kreischer his first film close-up in 'The Machine'

Nate Jackson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — Machines — just like good comedians — aren't born, they're built. Bert Kreischer happens to be both, but it took some time.

Long after his days as a legendary hard-partying super senior at Florida State University, Kreischer's experience finding his voice in stand-up didn't really start until he learned to become a great storyteller, unveiling the truth like he strips himself of his shirt on stage — in a hysterical, honest way — with a few embellishments, of course. It's fitting that the bit that finally helped him click things into place was a story he started telling from his college frat boy days about robbing his classmates on a train in Russia during a class trip — with help from the Russian mafia.

Kreischer fans came to know the comic as "The Machine" after the debut of his 2016 Showtime special of the same name. And the viral clips of him retelling the tale became his calling card, but that's not even half the story when it comes to explaining how the classic bit snowballed into Kreischer's first feature film, "The Machine," opening this week.

The comedy-action flick is his debut in the film world done the only way Kreischer knows how — big. Using his real-life misadventures as a springboard to tell an amped-up version of the story, the comedian's past comes back to haunt him 23 years later as he and his estranged father (played by "Star Wars" legend Mark Hamill) are kidnapped back to Russia by the mafia as payback for something they say he did. Together, Kresicher and Hamill are forced to retrace the steps of the comedian's younger self (played by Jimmy Tatro) while doing battle with the mob and improving their bond as father and son.

On a recent afternoon, hanging out on the couch of the studio compound/business offices in Sherman Oaks where he records his main podcasts, including "Bertcast" and wife LeeAnn's podcast, "Wife of the Party," Kreischer recounts the story behind building "The Machine" into a bit that turned him into an arena-headlining comedian and now the star of his own movie.

Q: When did storytelling and drawing from real life experiences develop in your stand-up?


A: I was so obsessed with comics who had their own voice and their own story. And they say something you could tell that it wasn't a scripted thing, or something from the collective unconscious of stand-up. It was something so authentic. I remember being jealous of it and then realizing I have those stories too, I just have to be brave enough to say them. That's really tough, to follow your own voice and your own instinct. That's the struggle, really.

Q: Your new movie is a clear example of authentic storytelling based on your viral bit "The Machine," loosely based a true story about robbing a train in Russia as a college student with the Russian mob. At what point after actually living that did you feel like "OK, this is gonna be something one day?"

A: Never — not once. But this is the caveat: I have changed a lot with who I am as a person, meaning that when I was in college and Rolling Stone wrote the article about me when I spent six-and-a-half years in college [the story went on to inspire the movie "Van Wilder"], I was not someone who told my own stories. People told stories about me. I was the life of the party. The life of the party is never the one telling you he's like the party. He's just the life of the party. And then someone's like, 'Dude, did you hear what Bert did at the party last night?' And then I'd be in the room going, 'Oh, yeah, that was crazy.' And I can tell you the story, embellish it a little bit and make it even funnier. But I was the guy that people told the story about, and I wasn't the one telling the story about me. When I got into stand-up, it didn't feel natural to tell your own story about you. So for the first probably 10 years of my career, I just want to learn how to tell a joke with a setup and a punchline joke. I thought that was the craft.

Q: When was the first time you told "The Machine" story?


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