THE SEAN SCHAU with SEAN CULLEN and guests, at the Drake Underground (1150 Queen West), Wednesday (May 2). $10. 416-531-5042. Rating: NNNNN
Howard Stern once called himself the king of all media. But he really should hand over that crown to Sean Cullen. In addition to his regular comedy/music gigs, Cullen's hosted awards shows, radio shows and TV specials, written a couple of children's books and starred in Toronto's short-lived stage production of The Producers.
"I think it's a symptom of being a Canadian performer," says Cullen, over a bowl of yogurt and granola at the Drake Hotel. "You end up having eight careers. Whereas in the States, you can make a living if you have nice eyes."
Cullen flashes his own nice eyes - green, I believe - to see the effect of that surreal statement.
On Wednesday, you can catch his monthly variety show, The Sean Schau, at the Drake Underground.
"I realized I wasn't doing much stand-up, and I missed it," he says. "I love variety shows. I like lots of change so the audience sees many things in an hour and a half."
The March show, for instance, featured musician Bob Wiseman, who screened his arty experimental films, comic Marc Hickox's German alter ego Heino and a surprise appearance by Maple Leafs hockey player Boyd Devereaux, who got to show off his skills with the electric guitar.
"I like that weird juxtaposition of guests," says Cullen, "and to see people who are incredibly competent doing one thing be pushed to do something else."
He couldn't have done this during the eight-shows-a-week grind of The Producers, that's for sure. Cullen played the role made famous on Broadway by Nathan Lane, and it proved strenuous, and limiting.
"I'm used to improvising, and I couldn't do it on The Producers," he says. "I couldn't even improvise within the character. The parameters of Lane's portrayal were already set. 'This is the joke, this is how you do the joke.'
"Besides that, it was exhausting, a three-hour show, with me onstage for about two hours and 40 minutes of it. And it was hard because Max wasn't a very likeable character. He was nasty to almost everybody. I'm used to playing more lovable characters."
It didn't help that critics weren't pleased.
"The print press," he corrects me, "panned the show. Maybe they were more highbrow. I felt that they thought this wasn't New York so it wasn't good enough. You get that a lot here. No one's more vicious than our own. But I didn't think the show was as terrible as they said."
Perhaps as some surreal form of subconscious revenge, Cullen's planning a series of print ads to publicize The Sean Schau, all featuring him as a snobbish theatre critic character named Basil, dispensing vitriol.
"Basil is going to talk about how appalling and ridiculous the show is," he says in a faux British accent. "It's anti-advertising."
Cullen looks healthier than he did a few years ago.
"I was up to 270 pounds, and my doctor told me, 'You are going to die before your child gets out of high school,'" he says. "So I ended up losing about 65 pounds. I play hockey four times a week. Having my son (Hamish) in the world makes me feel that I have to be around to see as much of this as possible. And it's great to be able to buy human pants and not hide behind Hawaiian shirts."
Cullen spends part of the year in L.A., which can be surreal, especially during casting calls.
"I'm in these rooms and I look around and it's all these grossly obese men. Is that how people perceive me? Hopefully, people can see what I'm good at, not just what I look like."