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Bert Kreischer's The Machine Stories Will Make You Want Mark Hamill As A Dad - Exclusive Interview

When Bert Kreischer was in his sixth year of college back in 1997, he was already known for being the biggest partyer at Florida State University (which was then rated the top partying school in the U.S.) — a distinction that even loosely inspired the film "Van Wilder." But it was another college experience, a school trip to Russia in which he drunkenly and accidentally helped a gang of Russian mobsters rob everyone aboard a train, that would serve as one of the linchpins for the career that Kreischer seemed born to have.

A natural storyteller, Kreischer is now one of the highest-grossing stand-up comics in the business, with five comedy specials, three podcasts, sold-out tours, and lots of late-night TV to his name. Often performing shirtless, Kreischer has made the story of his Russian escapades — during which he earned the nickname "The Machine" for his drinking prowess — into the most popular part of his act.

Now the story has been expanded into a movie, also titled "The Machine," in which the middle-aged Kreischer (played by himself) and his father, Albert Sr. (Mark Hamill), are kidnapped 23 years after that trip by the Russian Mafia to help locate one of the items that Bert stole. As the two men find themselves caught in the middle of a mob turf war, they also try to repair their own strained relationship and figure out how Bert can set his own life and family back on track.

Part gross-out slapstick and part warm father-son comedy, "The Machine" puts Kreischer on a whole new stage — on which he plays a version of himself that's both more and less like the real guy — that also finds him acting opposite one of the most iconic performers of the past 50 years. "This is going to sound crazy," Kreischer tells Looper in our exclusive interview, "but [Mark Hamill]'s such a talented actor that he could get me to act better."

How The Machine evolved from a stand-up bit into a movie

When and how did the idea of turning your experience with the Russian Mafia into a movie come about?

It was an accident, to be honest with you. I was pitching two other movies, and they were good movies too. This guy over at Legendary [Entertainment], Cale Boyter, was like, "I'll do it." I was like, "What do you mean?" He goes, "I'll make a movie with you. I want to make a movie with you. I think it'll be fun. Which one do you want to make?" I was like, "If you're telling me I can make a movie, I want to make 'The Machine.'" He was like, "Why didn't you pitch that?" I go, "Because I don't know what the story is, and what if it's really successful and I get kidnapped by the Russian Mafia?"

And he goes, "Sold." I was like, "What?" He goes, "That's our movie. That's your movie. It's 'Godfather II' meets 'The Hangover.' I love it. Flashbacks to younger Bert, and that's the train story, but you're getting kidnapped. I love it." So I sold it. I left Legendary, not knowing what I sold, but man, next thing you know, we got a script in. The script's awesome. Made one change, and we're off to the races.

The original story is wild enough on its own, so how did that also evolve to include the "real" you in the present day?

It's crazy. It's the secret sauce for this movie, in my opinion. When I showed the trailer to my friends, they're like, "Wait. This isn't just you telling your train story. This is a reimagining of it." I was like, "Yeah." That is where all my friends, [whose opinions] I'm hanging my hat on, were like, "This is going to be badass."

What's even crazier is, we mirrored a lot of what Bert's going through in the movie emotionally [with] what I was going through in real life — this identity crisis of, who am I really? Who am I if I don't drink? Who am I if I don't take my shirt off on stage? And the daughter stuff was on the nose. I was dealing with my daughter who was growing up and wanted independence, and I didn't want her to have independence. I wanted her to stay my little girl who sings songs on her bike. It mirrored a lot of it. It was really cool.

Will the real Bert Kreischer please stand up?

Where does the screen Bert end and the real Bert begin? And going a little wider, where does the stand-up Bert end and the real Bert begin?

I don't know, but I feel an intervention coming up that's going to help me define that [laughs]. I really could not tell you. Podcasting has made it so complicated because you think you're one person and you talk, but then you talk wild and crazy, and then you get off and people are like, "You know what you said, right?" And you're like, "Yeah, those are my words, but I didn't ..." 

It's really convoluted, especially when I'm out with my kids and a fan will recognize me and be like, "Yo, come do a shot with us." Then I'll be like, "Oh, I'll be right back." Then you turn it on, and you can see my daughters get grossed out when I use the word "brother," because I say that to everyone. I go, "Thanks, brother." Then my daughter will be like, "Oh, brother. Hey, brother, how you doing? You want to do a shot, brother, and take our shirts off?" My daughters will openly mock me, so it is a very slippery slope that I dance on.

I imagine that when you do meet people, they definitely expect you to always be on. They know the Bert from the videos and from the stand-up, and they expect you to be that guy.

Yeah. I got on a plane the other day. I have a speech about never quitting drinking that went viral, and in it, I said, "I love when I get on a plane and they're all 'double Jack on the rocks, lots of rocks.'" I got on the plane; I was hung over; I didn't feel like drinking. I was like, "Ugh, I just want to put my mask on and go to sleep." And the flight attendants are there with a double Jack on the rocks, lots of rocks. The pilots are like, "The Machine, here's your drink, buddy. We got them coming to you [the whole flight]." Then you're like, "Oh, okay." Next thing you know, you're in a cockpit with two pilots, living your best life.

Kreischer couldn't believe he was in a movie with Luke Skywalker

Having Mark Hamill in this film, is there a "Star Wars" fan inside you that's standing there saying, "Holy cow, I'm in a movie with Luke Skywalker"?

Yeah. I flew on a private jet with him to Serbia, and [I] and Cale, the producer, were geeking out. We're like, "Luke Skywalker — planes don't go down that Luke Skywalker's on." We are with Luke, and he is the most generous dude. He'll tell you every story you want to hear, inside baseball gossip about Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher and George Lucas. He is so generous, and he never gets tired of it. He knows that he's got a responsibility to uphold the hero you looked at as a kid. He's a great ambassador of dreams, in my opinion.

What surprised you the most about actually working with him and acting opposite him?

This is going to sound crazy, but he's such a talented actor that he could get me to act better. In scenes, he'd give me these moments of these fatherly speeches. [In] one scene, I cried, and I wasn't even on camera; I was just reading lines with him. It was his solo shot, and I started crying, and the director's like, "Holy s***, flip it around. Let's get Bert crying." I was like, "I don't know how that happened." They're like, "What?" I was like, "Mark did something with his eyes that made me cry, so I can't do that. You got to get Mark to do the things with his eyes." Mark's like, "You mean, act?" And I went, "Yeah, can you act? Because then that makes me act. I can't act without you acting."

Did he tell you any good "Star Wars" stories that you can work into your act? Or are those strictly confidential?

Dude, I'm such an idiot. I really still am a child. I didn't know there was a dude inside R2-D2, and then Mark Hamill goes, "Hold on. You know there was someone inside C-3PO too?" I was like, "There was someone inside C-3PO?" And he was like, "Oh my God." What's great is that he's open with all these stories. I remember him telling me a story one time about Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he said, "I gave him some advice when he was young and he wanted to get into acting. I said, 'Number one, lose the name. It's never going to be on a billboard. And two, you've got to lose the accent.'" I worked out with Arnold the other day, and Arnold told the story to me, and I was like, "Shut up." He's the best.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

"The Machine" is out in theaters on May 26.