Comedian Caleb Hearon’s plans for the perfect KC sitcom
The LA-by-way-of-Missouri comedian is hopeful they will be able to begin shooting the series after the resolution of the WGA strike.
Four-hundred miles west of this year’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, a bleeding-red Chiefs watch party was unfolding in the Larchmont Village section of Los Angeles, with a guest list of gays, theys and alternative comedians who normally might not invest much emotional weight into the outcome of an NFL football game. If not for the will of one man.
This was the gathering of Caleb Hearon, the standup, TV writer and first-rate Twitter personality whose blunt and unflappable dissection of modern LGBTQ+ culture has garnered him Internet Fame. (“being gay is exhausting. why do i have to say ‘we love her’ when i walk past a lamppost,” he once famously tweeted.)
There were two rules for the viewing, strictly enforced by its Missouri-born host: You must wear red, yellow or some combination of the two, and you must root for the players in those colors. He invited friends over throughout the regular season with the same expectation, cultivating his own Red Kingdom out West. Fans of other NFL teams asked him if it would be wise for them to come over when the two square off. For their own sake, he responded, “Absolutely not.”
Raised in small towns in northern rural Missouri, Caleb instinctively rooted for the Chiefs and, in a more meaningful way, fell for the midsize metropolis they represented. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of his comedy, or those who may have Googled him after catching his scene-stealing cameo in last year’s “Jurassic World: Dominion,” are likely to know of his vocal adoration of Kansas City, and the Midwest at large. The backbone of his heartland-chic wardrobe is an arsenal of locally sourced flat-billed caps: The red-and-white Baldwin, the Made Mobb butterfly trucker, the all-caps MIDWEST. He tweets his contempt for Josh Hawley and Mike Parsons, his reverence Casey’s General Store pizza.
Many of the 20 or so Angelenos who came to his Super Bowl party had no interest in Patrick Mahomes or Andy Reid until they spent their Sundays with Caleb and found themselves born again, as Chiefs fans. The big game was playing on the TV in his living room and also outside, projected onto the side of his home, bathed in the golden hour glow. A comic, Liza Treyger, had been doing shows in Overland Park over the weekend, and returned to LA with armfuls of festive banners and some T-shirts, in case anyone needed one.
Turns out, because of Caleb, people wore their own. He had turned them into honest-to-God fans.
“At first, everybody coming over was just throwing on whatever red or yellow T-shirt they had. And now, by the time the Super Bowl came around, we had so many new Chiefs fans, everyone had bought Andy Reid merch and Travis Kelce hats,” Caleb told me during a phone call. “It was so funny to see at the end of the season people who, at first, were kind of just like, ‘I don’t really have anything to do on Sunday,’ now are like, ‘Travis Kelce is the best tight end to ever play football.’”
That type of transformation isn’t entirely unusual for those who come into Caleb’s orbit; he has been generating word-of-mouth advertising for Kansas City since he moved to the City of Angels two and a half years ago. He has a well-worn trick where he brings dubious LA friends to the 816 for a few days, to new and old haunts like Blip Coffee Roasters, Broadway Cafe, Slab’s Barbecue and, the late night staple, Waffle House. They leave changed, their coastal eyes opened to the humble wonders of Middle America.
The Caleb-Hearon-effect befell the comic Holmes Holmes, a star of Fox’s “Welcome to Flatch,” who was at the Super Bowl party. Holmes — who uses she/they pronouns — grew up largely in Omaha but spent several months in Kansas City during the pandemic, after years of their best friend singing its praises. She and Caleb have been creative partners since meeting at Chicago’s iO Theatre in 2017, discovering a connection rooted in a shared desire to make fun of everything, even the dark stuff. In the stage show the duo conceived, called At What Cost, they brought an audience member up on stage to ponder the titular question, asking what they had given up to be where they are today. Caleb and Holmes wound up discussing their own lives — how they were single, broke, far from home. They talked about being in their mid-20s and having no idea what lay ahead.
Sometime in 2019 they decided they were going to make a TV comedy together about these feelings, set in the city Caleb has always felt closest to. Holmes, a fellow Midwesterner, agreed it felt right. Their show would take place in Kansas City.
There was so much then they couldn’t have known: That their careers would blossom in parallel fashion, launched by their distinct, weird, hilarious front-facing videos on Tik Tok and Twitter. That Holmes would fall in love with KC. That they would be given the chance to make their dream show a reality.
Three-ish years later, their project, titled “Stuck,” is in the works at Hulu. Caleb and Holmes brought their pilot script to a round of networks in March 2022 and received multiple offers, during what Caleb feels OK calling an “extremely competitive bidding process.” JAX Media, the production company behind subversive gems like “Broad City” and “Search Party,” signed on to produce. The history-making trans TV writer Our Lady J, Emmy-nominated for “Pose,” joined as showrunner.
In the series, Caleb and Holmes are friends navigating life and love in present-day KC, questioning if they should move to a coast like many have before. They rent a room from a lesbian couple, in their 60s, who teach them about the LGBTQ+ history of this city, a revolutionary past reverberating into our present. The duo’s pilot script — which largely came to them on a writing trip in KC — tells a heartfelt tale of a vibrant, inner-generational queer community, while also being wall-to-wall jokes. Call it Caleb’s love letter to KC, or maybe a strongly worded rejoinder to those who might call it “flyover country.”
Caleb and Holmes are waiting out the ongoing WGA writer’s strike, picketing with their colleagues and slamming studio execs on their platforms. They’re feeling hopeful about the future of their series in a post-strike world, and that viewers are ready for a gay sitcom that unfolds in the home of the Chiefs.
That intuition was there, in the back of Caleb’s head, as he watched his football team take the biggest stage with the people who now understand what it means to root for this city. In the ecstatic moments after Harrison Butker booted the game-winning field goal, Chiefs fans new and old rushed outside, into the salt-flecked ocean air, where Caleb passed around a cross-shaped joint. A friend snapped a photo.
“He gets us,” went the caption on Caleb’s Instagram, where he’s holding up the Christ-like hash in reference to the night’s confounding, black-and-white Jesus advertisements.
He went bowling that night with some friends, had a couple drinks. The next morning he woke up in a post-championship glow, sending a text to his team of agents and managers: “Seems like a great time for somebody to make a TV show about Kansas City.”
For the proud Missourian, this series — which he hopes will begin shooting after the writer’s strike — represents a natural step forward in a career that has always been about lifting up where he came from, even as he has achieved a level of fame that’s taken him beyond it. When I met him for the first time several months ago, it was at a sold-out, shrouded-in-secrecy show in the West Bottoms, highlighting local musicians and comedians while supporting the work of KC Tenants. He had asked me to cover it.
‘Since college, I come home to KC’
Caleb Hearon is calling out to me from maybe 20 feet away in the chilly nighttime air. Though the blinking steel marquee in front of me says The Ship, this is apparently not the back door, and that’s the faraway voice of Caleb Hearon shouting my name. I trudge over with internalized embarrassment as the comic not exactly known for patience — his viral “POV” videos present a formidable aura perhaps best described as a full-body-eye-roll — waits on me. In his most famous clip, the one he gets asked to do on red carpets, he reassures a close friend about a situation in which they were unquestionably in the wrong. “You’re 100 percent right…Right…Right…I agree…,” he says with feigned, unconvincing support. His face is mostly still, eyelids raising ever so slightly, head swiveling like an extremely slow sprinkler. The micro-expressions reveal the relatable truth: He’s lying out of convenience.
I walk up to the door being held open by Caleb, dressed in a corn-yellow KC Tenants T-shirt, blue canvas jacket and thick-rimmed tortoise-shell glasses. His easy, unforced smile tells me he is not concealing any anger, and is in fact extremely in his element; there’s no trace of judgment lurching in his eyes. In real life, Caleb is more Midwestern Nice than So-Cal Snarky. He gives me a hug, ushers me inside.
It’s a few days after Thanksgiving; two months ago, I was at a show at The Truman put on by his good pals, MUNA. During the final song, an instant-classic queer love anthem called “Silk Chiffon,” he joined them to sing Phoebe Bridgers’ parts since he, too, appeared in the music video. A couple of days after my review published in The Pitch, he found me on the moribund bird-app and invited me here.
“Thank you for writing that,” he says as we sit down. “I fucking love MUNA.”
We’re at a picnic table in the back of The Ship, the revived speakeasy hosting tonight’s event. I see Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahachee, our folk poet laureate of KC, across the room looking down at her phone; I try to keep it cool. A velvet curtain hangs behind us and beyond that, a buzzing crowd is noisily picking up drinks from the bar. There are hanging items — dusty nautical-themed knick-knacks; the purple, threadbare Soul Review banner — that date back to the original location, opened on 10th Street in 1935. They’re a direct link to an era of gangsters, jazz and, as Caleb has learned doing research for his show, revolutionary gay bars, drag performers and the righteous lesbians of Womontown.
His own history with this city goes back decades. Though he grew up around Chillicothe, where he was born, the 90-minute-by-car metropolis loomed large, an escape from small-town heteronormativity. By high school he was questioning if he was gay, maybe bi — “I’m definitely gay,” Caleb says to me now — and Kansas City was where he experienced an open-minded, outward-looking culture. He liked to see films at the now-defunct Westport Tivoli they didn’t get at the local theater, or to order the egg-drop soup from Lulu’s Noodles. As soon as he got his diploma in 2013, he spent his summer as a fiercely idealistic intern in then-Senator Claire McCaskill’s KC office, the youngest on her staff. He lived with his mom in the suburbs.
He left by the fall to attend the University of Missouri State and slowly found his way into standup, the passion that took him to famed comedy clubs of Chicago and then southern California. But he hasn’t left Kansas City, at least not really, returning for days or weeks at a time to visit family and friends, or to spend some meditative time to himself. “All of college and since college, I come home to Kansas City,” he says.
It must be cool, I tell him, to now be in a position to positively affect someone from his home region who might see themselves reflected in his story.
“Sometimes I’m struck by the weight of it, and the possibility of that,” Caleb responds. “I try to not think of myself as somebody who has a platform, although I know that I do. It’s very warping to be like, ‘Oh, I’m a person who people pay to come and see, or I’m a person who, if I tell them that being gay is OK, maybe they will feel like they can be themselves in their small town.’ I guess I know intellectually that that’s true, but I don’t know — it’s a very strange thing to think about yourself.”
He’s especially beloved here, getting recognized every trip home, like Paul Rudd for queer hipsters. This evening’s secret-lineup show sold out within one day of him tweeting about it, boasting $20 tickets would be worth $100.
As I take my place in front of the stage, the people around me state they came here for one man, and happily divulge their connections to him. Erin Sims, who recently moved here from Oklahoma, learned her boss was one of Caleb’s college roommates, a “really random Missouri connection.” Emily Ray drunkenly met Caleb at a bar a few nights ago and, by her own admission, “embarrassed the shit out of myself.” Not that Caleb seemed to think so; he talked to her for a bit about being queer in Kansas City, she recalls.
“To be able to remember that there are queer people, especially in the places that you live — It’s just validating,” Ray shouts over background music and overlapping conversations.
Caleb walks out on stage, across a ragged bohemian carpet, and the people fall silent, then erupt into applause. Taking the mic off of the stand, he begins his set with a rousing, profanity-laced affirmation of queerness he couldn’t have imagined uttering as a child, but people like Emily and myself have come to expect.
He also likes to make straight people squirm.
“Make some noise, faggots!” Caleb shouts into the microphone, the people immediately indulging his request. “Everybody’s a faggot tonight, especially the ones who normally are and all the straight people are kind of, like, honorary — like deputy sheriff. Deputies sheriff? I don’t know how that one goes.”
Caleb cedes the stage to Tara Raghuveer and Denise Brown of KC Tenants; Tara, the 30-year-old founder of the city-wide union representing renters, thanks him for his ongoing support. Brown, with ferocious, 70-year-old energy, leads us in a full-participation chant of, “The rent is too damn high!”
The night’s emcee is watching from a chair in the V.I.P. section, where the night’s performers will join him after their performance. It’s the best seat in the house, save for maybe one on the opposite side of the stage.
In a booth with several of her friends, Kellie Hearon cracks up into pieces every time her son takes the stage.
‘Those people are rich and we’re poor. And poor people don’t get to do fun things.’
Kellie will proudly tell you he’s been funny since he was 2 years old. “It wasn’t even anything you could put your finger on,” she said to me after the show.
Caleb can recall some of the bits — early, dawn-of-the-millenium, bits. Since his father, aunts and uncles all worked in academia, he would assert himself into their discussions on research papers with an impassioned case for the usage of Comic Sans. Later, in grade school, he would do lightly mocking impressions of his babysitter and her “bad food” for his friends and their gobsmacked parents. He was like catnip to adults, conversating with grown-up gusto. He was less comfortable around other kids.
The premise for his first Tik Tok video, in March of 2021, is inspired by true events: “the kid at your 9th birthday party who spends the entire time talking to your mom.”
“I have Bloomberg this year — eh, she means well, but, I mean, I could teach the class better than she could if we’re being honest,” Caleb says in the video, a Chuck-E Cheese panorama at his back. Pretty soon, he’s talking her through her failed marriage, saying, “People make divorce such a dirty word. You’re winning, Shelly. Don’t tell Tommy I said that.”
His own childhood was affected by divorce; Kellie raised him and his older brother, working as a bartender, and briefly in a women’s prison, to put herself through nursing school. His father, Brian Buckman, an I.T. employee at the University of Central Missouri, saw him less often but shared a love of standup. He showed him old tapes of Richard Pryor and George Carlin when he was around middle school age, “which he should not have been doing,” Caleb admitted. Their artform seemed cool, appealing even. It didn’t strike him, for a second, as an actual option.
“There is some truth to this, now that I’m in the industry: I just thought, ‘Oh, all those people are rich and we’re poor. And poor people don’t get to do fun things,’” Caleb said. “I just thought, ‘Well, that’s not for me and OK, and so we have to move on.’”
His freshman year at Missouri State University, he majored in socio-political communication with a goal of becoming a lawyer, inspired by the handsomely paid, suit-wearing men of TV commercials. He took the right classes, was in all the resume-building leadership organizations. It didn’t last long: Everything in law was so serious. Improv, in stark contrast, was not.
Falling in with his troupe, Missouri State Improv, altered his path. The first time he tried standup, it was at the urging of a teammate who ran a burlesque show at a small bar on C Street in downtown Springfield. She made an offer: Once a week, for 20 bucks, he could say whatever he wanted ahead of the freaky, seductively dressed headliners. “I think I’m one of the only standups in history that ever started out getting paid,” Caleb said.
His first sets were all politics. He ranted about his disgust for conservatives, for the sad state of governance in Missouri, in a room where people actually nodded in non-violent agreement. He had a joke about a hardcore Christian from his high school who had made abortion her de-facto crusade, telling classmates wouldn’t it be so sad if you had never been born. The punchline: At least I wouldn’t be here listening to you.
I told him it’s a classic, so good Greta Gerwig reworked it fo “Ladybird.”
“I’ve also seen it online a few times, which makes me think it’s not a very good joke,” he said.
On stages in Chicago, Caleb honed his storytelling on stage, but the goal remained the same: Recognition through comedy. At the iO Theatre, where he secured a box office internship — coveted because it paid for improv classes — he answered the phones. When comics in the cast, including Holmes, called in with questions on payment or to get comped tickets, he manifested characters based on “whatever dumb shit came to mind:” A telephone operator for an ER where the only medicine is laughter; Truman Capote, in his precious whisper of a voice, on the hunt for gossip. Sometimes he would pretend they weren’t an improv club at all.
Holmes remembers thinking, “Who is this boy who genuinely makes me laugh as hard as someone who has a crush, but he doesn’t have a crush on me because he’s gay?” The colleagues did the dance of “friend-flirting,” pining like platonic, star-crossed lovers. They saw pieces of themselves in the other — both grew up, at least largely, in the midwest; neither had met an openly gay adult until they were in their 20s. They struggled with depression. They joked about everything.
Holmes recalls, over coffee one day at a cafe in Chicago, they were talking and talking until they had decided to make a TV show together.“We have been working on that since,” she said.
“And then we still will tour together and do like 30 minutes of standup,” they went on. “We just love being together. He’s my best friend. I love him so much.”
For all their striking similarities, in personality and profession and career trajectory, the two of them not exactly alike. Of the duo, Holmes feels she’s further away from their supremely confident stage selves, occasionally suffering the sting of self-doubt. “You can quote me as saying I do think Caleb is that confident and I am not, and I think he would say the same,” Holmes told me with a laugh. “I definitely come alive on stage.”
Caleb more or less agrees, though it took him a while to feel that way. “I don’t feel that I doubt myself much anymore,” he told me once. “I feel that I’m good at this.”
If there’s one thing Caleb and Holmes both want, unironically and deep down, it’s to make something that’s real. They want to create a community, to bring in people around them. Their brand of sardonic humor simply “doesn’t work when you don’t feel immense care,” as Holmes explained.
“Caleb is the most caring person ever. But it’s like, he’s gonna get you a job behind your back or something. And then, in person, he’s gonna make fun of your new outfit. You know what I’m saying?”
‘That was my first song, thank you very much’
Makayla Scott, the artist known as Honeybee, is standing by inside of The Ship, listening to Caleb introduce her as the artist that commanded his full attention recently at a cafe in Strawberry Hill. I watch her wait, an electric-blue electric guitar slung across her shoulder. She takes a deep breath before she steps up onto the stage.
More than an hour now into Caleb’s carefully curated show, Honeybee’s set is following a veritable slew of KC talent: Chicago-based comedians A.J. Marroquin and Virginia Mueller, both from here, offered offbeat takes on everything from Zoloft (good), to Western Saloon Sepia-tone photos (weird), to the British diss-track origins of Yankee Doodle Dandy (objectively hilarious). Married musicians and local residents Katie Crutchfield and Kevin Morby moved through bruising folk ballads — her “Fire,” his “Bittersweet, TN” — with soul-stirring marital harmony. Addie Sartino and Pierce Turcotte, of The Greeting Committee, formed almost a decade ago at Blue Valley High, soared on stripped-down renditions of angsty hits like “More.”
In the wake of all that, Scott, a lesser known KC artist, plugs her guitar into the amp, walks over to the mic. A few laughs fill the intermediary silence.
“Oh. My. God,” she sings in a lilting, faux-pop-star delivery, before joking in her normal voice, “That was my first song, thank you very much.”
Her real first song opens with a moodily intoned tale of domestic mundanity (“Drinking coffee and responding to that chain mail”) that explodes into a screaming chorus (“If you keep making that face / it’s gonna stay that way”). The crowd reacts to Mikayla’s sudden, powerful, shift into falsetto, several guests woo-ing in approval. Scott, eyes closed, keeps belting, keeps strumming, as her lips curl into a smile.
She plays three more tracks, including a tender cover of “Cowboy Take Me Away” that invites a rousing karaoke-style singalong. Though it was a last-second addition to her set, the choice is fitting, The Chicks being Caleb’s avowed favorite band.
When he comes back to the microphone, he’s actually a little vulnerable; maybe it’s the music, or maybe it’s the person he’s introducing. He tells us about Holmes and announces the TV show they have sold, which his dear friend has put long hours of writing and actual lived KC experience into.
“I wanted to brag, because they have worked so hard on that, and they’re such a genius,” Caleb says. “Please make the most noise you’ve ever made for my friend, Holmes.”
Holmes, in a black T-shirt and unbuttoned blue cardigan, breaks it to the crowd, “We…did not sell the show,” before caving to their sentimental side. “No, we did, we did. I’m so excited. That actually got me emotional.”
Flashback to the spring of 2020, and Holmes had almost no experience in Kansas City outside of a trip she took as a child. She moved here at the height of the pandemic, from Chicago, so she could pay $300 a month to live in Waldo with her sister (a “term of endearment” for her now-non-binary sibling). She fell for the neighborhoods, the queer spaces, the ability to afford a backyard and a night out. Within three weeks, she had booked “Welcome to Flatch” and relocated to North Carolina to shoot the documentary-style Fox comedy. But, like Caleb, she found herself coming back.
Holmes visited family, with her sister here and also her parents, who had in fact moved to the city first after her dad got a new job. She finally did a proper trip with Caleb, when they spent 10 days here in the spring of 2022 coming up with the pitch for their show. They sat around all day, imagining and talking and writing. When they were unable to work any longer, they drove around the city, looking at passing blocks of faded brick exteriors and graffiti. The passenger-seat rider jotted down any ideas for scenes, themes, dialogue.
Though they have written the show in locales all over the world — from LA to Chicago, Portland to Vancouver — it was born in Kansas City. Here, they mapped out a 10-episode season.
“Can we just really take a second? Like, look around,” Holmes says on this night. “Caleb just creates community while also being the funniest person to ever exist. So give it up for him.”
They hand the mic over to the night’s host, the only person left to perform. Caleb places a notepad onto a music stand, loose in stature. He asks: “Is it gonna bum you guys out if I talk about politics?” The people do not raise any objections. “OK good. Josh Hawley is such a fucking rat bitch loser.” He adds, in regard to the Senator’s forthcoming literary manifesto: “Josh Hawley writing a book about manhood is like me writing a book about eating pussy.”
He mentions working for Claire McKaskill, joking, “If you want a centrist, you got one.” He also gives her credit: During town halls, he says, she would do something a little punk. She would ask, in essence, “OK, who in here hates me the most?”
“It’d be 15 farmers being like, ‘Shit, I think probably Dale? Is Dale here?’” Caleb shouts in a downhome country twang. “Then she’d be like, ‘Alright come up here, you’re gonna moderate the conversation today,’ and then she had Dale moderate the conversation. You’ve never seen someone fold so quickly.”
Political material isn’t as common for him these days, but, in this room, it’s hard to resist — for a moment. He glances down at his notebook, full of new jokes to work through and a crowd eager to let him.
“I’m done talking about politics now. What else do you guys want to hear?”
At the end of the show, Caleb stands around for north of 20 minutes greeting every person who comes up to him with a hug, a selfie, a conversation that finds a natural conclusion. I find Mikayla, who’s beaming in the middle of congratulatory friends.
She confirms, yes, she was nervous to perform after — and for — artists who inspire her. Sharing a stage with Caleb was “the ultimate honor,” the cause of what she estimates to be the hardest she has ever smiled in her life. This whole night caught her off guard.
“When I got up there, I took it all in,” MiKayla says. “I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’”
His mother, who meets me over by the bar, tells me she never tires of seeing him kill up on a stage, especially when it’s here, for family and old friends. She has steadfastly supported his comedy career since he was in college, cramming 300 people into his apartment for shows. None of his bits phase her — not the stuff that’s sexual, or cringe-inducing or both (Tonight he talked about professor-themed roleplay gone wrong). “There’s nothing him and I don’t talk about,” Kellie says.
Her friends sometimes ask her why she doesn’t brag about him more. She replies she doesn’t need to.
“I don’t have to do that,” says the mother who lives in Pleasant Hill and works at an Overland Park dialysis clinic. “I don’t brag about him because my heart is so full when I listen to him and I see him perform — and just seeing the person he’s become — that I don’t have to brag to other people. I feel it in my heart every day.”
He hasn’t been changed by success, she says. He’s still the kid who grew up with nothing for miles but farmland, power lines and a single main road dotted with two restaurants and a gas station. Who thought KC was the epitome of class and culture.
Tomorrow morning, he and a friend are making the eight-hour drive to Chicago to see their second The Greeting Committee show in as many days, at Lincoln Hall. Then he’ll fly back to LA.
‘If I just get to a certain level, then all my little quirks will be funny’
There’s a quiet in the air on this Wednesday night — on any Wednesday night — in downtown KC, the only sound the revving hum of passing cars. I’m standing outside of the Chartreuse Saloon, a Western-themed bar and pool hall on Oak Street. The door is locked, explained by a posted note asking customers to ring the bell. I decide to wait for Caleb.
When he walks up, he raps on the door with the unfazed rat-a-tat of a regular, meeting the eyes of a man who lets him in. There are maybe a half-dozen older gentlemen at green-felt billiards tables, a few spectators seated in metal bar stools. Unsurprisingly, Caleb is sporting local gear in the form of a sweatshirt — it reads “Death to Gender Rules” above a skull entwined in leaves, created by his friend, Emily Casamattis, of the Liberty-based Untamed Supply. He has a couple more days in town before he heads back to LA, to begin writing on a new animated Hulu series from his pal, Ally Pankiw, and the actor Dan Levy, of “Schitt’s Creek.”
We find our way to a table that doubles as a checkerboard, setting our mason-jar cocktails in the middle of green and black squares, next to a stack of playing cards. We each have a version of the tart, delicious house specialty, the “gold rush;” his is lemon, mine raspberry. But we’re talking about another kind of gold: Golden Corral.
Over this past Christmas and New Year’s, Caleb went on a posh European holiday with several comedian friends, among them Holmes and Our Lady J, his series collaborators. They talked ideas for their show on the stone-cobbled streets of Berlin, later questioning, hypothetically, if HR would be cool with the co-creators of a TV series patronizing a German sex club with their boss. Caleb’s sporadic tweets painted a decadent picture: moped rides, cigarettes, tiny red elevators. Then another, on Jan. 2: “europe is beautiful but they don’t have golden corral.”
Though this may indeed sound like a joke, he tells me, it is not. Golden Corral gave him his first-ever job as a teenager. He had his high school graduation party inside of Golden Corral. He and his mother went to Golden Corral for dinner when they couldn’t afford much more, didn’t need much more.
So it should come as no surprise he tweeted his hankering for the buffet-style chain with more than 390 locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
His hope, always, is to spread his homespun influence.
“I’ve joked for a long time that I can’t wait to be rich and famous because then all the embarrassing things about me will be cool,” Caleb says, noting he shares a favorite restaurant with Chrissy Teigen. “If Chrissy Teigen’s favorite restaurant is Golden Corral, that’s chic and funny, right? But if my favorite restaurant is Golden Corral, it’s embarrassing as fuck. So I’m like: If I just get to a certain level, then all my little quirks will be funny.”
He’s on his way. This year, he will appear in Pankiw’s feature directorial debut, the SXSW hit, “I Used to be Funny,” opposite Rachel Sennot and a ton of other hilarious people. He’s writing, a lot — developing a series not only with Holmes but with Caitie Delaney, the screenwriter and former “Rick and Morty” staffer. Their show, “Best Buds,” would be the first Peacock adult animated comedy.
When I bring up the domestic abuse allegations against Justin Roiland, the now-former voice star and executive producer of “Rick and Morty,” he doesn’t hesitate in responding, “Fuck that guy.”
“I have a lot of good friends that work on ‘Rick and Morty,’” he says. “What all that shit comes down to for me is regardless of industry or whatever, nobody is talented enough that we should put up with them being bad people. Period. And Justin Roiland can eat shit. All those guys can go, and I would be perfectly fine with it. Because me and my friends are cool.”
He tells me one of those people is Colin Trevorrow, the director behind the “Jurassic World” franchise and the 2012 indie classic “Safety Not Guaranteed.” He gave Caleb a no-audition role in the movie, after the two of them sat down for two hours and talked about their families, Trevorrow’s two kids, filmmaking. Trevorrow let he and his scene partner, Justice Smith, “who’s also a genius,” rewrite their scene in his London hotel suite one night, adding in jokes. Though much of it was eventually cut, a relationship was forged: Trevorrow asked Caleb to generate screenplay ideas.
So it must have been nerve-wracking, I say, to meet stars like Dern, widely considered a gay icon. Not really, Caleb says, though she was “so cool and sweet.” He’s also pals with Bryce Dallas Howard now. It’s not a big deal.
“No offense to them — they’re lovely people and they’re extremely talented, but I don’t do that,” he says. “There are like three people in the world that I’d be nervous to meet, and it’s like Julia Roberts, cause it’s my mom’s favorite actress growing up. Natalie Maines, lead singer of The Chicks. And that might be it.”
He hasn’t met any of them, though he adds, “Natalie Maines, if you’re reading this, hit me up.”
His heart belongs here, a fact that shines through in everything he does. He has told me, if he can keep this successful comedy career of his going, and the world can stave off environmental collapse, he would like to end up back in KC with a production company. He wants to do things that will make his family proud.
His father won’t ever know. Caleb lost Buckman, his father, on Jan. 19, 2022.
“Yeah, we can’t find him,” he says matter-of-factly. “No, I’m kidding. He did die.”
It happened the same weekend he was in town to see MUNA open for Kacey Musgraves at the T-Mobile Center. Though their relationship was strained — “my dad did not plan to have a kid and I think he felt completely unequipped and unexcited about being a parent” — he knew him as “one of the smartest people I ever met,” a man whose wit, persistence and love had a huge impact on the direction his life took.
The day after his death, Caleb was driving to Warrensburg, Missouri to be with mourning family, to tell his grandmother who hadn’t yet been told. It was a different look for him: Sobbing, uncontrollably, grateful to have tinted windows. Seeing a flock of birds, he said to himself, “That’s dad,” even though in the next instant he reasoned, “He would never be birds if he was anything.” He was in that first stage of grief, when nothing makes sense. But life, .5and humor, continued.
He turned at one point, saw a billboard he had never seen before. He squinted to read it.
“It said in big red letters, ‘There’s no problem that can’t be solved with our bacon,’” Caleb says. “I was like, ‘We’ll see. We’ll have to see.’”
Before we leave the bar, Caleb tells me why he chose this place, which opened in 2021, instead of a sentimental spot from his past. Simple: “It’s newly special to me, and I think that’s one of the things I love about Kansas City — and one of the things I hope for Kansas City — is growth and evolution.” He hopes to grow right along with his city.
We step outside, into the empty streets. There’s a stillness to this city, a general ease of life, Caleb tells me he thinks more places should embrace. Before he walks to his car, parked maybe 100 feet away, I thank him for affording me the time I would assume is usually reserved for someone from a publication with the word New York in its name.
He tells me cares much more about this story, for his favorite city’s alt magazine, than any of that.