Brent Mukai is a comedian, actor and voice talent who’s been crushing his goals ever since he started pursuing his passions full time. He’s a good guy who always makes me laugh, and I’m happy to have him joining me today.
Amanda: Brent, being relatively new in your self-employed journey, I’m curious what motivated you to take the leap? Meaning how did you know it was time to focus on your talent full-time versus entertaining on the side?
Brent: I live very humbly. Like, I lived very humbly and I still do live extremely humbly. I don’t buy anything. Like this shirt was given to me, and like I just wear… I don’t think I’ve bought a shirt for myself in maybe three, four or five years. And all I wanted to do was make enough money to quit my day job and do it full-time. That was all I wanted to do. So the second that I was making just enough money to quit my job I did, because I figured that with all of the extra time I’d have, I wouldn’t be in too much trouble if I was already making enough to support myself month by month. So I was like marking days off the calendar like am I ready to quit yet? Yeah, I think I’m ready.
Amanda: So it was mostly based on an income level. It was once you got to that point, you were ready to go?
Brent: Yes. That was all I had been thinking about for… I mean, since I was 17 or 18… was like, how do I make a career out of the things that I like doing? That was it.
Amanda: What was the first step into that? What was the first thing you loved doing?
Brent: Man, I don’t know. Like, I think I was in high school and I was… well, even before that, I guess. I don’t know. I took acting in like a musical class when I was 10 or 11, I think. And I was like, oh, man, this seems like fun. It’s just, I watched “All That” as a kid. I don’t know how many listeners or viewers know the show “All That,” the kids’ comedy sketch show. It’s like Saturday Night Live, but for kids by kids. When I was like, I don’t know, seven or eight, and I was just enthralled by it. And they did a whole big, like send in your tapes competition at some point when I was like 12. And I got an old video camcorder and sent in a tape. We didn’t make the deadline, so I didn’t. I’ll always say what if, but I don’t think I would have made it on at that point.
Amanda: You’ve done okay for yourself anyway, but that’s one of those things that I hear about voice talent all the time. You have to make your deadline or you will not get considered.
Brent: Always. Yes.
Amanda: Good thing that you learned that early on. You mentioned that you live humbly. Do you feel that growing up in Hawaii helped shape you in that way? I know that island culture and that community environment is pretty unique compared to the rest of the US. Did that factor into any of that?
My brain has shifted into ROI thoughts.
Brent: It’s so funny because, like, I don’t think so. My mom and my sister love spending money on just stuff. They just go and they just… my mom still goes to Macy’s and just like, goes to just buy something and I’m like, what are you doing? Like, you can find it much cheaper online. My sister also just loves going to, like, she actually goes to Black Friday sales just to browse and like look around. Like, if I ever go to a Black Friday sale and I’m gonna stand in line, it’s because there’s a 4k 80-inch television for like $150 that I’m like, this is too good of a deal not to do. So, growing up, I actually bought a lot of stuff. My mom would always be like, why are you buying all those DVDs? And I’m like, I don’t know. I like listening to the commentaries and rewatching them over and over again. And she’s like these DVDs, and I’m like, I’m gonna have these DVDs for the rest of my life. And now, I don’t really care about DVDs. No one cares about DVDs. So I guess she was right. But I grew up very consumer-centric. I guess when I got broke, and in college, and like, graduated college and was like, okay, I can’t afford anything. I’m just going to not buy anything. That’s when it sort of started for me.
Amanda: I think that’s a good skill to have, though. I know I live more frugally than most. I am also a big fan of the $8 t-shirts at Target. I’ve not purchased clothes since pre-pandemic because why? And even then, I do, sadly, have items in my closet that I’ve had for at least 10 years, so. But to me it’s kind of… I’m the same way with everything. I’ve had my car for several years. I keep things until they don’t work anymore. And that’s a weird thing, but it’s kind of a mindset I got into growing up without money, was to appreciate it. And to save what I could. I always wanted to make sure that I was financially stable, and that I could take care of myself. So living frugally, it’s also easier just based on who I am. I don’t need a lot of things. I’m more of an experiences person.
But that’s one of the things that I feel stops a lot of people from getting into business for themselves, because they want the income, they want the freedom, but they don’t want to give up the things in order to save the money to make sure that they’re stable enough to do that. It’s always oh, but I need this new car. I need this new… we always need a new something. But if you’re serious about it, and the money is what stopping you from doing it, you kind of have to take a look at yourself and say, should I sacrifice some of these things? Not give up everything that you love. That’s never a good idea. But is there a way that you can maybe scale things back a little bit until you can do what you want to do? And then once you do what you want to do is like, oh, yeah, I can do this. This is much better than going to an office everyday doing something I don’t love doing.
Brent: Yeah, I heard the term retail therapy recently, and I was like, that is the most ridiculous concept to me. You’re sad, so you go buy stuff. And I’m not knocking anybody who does that. But it’s like, you can’t have the cake and eat it too, right? situation. I’m only knocking that if you’re saying to me, like, I really want to do this thing full-time, or I’ve got this dream, or I’ve got this whatever. If your dream is to just hang out, have a good time, and buy a bunch of cool stuff that you like, that’s a very worthy dream, too. I’m gonna say that. Some people just want… I have a friend who is just like, my dream is to make a lot of money and buy all the stuff that I want. And I was like, I respect that. You’re not gonna get on Oprah anytime soon, but I respect the hell out of that. He’s a pharmacist now. And I’m like, okay, yeah, do your thing, brother.
But you can’t… I don’t know, it is very much a game of, like, if you’re going to try to be self-employed, you have to sacrifice something. And if that something is perhaps you like jewelry, or you like buying a bunch of, you know, brand name whatever, and whatever. Like, it’s unnecessary stuff and it’s getting in the way of the actual thing that’s gonna make you happy, which is being self-employed and going after your dream, right? So I don’t know. I have an interesting view on it, Amanda, because I came from a place where I was buying stuff all the time. And my mom was very well off. I look back now and I can appreciate it and be like, oh, wow, yeah, I was very well off as a kid. And then getting smacked, just like smacked right in the face as soon as I graduated college and being like, I am struggling. I don’t know what to do. So yeah, I had both worlds. And I’m gonna say this to everybody, I really love the world of not buying a whole lot of stuff a lot more, because it’s so much more freeing.
Amanda: I agree with you on that. I think sometimes, subconsciously, people use that as the excuse. It’s kind of like, oh, well, I need to go buy this thing because there’s some kind of fear that’s stopping them. They want to pursue this dream, but they don’t really want to do the work. Or they do. It’s this weird game that happens internally, and I’ve seen it with a lot of people. It’s like a built-in excuse, but they believe it. And to some level, it’s probably true. Like, oh, if I go shopping, I will feel better. Okay, that could be true. That could be very valid. Some people love shopping. I do not, so I can’t relate to it on that level. But it’s kind of weighing that. Will that thing that you purchase, will that make you feel better? And for how long?
It’s that idea of deferred gratification, where you give up something now for something better in the future. And that’s what I think is important, too. Okay, you can get this fancy new gadget right now, and you’ll enjoy it probably for a few weeks before the excitement wears off. But then what? But if you sacrifice it now… and I don’t even like the word sacrifice because that sounds so sinister, like you’re just giving up everything that you love doing. But if you put it aside for now and say I can make do without that thing right now, and that’s going to allow me to spend that time and that money to focus on building this business or whatever the goal is. And then when you get that, and now you have that freedom, now you can go buy that thing. You could probably buy a bigger and better thing. But you’ve now had that goal, and now you’re even… it’s even a confidence thing, because now it’s like, oh, yeah, no, I can do this. I was able to put this aside and focus on what I want to do. And now I have both and that’s kind of an exciting place to be.
Brent: Yeah, my brain has shifted into like ROI, return on investment, thoughts. Anytime I want to buy something, I’m like, what is the ROI of this? Is this worth that? Is this really going to be something worth it before I buy anything? And that really prevents me from buying a whole lot of stuff.
Amanda: So how has working for yourself changed your outlook on business or life in general,
Working for myself has changed every single aspect of the way that I look at everything.
Brent: Working for myself has changed every single aspect of the way that I look at everything. You just have to have a shift. I look at the use of my time so differently now because now, for me, time literally equals money. Because if I’m working and I do more work, or do more auditions, or send more emails, cold emails to marketing and whatever, like, I can make money. And that, up front, really screwed with me, because it felt like any time that I wasn’t working, I was leaving money on the table. And that’s absolutely 100% true with any entrepreneur, with anybody. And it’s coming to terms and to grips with the fact that no matter what you do, you will always be leaving money on the table. If you decide to get one more hour of sleeping, guess what? That hour could have been used to get more money. So you’re always going to be leaving money on the table. And that’s okay.
So, something I had to learn, that I’ve been working on recently even is, just like, I gotta chill. I gotta chill sometimes. I gotta just pick up a video game and play it and understand that the ROI of that is going to be my mental well-being. And, seriously, business and learning about business changed the way that I looked at dating. It looked at… on a very real level, I started realizing, okay, cool. This is just like sending out cold emails. I’m just going to send out my cold emails. I’m gonna see what comes back. I used to, you know, on the dating apps or whatever, I used to be like, oh, what if I? What if? It’s so embarrassing if I don’t get a response back. Now I’m like, submit it and forget it. You know, that’s what we say in voiceover all the time for auditions. You submit it, and then you forget all about it. I don’t care anymore. You know, when I was doing the dating thing, because now I got a girlfriend, but I was just like messaging whoever and being like, this girl looks interesting. I wasn’t like, doing a whole, you know, I’m really struggling. Is this girl? Let me research a bunch. Because I was like, well, you know, it’s a numbers game. So it really helped me with dating, too. It was like, eventually somebody is going to find me and realize that I’m the thing that they want. And they’re not going to find me if I don’t message them. So let me just message out a bunch, you know, that seem like we would have a solid relationship. And that’s what I do in business, too.
So I don’t know. It’s shifted everything. Like I can’t even imagine how I thought about life before. I can’t even imagine it. It’s so crazy because once you get into this whole machine, your brain just starts. You have to have a mental shift. There has to be some type of mental shift there, I think, when you’re tackling something new. Yeah, it’s opened up a lot. It’s opened up a whole lot of opportunity and understanding for me. Some might assume that like, oh, he’s business-minded now. It’s a much more negative… it’s a much more positive mind space, because you start seeing the opportunity, as opposed to the places where you can’t.
Amanda: This is what I’m telling people all the time. Because, again, especially from creative people, the business idea, it’s a total turnoff. It’s uh, I don’t want to deal with that, because they think it’s all numbers and accounting, and all that really boring stuff. And that is part of it. And I know, even in the beginning, you didn’t really want to deal with any of that stuff, either.
Brent: I still don’t.
Amanda: You just wanted to say, well, I ate lunch today. Can I write that off? Like, that’s how this works? But I know that as you’ve gone through this, you’ve realized… and that’s why it’s really interesting to me to hear you say how that’s applied to other areas of your life, too. Because there was, I think, that part of you. You didn’t fight it. That wasn’t where your passion was, and your passion isn’t in business, but you’ve turned your art into business. And now, by looking at it that way, I’ve seen the shift myself, and I appreciate it, because it is why I try to tell people. Business doesn’t have to be the enemy. Running a business as a creative is probably the most freeing. If you can get yourself out of that mindset that you have to be a struggling artist. That is a real thing that a lot of people deal with, but if you treat it as a business, and you look at it through that lens, that can shift everything there. You don’t have to struggle to be an artist.
As an artist, our goal is to experience and to empathize and to gain as much perspective as possible.
Brent: That is some of the wisest advice. I don’t know who’s listening. But if you’re listening to this, and you’re an artist, and you’re like, ah, it’ll mess with my creativity. No, because let me just put it put it this way. As an artist, our goal is to experience and to empathize and to gain as much perspective as possible, I think. I think the goal of any artist on any platform across all boards, I think that is our goal is to have life experiences that change us and shift us and show us different vantage points, and nothing… There is nothing more valuable, in my opinion, than right brain thinkers being able to understand left brain thinking concepts and start adapting them in the exact same ways I think left brain thinkers get adapting and understanding right brain creativity thinking. In a way, that’s what I’ve always sort of presented, so I’m fascinated by both facets of that. I think I’m more so right brain thinking, but I’m gonna say this. I love, I absolutely love the competition aspect of business. I love the whole journey process is extremely akin to the creative process. And if you don’t experience that for yourself, I think you’re missing out. I think you’re missing out on a whole… if you shut yourself off to that, you’re shutting yourself down from a whole other way of seeing the world, which is equally valid and very prosperous once you can understand both sides of the hat.
Amanda: I have not thought about this in quite some time, but it was a conscious decision I made when I was a teenager. In terms of, I like to do a lot of artistic things. I was playing the guitar and the other instruments. I would draw. I painted. I did all of that stuff. I made that conscious decision to go into a business training type of deal. When I went to college, I decided to focus on business. I didn’t really explore the talented side. I didn’t want to be in a band or anything like that. Those were more hobbies for me. But a lot of that was that mindset that I had, that relying on anything creative was risky because, especially at that time… we’re talking late 90s ish, but I mean, the starving artist thing was real back then, too.
Amanda: Yeah, having not had the money, not having that security, I wanted that. So I chose to focus more on business, something that I knew was more stable, because that’s what I felt I needed in my life. And I kind of fought being in business for myself for a long time. I didn’t want it. And that was mostly because I didn’t want the dependency on me from others. So I was thinking of, am I going to start a production company? But then I have to have employees, and all that that stuff didn’t appeal to me. It wasn’t really until I figured out that I can do this, just being me. I don’t have to be a company. I can start a company, and that company can consist 100% of me. And then it took all the pressure off. And, of course, now I wonder why did I wait so long to do that? But I wish that I had known that, or had some other source of information that I maybe could have developed both at the same time, instead of thinking I had to focus solely on… I mean, it’s worked out for me. It’s okay. I’m not regretting that I didn’t join a rock band when I was 17. But it could have been a very different life.
Brent: It makes me wonder. Sometimes I just wonder things, like I wonder if you’d grown up right like 2000 era, 2010 era, and seeing all of these independent artists, if you would have been like, man, maybe. There’s a lot of people that are making a living doing this. Not famous famous, but have grown communities and stuff. So who knows.
Amanda: I think it’s one of the most exciting things about the time that we’re in now because there are so many opportunities, especially for younger people. And even though I just turned 40, I want to consider myself still in the younger category. I’m going to stretch that.
Brent: You’re definitely in the younger category.
Amanda: But there are. We don’t have to go work for somebody we don’t want to for decades. We don’t have to really do anything we don’t want to do, if we’re smart about it and figure out how to make money doing the things that we want to do. And I think it’s taking the stigma out of that, too. There was a time – again, way back when – when monetizing on your talent wasn’t really as accepted. There were ways. If you were, if you joined the band and you got the record deal, that was okay. But you couldn’t license your song for a commercial because that was that was just not okay back then. Now, of course, that’s what everybody wants is to have their song placed in a movie or on TV because they get money from that. So the industry has changed, but also that perspective that it’s okay to make money doing what you want to do.
Brent: Yeah, the mindset and the conversation has shifted. Now some of the most popular YouTube videos are YouTubers coming out and saying, “This is how much money I make.” Because people are interested and people want to see like, oh, look, you know, there’s evidence that I could do this. And I could actually make a go at living at this.
Amanda: I think it’s important for people to see that. I think, and it’s that weird thing – it used to always be taboo. We don’t talk about how much we make. And there’s still a level of that, but I think there’s a difference when it’s the YouTube person who is encouraging other people to do what they do, versus the coach type people that I’ve talked about before, who will say “Oh, you can make multi-six figures if you just do this, this and that.” There’s a different level of honesty, I think, that is where that line is drawn.
Brent: Yeah, I’ll agree with that.
Amanda: How did stand-up comedy and improv help prepare you for other parts of this journey? Are there skills you learned from that type of performance that have translated to other areas in your life?
Improv was like my religion.
Brent: Stand-up comedy is a lot narrower. Stand-up comedy is a lot like, it’s a lot more specific of a skillset. And because of that, there’s not a lot of skills that translate out of stand-up comedy in my opinion. Because unless you want to be like a writer or something, or you know, all that. Really what it forces you to do is find your voice, who you are, be comfortable with that. So I guess I got that from stand-up, which was like, okay, cool. This is who I am. This is the stuff that I find funny. And more so, I guess from a performance standpoint, it is an art form where you go out there by yourself, and you literally live or die by what you do. So being in that kind of gladiatorial arena is a lot different than a play or, you know, doing improv and there’s seven other people with you. You know, I’ve met improv people, I’ve met actors who are like, I’m terrified of stand-up and I’m like, wow, you’re established. You can really, actually, probably do it. But they’re terrified because it’s like nothing else. So I guess it toughened me up a lot and made me really kind of understand who I was.
On the other hand, improv, I think changed my entire life. I think that improv, in the same way business has now shifted the way that I think about a lot of things, improv for me early on, when I was 19, just starting to learn and figure out my own philosophies and my own ways I wanted to move through the world, improv was like my religion. It was like my whole… everything. It really shifted a lot in terms of the ability to listen to people, the ability to empathize, the ability to really stand there and try and connect with another human being. And the deeper that I went into improv, the more I started having these breakthroughs, and having these really life-changing moments that made me say, oh, that’s really applicable to my life. That’s really big, like, the thing that I’m trying to do. And that started just shifting my brain over time to now, you know, I’m very spontaneous, and I’m very, let me just go. I don’t really care. Like, I’m not gonna think it through too much. Whereas before, I was very much so like, I really gotta calculate out the ways that this is gonna go down. But improv really reinforces that your split second, right in the moment decision-making is oftentimes better than the thing that you think about for a long, long, long, long, long time. So it worked that muscle, you know? Some things you still got to really think about. I can’t, I tell people all the time, I can’t just improvise my taxes. I can’t just split-second decision making on that. But for most of the stuff in life, most of the decisions, I think most of the decisions don’t really matter that much. So it’s like, why would I worry about all of that when there’s stuff that I need to worry about, and I need to really focus on. It’s just allocating my brain space, I guess. That’s what improv gave me a ton of.
Amanda: I think it’s another one of those misconceptions about business, because there’s a tendency for people to think that everything has to be structured and planned out. And structure isn’t the enemy. And there are certain things that need that. Like you said, you can’t improvise your taxes. IRS doesn’t really like that. So your bookkeeping is one thing that you need a system for, something like that. But the long-term planning, and this probably goes against a lot of common advice because, at least in business school, they tell you to start with a business plan. And it’s not a bad idea to have something concrete, just so you’re very clear on what it is that you’re trying to do. So having the framework versus a step-by-step. And again, step-by-step is good for goals. It’s good to have checkpoints and all of that. But the ability to change your mind, or to make those quick decisions, to trust your intuition, those are the things they don’t really teach you in business school that I think are some of the most important skills to have.
If you want to go into business for yourself, you have to be able to adapt. You have to be able to accept, kind of like when you were talking about the submit and forget with dating and with auditioning, it’s kind of that same thing. You are not going to get every client that you want to get, and you can’t take that personally. If there’s something you can learn from it, or something that you did that maybe you could try something differently next time, that’s a good thing. It’s not a failure. Some people will consider it a failure. But you kind of build that confidence in a way that it’s like, okay, well, I didn’t get this one. Okay. But you can’t take it personally because there are so many different factors in why somebody chooses to work with somebody else. You as a talent, they might want to hire a different voice or something else. It’s not that you did poorly, it’s just that they went in a different direction.
I think coming to terms with that, for a lot of people, it’s that part that they forget, that you don’t have to have a five-year plan. I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t know what’s going to happen next week. Sometimes that’s part of what I actually really enjoy about what I do, that every week is different. And I think the perception that people have, or used to have at least, of me was that I had everything planned out and everything was just all completely regimented. I do have a lot of structure in my life, but it’s never that. I don’t plan out my business, really, because I do what I need to do based on the current moment. And that’s pretty much as far ahead as I can look most of the time.
Brent: That is 100% what improv is about. It’s… I’m stealing this from Anne Lamott, who was a writer, not an improviser. But one of the most profound things she said was when you’re writing… and I think this is true about Improv. I think this is true about life… she thinks of writing like driving on a dark road with no streetlamps. And even if there’s no streetlamps, if you’ve ever driven down that type of road, you won’t crash because all you need to see is what’s right in front of your headlights. All you need to deal with and see is what’s immediately right in front of you. And the more that you can start thinking in that way, I think the closer you’ve unlocked to like, some type of Zen-type of thinking. But however you arrive at that, and what you just said is 100% that to me, and 100% my philosophy and what I do, not just in the business side, but in the voice acting side. All these people are trying to, “Oh, I’m trying to roadmap out my character and how I’m going to make it sound. And then I’m going to do this thing here.” And I’m like, no, no, no, you gotta… You can have those ideas, but at the end of the day, you just got to follow what’s right in front of you and just play around with it and have some fun with it. And that’s when things get really good. So the funniest part to me, Amanda, is like, after a while of seeing stand-up and improv and business and, you know, I took that one clowning class one time from that Cirque du Soleil guy, and like, all of these things. I just start seeing all of the threads that bind them all together and it’s like I start seeing that it’s all exactly the same thing. So there’s a big comfort in that.
Amanda: You recently announced something pretty big, a story you said has been 13 years in the making. Are we allowed to talk about that?
Brent: We are allowed to talk about that, yeah.
Amanda: Please talk about that. I don’t even want to give away what it is.
The UCB/SNL Scholarship.
Brent: So, at the beginning of the pandemic, I checked… I was taking a lot of voiceover classes, like a ton, like a ton ton, because they were all in LA. I didn’t have to drive out anymore. And one of the things that I realized was that I could go take classes at a dream improv school of mine – that’s in LA, without having to travel to LA, because their classes had gone online as well – called UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade, started by Amy Poehler and three other dudes. That’s the way most people describe it. Nobody cares about the three dudes. Everybody knows Amy Poehler.
Brent: Sorry, Matt Besser, if you’re listening to this. Anyways, so it was the school that I went to and watched a show at in 2013, I want to say, and I thought to myself… I was four years into improv. I was like, I know everything about improv now, of course. And then I saw that and my mind was blown. And I was humbled immediately, because I was like, I could not do what they just did. That was incredible. That was incredible. Like Lauren Lapkus was there, just a whole bunch of names that are names now were there in that moment, and just it was an incredible show. I wanted to take classes, but it just wasn’t practical living in Vegas so I was like, when I move out to LA, when I make that eventual move, I’m going to go train there.
COVID came and I was like, well, what an opportunity. I don’t have to wait to move there. Let me take these online classes. I took some online classes. I kept going. At some point about, I don’t know, six, seven months in, they announced that they had a scholarship, a diversity scholarship. And they do that every year, twice a year, actually. I had applied before and heard nothing back past the first round because who the hell am I, you know? I didn’t even take a class there, so I was just some guy writing about my improv experiences in Vegas where I’m not, you know, where… So I was like, what the hell? Now I know some people. I’ve taken these classes. Let me go and let me do it. This year, for the first time ever, and I’m not sure if it’s for the first time and for the last time ever, Saturday Night Live decided to team up with their diversity scholarship and said we want to have some kind of stake in the people that actually get this scholarship this year. So I was like wow, that’s a lot of fun. That would be cool if I really got this. Let me just submit.
I submitted. I told a couple of my coaches. They were like, okay, we’ll pass your name on to the head of the Education Department there. And I made it through the first round, which was just writing something like, what’s your experiences? How much comedy have you like? What is your comedy? Blah, blah, blah. Who are your heroes? And I was like, okay, cool. Just do the same old spiel. I got the call back and I was like, okay, cool. And I found out that the second interview was the last interview, and it was an interview with four people on their diversity board. Two of them were teachers that I had taken classes with also, so it was nice and simple and easy. And I just went in and was like, you know, they’re either gonna like me or they’re not. That’s all I can do. So I wasn’t even…I don’t know. It was a Zen moment for me because I was like, I’m just gonna go in and goof around with whoever is there. Like, that’s all I can do. I’m probably not gonna get it.
So I went in, did the interview, didn’t hear back for like a month, totally forgot about it because I was just like, there’s no way. They want like new young, fresh faces. They don’t want some bald dude that’s coming in here. You know what I mean? Like, I thought that they’d want some, like, 20-somethings that were like, I’m writing for the Harvard blah, blah, blah, you know? As it turns out, I got an email saying congratulations, you won. And I just sat there and I stared at it for probably a minute and a half before it registered. And I was like, what? So it was just absolutely insane. I couldn’t believe it. There were only eight of us chosen out of apparently over 1000 applicants. I joked around and I was like, it’s very irresponsible that they gave one to me. Like, that’s nuts. Like, why wouldn’t they give it to a bunch of starry-eyed people?
So I just had my… what it all entailed was, hey, we’re gonna do a meet and greet with the Saturday Night Live casting executives. You’ll have a meeting with them. And I was like, okay, cool. So I’ll just do the same thing that I did and we’ll see how it goes. If they don’t talk about an audition or whatever, then I’m gonna ask them how do I audition? As it turns out, I went in and did the thing. It was the whole group of eight of us. It was really nice. The casting executives were freaking amazing, answered all of our questions. Bowen Yang just popped in, like just casually. I was like, oh. I was introducing myself. Bowen Yang pops in, and I’m like, oh, that’s Bowen Yang. Hi. Hi, Bowen. And he said hi back to me. Then they were like, okay, we’re gonna pause everybody and let Bowen talk for 10 minutes, and then you can go back to describing your journey through comedy or whatever. And I was like, okay, cool. I get to follow Bowen Yang. That’s fun.
By the end, they basically were like, look, we want this to be a long-term relationship. We want to check in with you, and we want to talk to you. Like, we don’t want this to just be some like email correspondence or whatever. We want to actually have some stake in your future in comedy. And I was like, wow, that’s incredibly generous. I didn’t think that that was gonna be the case. I thought it was gonna be like, alright, send us a tape or whatever and we’ll watch it and see. They basically said when we feel ready to send in a tape, or send in a writer packet, we have an open door to submit directly to them. So I was like, wow, that is incredible, on top of now relationships with some very high level casting executives, which is really, really cool. Because I guess, apparently, they get asked for and do recommendations for other types of things like movies, or television shows, or things like that. So even if I submit and never hear back about Saturday Night Live, the prospect of future work from something that they might be doing could be an opportunity. So, yeah, that sort of changed up my whole life because I kind of quit doing stand-up and haven’t done improv as much performance-wise, you know, because there’s nothing during COVID. I was going full force voiceover and then this thing just popped up and I was like, wow, I’d be stupid not to apply. And, and then it all just ended up working. So, crazy.
Amanda: That’s why there’s something to be said about being able to veer from your path. And that’s exactly what I mean. If you have everything planned out and you’re just going in this one direction, and that’s the only thing you can see is what’s on that path, you’re gonna miss out on all of these opportunities out there. And I think that’s what COVID, oddly, did for a lot of people, was open them up to new opportunities because the path they were on there… I was struggling to come up with a good analogy. For some reason, I went to a beaver dam.
Brent: I’m fine with a beaver dam.
Amanda: It’s just not as articulate as I was trying to be.
Brent: I like that. Beaver dam. Okay.
Amanda: Yeah, you’re just going along and then suddenly the road isn’t there anymore because too many beavers came through and…
Brent: The dam gets broken. Yeah.
Amanda: And then you can’t do that anymore, so you either stop and freeze, which is what some people did, or you go in a different direction and figure out something else to do. And I love that you did that, and it brought you back to one of your initial passions. They put you in touch with these people, because we do know that so much of what happens is based on relationships, so having that foot in the door is huge. And when I read that on social media, about this happening for you, I just got very, very excited. Like I got goosebumps. I’m like, Brent’s doing it. It’s so good. I think we need to celebrate other people’s successes as much as we possibly can. But there’s also something to be said about trying it anyway, even if you think you don’t have a shot in the world. Like you kept saying, I’m not going to get this, they should hire some 20-year-olds or whatever. You don’t know what they want, so why not put yourself out there? Do the submit and forget. Don’t worry about it if you don’t get it. It doesn’t have to have any negative repercussion on you or say anything about who you are. But maybe you are what they’re looking for. And maybe they know that, maybe they don’t know it. Maybe they just see oh, there’s Brent. Brent is awesome. He’s just being himself. This is the guy we want. So be yourself and put yourself out there. Nothing wrong with that.
I think people need to rethink their relationship with failure.
Brent: That’s exactly it. I mean, going back to something you said about like, oh, I don’t want to call it a failure. I think that calling it a failure is fine. I think people need to rethink their relationship with failure. That is one of my number one things. If you get into business, you’re gonna fail. You’re gonna fail all the time. You’re going to… technically, right? Every audition that I send in that I don’t get back, that’s a big failure. My percentage is never, my percentage of booking is never going to be more than 100%. My percentage of booking is probably never going to be more than like 10%. That’s just a part of it all, in the same way that failure is a part of life. We need the ups, we need the downs, we need all of it. That, to me, is like the number one. If you really seriously want to get into working for yourself, you have to realize that there is no demerit system in the world of business. You’re going to fail, and you just have to accept that, that you have to fail in order to succeed. Any success is only made and comes from the failure that you have. So why even care about it? We’re gonna fail all the time. You know, you’re gonna probably trip sometime today, or do some… You’re gonna probably drop your cell phone or whatever. What are you gonna do? Just be like, oh, no, I’m not perfect? No! You got to just pick up your cell phone and keep on going with your day. That’s it
Amanda: You’re not saying I’m never gonna use a cell phone again because I dropped it one time.
Brent: Right! But I see people, like, messing up in the booth and they’re like, oh, I keep failing at this. I’m like, who cares? This is one thing. This is low stakes. This is the least important part of your whole week. Like, if you have to pick up your kids after this, that’s way more important that you do that well than you read this thing about Sunchips. What? I think people need to rethink how they think about failure and realize that they’ll only make it to success. The road to success is paved with the bricks of failure. Take that, quotables!
Amanda: That’s a good one, too. So besides the SNL/UCB thing, what are some of your other proudest accomplishments so far? And/or what is still on your bucket list?
There are big milestones, but it’s also paved with all of the little steppingstones there. And I value every single one.
Brent: Oh, man, I could write for days about that. My proudest accomplishments include teaching in a high school improv league for like, 10 years, pretty much. I mean, that was so fulfilling, and so fun and so good, and helped me become a great teacher and understand how to teach. Because I think that there is a big difference between knowing and understanding and having an advanced level of knowledge about something, and teaching that thing can be a whole different avenue in a whole different thing. So that gave me all of the skills that I needed to then understand how to take improv and teach it in ways that weren’t specifically towards performance. And that helped me become a corporate trainer, you know, and doing corporate training type stuff. But that also helped me become a really good voiceover coach and have my own very specific skillset, and very specific way of teaching and helping people with the way that I do that. I don’t know, teaching is probably one of the most fulfilling things of my life. I think I’m gonna always do it because I love it.
I mean, learning how to do a musical, Fifty Shades of Gray the Musical, that was something I didn’t know that I could do. I always wanted to do a musical. I didn’t know if I could learn the dance. I didn’t know if I could learn the dance, learn the timing, and learn all of this stuff. And I did it, and I was so happy. And then it shut down like four months later. So again, you know, what am I gonna do? I loved doing it. The experience was the joy. That was the win.
Just everything. Just learning how to go into business for myself. I don’t know, everything that happens along the journey, to me, is something I’m extremely grateful for. So, like, milestones, sure. There are big milestones, but it’s also paved with all of the little steppingstones there. And I value every single one. I still value, like, watching somebody that I watched three weeks or a month ago, right? Like, I still get huge value and huge feelings out of out of watching somebody succeed at voiceover when they weren’t like a month ago after taking a class, or doing a private with me, or doing something like that. Now it’s like, oh, they’re starting to get it. I love that. So even those little moments, you know? Last night I was teaching, and I was like, oh my God, you didn’t know how to do that like a month ago! You’re nailing it now! It’s hard to name all of the things because each thing I’m extremely grateful for.
In terms of what I want to do, I want to start a YouTube channel. I want to become an influencer. I don’t know why, I just… it’s something in me. I feel like I have something to say. I feel like I have a voice that I want to get out there. I just haven’t. It’s been… I’m trying to find the time to really sit down and do it. But I think that I don’t need to find the time to sit down and do it. I just need to sit down and do it. So in talking about all this stuff, I think right now I got to just get over my own, you know, BS in terms of like, oh, yeah, I’m going to suck at this for a good amount of time. And then I’m going to get good at it eventually. And I just got to learn how to suck again. So it’s always a humbling experience, learning how to suck at something.
So that’s on the horizon. Maybe SNL is on the horizon now. It’d be super cool. I’d like to, I don’t know, I feel like I’d like to move out to LA, see what that scene’s all about. I’ve been doing work and doing all of the stuff, you know, remotely from my own studio and doing a couple drive into LA and then drive back the same days. But I’d like to be a part of the system, be a part of the ecosystem and just see what that experience is like, how I would like being in LA because it’s been on my mind since I moved here. Like I was 17 or 18 and being like, okay, this is my steppingstone towards LA. Let’s see where this journey takes me. And it’s like, oh, I’m still here. Okay. Well, at some point, it’ll make sense. And it’s beginning to make more and more sense as time’s passing here. So that’s up there.
I mean, I don’t know, I’d like to teach in LA. I’d like to do all of the fun stuff. I’d like to… I could say shallow things like oh, I’d really like to be a lead in an animated show. But like, I don’t know. That to me, that’ll be like, yeah, celebrate everybody! And then like a couple days later, it’ll be like, all right, cool, back to square one. Let me send some auditions again. So it’s like, I don’t know. My philosophy is, I try to celebrate all the wins. I celebrate all the wins. The failures, I’m just like, whatever, you know? It happened. I needed to do that to get to where I need to be. So then any little modicum of when I still get excited over little tiny commercials that pay nothing like I’m still like, yeah, did it!
Amanda: I think that’s a very healthy philosophy though, because you are appreciating the journey as a whole and not just this one thing, or I did this and now I’m done. There’s always something else you can do. And because you are making choices based on what you like doing, what you love doing, not based on how much does this pay me? The income matters. Making money from doing it matters. But if you can have that same level of enthusiasm for booking a small, local commercial somewhere and landing the lead in something else, that’s a really healthy attitude, to be able to appreciate all the wins. And all the not wins as well. I love all of that about you.
Brent: Thank you. Follow the fun. That’s what an improv teacher told me once.
Amanda: Follow the fun. So if you had one piece of advice for other self-employed creatives, what would it be?
You gotta go relax.
Brent: There’s always just like somebody who says, like, “Keep going,” right? Like I feel like that’s the thing, but it’s like, duh, you’re already going. If you’re a self-employed creative, you’re not going to stop. I’m trying to think specifically of like what I would tell myself. There’s such a spectrum of creative, self-employed people, right? To some I’d say, like, yo, you know, learn the business stuff, you idiot. Because that’s what I would tell myself two years ago. Like, learn it, you dumb ass. Like, I would totally say that to myself.
But I think overall, what I will say is this. You gotta go relax. You got to have time. Because as a creative, I think that there is a serious problem in the idea that, as a creative, we have to be working at all hours of the night or doing whatever, doing all this other stuff. And the, you know, I’m dedicated to that. I’m married to the game, you know, as rappers say. But like, you also got to take some time and just go look at a sunset. You also got to go to a museum every once in a while. You also got to go, you know, just sit down and talk with somebody that’s not at all affiliated with your career. I think that’s extremely important. And just go listen, and you might get bored about, you know, oh, yeah, I’m starting a new beekeeping company or whatever what the hell that person’s talking about, but you got to just talk, and talk to a stranger every once in a while. You gotta just, you got to experience life. And I know that everybody says this in a little different way. But creativity is fueled by our lives and what we do. So like, if you’re like, I want to do comedy, so I’m going to dedicate all my time to comedy, then what are you going to talk about when you get on stage? How funny Kevin Hart is? What are you going to do? You got to go form your own opinions about some dumb stuff, like taking your dog on a walk. Relax, relax. Understand you’re always going to be leaving money on the table in some way, shape, or form when you’re self-employed. And come to grips with that and just understand your health and your sanity is so much more important than making that extra $250 because you were on Twitter for four hours a night. That’s what I’d say.
Amanda: Not that you’re speaking from personal experience being on Twitter for four hours at night.
Brent: Yeah, I’ve done that. So that’s what I’m talking about. You know, like, don’t run yourself ragged. You got to take the time. You got to take some time for you.
Amanda: Where can people find you on social media?
Brent: Man, where can’t people find me? No, @brentmukai, B-R-E-N-T-M-U-K-A-I across all social medias. I’ve laid off a little on social media. As of late, I haven’t done the crazy stretches of stuff. Um, I don’t know. It started during pandemic. I was like, okay, I’m gonna just calm it down a little bit. And now it’s really calmed down, and now I’m like, well, I kind of got to start up again. I kind of got to get aggressive on social media when I find a little pot some pockets of time. So, Brent Mukai, that’s it. You weren’t interested in the other part. So I’m just me talking out loud.
Amanda: I was. I am interested in anything you have to say, Brent Mukai. So thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I’ve enjoyed it.
Brent: Thank you so much for having me. Amanda. This was so much fun. And you have such a good like, Larry King-esque way of… I don’t know, you’re very like, let me ask the question. Oh, that’s a great… let me… I can tangent off a little. Let me get back to the thing that I’m doing, and like you’re a very solid interviewer. Amanda. You listen a lot. You’re very much the Larry King-type interviewer in my opinion. And that’s a really good, like, that’s a compliment.
Amanda: Thank you. I’ll have to get some suspenders. And I think that’s good validation that my career as a producer paid off.
Brent: I would love to watch you do an interview where you dress like Larry King. I would be so happy.
Amanda: Okay. I’m going to put that on my list. I’m going to see if I can find some suspenders to come show up at my house. We’ll see how I can make that happen for you.
Brent: Sounds good to me. Alright.
Connect with Brent @brentmukai on all platforms