“I WISH WE could talk about race more,” says Theo Von. “I feel like, especially as a white male, to raise your hands to ask a question is like you’re that nervous kid in the back of the class.”
This hot take — it’s hard out there for a white guy — is the sort of musing Von is known for. But before you think you’ve got him deciphered (see the many Reddit threads like “Theo Von is a right wing nut job”), he wants you to hear him out: “I understand that, in other points of time, [other] people couldn’t raise their hand. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t have certain feelings about it.”
The 43-year-old comedian and host of the podcast This Past Weekend is tucked into a table at a coffee shop in Nashville, surrounded by students from a nearby college. Von moved to this quiet corner of Music City in 2020 when he, like so many, made the trek from Los Angeles for a change of scenery (and lower property taxes).
With his disarming, deep-in-the-bayou accent and rusty mullet, it’s hard to tell when Von is being controversial or just conversational, but that duality has earned him 5 million monthly podcast listeners and roughly 10 million social media followers. His podcast, like his stand-up, usually flows in stream-of-consciousness. Whether he’s diving into his own addiction issues or third-rail topics like white privilege, Von weaves yarns like a beloved but nutty cousin imparting questionable wisdom over Thanksgiving dinner. Take this punchline from the 2016 Netflix special No Offense, where he describes getting pulled from camp in 1994 to help police look for primates that escaped from a local testing facility: “Until you and six kids you barely know in wet bathing suits have surrounded nine chimpanzees outside of a Wendy’s, you probably really don’t know yourself.”
It’s the type of humor Von, born Theodor Capitani von Kurnatowski III, used to deal with his childhood in Louisiana. “One of the only times I felt comfortable was when people were laughing,” he says. “I didn’t grow up with much, so the only thing I felt like I did have was my voice.”
Von moved to Los Angeles in his early twenties, but after 14 years, his career was stagnant. He tried his hand at reality TV, appearing on Road Rules, The Challenge, and Last Comic Standing, but, he says, Hollywood didn’t understand him. “I’m Polish-Nicaraguan, but they lump anyone who sounds like me into this ‘We already know who you are,’” he says. “You don’t know who I am, and with that attitude, I’m not going to give any more of myself to you.”
He decided to show the world who he was. In 2016, Von, who’d already dabbled in podcasts, produced, edited, and uploaded videos for what became This Past Weekend, rooted in folksy storytelling and interviews. A 2017 appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience helped shape his approach. “I walked out, and I felt inspired. I was like, ‘I just need to talk about myself. I just need to be myself,’” Von says.
Social media has also been a boon for Von, if a mixed blessing. He recently reached 2 billion views on TikTok, yet more than half of those clips were edited and shared by fan accounts. While Von appreciates the dedication, he struggles with losing ownership of his work. “It’s amazing and it’s scary because you don’t have control. I’m grateful for it, but at the same time, it’s very lawless in that world. People can make whatever they want.”
See, again, those Reddit threads. “We’ve created an environment where one thing that gets out there can make it so that that’s all you are,” he says. When he hosted Tomi Lahren in 2020, fans took to the comment section to claim he is right-wing. After an appearance by Jesse Ventura in 2021, many listeners argued otherwise.
The comedian didn’t sign up to be anyone’s hero — but that’s not to say he doesn’t value his fans. He’s even developed a personal relationship with some, encouraging listeners to reach out to him. “I’ve always craved authenticity,” he says. “A lot of people call into the show to share something serious that’s going on with them. I like real.”
Through it all, his platform keeps growing. He’s booking new podcast guests (he’s presently gearing up for Roseanne Barr); selling out cities around the globe on his stand-up tour; and making plans for a return to Hollywood — he just finished a screenplay with David Spade.
Von finishes his coffee and poses another hot take: “What if one day they swapped a man and a woman’s brains and they were exactly the fucking same?” he asks. “What if it’s all just a perception issue?” He’s laughing as he asks it, but he’s completely sincere. As he heads for the door, one of those coffee-shop college kids stops him. Von shakes his hand, thanks him for his support, and the kid walks away glowing — like he just met his hero.