He made us laugh while he crashed weddings of all shapes and sizes. He even managed to make us laugh while he and Jennifer Aniston broke up on the big screen. And with his latest mouthful of a film, "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days and 30 Nights, Hollywood to the Heartland," Vaughn shows that once again, he has found an entirely new way to deliver laughs.
For his latest project, in theaters now, Vaughn set out with aspiring stand-ups Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst, and Sebastian Maniscalco on a whirlwind 30-day swing of the country. Peter Travers caught up with Vaughn in an interview for ABC News NOW's "Popcorn" to find out how 600 hours of raw road-trip footage yielded the star's latest movie.
The "Wild West" star explains how he took an offbeat variety show started for local charities and transformed it into a fresh film idea: "The show always went over so well. I thought it would be great to try to go to as many places as possible."
Vaughn, notorious for his wild off-the-cuff humor, employed the same approach for this project: "We didn't know what we were doing other than these 30 places. We didn't have any master plan for what the film would be."
Vaughn jokes that the project became "really just about survival. What are we doing tonight? Where are we tonight? … And you're filming it as you go, but the focus is really to perform each show at each venue."
Channeling the old-school idea of the traveling Wild West variety show, Vaughn had to convince some skeptics. He jokes about the struggle he had selling the idea: "People are like 'Is Vince Vaughn going to show up and rope horses?'"
Himself a Midwestern native, Vaughn hoped to revive the old tradition of a traveling show that hits cities both large and small: "It used to be very commonplace that people would put together these variety comedy shows and travel." So for Vaughn, even though he admits he is not musically inclined, the "Vince Vaughn Wild West Comedy Show" was "really a play on words for the old Buffalo Bill's Wild West Comedy Show."
As "Wild West" was a uniquely non-Hollywood idea, Vaughn decided to make it an inside job. He explains that the "very daunting" tasks of booking venues, promoting shows, and shooting footage were doled out entirely to family and friends.
Amid the chaos of a cramped bus and a frantic travel schedule, Vaughn sought to capture the moments that told human stories. "For me, what became the most compelling was these comics and the insight into what goes into their stand-up comedy." Himself a successful comic, Vaughn hoped to portray how "the stories they are telling, that are making you laugh, are grounded in reality and come from sort of painful experiences."
Beyond the core group of Vaughn and four stand-up comedians, the troupe included a smattering of celebrity guests who made cameos at each city. Longtime friend and former co-writer, Jon Favreau, came out to revive old "Swingers" bits with Vaughn. "Dodgeball" co-star Justin Long also teamed up with the star to do a stint on stage.
The rapid pace of the tour and the off-the-cuff style of its creator give the film the authenticity that Vaughn was seeking: "I would do it the exact same way, I think it put an energy into what we were doing."
The difficulties of a strict schedule became negligible when the tour was disrupted by the twofold natural disasters of Hurricane Katrina and then Hurricane Rita. Vaughn, who started the show in New Orleans years earlier, was forced to reroute the group's course. He explains that the troupe "went to places hit by Hurricane Katrina or [Hurricane] Rita in Texas," turning those stops into benefit shows.
And Vaughn found that those were the cities that most needed the laughter. "A lot of places were ready, were wanting to laugh." Vaughn continues: "As we came across evacuees and stuff, that was really my mission statement: try to make some people laugh, take their mind off what's going on."
In deciding to take his "Wild West Comedy Show" to these cities, Vaughn channeled his own belief in the power of comedy: "I know for myself in life, life is always peaks and valleys, and I learned from a young age that having a sense of humor served me well, being able to laugh at stuff."
"Wild West" is a film that breaks rules, and will continue to break rules as it defies categorization. But Vince Vaughn likes it that way: "I always find myself in that situation. 'Swingers' was that – what is it? "'The Break Up' was that – what is it?" His latest project is no different. "Ultimately, the one thing they have in common, I think, is that they're funny movies that have some sense of heart to them, some kind of humanity being explored … Hopefully not taking itself too seriously, but hopefully having some fun."