How Brendan Schaub went from fighting in the UFC to selling out comedy shows nation wide

Photos by Troy Conrad

Going from one career to another is no easy feat and in almost every scenario, there’s something to lose. Finding success requires someone to think like an athlete and always be one step ahead, even when life knocks you off your feet. For Brendan Schaub, he’s won the game despite losing some seriously significant matches along the way.

Growing up Schaub developed a love for athletics and football became his way to make a name for himself. “I lived in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and to be cool, it was either by your clothes or through athletics,” shares Schaub. “I didn’t have the means to get cool clothes at the time, so I figured that athletics was my only way to make friends and I was lucky enough to have some athletic abilities.” Schaub’s natural talents and competitive attitude took him far, leading him to be signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad following his graduation from college. However, Schaub’s dream of becoming a player in the NFL quickly came to an end.

“The turning point happened when I had a cup of coffee with a couple of guys at the NFL and they told me they were all set on slow white guys,” Schaub says. “It was heartbreaking for me. That was my goal as a kid, but I knew I still had a lot of athletic ability and could take my skills and do something else with it.”

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From there, Schaub put his energy into boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, then, while training in Denver, he crossed paths with heavyweight fighter Shane Carwin. “Shane and I were partners in crime. In Denver, there weren’t a lot of agile and athletic heavyweights but Shane and I just happened to be in the same gym,” says Schaub. “He only had two fights at the time at a lower level and we both started training together, then both made it to the UFC. I didn’t have any money at the time and couldn’t afford training, but Shane took out credit cards to afford my membership. I owe almost all of my success inside the octagon and in the UFC to Shane Carwin.”

But, like football, fighting wasn’t the right fit for Schaub. Despite developing a name for himself within the UFC, he began pulling away from the sport and putting his focus into other areas, such as his podcast “The Fighter and The Kid” with comedian Bryan Callen. “I became a little jaded to the sport when I saw the underbelly of the business and learned how much other fighters were being paid,” Schaub explains. “I think that I just lost love for it and I’m so fortunate that I had a lot of other options, which a lot of guys don’t. They did give me a lot of great opportunities so it wasn’t a UFC problem, as much as a Brendan problem.”

One of the biggest opportunities that the UFC gave Schaub was an introduction to acclaimed color commenter, comedian and podcast guru Joe Rogan. And it was Rogan who, after Schaub lost his last fight in the UFC to Travis Browne, convinced him to pursue a career in comedy. “Joe’s a commentator for the UFC and about seven years ago, when I’d recently moved to LA, Bryan Callen, who I do my podcast with, Joe, and I started hanging out. They’re the ones who gave me the motivation to go into comedy,” says Schaub. “I would tell them stories at dinner and they’d say ‘Dude, you’re a funny guy. You should try stand-up.' They’re kind of the ones who pushed me into it.”

After years of fighting for success, both metaphorically and literally, Schaub made his biggest move yet by transitioning from the UFC to the world of stand-up. But with the help of Rogan and the growing success of his podcast, Schaub found an opening and began doing live shows with Callen. And luckily, Schaub didn’t feel an ounce of regret from leaving fighting behind him. “In fighting, you can’t have one foot in and one foot out, or else you’re going to get really hurt. My heart wasn’t into it and I’d always wanted to do stand-up,” says Schaub. “It was never hard for me to walk away from fighting because it was very obvious what I should be doing. Most guys when they’re done, they don’t know where to put their energy, so I’m super fortunate.”

Schaub and Callen began traveling the country doing live shows, and for Schaub, having Callen by his side was the security he needed as a budding comic. “With Brian, it was like having training wheels on because we would do our live shows and no matter what kind of issue I got into, I had Brian there to save me,” Schaub explains. “Working with Brian was like a safety net, but at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure on me. A typical new comic can do an open mic but there’s not a lot on the line, but I was under pressure from day one performing, which was a blessing and a curse.”

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Although the pressure to perform was intense, especially for a rookie, the stress gave Schaub the chance to demonstrate his potential for stand-up, which ultimately led him to one of the biggest accomplishments in comedy: a solo special. “The Showtime special came from being on the road and telling the story of how I went from my last fight to pursue stand-up comedy,” says Schaub of his 2019 special You’d Be Surprised. Initially, Schaub had wanted to tell his story for Comedy Central’s This is Not Happening series and began going through the audition process with their network. “I told that story at the audition and they said it was good, but needs some work. So I went back, worked on it and did it again on the road at the Laugh Factory,” says Schaub. “Then when they had the second round of auditions, I came back and they told me it still needed work. I kept working on it and then finally, I came to terms with it not happening on Comedy Central.” However, while performing at West Hollywood’s The Comedy Store, his set was discovered by a representative of Showtime and “it was guns ablazin’ from there.”

Now that Schaub has left behind his life in the octagon and found success in stand-up, you may be wondering what’s next. Because for someone who’s navigated career after career with grace, Schaub must have something up his sleeve. “My next move?” Schaub laughs. “I still have a long way to go with stand-up to compete with the big boys and I’m focused on being the best comedian I can be. I’ve had TV and movie offers, but stand-up is taking all my energy right now."