A Candid Conversation With Brian Dunkleman, The Guy Who Could've Been Ryan Seacrest

He wishes people wouldn't say he's been "throwing shade" at his former "American Idol" counterpart.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost Photos: Getty

Brian Dunkleman is, if nothing else, a name recognizable enough for you to have clicked on this article.

He’s also a comedian and former “American Idol” co-host whose IMDb page boasts appearances on shows like “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” “3rd Rock from the Sun” and “That ’70s Show.” And he’s back in our cultural sightline this month just in time for the very premature return of a reality singing competition series that maybe, possibly ruined his career trajectory.

Yeah, “Idol.”

Since his days on the Simon Cowell-humiliation vehicle, Dunkleman has watched as his former sidekick, Ryan Seacrest, climbed the ranks of the entertainment industry, ultimately finding a gold-plated throne on the front lines of live TV.

Meanwhile, Dunkleman sadly faded from the pop culture stage, save for a couple media and network appearances. Until, that is, recent sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against his ubiquitous ex-counterpart, and Dunkleman decided to comment on the drama unprovoked.

With that tweet, at least 6,712 Twitter followers were made aware of what could be interpreted as Dunkleman’s stance on Seacrest’s alleged misdoings. Soon after the tweet, a Care2 petition popped up on the internet like a gift from God, campaigning to “Ditch Seacrest And Bring Back Dunkleman!” for the “Idol” reboot.

Was Dunkleman aware of the fanfare? Was he harboring ill will against this more famous friend? Would he consent to an interview to determine the answers to our every gnawing question? In short: Yes, no and maybe.

Ladies and gentlemen, a candid conversation with Brian Dunkleman:

Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman onstage during Fox's "American Idol" finale on April 7, 2016.
Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman onstage during Fox's "American Idol" finale on April 7, 2016.
Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images

There’s been some interesting revelations in the “Idol” world as of late …

Really? I haven’t heard! What’s going on?

Well, we’ll get to all that. But first things first: “American Idol” is returning on Sunday. Thoughts?

I just hope they air a clip of me, because then I get a check, so I’m excited for that. But I guess I’m really happy for the people who work on the show. That was one of the most fun things when they asked me back for the finale on Fox — I got to see all those people who are still on the show, who were there Season 1, and they’re working again. Having a gig is great.

You mentioned in a piece for Variety ahead of the finale: “Did I quit? Did I get fired? All these years later, I still don’t know for sure.” Are you still unsure?

No, I’m sure now! I found out, after the finale. I talked to three of my old bosses, and they informed me that they had decided that the show would be better served with just one host. And that I was not that host. But I announced I was quitting before they could tell me. So, I didn’t know that [at the time]. I felt a million pounds come off of my shoulders [when I quit]. It’s really been quite life-changing. I can’t tell you the difference in my joy level since that moment. It was a really, really cathartic experience for me. So I don’t have anything to regret.

You know what? I can regret that I didn’t make it undeniable that I should be the one that they kept, but I didn’t, and that’s just the way it went down. One of [the bosses who spoke to me] was [“Idol” creator] Simon Fuller. I talked to him after the show and he couldn’t have been kinder and more gracious. He said, “Brian, we realize that we kind of threw you to the wolves back then, because we knew you didn’t have any hosting experience. But we just thought that you were really funny. It really wasn’t fair to you.” He thanked me for coming back for the finale and told me I did a great job and he’d love to work with me in the future on something. It was really a great experience for me.

That must have been a great relief, since people sort of slammed you for leaving the show on your own.

Here’s the thing: I called my best friend immediately after finding out, and he said, “See! You’re not an idiot, you’re just a failure!” And I can live with that.

Are you bitter at all that you weren’t the host who was chosen? Or have you moved on?

Not anymore; that bag got too heavy to carry. I haven’t been [bitter]. You know, going back for the finale was really the final opportunity for me to get complete closure, and I really thank God that I did it, because I wouldn’t have found this out. I wouldn’t have found out that I didn’t make a mistake. The first thing someone said to me was, “It was just a decision of whether to go with one or two.”

And they went with Ryan Seacrest, who’s since had quite a career. But as of late, there have been sexual misconduct allegations against him and the fanfare has died down. Some people have even started a petition for “Idol” to dump him and bring you back. Have you seen it?

I did see that, and I say that’s so kind and I appreciate it so much. Maybe we can add a couple of zeros to the end of that number. I haven’t checked it lately, though. As far as those allegations go, all I know is not once did he ever push my head into his crotch while I was tying his shoes.

But you did tie his shoes… ?

Well, you know, he never learned. He was one of those kids who grew up with Velcro. Some people don’t know how to tie their shoes and I was just there to help.

Listen, seriously, I don’t have any knowledge of what happened with that woman. But if anyone is falsely accused of such reprehensible behavior, then that’s terrible and it’s wrong. And if that’s what happened to him, then it’s really awful that he’s going through this. But if it’s true? Well, there’s been a pretty established precedent of the consequences. And that’s really all I feel about it, and I don’t know why anybody cares what I think about it.

“My tweets are for my 6,712 followers, not for anybody else. So if people don’t like it, they shouldn’t read it.”

- Brian Dunkleman

I understand that I sent out a tweet in my underwear, sitting in my living room, and if somebody wants to take a screenshot of my tweet and put a headline that I’m “calling somebody out” because they want to get some clicks and make some dough, that’s fine. Everybody needs to make a living.

But if you look at my Twitter feed, I think it’s pretty consistent in tone toward everybody and everything. It’s my point of view, it’s my sarcastic sense of humor, and my tweets are for my 6,712 followers, not for anybody else. So if people don’t like it, they shouldn’t read it. When I have a funny thought or something I think is entertaining, I’m going to puke it out on my Twitter.

I saw the tweets, but I also saw how people were using them to say you maybe had some stories to share on Seacrest. So I reached out to learn the truth.

“He’s ‘throwing shade,’” [they said.] Can we stop using that term? Not a fan.

But you did tweet out stuff about his red carpet appearance on E!. Did you feel he shouldn’t have been there?

That is so none of my concern ― anything that he does career-wise. I worry about myself. I worry about raising my son and being the best dad that I can, and that’s really my singular focus in life right now. It’s not up to me to judge who works. I’d like to work.

So you weren’t “throwing shade” at Seacrest on Twitter? Even the Taraji P. Henson GIF you retweeted?

You know what, sometimes you retweet things and you’re like, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t have retweeted that.” But, like I said, it’s for the 6,712 people that are interested in what I’m feeling and thinking, and that’s it. It’s all in fun. My other tweet about his shoes, listen, if you don’t find something inherently funny about a grown man having somebody else tie his shoes, then we got nothing to talk about. It’s just a funny thought. It wasn’t meant as shade. And if he’s falsely accused, well, that’s awful. There’s due process, and that’s important.

Ryan Seacrest, Brian Dunkleman and "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson.
Ryan Seacrest, Brian Dunkleman and "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson.
Jeffrey Mayer via Getty Images

Well E! isn’t his only platform. Seacrest works on a lot. He’s got “Live,” he’s got “Idol”…

I’m familiar with his resume. [Laughs] He’s got a couple gigs.

But what was it like working with him? You did say that after the finale you apologized to him for the way you acted when you guys were hosts together. Do you regret that apology now, knowing he may not be the person you thought he was?

It was before the finale, and I apologized to him for how we didn’t get along back then. That’s what I apologized for. I didn’t apologize for my behavior. I said, “I’m really sorry that you and I didn’t get along like we could’ve back then. I wish things were different, but they’re not, and I wish you nothing but the best.” So I think that’s a lot different than apologizing for my behavior.

Well, what were those reasons you didn’t get along?

The fact that he was a trained host and I was more of a comedian was definitely at the core of it. That’s really the core of it. He was more of a straight host, I’m a comic, just different styles. It was a long time ago. I’m a different person; I’m sure he’s a different person. We were two guys thrown together, and literally the next day we were working. And I think it’s kind of normal for co-workers to have their problems, but it was a long time ago and it’s just not worth talking about to me.

That first season of “Idol” took the world by storm. It must be nice to at least look back and say you were a part of it.

I’m a kid from a town with one street light. And I moved out to Los Angeles with everything I could pack in my two-door Chevy Cavalier, and I just thought maybe I’d get on TV. Maybe. Just a couple times. And you know what? I hosted the first season of the biggest show probably in the history of modern television, so it’s an accomplishment that I’m going to be proud of. It didn’t turn out the way that I hoped, but we’re all on our own path. I don’t know what my life would be like if I stayed and was still on the show. I have no idea.

Do you think it’s right of ABC to bring the show back not even two years after the finale?

I don’t know, maybe they’ll have me back for the next finale. Like I said, I wish them well. ABC has been kind to me over the years, I’m sure they remember my exemplary performance on “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” and “Dharma and Greg.”

Well, the petition speaks for itself. There’s an 8,000-signature goal and they’re almost there.

Can you text that to ABC? Hey guys, 8,000 viewers!

But say they did really consider getting a new host and they called you back. What would you say?

I’m available. The same thing I’ve been telling people for 17 years: I’m available.

“I hosted the first season of the biggest show probably in the history of modern television, so it’s an accomplishment that I’m going to be proud of. It didn’t turn out the way that I hoped, but we’re all on our own path.”

- Brian Dunkleman

If anyone did replace Seacrest, do you think it should be you or someone else?


Well, she’s No. 1 on everyone’s list.


Does she have a solid relationship with ABC?

I don’t know how those ties were severed. [Laughs.] Hopefully they parted on good terms. I can’t imagine Oprah being on bad terms with anyone.

You seem like you keep your relationships pretty solid, too.

Can you spread that around?

But really, what is going on in the life of Brian Dunkleman these days?

Well, I just bought a new driver yesterday, so I’m pretty excited, because I think my golf game is finally going to come together. Been saying that since I was five. But my little boy just turned five years old, so he’s been the focus of my life right now, just raising this kid. He starts golf academy next Wednesday, and I’m so excited for him. He really seems to enjoy it, and I told him he could do anything in this world that he wants to, right after he wins his first Masters.

You don’t want him to be a host of a television reality series?

No, God forbid. I did ask him recently if he was going to take care of me when he got older, and he said absolutely. So, I got that for me. Just put me in the basement with a TV and an Xbox and I’ll be fine.

Does he know that you were a host of “American Idol”?

No, I don’t think he really knows any of that. I’m going to keep it [secret] for as long as I can. [Laughs.]

There are people who are fans of you, Brian. Do you find there are those who still support you?

Well those 8,000 signatures speak volumes. You know, every time the show is on, there’s feedback that comes my way, and let me tell you, it’s different this year. It’s been overwhelmingly positive, of people saying really kind things on Twitter and online, and I really appreciate it. It’s not been like that for 16 years.

You’ve even had some love from Kelly Clarkson.

Don’t you love the fact that she’s on “The Voice” right now as “American Idol” is starting up? That’s very ironic.

That’s where you should head to! Go to “The Voice,” you’d really send a message.

Yeah, but they have Carson Daly on. Has he been accused of anything?

No. No, he hasn’t.

Like I said, NBC probably remembers my fine work on “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

Man, you were on all these shows?

I’m sorry, have you not been to my IMDb page? It’s very long and impressive.

Seriously, give Kelly Clarkson a call or tweet her or something and be a mentor on “The Voice.”

I love it. That’s a fantastic idea. You have her number?

I wish, Brian. I figured you had her number.


Anything else you have on your chest that you want to get out into the world?

No, I got nothing on my chest. My chest is clear.

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