In the bougie-hip Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, there are two grocery stores across from Brandon Wardell’s apartment. He’s banned from one of them. Well, maybe he’s not legally banned, but he swears off the thought of entering the store with those eight words that mark an embarrassing experience as something that transcends legal identifiers in how bad it was:
“I don’t think I can go back there.”
The scene of the crime is the Gelson’s, the bigger of the two stores. They both have their pros: Trader Joe’s has affordable packaged foods that don’t suck and stoner employees who are just happy to talk cheeses. Gelson’s has Coca Cola, Cocoa Puffs, and fresh food to make you feel like it’s okay to consume the Coca and Cocoa and all the other shit you subsist on when you’re not worried about dying.
Brandon is 22 and not worried about dying. At least not immediately. He is, however, worried about ever going back to that Gelson’s: “Could they arrest me, like if this article —”
Brandon Wardell is three things: a successful comedian, a disgraced shoplifter, and a total cutie. It’s a feat to be all of those things at once. A cutie is someone who worries about the outcome of an article about all the times he shoplifted $200 worth of sushi from a bougie supermarket that doesn’t need his money anyway. Cuties don’t cackle, they giggle. Cuties are powerfully non-threatening, so they normally get held down in an average place. Like middle management.
A cutie would end up as a cashier at Gelson’s. A cutie would not end up as the comedian featured on Bob Odenkirk’s album, or as Bo Burnham’s opener, or as the dude tasked with writing a guide on how to fuck millenials. But Brandon Wardell is a certified cutie success story, as he has done all three of the former without ever having turned into a total asshole.
It would be hard to be mad at him — unless, of course, you’re working at Gelson’s and he’s stuffing sushi takeout containers, Fiji water, and Lunchables into Trader Joe’s bag in front of your face. Then I could understand why you’d be pissed.
It seems like he finds it hard to be mad too. When I put my feet on his bed, he’s gently annoyed: “Sorry, can you not — I, uh, I’ve never put shoes on a bed.” I tell him he’s definitely put his feet on a bed once in his life. Right? No. “Not shoe-d feet! My mom’s Asian!” Fair enough. I’m not even mad at being chided for being uncivilized. I do wonder though, why so serious? Like, does he make this pristine bed every day?
Of course. “I don’t accomplish shit if I’m not making my bed first. I made it late today, I made it at like 2. But as soon as I made it I was like, okay awesome: time to start writing about how to fuck millenials.” Oh. Sure.
He doesn’t try to be unimpressive to the point of being relatable. It’s refreshing. He describes his brand of comedy as, “mostly bravado.” When he criticizes me (“You watch a lot of like, garbage TV,” and, “speech impediments are cute”), it’s not snobby. I can fuck with it. When he inserts his encyclopedic knowledge of rap and comedy and Spring Breakers into the mix, it’s not forced. Talking to him about stuff he likes feels like a friend trying to show you how to smoke a bowl for the first time — hyped and mellow all at once.
To him, hating is the least entertaining option. “I’m like a Dane Cook apologist. I think hating on a high energy popular comic who gets a lot of flack from the alt world is passé.” He says a couple times that he’s “not into irony.” Why? He leans against the wall underneath his Spring Breakers poster — next to his limited edition Spring Breakers coffee table book, and muses: “like there’s people on stage that are like, fake depressed. Like, that’s like a brand — some cute girl being like: ‘I eat pizza in bed. Netflix is bae!’”
He’s right. In 2015, Most of us encourage that kind of shit — being uncool to be cool. But Brandon’s everything but self-deprecating for sympathy. In fact, he’s at his most lit when he recalls embarrassing shit, beaming: “I remember having this conversation where I was like 8, and I don’t know why I have like such a good memory of this — but I was like really turnt off church and I remember talking to this kid and I was like, ‘God’s like, the best! I love God so much.’”
8-year-old Brandon is to God what 22-year-old Brandon is to Drake: a huge fucking fan. I tell him about a dude I know who hates Drake. He responds like an evangelical Christian who’s just been told that some guy pissed on Christ’s tomb: “What? That’s fucked. I surround myself with people that like Drake. I can’t be friends with people who don’t like Drake. I literally fucking can’t —”
Has he ever fucked someone who hates Drake, though? Regrettably: “If I could map out the timeline of my life, I would never get my dick sucked by someone who doesn’t like Drake.” He hangs his head and laughs but I’m convinced that he’s serious. He’s convinced that he’s kinda drunk.
Fair enough. I brought beer he doesn’t really like that much, but he drank it anyway. His go to’s are Bud Light Lime and Fireball whiskey. I can’t fathom this: “Why do you like Fireball? It’s just like, cinnamon flavored baby alcohol.”
Most people would prickle at criticism like that, but he twists it back like I just passed him the aux cord, ready to put me on to some good shit: “Exactly, that’s why I drink it — alcohol rarely tastes good. Bud Light Lime and Fireball. Fun to pass around at parties, it’s fun to pour in people’s mouths.”
I mean, sure.
So given all that unchecked enthusiasm and cutie charm, what the fuck is wrong with Brandon Wardell? How did he spoil his patented smoothness with cashiers to the point of never being able to show his face in that Gelson’s again? Couldn’t he like, just joke his way out of it? Smile the cutie smile, pretend that he had *accidentally* put all that shit in his bag? Couldn’t he have played it off as one big misunderstanding?
Well, yeah. And he sort of did. The employees caught him stealing but didn’t call the cops, didn’t make him pay for the stuff — nothing. So what did they actually even do when they caught him? “They were like, ‘If the cops were here right now, you’d get arrested.’” A slap on the wrist. That’s it.
I ask him if he’d do it again and he maintains that he can’t go back there — but why the fuck not? I mean, he didn’t get caught. And he’s on the come up, so he can probably afford that sushi now. If not though, would he do it again?
“No!” he’s as adamant about no longer shoplifting as he is about never fucking a Drake hater. But what if he had the perfect opportunity to do it again, with the same conditions that let him get away with it the first time — like, was the guy he shoplifted from just some grandpa who couldn’t see? “God, no! It was some like, older guy — he wasn’t cute old. I would never shoplift from a cute old person.”
Spoken like a true cutie.