You might not know his name, but you’ve seen Ben Falcone’s face. There it is in Bridesmaids. There it is in New Girl. There it is —front and center really —on Nobodies, the show he co-writes and co-produces with Melissa McCarthy, his wife. Falcone and McCarthy have done a lot together. He directed her in Tammy and The Boss and the couple met as members of iconic L.A. improv group The Groundlings. They’re also raising two daughters—Vivian, 10, and Georgette, 7—while doing their best to embrace the weirdness of their lives, which are strange in the same ways all parents’ lives are, but also in some other ways as well.
Falcone’s tribute to that peculiarity is the new book Being a Dad is Weird: Lessons in Fatherhood from My Family to Yours, which weaves stories about his childhood and his eccentric father in with vignettes about his own experience as patering a familias. Fatherly spoke to Falcone about why his more famous wife is also a better parent, what his outgoing father taught him, and trying to overcome his anxieties about, well, everything.
How do you and Melissa attack parenting? How do you split up the duties?
I would say Melissa is overall a better parent. She’s just better — she’s more consistent with rules and discipline. Plus, she’s a little bit more on the excitable side, just in her life — not like she’s fit to roller coasters of emotion or anything — but she’s got the energy levels of a great parent. If there’s an advantage to having me around, it’s that I’m kind of quiet and steady. And I think sometimes that’s nice for the house.
In general, I’d say she’s more of the disciplinarian and makes sure that everything’s getting done. If something’s really gone wrong I come in and, you know, help, of course, but I think I’m more of the sort of, I don’t know…. I don’t know what it is I do.
You’re the only man in a house full of women. What has that taught you?
You know what’s funny? We finally got these puppies. And the puppies are boys. They’re the first men in the house other than me and that just happened a few months ago. So I’m just surrounded —everyone at Melissa and my production company is a female too, just sort of by happenstance or whatever, so I’m literally the only male in a sea of females in my whole life. It’s really funny. The lucky thing is I think girls are great and I can’t imagine having boys. Boys are so physical and it seems like– and I hate to generalize — but it seems like they’ll just wreck stuff faster.
That’s pretty safe to say.
But being in a house full of women can be trying at times. Now that my girls are getting 10 and 7, there’s definitely the fact that I’m the only guy there stands out a little bit more. Like, Vivian, not so long ago, said, ‘Oh, you know Mom, I think my comforter is competing with my wallpaper,’ and I said, ‘I’m out. Gotta go. I don’t know who’s competing with what, but I’m out. It all looks good.’ And then they’ll like give me a courtesy opinion like, ‘Well, Dad, what do you think?’ And I’m like, ‘You guys don’t care what I think.’ ‘No, no, no, we do.’ ‘Well, okay, I kind of like the comforter and the wallpaper.’ ‘Okay, well, you’re wrong.’
Raising girls who have a sense of empowerment is incredibly important. As a father of daughters, is there anything in particular you do to foster this?
Melissa and I have sometimes felt guilty about how much we work. But I often remind her, that, well, isn’t it good that your daughters get to see you, you know, a strong female who’s in an authority position in your job? And she’s like, yes of course it is. And for me too, it’s neat to see that my kids don’t think there are things women can’t do. I mean, it’s a ridiculous thing to even ever have to say. But my kids probably wouldn’t even think it. It’s just implied to them that women can do everything men can do, which is great.
It’s interesting to be raising daughters in a world that’s changing. And hopefully, over time, it’ll continue to change for the better. I think there’s just something cool about having girls and knowing that they can be leaders and kind people and mothers if they want to be.
Your dad, Steve, who you spend a lot of the book describing and telling stories about, is a larger than life character, a party guy and a risk taker. You’ve described yourself as anxious and more internal. How has that dynamic affect your relationship and, well, your personality?
I still aspire to be as in the moment as he is. When I am like that, I really enjoy myself more—both the experiences I have and who I am. Like, I don’t want my girls to think, oh here’s your analytical Dad thinking everything through. Sometimes, it’s great to just jump into the pool with your clothes on. It’s okay. You know what I mean? Let your kids know that that you can be spontaneous and have a good time. Those were some great things I learned from my dad.
Did he try to help you overcome some of your anxieties?
If he saw me being nervous, my dad would always try to get me out of that because that’s not a fun way to be. Still, I think that, while he would shoot for and ask questions later, he really liked that I was a lot more analytical. So I learned acceptance. But he also really taught me that being happy is a choice. When things are a bit more difficult, you’ve got to really reach down and try. That makes a major difference.
In the book, you talk a lot about how fatherhood thrusts you into weird situations. What are some of the strangest for you?
Playdates…. Here we are, just humans, it’s four o’clock after school and you’re talking to somebody just trying to strike up a conversation about something, anything, while your kid bounces on a trampoline and you hope they’re not going to break their leg.
You work with Melissa pretty often. You’ve directed her in Tammy and The Boss and currently work with her on Nobodies. Do you have any tips for working with your spouse?
It’s really fun. I mean, we met at The Groundlings improv theater out in L.A. We just thought each other were funny and so we enjoyed writing together and, you know, we’ve done that ever since. And just because of the way she and I are wired, it’s actually more difficult for us if we’re not working together. Because, well, we like to hang out. Plus, when we work together, it makes parenting so much better. It can be really tough when we’re both in separate locations.
As someone who came up in the improv world, the “Yes and…” rule, where you’re taught to expand on another person’s line of thinking no matter what, is really important. I imagine that innate sensibility must come in handy in fatherhood.
Kids give us such a great lesson of being present. Obviously, sometimes, I’m like, ‘Just tell me about your morning, you’re killing me.’ But, there’s also something so great about how present they are and just how they want to be here right now. That’s what improv is all about. They call it being in the moment and when you’re doing it right–onstage or in life —I think it’s the best thing you can do.