As new Magnolia Network star Taylor Calmus knows well, welcoming a new bundle of joy into your life comes with a very unique set of challenges. There’s diapers and midnight feedings and crying galore, but there’s also the looming knowledge of your kiddo growing up. How on earth are you going to entertain them? Inspire their creativity? Encourage them throughout the different stages of their growth? For Calmus, he turned to construction, and by doing so, he embarked on an amazing adventure.
Calmus started his “Dude Dad” platform just two weeks before his first child was born. Intent on creating fun and exciting projects for his child, Calmus ventured into the unknown. From Rube Goldberg machines to power wheel courses to floating picnic tables, Calmus has created a life for his kids that ventures well into the unknown, and he has documented the process along the way. His efforts on YouTube under “Dude Dad,” his knack for construction, and his on-camera presence attracted just the right people, and the creator is ready to embark on his next adventure — an original show on the Magnolia Network, slated by power couple Chip and Joanna Gaines. The List sat down for an exclusive interview with Calmus, where we discussed everything from his time on his new show “Super Dad,” to his life as a happily married man, to pretty much everything in between. Here’s everything you need to know about the breakout Magnolia star.
This is what brought Taylor Calmus and Chip and Joanna Gaines together
So initially, what attracted you to the Magnolia Network and working with Chip and Jo in this kind of production sense?
So I’ve been making my own videos online for five and a half years now, but it must’ve been two and a half years ago now that I got the idea to challenge Chip to a playhouse-building competition for charity. And I did that because basically I was just like you. I was just a fan and loved what they were doing. And I saw him and Joanna and all the similarities of them and me and my wife, very kind of straight-laced mom and then the goofy dad who likes to build things. And I was like, “Oh, cool. This could be an opportunity … It would be really fun to work with them.” So I created this elaborate video challenge. They had a lot of callbacks to “Fixer Upper” and stuff and it caught their attention and he accepted the challenge and we ended up raising $1.5 million for St. Jude.
And it was this whole thing. But when first [it] was like, “Oh, I want to do this challenge thing,” it was before they had even started the network. And then by the time I did it, I caught wind that they were getting their own network and I was like, “Oh, this could be really cool.”
This could be something.
But I kind of was just like, “Let’s put it out there, get myself in front of them and see what happens.” And then it was at St. Jude that Chip pulled me aside into this little room with Joanna and my wife and a couple of their production people. And he was like, “Did anybody tell you yet?” I’m like, “What’s that, Chip?” He’s like, “I’m going to make you famous. I’m going to put you on TV.” And I was like, “Okay, all right. That’s happening.” And now two and a half years later, here we are.
This is why Taylor Calmus is excited for the launch of the Magnolia Network
And obviously the network is launching. It’s been a long time coming. So what’s this more recent time been like for you?
It’s weird because it’s been such long process that we’ve already celebrated so many times of all the little wins here and there of like, “Okay, we’re going to do a show. Okay, now we’re finally going to shoot the show. Okay, now it’s going to launch. Oh, wait, it’s not going to launch yet. It’s going to launch later. Okay, one episode launched. Okay, cool.” So there’s all these little wins. So at this point, we’re sort of celebrated out, but at the same time, no one’s really seen it yet. No one really knows it exists. So it’s very exciting in that sense that I think there might be a little bit of a wake-up after the 15th when people actually get to see it.
So that’s really exciting, kind of looking forward to that and being like, “This is going to actually be on the air and it’ll be …” Because it’s already real for me, but it’s not real for anyone else yet. So it’ll be really exciting when it’s finally out there, we get to see how people will react, and we get to tell the stories that we captured in the first season. They’ve got some amazing dads that I got to work alongside and hear what their experiences as a dad has been. Because this show is, it’s a build show, but it’s not really … We build these big cool structures, but the show isn’t about building cool structures. It’s about building memories. It’s about creating things that help bring dads together with their kids. And it’s about dads talking to other dads about what it means to be a father in 2021.
Taylor Calmus dished on the 'humbling' experience that is fatherhood
I know a little bit about you and how you said that you’ve been building things for what feels like your whole life, but was there a particular project or a moment that kind of defined your dad construction career? Was there one that really stood out to you in that sense?
Yeah. There was a couple different builds. I think it was the first time I made a Rube Goldberg machine and it went super viral. It was the biggest video I’d ever had at that point. And that was a big wake-up call to me to be like, “Oh, I’m a video creator, but my ability to work with my hands is something that sets me apart, that not everybody does that, especially not millennials.”
So then it was like, “Oh, I think that’s a part of my brand.” Spending 10 years in L.A. trying to be an actor, you constantly hear, “What’s your brand? What’s your brand?” And early on, you don’t know. You’re just making it up. You’re like, “I don’t know. I’m like Michael Cera and Joseph Gordon-Levitt mashed together.”
But the more I started to really do my own thing, my brand sort of just showed itself to me. And then once that started to happen, it was like, “Okay, this is my path. Okay, cool.” Everything started to make more sense.
Well, and I would imagine that creating structures for your kids and for your family brought a lot of meaning to what it was that you were doing as well, which I think is a fairly unique experience as a creator.
For sure. Becoming a father is such a humbling experience and changes you in this magnificent way because you’re forced outside of yourself and it gives everything you do new purpose because it’s for a reason. And building something … I love working with my hands, because when you make something, you get to see the fruits of your labor afterwards. Like when I used to build houses in South Dakota, we’d frame up a house and you’d get there, there’d be just a floor and you’d leave and it’s all framed up. And you’re like, “That’s a house now. It’s going to be a house.”
When you build things with your kids, you get to see the whole thing come together, but then after that, you get to see the joy on their faces for years to come. And honestly, I think the biggest reward for me is when I hear my kids brag about me, when they’re like, “Oh, my dad can do that,” and like, “Oh, my dad built this.” I think that’s the coolest thing is when you get to feel like that hero to your kids, because you built them the thing. And that’s what the show is about is, is passing that feeling on that makes me cry right now to other dads and giving them the opportunity to have that same experience with their kids, where their kids … Because it’s not about me coming in and building the thing for them. It’s about me coming in and helping them build the thing so that their kids can go, “My dad built that.”
Taylor Calmus revealed what it was like working on some of his craziest projects
I want to talk to you a little bit about some of the projects that you’ve done. I’ve seen the floating picnic table, I’ve seen the leaf blower theme park ride. I’d love to know about how you approach some of these kind of crazy and out-of-the-box ideas.
I mean, for me, I’ll get inspired by something or just get the idea, and then I kind of can’t stop thinking about it until I try it. And they don’t always work. But those two … Well, like the picnic table didn’t work. I mean, it worked for the kids, but it didn’t hold me up, so it’s like, “Back to the board.” But my rule of thought is if you don’t fail, you’re not creating hard enough because you should be always pushing yourself to [be] making things that you’re not sure how it’s going to work, but ultimately, through the process, you figure it out. Like the picnic table would work, I just need more jugs. Four jugs wasn’t enough. Eight jugs would totally work. So it’s just continuing the process. … The rocket ship was one of those ones that just worked and worked so well. It was so much fun. And the footage we got of the kids riding it was just so adorable.
And then I wanted to talk to you a little bit as well, because you’ve mentioned before how your son has come to you, your eldest son, correct me if I’m wrong …
… has come to you with some of these ideas of like, “Let’s do this. I want to see you try to build this.” In what ways do you think your life in construction has inspired his creativity and your kids’ understanding of what can be built or what’s possible?
I don’t want to tell my kids how to live life. I want to show them. And I think this is a big part of that, of when they see me fixing up our house or when they see me making something for them, they just grow up knowing that that is something that can be done. That it’s not like, “Oh, it’s broke. Let’s go to Target and get a new one.” So it’s been a double-edged sword because they do understand that you can fix things, you can build things, you can make things on your own, but my son also thinks that that applies to everything. So anytime something breaks, he’s like, “Dad, fix it.” I’m like, “I don’t …” He’ll hand me his remote control car and be like, “It’s broken. Fix it.” And I’ll be like, “Buddy, it’s broken. It was a $20 toy. It’s broken.” And he’ll press me on it and take the shell off. And then I’m like, “Oh, that wire just came loose. Oh, I can fix it.” And he’ll think that … But then it further pushes that narrative in his head that he can fix anything.
One time he requested, or I think he was telling one of his friends, he’s like, “Oh, my dad’s going to make me a Ferris wheel so that I can jump my motorcycle off it, like Duke Caboom.” And I was like, “No, no, uh-uh.”
Taylor Calmus revealed the hardships that he and his family endured
I haven’t talked about my wife yet either. If you don’t mind, I’ll talk about my wife for a while.
Please do. I was going to ask.
So my wife is the ultimate support system. She just from very early on, has always supported my crazy ideas, no matter how crazy they are. And a lot of people, like especially online in the comments and stuff, people will be like, “Oh my gosh, she’s so patient and stuff.” And that’s true. But it’s always framed as if she’s putting up with my shenanigans, when in reality she loves it. She loves it. I mean, there’s definitely been some times where she’s like, “You have to pick up.” But for the most part, she’s extremely supportive.
And there was a moment in our relationship, I was like one year into making “Dude Dad” videos, and I was an apartment manager in Los Angeles so we had free housing and my schedule was pretty open. It was pretty available. I’d just fix people’s toilets and, and stuff when they needed it, but I could do it in my own time. But anyway, I was doing that. She was working non-profit, making hardly any money. We had a 1-year-old and then the owner of our building sold the building and the new owner that came in was like, “We have our own people, so you don’t work here anymore and also you need to move out.” So I lost my job, we had to move. So I had to get a new job to make more money because we weren’t going to get free rent anymore. Heidi changed her job. We had a 1-year-old and then we found out we were pregnant.
Oh my God.
Yeah, it was all hitting the fan. And that’s when I started working set construction with a friend from church to make more money. So I was working set construction like 10 hours a day, a couple days a week. I was trying to audition whenever I can. I was still putting out one video every single week, while taking care of a pregnant wife and a 1-year-old, and it got to be too much. And I finally just kind of broke down one night and I was like, “Babe, I can’t do all this. I don’t have the capacity.” And at that time, we didn’t make any money off of Dude Dads. So I was like, “Maybe I need to stop making videos because it takes up a lot of time.” And without any hesitation, and I didn’t even mention quitting it, she just said, “You’re not quitting Dude Dad. You’re going to keep doing that.”
I’m sure she probably saw that it was something that was really meaningful to you.
For sure. Well, she saw it was meaningful to me. At that point, we only had like 2,000 followers. It was nothing. But it was just the feedback we were getting and stuff. She had the foresight and she knew that it was important. But if she hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you today. I’d be working construction somewhere or something. I don’t know.
How does Taylor Calmus approach his creative constructions?
I’d imagine that through all these constructions and seeing your kids play like they are, that it’s kind of kept this kid-like wonder for both of you as well, which I’m sure is really gratifying and exciting and a very unique parenting experience.
For sure. I think that’s one of the fun things about building for children is that you’re not bound by the structural norms of adult structures, where it’s like, “We need to have good insulation and soffits, and I want my patio to look like this.”
Or slow-close drawers.
Yeah, yeah. It’s not about all those mundane adult things. It’s like, “What would be the most fun?”
The creativity is endless.
That’s it. Yeah. It’s like, “How do we make this the most fun?” And that’s the only thing that you’re bound by, so it allows you to just take creativity to a whole other level.
It’s such a freeing experience as well.
This is how Taylor Calmus maintained authenticity on his Magnolia Network show
So I’m a little mindful of our time. I don’t want to keep you for too long. So kind of wrapping up a little bit, I’d love to know like what a day in your life of filming “Super Dad” looked like.
Sure. It’s crazy. So we have a really small, tight crew who are all amazing people. And honestly, I give the crew so much props because this show barely happened, in a sense that like we were so strapped for people that it was all hands on deck to make this thing happen in the amount of time that we had. But we had a small group of carpenters who were just really, really good and worked really, really hard. We got an amazing show runner, and just everyone was willing to do what it takes. And then you deal with rain three out of five days and it’s crazy. But there was such high morale on set all the time that it really was a fun experience even during the stressful points.
For me, I’m bouncing around from host to carpenter, to designer, to producer throughout every single day, so it’s hectic. Because we only had a few builders, so it wasn’t like I could just stand back and not actually do any work. But that was something that was important to me too that if I’m going to be on camera working, I want to make sure that I’m putting in as much time as I can. The reality is on a TV show, when I’m wearing many other hats, I can’t do everything. It’s not realistic. It would take way too long. But me and Morgan, the other guy that’s on camera, both put in lots of sweat equity on every single project.
And the other thing is I really try to keep true to it too. So one of my main jobs that I put on myself is making sure that the dad also puts in a ton of sweat equity on every project. And I tell them that on camera, and then off camera I’m like, “No, seriously, Michael, you’re going to work hard. You’re going to have to do a bunch of this because we need you and it’s yours.”
So I try to keep that as authentic as possible. And you’ll see it in every single episode. I’m drenched in sweat almost the entire episode.
This is what Taylor Calmus hopes viewers will take from his show
We’ve talked a little bit about your experience working with each individual dad and what you hoped that they would take away from the experience, but what are you hoping that viewers will take away from watching the show?
Yeah, yeah. So I think what’s special about our show is it really showcases what it means to be a dad in 2021, which is a fully invested parent who is taking on just as much of the parenting roles as the mom, which isn’t how it always has been because traditionally the dad worked and the mom stayed at home. And that’s just not how it works in today’s society where a lot more women are in the workforce and a lot more dads are having to step up. So I hope that viewers, they’ll get that out of it, that they’ll see dads as fully invested parents. It’s not 50/50. It’s 100/100.
But also just showing how much fun fatherhood can be. Basically, we’re going to make fatherhood cool again. It’s like, when you find out you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t be like, “Oh God, no.”
It’s like, “Oh wow.” I had a video recently where I talked about that when we found out we were having a third. My initial response was terror because I was like, “I’m so busy. I don’t know how we’re going to manage another one.” Because at that point, the other two were 3 and 5 and it was just like … Or no wait. They would’ve been, whatever, 2 and 4, whatever. Either way, it’s a lot. So right away you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how do I possibly throw a baby into this mix?” And then I had the realization when I was up in the attic getting some baby clothes out, whatever. And I had opened up this bin and I saw all these baby clothes from my other two kids and instantly had all these flashbacks of them as babies and what that time was like and what that experience was like and how I’m about to go through that again, but also how fast it went by.
You see this tiny little outfit and you’re like, “Oh my God, he’d never [fit] into that now.”
Were they ever that small?
It’s as big as his head. It’s like dads really wearing that badge as a badge of honor and also just living in the moment. You know?
Absolutely. Last question. So what’s up next? Is there going to be a Season 2? Are you going to do more Magnolia content? What’s next for you?
I don’t think I can say anything yet.
Oh, no! That’s okay.
If you tell everyone you know and they all watch it on the 15th, then how will there not be a Season 2?
Magnolia Network’s slate of original programming launched July 15 on discovery+ and inside the Magnolia app.
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