‘But Why Male Models?’: 58 Trivia Tidbits About Ben Stiller on His 58th Birthday
He’s known for Blue Steel and fighting off giant dino skeletons on screen. He’s been involved in one of the funniest movie scene parodies of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as one of the most iconic jizz jokes in cinematic history. He’s worked with De Niro, Spielberg, Eddie Murphy and David Bowie, and he once got into a slapping match with a monkey. It’s Ben Stiller’s birthday, so let us all take a moment and remember his glorious White Goodman mustache before diving into this list of Stiller trivia...
Another New Yorker
Benjamin Edward Meara Stiller was born in NYC and raised on the Upper West Side.
He Has a Guinness World Record
During the Zoolander 2 premiere in 2016, Stiller became the proud holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest selfie stick (8.56 meters) used.
Stiller’s dad, the late Jerry Stiller, hailed from a Jewish family that emigrated to America from Poland. His late mother, actress Anne Meara, came from an Irish-Catholic background but converted to Judaism after marrying Jerry. Ben, however, has said that they “were never a very religious family” but that they did celebrate major holidays like Hanukkah and Christmas and some religious events like bar mitzvahs.
He Wore Shoes to Make Him Look Taller in ‘Keeping the Faith’
Starring as a rabbi opposite Jenna Elfman in Keeping the Faith, Stiller’s modest 5-foot-7 height presented a challenge, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some special shoes. “When I realized I would be able to wear these elevator shoes so I could actually be in the same frame, then I started to feel good about the experience,” Stiller told TV Guide.
The Kinky Scenes Were More of a Problem
Stiller said in the same interview that the height difference was a minor problem compared to filming saucy scenes with Elfman in front of the crew. “It’s always hard to do a kind of intimate scene in a movie, I think, because there are all these people around, and you’re pretending that you’re alone with somebody in your most private time,” he explained. “You definitely want to kid around so there’s not a weird feeling like this is so serious. Also, you just want everybody to not make a big deal of it. So you try to have a quiet situation and a kind of lightheartedness about it.”
His Mom’s Sense of Humor
“My mom has been a huge influence on me: Incredibly funny, smart, very discerning humor,” he once told The Sydney Morning Herald. “She’s a strong personality, a very good actress, and I watched her dynamic working with my dad, Jerry Stiller, as a comedy duo. I always identified more with my mother’s sense of humor.”
Growing Up in Showbiz
As a kid, Stiller often accompanied his parents to whatever project they were working on. “In some ways, it was a show-business upbringing,” he admitted to Parade. “A lot of traveling, a lot of late nights — not what you’d call traditional.”
His First TV Appearance
When Stiller’s parents were co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show, he and his sister, Amy, ended up playing chopsticks on violins for a segment on the show. “It used to be a big event for us as kids because we’d drive down with them to Philadelphia in a limousine, and there was this famous restaurant there where they had lobsters in a tank,” he told The Guardian. “So I guess they needed stuff to do on the show, and we’d been taking violin lessons for about a year. It’s hard to watch because I just think, ‘What are we doing? Why are we on TV?’”
Star Trek Nerd
Stiller is such a Star Trek fan that he named his production company, Red Hour Films, after an alien riot featured in Star Trek: The Return of the Archons. He also has the only surviving original Gorn head from the series, and there are Star Trek references in practically all of his movies.
His ‘Star Trek’ (2009) Cameo
He Doesn’t Consider Himself a Funny Guy
“I’m a low-key sort of person,” he explained to Parade, insisting that he admires funny people but that he isn’t one of them. “And even though people do approach me with certain expectations, I’m not the kind of guy who is always ‘on.’ I’ve worked with Robin Williams, and he’s the absolute definition of that — and brilliant at it — but I’ve never been a stand-up comedian. I’ve never felt that need to go into a room and make people laugh.”
He Likes It, Though
“I appreciate it when people tell me that I’ve made them laugh,” he added. “It’s not a nuisance when somebody comes up to me on the street and says, ‘Hey, I was having kind of a bad time, and I went to one of your movies, and it really took my mind off of it for a couple of hours.’ It’s a really great feeling.”
Post-Punk Band Drummer
Like every second high schooler back in the 20th century, Stiller was a drummer in an industrial synth post-punk band called Capital Punishment. They even released an album titled Roadkill in 1982.
Stiller told Rolling Stone that he credits his former bandmate, Kriss Roebling, for introducing him to cutting-edge music during the 1980s, including acts like David Bowie and Brian Eno. “My taste was just much more kind of poppy, like Hall and Oates and Duran Duran, maybe,” Stiller admitted. “Like getting into the Romantics or something.”
From Sketch Show to ‘Dodgeball’
Stiller based the fitness fiend White Goodman from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story on a couple of characters, including Tony Bobbins — his character from The Ben Stiller Show.
Serious About His Craft
Stiller insisted that his character Ted in There’s Something About Mary needed a backstory for the scene in which man juice dangles from his ear. “My big thing with that scene was that I argued with the Farrelly Brothers all during the shoot, asking how he could not feel it on his ear?” Stiller explained to The New York Times. “I was lobbying them to have a backstory that the character had somehow, like, lost sensitivity in his ear, like he had gotten hit as a kid or something. They finally told me it doesn’t matter, and I should quit thinking about it.”
Love at First Sight
“I immediately connected with my future wife, Christine (Taylor), when we met,” Stiller told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We were both not looking for a relationship, which is probably what allowed us the freedom to not put any pressure on it. Over the course of a summer, we fell in love. The cornerstone of our relationship is that we laugh together a lot.”
Being a Teenager Sucks
“School was where I didn’t want to be,” Stiller said during his Guardian interview, elaborating that, as a teenager, he was “not that well-adjusted. It wasn’t a great time. I was sort of confused and not that cool. Probably 13 through 19 was not a great period for me. I feel like I was a late starter in terms of growing up.”
He Improvised His Famous Airplane Scene
His Favorite Movies As a Kid
“There were the crazy disaster movies, like The Poseidon Adventure,” he told Esquire. “Or Jaws. Or sci-fi movies in a weird dystopia, like Planet of the Apes. All of those I loved. There was a human quality about all of them but in a disconnected world. There are human desires and human emotions that are there no matter what, and people figure out a way to fight through barriers. People figure out a way to connect.”
Music Video Cameo King
Stiller loves doing music video cameos and has popped up in Diddy’s “Bad Boys for Life,” Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin” and Tenacious D’s “Tribute.”
Into Filmmaking Since Childhood
As a kid, Stiller was already into filmmaking and would shoot parodies of popular movies on the Super 8 his dad gave him. “Like when Jaws came out, we did our own little bathtub Jaws and a lot of basic action drama,” he told The Guardian. “Like a kid would be coming home from school, and he’d get mugged by another kid, and then a friend of his would come and find the kid who mugged him and beat him up.”
Slapping the Monkey
Stiller told Parade that he didn’t want to use special effects and, instead, wanted to shoot the monkey scenes in Night at the Museum with the actual, real monkey. “We were doing a slap-fight scene,” Stiller remembers, “and every time the monkey hit me, the trainer would be off-camera going, ‘Go on! Get him! Harder!’”
Not a Fan of Los Angeles
Stiller moved to Los Angeles and attended UCLA but hated it so much that he dropped out and moved back to New York. Back in NYC, he took classes at the Actors Studio.
His Brief Tenure at ‘SNL’
Back in his home state, Stiller was soon hired as a writer on SNL thanks to Lorne Michaels coming across Stiller’s six-minute parody of Tom Cruise in The Color of Money.
However, Stiller quit after just a few weeks. “He wanted to be a filmmaker,” Bob Odenkirk, who shared an office with Stiller at SNL, told Esquire. “He could see: There was no room for us to make films. So he moved on quickly. And that’s just Ben. I’m sure he could have stayed there, and I’m sure he could have made a lot of films there after three or four years. But he wasn’t going to wait four years to make films.”
That Time He Got in the Squared Circle
How does one even promote a movie without getting slapped into a figure-four leg lock? The ’90s sure can’t tell you.
Judd Apatow Has Credited Stiller As Inspiration
“I learned how to shoot comedy watching Ben,” Apatow told Esquire. The two met when Stiller was briefly living in Los Angeles while they were standing in line at an Elvis Costello concert. Stiller would later rope Apatow in to produce The Ben Stiller Show.
The Idea Behind ‘Tropic Thunder’
Stiller got the idea for his controversial comedy while on the set of Steven Spielberg’s 1987 film Empire of the Sun. “The actors were going to fake boot camp and talking about these incredible experiences that really changed their lives,” Stiller once explained. “It was funny because people who actually went to war (or actual boot camp) would have had actual transformative experiences.”
Inspired by Mike Myers
“Honestly, for me, it was watching what Mike Myers did with Austin Powers,” Stiller said about creating Derek Zoolander. “I was a big fan of that movie, and seeing how he created this really over-the-top character that is sustained for a whole movie made me think that (the original VH1 Zoolander sketches) could be a movie.”
First Cover on Vogue
Derek Zoolander is the first male model to adorn the cover of Vogue.
On the Blackface in ‘Tropic Thunder’
“It’s such a touchy area,” he told The Los Angeles Times about having Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder, Kirk Lazarus, don Blackface. “It had to be clear: What we are satirizing is the character and his loss of identity. So we have a Black actor there (Brandon T. Jackson playing Alpa Chino) calling (Lazarus) on every moment to be perfectly clear about our point-of-view. We never wanted it to be okay.”
On Simple Jack in ‘Tropic Thunder’
Stiller once admitted that he was so focused on getting the controversial character Kirk Lazarus right that he didn’t even think of how his own character, Simple Jack, would come across. He tested the movie with the Los Angeles NAACP chapter to get a read on the reaction to Lazarus but didn’t think to do something similar with Simple Jack. That is how the Special Olympics ended up calling him out on it. Stiller said he did learn from the process and that “the bottom line is you have to be clear what your point-of-view is when you are doing comedy that is edgy, and for me, it was always making fun of actors who would do anything to get more attention and to win awards. But I am also totally sensitive to how people would react to it now.”
On Creating a Show Like ‘Severance’
“He’s merciless. He never stops,” Patricia Arquette told Esquire about working with Stiller, the co-director and executive producer on Severance. “He never stops rewriting; he never stops thinking. Weekends, holidays — you’d get phone calls late at night, you’d get phone calls early in the morning. Ideas. New things. He has incredibly intense focus on everything — every little set piece, every little wardrobe thing. I’ve never seen anybody so focused on everything.”
After leaving SNL, Stiller made a short film called Elvis Stories, featuring a mock tabloid following supposed sightings of Elvis Presley.
His First MTV Gig
Before Stiller would develop The Ben Stiller Show for MTV, the network asked him to make a short film after seeing what he did with Elvis Stories. The result was Going Back to Brooklyn, a music video that parodied LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali.”
His First TV Show Won an Emmy
The Ben Stiller Show may have been short-lived, but it was enough to not only put Stiller on the map but even win an Emmy.
On His Directorial Debut Feature Film
“When I look at it, there’s a certain lack of cynicism in the movie. It really does wear its heart on its sleeve, and that’s what’s interesting. We really were just putting it out there,” Stiller once said about his 1994 Gen-X rom-com Reality Bites.
How ‘The Cable Guy’ Led to Films Like ‘Zoolander’ and ‘Tropic Thunder’
Directing The Cable Guy (1996) would familiarize Stiller with his future Frat Pack co-stars, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.
The Leader of the Pack
In case you’ve ever wondered who’s the acknowledged leader of the Frat Pack (made up of Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Owen and Luke Wilson, Jack Black, Steve Carell, and Paul Rudd), it’s Stiller. He’s the one who started the “Let’s cameo in each other’s movies” trend, and he’s hired most of the Frat Pack members to star in movies he’s either produced or directed.
He’s the Only Frat Pack Member Who’s Been in a Brat Pack Movie
His Failed Pilot with Jack Black
In 1999, Stiller directed a pilot for a series called Heat Vision and Jack, created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab. Even though Fox ordered the pilot, they did not greenlight the series. Thankfully, the filmed pilot that sees Black play an astronaut who gets superpowers and also a talking motorcycle is available online for everyone to see.
A Good Year
2004 was a stellar Stiller year. He appeared in six films — five of which did box office bank. We’re talking Starsky & Hutch, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Along Came Polly, Meet the Fockers, and the only flop, Envy.
A Good Year Extended
He Had Prostate Cancer
Stiller was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2014 after taking a PSA test. The tumor was removed, and he’s been cancer-free ever since.
His Character in ‘Night at the Museum’ Got Shortchanged
It turns out that Stiller’s Larry Daley on Night of the Museum only made $11.50 an hour working the night shift at New York’s American Museum of Natural History — all the while fighting an ancient curse. That’s daylight robbery.
He Was Supposed to Be Megamind
Before Will Ferrell was cast as the titular character in the wildly underappreciated 2010 cartoon Megamind, Stiller was reportedly pitted to play the bumbling alien. He remained executive producer (the film was made by his production company) and ended up voicing the museum curator, Bernard.
How He Ended Up Playing Michael Cohen on ‘SNL’
Stiller revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that he had emailed Lorne Michaels to ask if he could take his daughter, Ella, to a taping of the show. Michaels said sure, and by the way, did Stiller perhaps have an impression of Michael Cohen lying around somewhere? “Which I didn’t, because who does?” Stiller told DeGeneres. He started watching YouTube clips of Trump’s former attorney, sent Michaels a video, and ended up on the show that same week.
Playing Michael Cohen Made Him Think Twice About Michael Cohen
When Cohen, naturally, ended up creating his own podcast after being disgraced on the world stage, he interviewed Stiller, who claimed he felt for the man after playing him. “I saw this interesting dichotomy of fear and a killer, too,” Stiller said. “So there was a sensitivity of a human being in there. I related to my own fear of going on Saturday Night Live to play you for what it must have been like for you to go and testify in front of Congress.”
He’s Not Credited in ‘Happy Gilmore’
Which is hilarious because who can miss that impressive mustache?
His Old Filmmaking Tradition
Before production would kick off on a film set, Stiller used to gather the cast and crew, do a little speech, and, much like they do at Jewish weddings, step on a wine glass. On Zoolander 2, however, that little ritual backfired when a piece of shattered glass cut straight through his shoe and sliced into his heel. Stiller joked to Esquire that it was “probably a harbinger of things to come for that movie.”
Stiller and Taylor separated in 2017 with the intention of getting a divorce. However, during the pandemic, Taylor allowed Stiller to stay with her and the kids to make it easier for them to see their dad. This led to the two of them reconciling. “We always stayed a family unit,” Taylor told Drew Barrymore on her talk show. “So when the pandemic hit, and we all had to figure out where to hunker down, we all ended up in our house together with two teenagers, and we found this way back. We had so much time to talk; there were no other distractions — it just happened organically.”
On His Audition for ‘Encino Man
In an alternate universe, Ben Stiller would’ve been cast as the lead in the movie that made Brendan Fraser famous.
Russia Sanctioned Him
Stiller has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine following the Russian invasion and ongoing war since early 2022. He’s called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy his hero, which led to Russia both sanctioning and banning Stiller from setting foot in their country.
His Game Show Appearance
In 2001, Stiller won $32,000 for his charity, Project ALS, on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
On Digitally Removing the Twin Towers From ‘Zoolander’
The film was shot in New York. Following 9/11, Stiller opted to digitally remove the towers, later explaining that “people who chose to see the movie as escapist entertainment were not looking for another reminder of tragedy. In hindsight, it turns out that to some, the omission of the towers was disconcerting. I make no claim that mine was the right decision; I only assert that I was trying to do the right thing in a circumstance for which there was no precedent.”
On Blue Steel
“That look came out of me in the mirror at home when I brush my hair or whatever,” Stiller explained to Entertainment Tonight. “I guess with the selfie culture, it’s just a natural extension. Did I have any idea that it would live on? No.”
He’s a Goodwill Ambassador
And Now, a ‘Die Hard 12’ Trailer From ‘The Ben Stiller Show’
Thanks, Ben Stiller.