In addition to being a DIY show in which fun things are built, Taylor Calmus’ new Magnolia Network series SuperDad, in which he helps dads turn their kids’ backyard dreams into playtime realities, is also a show with a lot of heart.
“To me, parents can go and buy their kids anything, but to actually spend the time to make them something is so much cooler and so much more meaningful,” Calmus tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview.
Calmus, who is also known for his Dude Dad vlog, says when he thinks back to his own childhood, and he has asked a lot of other people to pull from their memories as well, what he and they recall as the highlight of their kid time is a treehouse or a playhouse.
“As kids, we don’t get a lot of our own real estate,” Calmus explains. “We have our room, but that’s where all our stuff goes, our clothes go, and that’s where we sleep. But to have a playhouse or a treehouse that’s just for us to play in, create in, and imagine in, it becomes the pinnacle part of our childhood. So, to be able to help these dads create that for their kids is huge. We build structures, but the show is really about building memories.”
It was memories of his father building things for him and his brother, like the aforementioned treehouse, but also a batting cage, that was part of the inspiration for Calmus’ Dude Dad vlog, plus he thinks building is an important skill set that a lot of millennials are not learning in school, especially in areas where shop classes may no longer be taught.
“There’s so many of these dads that just don’t know how to use tools, but they’re amazing dads, so I come in and bring my construction experience and help them build something really cool for their kids,” Calmus said. “But I make sure — and this is real — every single one of those dads has to put in a lot of sweat equity on the structure because it’s going to mean so much more to their kids knowing that their dad built it and not me.”
Monsters & Critics: How did you come to the Magnolia Network? Did Chip and Joanna Gaines find you because of your Dude Dad Vlog?
Taylor Calmus: Yeah, it was because of those videos. I had started watching Fixer Upper. I was just like any other fan. I loved the vibe of their show and them as a couple, and I saw a lot of similarities between them and my wife and I, so I got this idea and challenged Chip to a playhouse-building competition.
I made this elaborate video — you can look it up — but I challenged Chip to a playhouse-building competition for charity. The idea was it would be mono a mono, me against him, whoever builds the best playhouse — and we let the kids decide whose playhouse was the best — would win. His team saw that video and liked it, and accepted my challenge.
Then, through the course of deciding how we’re going to do it, it evolved into a fundraising competition, not only against me and Chip but also against JLo and A-Rod, Lauren Daigle, Casey Musgraves, and Florida Georgia Line, just this slew of giant celebrities.
So, then it became me against nine celebrities to see who could raise the most money. At the end of the day, we ended up raising $1.5 million for Saint Jude and it was when we were doing the check ceremony at Saint Jude that Chip pulled me aside and was like, “Hey, I want to put you on TV.”
My friends Chris and Alex and I had already been working on this TV show idea, so we meshed together with Magnolia and our production company to create this show. That’s really how I got to know the Gaines, and ultimately, what brought us to where we are today.
M&C: What do you enjoy about working with Chip and Joanna? Do they understand your process?
Taylor Calmus: Anybody that has put in sweat equity on a project knows what it takes, and they’re also in the position where they’ve done a TV show before, so they know what that process looks like. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of the Magnolia Network.
M&C: You talk about your father building stuff for you. Did he teach you or did you also take shop classes or learn by trial and error? How did you develop your skills?
Taylor Calmus: I grew up on an acreage, like a little farmstead, but my dad wasn’t a farmer. He sold construction equipment, so we always had plenty of tools at our disposal, and dad was always working on projects around the house and building different things for my mom.
My mom was the ideas’ woman. She’d always come up with the ideas like, “Hey, let’s build the kids a treehouse,” and then dad would just have to figure out how to do it. He built us a treehouse, a batting cage, and then once my brother and I got a little bit older, we started building stuff.
We both ended up working for a local carpenter. I learned most of my hands-on skills working for a local carpenter framing houses. So, every day after school from my junior year and senior year, all throughout the summer, I was framing houses. I wasn’t into sports. I liked to BMX, but that’s not like a sport. We just did that on the weekends.
But my brother and I ended up building a huge 40-foot by 40-foot skate park in my dad’s cattle lot, basically, out of old barn wood and whatever we could find, like scraps that we would take from the job site. So, that’s where I really learned a lot of my like hands-on construction experience.
M&C: Building the skate park must have made you popular with the other kids.
Taylor Calmus: I grew up in rural South Dakota, so our town was like 800 people, so nobody else was riding BMX. It was just me, my brother, and my two cousins. Because we were in rural South Dakota, there wasn’t a lot of skate parks around, so we just made our own skate park.
M&C: What’s it like working with these dads? They all come in with different skill levels, has there actually been a dad who’s made things worse rather than actually helped?
Taylor Calmus: Some of them definitely made the process slower, but at the end of the day, we’re going to help them make sure that they do it right, and it’s going to mean so much more to the kids knowing that their dad built it. That’s what it’s really about.
M&C: Your idea of making plans is sketches. How do you know they will translate?
Taylor Calmus: We have a team. For better or worse, I’ve always been a ready, aim, fire kind of guy where I just like to jump in. The way I figure something out is with my hands, where I can put it together and go, “That works.” Or I’ll go, “You know it would be better if we did this,” but I’m working with people that have that other A-type personality that can structure it all. So, I can do my doodle and they can go, “OK, this is how we would want to do this. This is the order.” I go, “Yes, I love that. Let’s do that.” That is the key.
M&C: Is it still the kid in you that comes up with the ideas to help the dads envision what it is that they want to build for their kids?
Taylor Calmus: 100 percent. To me, building things for my kids is a great way to connect with them because you’re building with them in mind, so you’re coming down on their level and going, “OK, what would they really love?” It’s so much more fun building for kids because you’re not set inside these structured boxes that we have to have as adults.
When you’re building a house, you’re going, “OK, we need three bathrooms, we need five bedrooms, I want a big entryway, and for all of our clothes and our stuff, we need lots of storage.” You’re thinking of all these practical things, but when you’re building for kids, nothing about it is practical. It’s just what would be the coolest, most fun thing to build. What would be the most fun is the only qualifying factor. There’s no limitation. Can we make a spaceship? Why not? Would you put a spaceship in your cul-de-sac to live in? No, your HOA would kill you.
M&C: We go home with you each week, so your wife and your kids are part of it. Why did you decide to include that element?
Taylor Calmus: I think that’s essential if I’m going to be talking about fatherhood and the importance of it for people to also see me as a father, and it’s also important to me to include my family in this process so that I’m not just off doing this without them because without them I wouldn’t be who I am. I really believe that they’ve had such a huge impact on who I am and what I’ve been able to do and this would have never happened without them.
You go through life trying to figure out who you are, what your purpose is, and what you’re doing, right? Then you become a dad and it’s like opening up a door to a room in your house that you didn’t know was there, and you turn on the light, and it’s not just a room, it’s like a warehouse, and the lights are opening up, and it opens up this whole other part of yourself that you didn’t know was there. There is this other part of yourself that is so much bigger and more important than you could have ever imagined.
M&C: Where did your making sound effects like the tools come from?
Taylor Calmus: Morgan is my sidekick on the show. He and I met doing set construction together, so we were building movies or TV and commercial sets. That relationship really formed around us both just loving to goof around while building stuff, so we brought him into the show so that we could continue that and have fun together. When you work construction, you have to do things like that all day to keep the morale up.
Now, on this show, when you work this type of construction, it’s a lot more fun, but back when I worked in South Dakota building houses, we did the same stuff because we worked like 10, 12-hour days out in the sun. So, we were always talking in accents and doing whatever kookie could think of to keep the day moving for all of us.
M&C: You moved from Los Angeles to Colorado. Have you given up the acting dream? Is Super Dad a fair replacement?
Taylor Calmus: 100 percent. When I left L.A., it was because my online videos had taken off enough that they had become a career for me, and then the TV show is an extension of a piece of that. But once I became a father, I knew that staying in L.A. and pursuing an acting career was just unrealistic. A) because it’s hard to raise kids in the city, but B) the income is just so hard to predict that I knew I needed something more predictable.
So, I started Dude Dad to stay creative while also being a father, but I knew that I could take that wherever I go and just keep creating. Then that started to pick up steam, and eventually, it got to the point where it was like, “OK, this could be my main thing.” I don’t have to drive across the city to go to an audition and maybe get some work. I can just stay here and do this and make money, so let’s leave the city. Let’s go somewhere more family-friendly.”
Through all that, SuperDad was born. I’m very fortunate to be able to get to do what I love and not have to live on either one of the coasts because it’s so much easier to raise a family in the middle of the country, in my opinion.
SuperDad is currently streaming on the Magnolia Network app.