By Dan England –
Taylor Calmus has a skit to film and a bear costume to inspect and an interview. But first, Heidi, his wife, who will soon wear the costume, needs to talk to him about the hot tub in the backyard of their Fort Collins home.
“The pump is stuck,” she tells him.
There are other things to tend to as well, like the highchair in the corner covered in a buffet of breakfast crumbs, or the general disaster that is the kitchen, so he doesn’t need a hot tub to worry about. But that is life, and life, right now, means doing an interview, as soon as he can tell Heidi something.
“Babe, you gotta go,” Taylor says. “I strapped the kids in.”
Heidi, wearing a Mama Bear t-shirt sold by his company, dashes out the door after apologizing for the mess (“We live here,” she says, implying it’s not just a Hollywood set). Taylor, wearing a “Dude Dad” black t-shirt also sold by his brand, sits down and allows himself one deep breath before he learns that he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet.
“HEY MARS…” Taylor yells down the stairs at one of his right-hand men, but then he reconsiders. Wikipedia can wait.
“He’s busy working on the bear costume,” Taylor says out loud to himself.
Life for Taylor seems chaotic, or as chaotic as really any 35-year-old dad attempting to balance three kids aged 6, 4 and 1 and a full-time business. But there are quiet moments. More importantly for Taylor and Heidi, there are private ones.
That’s because Taylor is “Dude Dad” for a living, and that means life is virtual and real at the same time, and sometimes it’s hard to know which is which. He may just be the most popular YouTube Dad persona in the world, which is not a title that existed before he and a few dads started the trend. This means a lot of things, but one of the things it does mean is Taylor is constantly evaluating what to show you and what to keep to himself.
“That’s one of the real struggles is separating the two,” Taylor says. “When is it family time, and when is it content time? There are times when I am thinking to myself, ‘This would make great content.’ Or, you know, I could just be present with my kids right now.”
There are other things that most business owners don’t have to worry about, such as, you know, being famous. Most fans are cool, but there are those who will stop him in the grocery store, freak out and try to keep him there while his 4-year-old is making a run for it down the cereal aisle. There is the never-ending maintenance of being a social media star, such as emails, interviews and brand awareness that all pile up even when his people help him with all of it. And there is the constant pressure to be creative: He and two collaborators write jokes and come up with funny stuff that’s also original, which is, to be frank, way harder than it sounds. He doesn’t want dad jokes about New Balance shoes, lawn care or stupid things they say. He needs relatable material that also hasn’t been done 100 times, like a scenario he’s playing in his head right now about Heidi using SO MUCH cream in her coffee.
If it seems like he’s complaining, well, he’s not. He loves it. He’s had other opportunities as a result of all that work, such as “Super Dad,” a Discovery+ show with two seasons under its tool belt about building projects for his kids (he has a super bougie treehouse and playground that attracts nearly a dozen kids of all ages to his backyard every day).
He has merch, including the t-shirts and a book that came out in May (just in time for Father’s Day!). He makes a comfortable living somewhere between the billions of dollars some fans assume he makes and the pennies others assume working full-time as a Dad Influencer (and yes, that’s a thing, they have Vegas conferences for them now; he was a guest speaker at one last year). In fact, it’s a full-time job for five people, not just him. He’s an industry.
He feels fortunate, even blessed, and that’s because all this almost didn’t happen.
Six years ago, two weeks before Theo was born, Taylor Calmus became Dude Dad.
He moved to Los Angeles to become an actor after living in South Dakota and going to college there. He got some work, most notably on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and in between auditions he worked as an apartment manager. The job gave him income and free rent for occasionally repairing toilets and whatever else needed work. This, and living with a dad who built a crazy treehouse and a batting cage for him and his brother before letting them run wild with his tools, gave him the DIY skills he flashes on Dude Dad and does way more of on “Super Dad.” Heidi worked for nonprofits: Her passion remains working with victims of human trafficking.
A year after Theo was born, he’d made enough quality videos to get a following of 2,000 on YouTube. He had a niche—mommy blogs were popular, but no one was doing dad stuff—and a loyal audience who loved him, but that wasn’t making money. He was good, he thought: Because of film school in South Dakota, he was a video producer who became a dad, not the other way around.
Then they had to move, and he worked part-time constructing sets and auditioning and Heidi switched jobs and became pregnant. He was fried, and something had to go. He decided to quit making Dude Dad videos. The day he decided to stop, Heidi, using her wife intuition, came up to him instead.
“You can’t stop Dude Dad,” she told him.
Taylor tells the story all the time, in conferences, in interviews and today at his kitchen table. He’s a thoughtful guy—much of his early material focused on the wonders of being a father even when you’re buried in poopy diapers—but he’s not overly emotional. Still, he tears up every time at this story, even when he fights it because he doesn’t want you to think it’s an act. Two years later, he began to see significant income from the content. Heidi was right, but that isn’t the point.
“She believed in what I was doing,” Taylor says, “and she wanted to see it through.”
As always, be careful what you wish for. Heidi will wear the bear costume later so she can turn into a “Mama bear” whenever something makes her mad. The skit is part of Dude Dad’s shift to scripted comedy instead of a touching vlog. He needs Heidi quite a bit to pull this off, so much so that Heidi no longer works to prevent human trafficking. She’s too famous to go undercover. But she recently hosted an event to raise money to support caregivers of the victims: She’s happy to use her fame for the cause since she’s supporting their industry much of the time.
“Heidi is more popular than I am,” Taylor says and laughs. “We know the videos that will do really well because Heidi is in them. She’s so authentic. She’s extremely relatable. I’m a comedian and an actor, but Heidi is a real person.”
Heidi aside, the show is popular, he says, because he works hard at it, with a professional production team and the skills he learned in college. He never really had a big break, even after a few videos went viral enough for him to get noticed. He just kept working and doing good work that people like.
“When you see a viral video, the person who made that isn’t random,” Taylor says. “It’s just the first time you’ve seen that person.”
He likes his niche of being a dude and a dad and hits the gym as much as he can to keep his shape. He’s 35, so it’s getting harder, and staying motivated is difficult when he knows that dad bods are funnier and more relatable. But he doesn’t want to be that dad. He likes building stuff and doing adventures with his kids and Heidi. “That adventuring and stuff speaks to me a lot more,” says Taylor.
That did encourage him to switch to scripted comedy, which makes it easier and their lives more private. Their three children didn’t pick the influencer life, even if Theo sometimes appears in their videos and will read lines for rewards, a.k.a. parental bribes.
Taylor laughs at the idea that they had a third baby to keep the content machine running, but he concedes it helps.
“We don’t have babies for content,” he says and laughs again. “But IF we have the baby, the baby WILL become content.”
Hey, aren’t you…
Taylor knew he needed help when he came downstairs and saw Heidi packing merch orders.
She was surrounded by shelves full of shirts and was printing mailing labels, humming along while the kids slept and she deprived herself of pillow time. There were more than 600 orders she needed to fulfill. He told her to stop.
The next day, Go West T-Shirt Company, without any prompt, reached out just to see if they could help with anything.
“I asked him, ‘Can we meet tomorrow,” Taylor says.
Life was easier, even when it was harder, when it was just him and his 2,000 loyal followers and money was a real issue. Now he supports three others, plus Heidi and himself, and they are all busy doing short films all week in addition to longer stuff once a week. He has more than 460,000 subscribers on YouTube who want fresh content. Between that and the social media and email and his web page, there’s so many more things that need to get done.
But he couldn’t be happier in Fort Collins, away from LA. They’d always thought they would leave LA, and the decision became easy after the pandemic hit. They decided to move here after one of his crew members, who had lived in Loveland, talked about Northern Colorado. This is why Taylor works out of his home instead of an office or a studio.
“Hollywood can be anywhere now,” he says. “Raising kids here is so much easier.”
Fort Collins is still small enough that he gets recognized more than he would if he still lived in LA or perhaps even Denver. People stop him often enough that when he’s out with his friends for a night in Old Town, he tells them not to let him do anything stupid “because my job depends on it.” It’s most annoying when he’s with his kids, but again, that’s part of the job, even when it confuses his kids.
“I just tell my kids we have friends everywhere,” Taylor says.
Those trips out with his kids, in fact, are probably when his job and his personal life collide the most. But he doesn’t mind mixing the two. The videos he makes of Dude Dad, he says, give him a role model of who he wants to be in real life. He is not Dude Dad in real life, but he finds himself trying to be that person a lot. He likes that guy. And his real life helps prevent Dude Dad from becoming too much of a persona.
At this last point, his phone rings once and then hangs up. It rings again and he hears Heidi in the background.
“I think she’s butt-dialing me,” he says and laughs before hanging up.
Then the phone rings again. It’s Heidi again.
“Are you trying to call me?” he says to her.
“YES, I AM,” Heidi says. Oops.
Taylor answers her questions, something about whether she should run more errands or come home, and then he clicks off his phone. There’s a pause before he goes downstairs, and you can just tell he’s thinking that conversation could be great content.
The Dude Dad industry
• Go to dudedad.com to order merch and check out his new book, released May 10.
• His show, “Super Dad,” is on Discovery+, the streaming platform of the network. There are two seasons out; he’s waiting to hear if there will be a third.
• Search for “Dude Dad” on YouTube to find his content and subscribe to his channel.
Dan England is a mountain climber, ultrarunner, freelance writer and coach who lives in Greeley with his three kids, a son and twin girls, his singing wife Valerie, and his herding dog Pepper.