When folks walk into a Wizard World pop culture convention this weekend, one of the first things they’ll see is a stage. And, on the stage, they’ll see a boisterous guy who seems to be having a lot of fun.
Yep, that’s Kato Kaelin.
The Wizard World convention, featuring a stable of celebrity guests, opened Friday evening and continues through Sunday at Cox Business Center, 100 Civic Center.
Though Kaelin has been a household name since 1994 (details later), he isn’t listed as a celebrity guest. He’s a Wizard World staffer.
Wizard World stages pop culture conventions all over the country. Last year, Wizard World’s management decided to make a central entertainment stage part of the con experience. Kaelin is the entertainment stage emcee.
“He’s introducing the acts, but he’s also meeting fans,” Wizard World public relations manager Jerry Milani said. “He’s also doing trivia questions and giving away prizes. He’s kind of just joshing and having fun with the fans, keeping everybody kind of active and keeping everybody loose and making sure everybody is having a good time.”
If Kaelin looks like the gig comes natural to him, it’s because he’s doing what he has always wanted to do. While attending college at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he had a television show called “Kato and Friends.” Now, he’s essentially the host of a traveling show. He jokingly called it “Katopalooza” during a Friday interview.
“I have fun with everybody,” he said. “I don’t care if they are the celebrity or the person who is collecting tickets. Everybody here is special. I really think that’s true. I always think it’s great for someone to leave this place better than what they came in. That’s kind of the goal. It sounds so hokey, but it’s really true.”
Kaelin was introduced to America when he got swept up in the O.J. Simpson wave 26 years ago. Simpson was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Kaelin had been living in Simpson’s guest house and was a witness for the prosecution.
If that’s the only thing you know about Kaelin, isn’t there a lot more to know?
Brian Kaelin grew up in Wisconsin and got the nickname Kato because that was the name of the Green Hornet’s sidekick. He had his name legally changed to include Kato.
Does that give him nerd cred? Of course.
Also consider that he was raised in a family with a bunch of siblings, and he and his brothers used to try to draw characters from comic books. He said he and his brothers had to “become” the characters. He was the Silver Surfer, then Thor.
“That’s what I grew up with was all these Marvel comics,” he said, adding that he and his brothers used to hang out in front of the comics rack and look at all the great covers while their mom was shopping. He thinks kids today are missing out on that experience.
Kaelin aspired to be a baseball player. He said he was a pitcher for his high school baseball team and made the varsity as a freshman at Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Then he bailed out in favor of Cal State-Fullerton because “that’s where all the pros” were. He said the guys at Cal State-Fullerton were buff and muscular.
“I didn’t get whiskers until I was 38 years old, so I started emceeing and getting into theater productions,” he said, indicating that he has had a Screen Actors Guild card for 35 years.
Kaelin said Wizard World CEO John Maatta called him last year and offered the opportunity to emcee conventions. Kaelin accepted and, said Milani, “he’s terrific at it.”
“I feel like I’m winning people over just being me,” Kaelin said. “It’s kind of like pre-O.J. I used to host car shows, and it’s kind of like the same thing at convention centers. I had like a little act then. No one knew who I was then, but they were having fun.”
Has enough time passed that people have stopped asking what happened with the O.J. situation?
“It’s rare when people bring up the O.J. stuff, and if they do, I have no problem answering the questions,” he said. “I do a lot of radio and TV. I do press in every city. For years, I have said I think he’s guilty. That’s just my opinion, whatever it matters.”
Now, Kaelin can tackle less serious fare at pop culture cons, like who would win a fight between Thor and the Hulk?
“I think right now we know that Thanos is the strongest,” Kaelin said. “Thanos is the winner. He’s got the Infinity Stones, and I’m waiting for the next (movie) to come out.”