At 6 feet 5 inches, Vince Vaughn barely clears the ceiling of his tour bus a glitzy, leathery behemoth befitting a band like the Rolling Stones. But back in the fall of 2005, the 45-footer served as temporary home to Vaughn and the posse of comedians he handpicked for a monthlong cross-country stand-up tour. Vaughn's resulting documentary about the trek, Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show, proves he may have had the rocker trappings down, but the actor had to learn a thing or two about the lifestyle: ''When we decided to book the tour, I had no experience with any of this,'' Vaughn laughs. ''I originally thought 30 days and 30 nights because it had a nice ring to it. I didn't realize you need a day off once in a while. It's like you're being Federal Expressed from stage to stage.''
Today, Vaughn is back on the bus to promote West (in theaters Feb. 8) and parked outside of one of his favorite stops the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif., a shrine to the late Buck Owens. A Chicago-area native, Vaughn is quick to defend his country cred by dropping the fact that his grandfather was a dairy farmer and his family hails from Ohio. As a result, he says, he feels perfectly at home here. ''A lot of these guys, like Buck and Johnny Cash, had these extreme existences, picking up, moving, and looking for work,'' the 37-year-old explains with a hint of Hee Haw awe. ''The songs were just expressing that.'' It was his deep admiration for those musicians and their struggle that inspired West. ''The emotion, the experience came first, which is a correlation I made when I saw these comics.... It's a hard lifestyle to get up every night and [perform] to just 20 people. The movie is about learning who they are, and how their comedy comes from a real place.''
Though Vaughn was never officially a stand-up, he's been a regular in L.A. comedy clubs since the early '90s, when he met Ahmed Ahmed, one of the comics who'd tour with West. In fact, almost everyone involved in the film is family (sister Victoria serves as an exec producer) or a longtime friend, including Jon Favreau, who drops in at the Hollywood show to compare Vaughn's acting style to that of ''a windup monkey.''
So when it came to releasing Wild West, Vaughn didn't want to see his passion project degenerate into Guys Gone Wild. ''When we took it to Toronto, it played phenomenally,'' says Vaughn of the film's first major screening in 2006. It earned the attention of Harvey Weinstein, who agreed to buy distribution rights until the two clashed over their visions. ''How they were going to market the movie was very different from how I saw it,'' Vaughn explains. ''It was presented as more of a screwball comedy. I just felt that it wasn't in sync, and Harvey was nice enough to let me have the movie back.'' Back on Vaughn's terms, the film will debut on more than 700 screens. ''It's a small release, but at least we have a chance to make some noise. What mattered to me most was that it got the right shot.''
Of course, not every job can be a labor of love; luckily, Vaughn's brand of motormouth comedy remains in demand. These days, he's the poster boy for Christmas; he'll follow up recent hit Fred Claus with Four Christmases, costarring Reese Witherspoon (slated for November). While Claus was for the kids, Vaughn likens Christmases, in tone, to Favreau's agonizing phone call in Swingers. ''It's really funny and relatable, but also, like, hide your eyes,'' he says. As for reports that he and Witherspoon have been clashing on set, Vaughn has nothing but raves for Reese: ''She's one of my favorite actresses.'' (See below for more on the comediennes Vaughn admires.)
Vaughn may be working on mainstream fare, but he keeps a memento of West nearby: He bought the tour bus, which he's now using as his trailer on Christmases. It reminds him what you can accomplish in Hollywood. ''It's not encouraged to put yourself in a documentary,'' he says. ''But I didn't do it to be different. I'm just looking for what keeps me inspired.''
Sure, Wild West is an all-boys club, but which women make Vaughn laugh?
''The scenes with me and Isla in Wedding Crashers are some of the best in the film, [because] it's like a Ping-Pong match, very 50-50. We're both giving, taking, and working well off each other.''
''I like what Tina Fey has done on 30 Rock. I think she's really talented, a great writer and performer...one of the better comedic voices and minds that are out there male or female.''
''Election, the Legally Blonde movies...she's got great comedy [in how] she commits to a circumstance and plays it very real. We've had great stuff so far even in Four Christmases.''