Then he drives to a small, nondescript brick building and we park outside the house he lived in when he first attempted to make people laugh for a living. He made the decision to give comedy a try after driving around the United States in a 1979 Mustang on his own for six months. He was all of 22. "It sounded like a great idea at the time, but after 10 days straight without talking to anybody, you start to think, What the fuck am I doing here?" he says. Still, he plowed on, from city to city, sleeping in his car because money was tight. And then he got lost in the wrong part of Washington, D.C. "I'd be pulling up to street corners, and there were gangs right there, and I'm in this little Mustang by myself. I thought, I am fucking dead. I was running red lights, hoping the cops would pull me over."

The experience prepared him for stand-up—the loneliness and fear had hardened him. So when he was working as a bartender in a comedy club back home a few months later, he says he thought, "These acts are all a bit shithouse—I can do that. I'll be a bit uncomfortable up there, but after the trip I had, how bad can it be?"

It was the right choice. He has a talent for impersonating people. On YouTube you'll find Bana doing Arnold, Bana doing Tom Cruise. He went about as far as you can in Australia—from $60-a-night gigs to his own TV show. And then, after 10 years, he quit.

"I got sick of listening to myself," he says. "I had all the tools, but my act had stagnated and I felt dirty."

Comedy is not something Bana wishes to revisit. The closest he's come to that is a part in the upcoming Judd Apatow movie Funny People, starring Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler.

"All I miss about comedy is being producer, director, and writer. I miss the control," he says.

Like many comics, Bana is prone to dark moods. He says his wife, Rebecca, a former publicist, is great at "talking me off the ledge." They married in 1997 when he was working the comedy circuit. Their kids, Klaus and Sophie, are 9 and 7. "I do get incredibly frustrated. I tend to dwell on the negative," he says, staring into the middle distance, his eyes filled with conflict. He takes a long breath and then exhales. "That's our central post office there on the right."

In a few weeks he'll be racing again. Then there's a heap of press to do for all the movies he's got in the can—Star Trek, Funny People, the chick-flicky Time Traveler's Wife. Beyond that, he's just reading and deciding what comes next. The in-between is his favorite time, living his Melbourne life, sticking the bikes on the roof of the car and taking the kids to the beach.