Meeting Josh Groban in person is a little confusing. The pop-operatic baritone who sold some 6 million CDs last yearmore than any other artist in the countryshould really be sitting at a piano, crooning melodramatically about love and longing and loss. Or standing solemnly at a microphone in a hushed stadium, bathed in celestial light. Instead, Groban is seated at a folding table in a modest one-bedroom condo in a Beverly Hills low-rise, wearing an old T-shirt, jeans, and Converse high-tops and playing a game of poker with the five members of his band.
These are not, shall we say, the world’s most serious poker players. They’re not actually gambling, though Groban jokes about setting high stakes: “Loser’s out of the band!”
And since nobody here is able to achieve anything even close to a poker face, there’s talk that maybe they should switch to Jenga. Or bowling. “Hey, do you remember, in Amsterdam, like, how funny bowling got all of a sudden?” Groban asks. “I don’t even remember Amsterdam,” says drummer Craig MacIntyre. “Never mind,” Groban says abruptly, prompting gales of laughter. But he continues the story anyway: “We were in that café”he pauses meaningfully“uh, for coffee. And, um, it was on TV and we’re like, ‘Oh, bowling’s on!’ And then, like, an hour later we were like”he affects a stoner voice straight out of a Harold & Kumar movie“‘Look at the way they’re squatting!’”
The band convulses in laughter, and suddenly it’s impossible to imagine this 27-year-old goofball singing “You Raise Me Up” to a stadium full of moist-eyed, trembling-lipped suburban moms.
Seven years into his career, as sales of Josh Groban CDs and DVDs push 23 million units, the image of him that’s being marketed to the world is beginning to feel like a straitjacket. “People will see a poster of me walking through the desert with, like, a who-can-have-the-most-serious-stare-contest stare on my face,” he says, “and I sing a lot of songs that are very serious, my voice is classically trained . . . ”
That voice does, of course, lend itself to a certain schmaltziness (that’s why every damn time you stepped into a Starbucks last December you heard Groban’s version of “Silent Night”). He knows that regardless of what he wants for himself, his fans want to be moved. They want to be . . .raised up. “My head and my voice are, a lot of times, fighting each other,” Groban says.
Fortunately, he’s found an outlet for the part of himself that can’t resist poking holes in his own shtick. In 2004, when Jimmy Kimmel was preparing to host the American Music Awards, he and his writers had an idea for a skit involving Snoop Dogg. “I thought it’d be funny to have Josh Groban in it,” Kimmel says. At the AMAs, a backstage camera showed Snoop manning a “bizzake sale” table offering $100 brownies. In the line of customers, just behind Bobby Brown, was Groban. “I thought this was the line for the bizzathroom,” he deadpanned.