Since today is your birthday, how are you going to celebrate?
Well, by going to SmackDown TVs. [Laughs] And somebody made me a nice little surprise for my birthday, so that was good.
What was the surprise like?
Well, it was just the stuff sent to my hotel, like gifts and stuff like that. Some cupcakes, some nice vegan cupcakes.
Excellent. Well, I wanted to focus on the boring parts of your life in this interview — less on stuff in the ring and more on the stuff away from it because that's where you're an especially interesting guy. Let's talk about the music that you're into. I know about your interest in Townes Van Zandt after seeing Wrestling Road Diaries, and you talked about Frank Turner in your GQ.com interview. What other stuff are you into?
Well, I really like Kimya Dawson. She did the Juno soundtrack, and I actually did a hit single with her. [Laughs] Yeah, I did the back-up rap for a tribute song to Captain Lou Albano. I really like Kimya. I really like Jeffrey Lewis. I really like Gaslight Anthem and stuff like that.
Hear Daniel Bryan's in-song appearance:
Tell me about your more boring hobbies. People who are Daniel Bryan fans will likely know about your dog Asparagus, your veganism, and a few other aspects here and there. What are some other things you're into that people might not know about?
Well, I would assume that people who know about Asparagus also know that I'm into kickboxing and grappling. I'm a really big reader, and I'm really big into gardening — really old-man-type stuff. But I suppose I am 31 today, so I am getting older.
What kind of gardening? Any particular plants or flowers?
Fruits, vegetables, stuff like that. I like growing stuff I can eat. To me, that's a big thing. I own a house in Washington state and I have raspberries, I have a big apple tree, I have strawberries. I don't get to plant stuff there because I'm never there. I really enjoy that sort of thing.
Today is your birthday, but how would you ordinarily spend a Tuesday? Run me down through your basic schedule. Your TV tapings aside, what are the other things or obligations you have?
On TV days, we try to work out. Today, we didn't because we had a 320-mile drive last night after Raw, so we didn't get out of the building 'til 11:30. By the time I got to Wilkes-Barre, it was 5 in the morning, and because it's my birthday, I'm not working out today. [Laughs] Typically, we get up, we go to the gym, we head to the building. When we get to the building, you try to find different things to do. You're getting ready for the show, you're talking to the guys, you're joking around. You're just having fun.
How about your weekly schedule then? How often do you make it home?
I make it back to Washington a couple of times a year. I live in Las Vegas right now. I'm going to be moving to San Diego soon. I spend a lot of my time just trying to recover, you know — just trying to recover from this physically grueling schedule we've got. But when I have energy, I like to go and kickbox and grapple and stuff like that.
In the GQ.com interview, you said a similar thing about how that there's no time to heal because you've got a week between shows. Are you in any pain constantly?
Well, for right now, I'm not in any pain whatsoever. It's just times when you have a nagging injury and you don't have any time off, that's when that nagging injury can become something like, 'Oh, it's hard to sleep because this is bothering me.'
How do you keep from getting burnt out on all this? Even if you have your hobbies, this is a pretty rigorous schedule, and you have so many obligations. How do you mentally separate yourself from this very demanding schedule?
I don't really feel like it's that grueling. The most grueling part to me is waking up at 6 a.m. to take a flight because it's hard for me to get back to sleep. As long as I'm not flying, it's not grueling for me at all. I enjoy being on the road. I'm a gentleman of the road!
On Colt Cabana's The Art of Wrestling podcast, you talked about the locker room tradition of pro wrestlers shaking hands when greeting one another. While you do that, you're not super into it. You're more of an informal guy, and people always paint you as being a sort of Average Joe. How accurate do you think that is? Do you think of yourself as a particularly normal person compared to other people within your industry?
Yeah. I mean, if I weren't good at wrestling, I don't think there's anything special about me really. It's like, 'Oh, he's a nice guy.' I would think people would say that. At one point, I was kind of smart. I don't know how smart I am now, but it's one of those things where yeah, there's nothing especially memorable about me if you were to meet me for the first time.
Do you like that about yourself or do you wish that you were a bit more larger than life like some of the other guys on the roster?
Well, I mean, you always sometimes wish, 'Oh, I wish I was a little bit more like the Rock.' When you meet the Rock, you're like, 'Wow, this is such a dynamic person!' But really, I don't. I like being low-key. That's my thing.
Before your match with CM Punk at WWE Over the Limit, Punk did an interview where he did an impression of Vince McMahon. He said that a decade ago, Vince wouldn't have ever imagined a match between you two being one of his main events. How accurate do you think that portrayal of what he thought is?
Oh, I think one year ago he would have said that. One year ago, he would have been like, 'Daniel Bryan's going to be in a WWE Championship match at a pay-per-view? [Incredulously] No! Against CM Punk? No!' [Laughs] I'm absolutely certain that's correct. The 10-year time frame is a little longer than it should have been. He could have said a year ago and been accurate.
When you came to WWE, you were on NXT as a rookie, which is a bizarre thing considering that you've been wrestling for ages. You might have even been wrestling longer than the Miz, and you were his rookie. How did it feel coming from a place where you were venerated as this paragon of great indie wrestling, and then coming to WWE and being called a rookie? What was that juxtaposition like?
See, I don't have a problem with being called anything as long as people treat me with respect. I felt like when I got to WWE, all the wrestlers treated me great, but coming from independent wrestling, you really have to prove yourself more to the office than anybody else because I don't look like your prototypical WWE superstar. I don't have a lot of the qualities they look for in a WWE superstar, so it's [about] going out there and proving that you belong there. At first, it took me a long time to be able to do that. I felt like only in the last six, seven months, I've really proved to the people on top that I really belong here.
What do you think it was that pushed you over the top to this point? Was it winning the World Heavyweight Championship, the 'Yes!' chants or something else entirely?
It's been a series of things, really. When I won the championship, I don't think they expected me to hold it that long, but then I was able to go out there and do the things that nobody really thought I could do. Everybody knew I could wrestle, but [it was about being able to] go out there and do the interviews; do the eight-minute, ten-minute interviews; do the stories with the Big Show and Mark Henry and stuff like that. But then the 'Yes!' chants really took me to that next level.
Your 'Yes!' chant came from a UFC fighter, right?
Yeah, it came from UFC fighter Diego Sanchez.
Watch Diego Sanchez's pre-fight intro:
Now how about any of the other mannerisms you do, especially as a heel? Can you think of anybody in particular you take from? Was there ever a real asshole you met when you were younger where you were like, 'Man, I'm going to take stuff from him?'