Actor Charles Esten

Charles Esten Puskar III (born September 9, 1965), also known professionally as Charles Esten, and Chip Esten, is an American actor, musician and comedian.

Esten is best known for his role as country singer Deacon Claybourne on the ABC/CMT drama Nashville from 2012 to 2018 which subsequently kickstarted his own musical career and for his role as Ward Cameron on the Netflix teen drama series Outer Banks. He’s also well known for his comedic role in the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway? as a series regular between 1999–2005 and returned in 2019 as a regular.

Early life

Esten was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and moved to Alexandria, Virginia at age nine, after his parents divorced. He and his younger sister were raised by their mother.

His late father, Charles, was a prominent local businessman and business partner of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Ray Mansfield.

Esten is a 1983 graduate of Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School, where he played football for the Titans a decade after the events of the film Remember the Titans. He has noted in several interviews that his Nashville costar Hayden Panettiere appeared in the film as the daughter of his real-life coach. He then attended his parents’ and sister’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary, where he was a brother of Theta Delta Chi fraternity and graduated with a degree in economics in 1987. At William and Mary, he was the lead vocalist in the local band “N’est Pas” from 1985–88. Following graduation, Esten moved to the United Kingdom to make his theatrical debut, playing the title role in the musical Buddy in the early 1990s.[citation needed]

Esten’s first appearance on television was in 1988 as a contestant on the NBC game show Sale of the Century under the name of Chip Puskar. He won more than $34,000 in cash and prizes over a span of five days; he later sold his prizes.


Whose Line Is It Anyway?

In 1992, Esten made his debut on Whose Line Is It Anyway? in the fourth series and “won” the episode. He subsequently appeared in more episodes later the same year when the show did a run in New York City. At the time, the show needed a second specialist improvisational singer to fill in for Mike McShane.

Esten made his final appearance in the UK edition in 1994 before moving back to the US. Although appearing on stage and screen thereafter, his 1999 return to Whose Line Is It Anyway? — in the show’s American format with Drew Carey as host — established him as a regular “fourth contestant” on the show. Due to his singing abilities, he was often paired with series regular Wayne Brady on musical games. Although he did not return as a regular when the show was revived in 2013 & only appeared as a special guest during the 13th and 14th seasons(as he was one of the main cast members of Nashville), he eventually returned as a fourth seater in season 15.

Other comedy work

Following his return to Whose Line Is It Anyway, Esten made a guest appearance as himself with fellow regular cast members from the show Wayne Brady, Greg Proops and Brad Sherwood on The Drew Carey Show. In 2003, he hosted a semi-scripted semi-improvised comedy mini series called On the Spot. Between 2004–06, he was a member of the touring group Improv All-Stars and recurring cast member on Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.

In 2011, he was a regular on Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza on GSN. Esten and fellow former Whose Line Is It Anyway stars Greg Proops, Ryan Stiles and Jeff Davis regularly teamed up and tour around the country doing live improv under the name Whose Live Anyway?. In April 2014, Esten ceased work with Whose Live Anyway? due to his role in Nashville, and was replaced by Joel Murray.[citation needed]

Film appearances

In 2001, Esten appeared in Billy Crystal’s TV movie 61* as Kevin Maris, the son of legendary New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris. He had small roles in three Kevin Costner movies, The Postman, Thirteen Days as downed U-2 pilot Major Rudolf Anderson, and Swing Vote.

Esten also starred in a public service video, Riding Straight, produced for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s curriculum, Motorcycle Rider Course: Riding and Street Skills (MRC:RSS), in which he portrayed a surfer dude, a snuff-dipping hick, and a concerned friend in a bar.


Esten has appeared as a guest star in various TV series, including Married… with Children, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, ER, NCIS: Los Angeles, Jessie, The Mentalist, and The Office.

From 2012 to 2018 he was part of the main cast of Nashville, starring as Deacon Claybourne. He has also contributed to the soundtracks as both a singer and songwriter. He co-wrote “I Know How to Love You Now” with Deana Carter, which was featured in the season 3 premiere.

In 2013, Esten appeared as a celebrity contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and won $500,000 for his charity.

In 2017, Esten was cast in a series of television and radio advertisements as Carl Hardee, Sr., the fictional founder of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast food chains.

On July 9, 2018, it was announced that Esten was cast in a recurring role in the TNT thriller Tell Me Your Secrets. According to TVLine, “The drama follows three characters with equally disturbing backstories: Emma (played by American Horror Story‘s Lily Rabe) once faced down a dangerous killer, John (Legion‘s Hamish Linklater) is a former serial predator in search of redemption, and Mary (Private Practice‘s Amy Brenneman) is a grieving mother determined to find her missing daughter. Per the synopsis, ‘As each of them is pushed to the edge, the truth about their pasts and motives grows ever murkier, blurring the lines between victim and perpetrator.'”


July 25, 2018, Esten was awarded the Guinness World Records title of “The most consecutive weeks to release an original digital single by a music act”. He was presented with the certificate following a performance of his single, Halfway Home, on NBC’s TODAY show. His #EverySingleFriday project was announced via his Twitter page July 1, 2016 and ran from July 15th of that year through July 21, 2017. Over the course of 54 weeks Esten delivered a new single each Friday, which he himself wrote or co-wrote. Artists featured throughout the project include Ashley Campbell, Colin Linden, Steve Mandile of Sixwire, Sarah Siskind, Karla Davis, and Miss Jackie Wilson.

Esten is a frequent performer on the Grand Ole Opry. His 100th performance was celebrated with his appearance on the program on July 20, 2018.

On May 15, 2019 it was announced that Esten had signed with APA’s concert division for music representation. He continues to tour across the U.S. and Europe, performing his original music.

Personal life

Esten is married to Patty Puskar (née Hanson), whom he met in college. They have three children. The family moved to Nashville after Esten was cast as a series regular on Nashville.[citation needed]

Esten is national chairman for the annual Light the Night Walks, a fundraiser benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). His daughter is a leukemia survivor.



Year Work Role Notes
1996 Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom Generic Cap #1 (voice) Video game
1997 The Sleepwalker Killing Mark Schall TV film
The Postman Michael, Abby’s Husband
1999 The Expendables Ram TV film
Late Last Night Beverly Hills Cop TV film
2000 Thirteen Days Maj. Rudolf Anderson
2001 61* Kevin Maris (’98) TV film
Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis Major Anderson Video documentary
2002 The Johnny Chronicles Patrick Monroe TV film
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet Bill “Twelve Miles to Trona” segment
2003 All Grown Up! TV film
Water Under the Bridge Don
Nobody Knows Anything! Conner Fulton
2007 American Family Larry Bogner
2008 1% John Tipton
Swing Vote Lewis


Year Work Role Notes
1988 Sale of the Century Himself/Contestant 4 episodes
1989 On the Television various 5 episodes
1990 Scrabble Himself/Contestant 1 episode
1992, 1994 Whose Line Is It Anyway? (UK version) Performer 5 episodes
1993 Cheers Unnamed Marine 1 episode
Star Trek: The Next Generation Divok Episode: “Rightful Heir”
1994 Murphy Brown Secretary #67 1 episode
1995–96 The Crew Randy Anderson Series regular
1996 Star Trek: Voyager Dathan Episode: “Remember”
Diagnosis: Murder Joe Carter 1 episode
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Ethan Press Episode: “Stop the Presses”
1997 JAG Lieutenant Pete ‘Pistol’ Ayers 1 episode
Married… with Children Lonnie 2 episodes
1998–2000 The Brian Benben Show Chad Rockwell 7 episodes
1998 Instant Comedy with the Groundlings Self TV series
1999–2005, 2017–Present Whose Line Is It Anyway (U.S. version) Performer 42 episodes
1999 Jesse Tad 1 episode
Jack & Jill Nick Seraph 1 episode
Providence Ted Shannon 1 episode
2000 Party of Five Luke 7 episodes
My VH1 Music Awards Self TV special documentary
2000–01 The Drew Carey Show Chip / Stall for Time Player #1 2 episodes
2001 Hollywood Squares Self 2 episodes
The Trouble with Normal Carson Episode: “Unconventional Behavior”
Improv All Stars Self TV special
2002 The Guardian Mark Hanson 1 episode
Rendez-View Self Episode: “Freak-a-thon”
2003 On the Spot Himself (host) 5 episodes
Dragnet Carl Savitsky 1 episode
Just Shoot Me! Jake 1 episode
Rocket Power Story writer Episode: “A Rocket X-mas”
2004–05 Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show Recurring performer 8 episodes
2004 NYPD Blue Tim Keating 1 episode
Green Screen Show Self 2 episodes
Cold Case John “The Hawk” Hawkins 1 episode
The Magical Gathering Self TV film
2006 The Office Josh Porter 7 episodes
2007 Help Me Help You Willis Episode: “Moving On”
The Winner Gary Episode: “Broken Home”
The New Adventures of Old Christine Joe Campbell 2 episodes
2007–08 ER Dr. Barry Grossman 4 episodes
2009–10 Big Love Ray Henry 11 episodes
2009 The Mentalist Rick Bregman 1 episode
The Cleaner Dr. Jake Slovak Episode: “An Ordinary Man”
NCIS: Los Angeles John Cole/Ethan Stanhope 1 episode
2011 Wilfred Nick 2 episodes
Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza Regular performer 32 episodes
Jessie Morgan Ross 4 episodes
Enlightened Damon Manning 6 episodes
2012–18 Nashville Deacon Claybourne 124 episodes
2012 Nashville: The Whole Story Himself – Narrator TV special
2013 Nashville: On the Record Self TV special
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 2 episodes
2014 Nashville: On the Record 2 TV special
2015 Nashville: On the Record 3 TV special
2017 CMT Music Awards Self/Host
2020–2021 Outer Banks Ward Cameron Main role; 18 episodes
2021 Tell Me Your Secrets Saul Barlow Recurring role



Year Single Peak chart
Sales Album
US Country US
2012 “Undermine” (with Hayden Panettiere)A 35 116 The Music of Nashville: Season 1 Volume 1
“No One Will Ever Love You” (with Connie Britton)A 36 117
2013 “This Town” (with Clare Bowen) 41 The Music of Nashville: Season 2, Volume 1
2017 “Sanctuary” (with Lennon & Maisy) 31 US: 9,000 The Music of Nashville: Season 5, Volume 1
“—” denotes releases that did not chart

  • ADid not enter the Hot 100 but charted on Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles.
  • External Links

    Actor Charles Esten – Wikipedia

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