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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
|1988||Sale of the Century||Himself/Contestant||4 episodes|
|1989||On the Television||various||5 episodes|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|