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  1. Oh, hey Neal Brennan!

    Friday, August 31, 2012

    Like most 90’s kids, I have been influenced by Neal Brennan’s writing since I was seven. If you played any part in making All That happen, I love you forever. My fan girl-ness for the golden years of Nickelodeon might be more overbearing than most, but it played a huge part in my childhood. It also played a huge part in me making an ass of myself when I met Neal.  I saw him live for the first time at Hannibal Buress’s show at The Knitting Factory and he killed it. My friends and I were laughing so hard at his set that when he went to exit the venue, he passed by us and said, “Wow, you guys really enjoyed the show. I kept going on that last bit just for your table.” I was completely thrown off; I didn’t expect him to be so cool! Regrettably, my next words were, “I know every line to All That!!!” To which he replied, “Yeah… I gotta go.”

    I don’t think I could have picked a more retarded thing to say to a man who co-created Chappelle’s Show. Luckily, he was kind enough to join me for a vegetarian Mexican dinner in the East Village and allowed me to pick his brain. As a stand-up comedian in the beginning stages of finding my voice, it was a dream.

    KH: I feel like as someone starting out, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I don’t know what is funny, I’m just guessing and hoping it works. How is it like for you to find your voice and get to the point of consistently killing?

    NB: I guess that’s the rub. I’m lucky that I wrote for a long time before I did stand-up. I wrote for fifteen years.

    KH: So you didn’t even attempt stand-up until you had huge writing success?

    NB: I didn’t start really getting into stand-up until five years ago. I was sick of being told that I wasn’t funny by show biz. There are all these impediments and I just love stand-up. I love comedy clubs; I’m like a gym rat. I used to go there when I didn’t do it. I’d go with Dave, with my brother, I’d go with Jay Mohr. I love stand-up and I have the spirit of a comic.

    KH: Did you ever go through that stage of hokey joke telling to find your voice?

    NB: Yeah. I did stand-up a few times in ‘92 and just ate it. In ‘97 I did better, and then in ‘02, ‘03, ’04, I took time off. I would do in in the summer between seasons of Chappelle. I still say shit that’s not funny. It’s not like you’re ever “Oh, I know...” You have a hunch, but you never actually know.

    KH: Did you grow up in hip-hop culture?

    NB: Not especially. I kind of did. I didn’t grow up around black dudes. I didn’t hang around with black dudes until I came to New York. That’s a little bit of a funnier voice in that I had a lot of observations about that shit and not a lot of experience with it that a lot of people don’t have. Before I had a black comedy partner, I moved to New York in 1991 and 1992 was the biggest year in hip-hop. So yeah, then I had a black comedy partner and experienced Def Comedy Jam. I do a joke where a say the N word like nine times, and it’s a fucking great joke. It’s about being called it and it’s got a lot of facets to it and a buddy of mine named Robbie who runs the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival was like, “You should do more shit like that, that’s what is unique about you.”

    KH: I saw a clip of your set on The George Lopez Show that was along those lines. It was a great bit, did you ever get backlash for that?

    NB: I used to do the bit without prefacing that it’s an idea for a sketch. I just thought of the joke and then one time an Asian guy booed me and my friend told me to just say it’s a sketch idea. When I say the N word, it’s usually white people who feel like they need to come to black people’s defense. It’s like, black people can take care of themselves. Although one day a girl did get mad at me. We ended up having an hour long argument.

    KH: On stage?

    NB: No, a little bit on stage and then off stage. And after she walked away, her husband was like, “It’s her man. It’s her fault.”

    KH: Do you think if you weren’t associated with Dave and Chappelle’s Show

    NB: I wouldn’t be able to do it. I mean, it’s possible. Louis does it and its ok.

    KH: Louis comes at it from such a middle-aged white guy’s perspective. The way you come across with it is not that at all.

    NB: Right. I think that people see me as a white guy—Well, I don’t know how people see me but if you’re just going to take a slab of what people are getting from my act, I’m on the right side of the wall so to speak. And then you add the fact that I have a proven acumen for talking about it. But again, people don’t know what that even means. Beyond the thing with Dave. I get more people telling me I’m funny based off my Twitter account than from Chappelle’s Show. I’ve come to accept that you’ll get credit from wherever you can.

    KH: What was the ride like having such a huge role in something that was as culturally significant as Chappelle’s Show?

    NB: It was great. It was the fucking hardest, longest job. It was so consuming. The guy who edited the show, Bijan, said to me that there was a point where I’d work like 60 days in a row for more than 12 hours a day.

    KH: So it must have been hard to go, “Wooo, sweet success bro!”

    NB: Yeah, there were a couple moments like that but more than anything it was just weird. I’d hear people start to say ‘Rick James, bitch’ and my first thought was why did someone say that?

    KH: The one-liners that came out of that show are… very significant.

    NB: But that’s the thing, I never really watched it. I was removed from it.

    KH: You were wearing so many hats with the show, is that why you were so consumed by it?

    NB: If you do a show and you want it to be good, you have to do the work. It just takes fucking forever. No one knew exactly what it needed to be outside of me and Dave.

    KH: When I interned at SNL, I saw that the writers had producers to guide them in addition to having Lorne.

    NB: Those writers have a lot of work to do but most of the writing is early in the week and then by the end of the week it gets easier. On Chappelle’s Show, it was like being a writer and being The Lonely Island with all of the production work involved. We had to do thirteen shows in a row and they were all pre-taped.

    KH: Is it hard to switch hats from writer to actor to director?

    NB: It’s not hard to switch hats. The thing of it is if I came out of nowhere, people would be really impressed with me. People like getting credit for their discovery and I’m not anything to discover at this point. In some ways it works against me. Like, I did Conan and I wasn’t allowed to say that I co-created Chappelle Show in my credits. Which is fucking weird because… I did.

    KH: What was their beef with that?

    NB: I don’t know, the booker said I shouldn’t say it. People think I do well in stand-up because I co-created Chappelle’s Show but they should let the guy who created Two and a Half Men do stand-up and see how that goes, that show is really popular. It’s faulty logic but the idea is, if I could do it, then Matt and Trey would be headliners because that’s how fucking easy stand-up is. That’s where people sort of hold it against me. They think I’m using it but it’s like, I’m using it to get people to come to the show. The only reason I have my one joke about slavery is only because an Asian guy booed it. I was filming a movie called The Goods and at night I’d go to the clubs and do stand-up because you can’t fucking direct at night. Everyone sees the hierarchy as you do stand-up first, then you write for a show, then you do this. A buddy of mine, Bret Ernst, calls me Memento because I’m doing my career backwards.

    KH: It sounds like you hustled a lot.

    NB: Yeah, man. The hustle never stops. I worked the door at a comedy club in 1992 and the way I met Chappelle was he was doing stand-up and I would say to him, “Hey, you may want to try this for that joke” and I was right. I gave him a good idea.

    KH: Is that where your instincts started to develop?

    NB: Yes, I had good instincts. It’s never easy street. How disposed were people to laugh at me based on my intro at Hannibal’s show? Fifteen percent? I used to hang out at the comedy clubs in the 80’s. My brother is a comedian and has been best friends with Attell since high school. I believe in that as an ethos. Comedy club economy is basically fair. There aren’t too many people who have made it in main stream America as a comedian who can’t kill at a comedy club.

    KH: How long did it take you before you killed in rooms?

    NB: Probably about 4 years. It took experience; it took a while to figure it out. The other thing is, I’m very outside-in about it. I’ll read books about performing. No one has read more books about stand up than Dave Chappelle. When we were kids he would always ask if I read this book or that.

    KH: What book would you recommend?

    NB: A book that I read that I liked a lot was recently and it made me 25% better at stand-up. It’s called 10 Minute Toughness. I was noticing I would get in my head, and I couldn’t get out. I would think that I was going to have a bad set and sure enough, I would get sunken in and have a bad set. I was like, I need to come out with some kind of defense against my own fucking mental illness. It’s all about performance psychology and visualizing vividly before you do it.

    Michael Jordan used to do it before every game. You visualize succeeding. It sounds hokey but if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t recommend it.

    KH: So that book guides you to outlining a good outcome? That’s something comics need because I feel like we are all so self-deprecating.

    NB: Yes. A lot of comics I know like the idea of sleeping until the afternoon and hanging out. But the truth is, the hardest working comics I know are the most successful at comedy. Period.

    KH: I’ve noticed that within my circle of comedy friends, some of us are starting to get those beginning career breaks like Fallon and Conan. The one thing that I really love about stand-up is, if you work at it every day and do the hustle, you will get better and you will become successful. It’s undeniable and almost guaranteed.

    NB: The one thing I always tell people is, whoever writes the most jokes wins. Chris Rock, Dave, Attell, Bill Burr, Louis, Carlin, Todd. If you give me a list of guys that writes as much as these guys who aren’t successful... it doesn’t exist. So it’s like, do you want to be a comedian? Do you really want to be a comedian or do you want to be famous?

    KH: The difference in talent between day one and two years later in a comic’s career is so drastic.

    NB: That’s the rub. I would like to be a well-known comedian more than I want to be a movie director. And the truth is, that was probably always true I just couldn’t acknowledge it. I was just like, oh you guys go ahead. I just didn’t want to admit that I needed attention like that. Also, my closest friend is one of the best comics in the world.

    Follow Neal @nealbrennan and check out his website, for upcoming dates!


  2. 1 comments:

    1. She So Funny said...

      Great interview with amazing insight into the profession! Thanks KH and thanks, Neal! --- Samantha

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