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An Afternoon with Neal Brennan

Let me say this of Neal, before we head into the interview: he's a smart cookie. Success in any field requires more than outright talent. Some of it is luck, but there is a great deal to be said for possessing the flexibility and derring-do to weather the ever-changing marketplace. Having spoken with him, I am even more impressed with his gumption. 

These comics are mostly for funsies, but I tried to include the portions of the interview that I found most interesting.

Oh, and don't forget to check out Neal's podcast, "The Champs".




Neal was kind enough to sit down with me in the week before his show at the San Francisco Punchline. 


(Excerpt 1)

"For fifteen years I just pretended that being a performer was a low impulse. Or I convinced myself that being a performer was a low impulse.  Like, what needy animals. But then I realized, 'Oh wait, you're a needy animal. Get on out there.'"

"I figured out another way to smile onstage. Look at the audience laughing. If you look at the audience laughing, you will laugh. [...] The face has mirror neurons. Whatever you see in someone else, your face will subtly do. Laughter is really contagious, as corny as that sounds. It's worth doing."

"I'm gonna shoot an hour probably this winter. We don't know where, fielding offers and sh*t, but it's the first time I've had an hour. I'd like to get in the habit of turning over material. In the 80s, you could do an hour and it would last you the rest of your life. Now, because of Rock, Louis, guys like that, you don't have that option. If it takes you two years to write an hour, you're on the low end of productivity. It used to not be that way. There's not a lot of guys that can do it, but I can do it. That's the good thing about having training as a writer. I have a fertile brain. [...] I bet a friend of mine a thousand dollars. We both had to write an hour by June. We started three weeks ago. I have, like, 13 minutes. I do a weekly show in Santa Monica. I try to do half new material, 10-15 minutes a week of new material. It doesn't all work, but I'm trying. "

"I used to do a thing with Doug Davidoff where we would write a thousand word essay once a week. That has kind of been replaced, 'cause he's on the road a lot, with the Sunday show in Santa Monica. Now I write...probably 3 pages... 14 pt. font. Try 'em out on Sunday."

(Pulling out a sheaf of papers.)

"This isn't the last one I wrote... one was about women owning their sexuality more. Meaning, girls always apologize for... it's like, 'Just have sex with us. You don't have to act like I'm-not-like-this-I-don't-do-this,' because you just end up coming across like used car salesmen."

"...You're killing me on this price!"

"There was one about porn... it used to be amazing to me... the idea of men and women having sex. The real fantasy now would just be a video of a man and a woman getting along."

"Then I did a thing about religion and... Jesus. And then I wrote a thing about pedophiles. It ended up not working. I'm not saying it's got a huge future, that joke. Its best days are clearly behind it. I have a joke now about what dicks human beings are that I'm very proud of. Wrote it a couple of months ago, it's been doing a real nice business."

(Excerpt 2: When asked about why this show is only $15...)

"I like people and I don't want to rip them off. I have misgivings about capitalism. Not to be a douchebag, but... we're in a cycle of getting tricked into buyng sh*t we don't need and then we trick other people into buying things from us they don't need. Even the guy in Santa Monica was like,  'Why don't you charge ten bucks?' I charge $5... I don't f*cking wanna take people's money. Most people that come to see a comedian need the money  more than the comedian. I don't have a family, I don't have a wife (that I acknowledge), I don't have any of that stuff, so why would I fleece people? That's why, on twitter, I've offered people their money back if they don't have a good time."


(Excerpt 3)

"You know what I've learned in showbiz? When you want to say 'F*ck you!', say, 'I'm sorry'."

 "I was talking to some people the other day about producing, writing, directing, all that stuff, doing a show and when you work with a crew that isn't your regular crew...they just don't listen to you. If you're in charge or if you're the star...it's your ass on the line. Demitri Martin put it well in Maron's podcast, and Dave used to tell this to Comedy Central, "If this show doesn't go well, no one's going to come up to you in the street and tell you, 'You suck!'. It's a lot of pressure. When you want something a cetain way and people don't do it, either out of laziness or disobedience or whatever... it's not that I don't care how you want it to be... me and the writers decided that this is the way we'd like it to be. Please do it this way. It makes you seem like a jerk. It's either be a jerk or put on a shitty show. 

Sometimes you really do come to that fork in the road. I was way nicer on Half Baked than I was on Chappelle's Show. Need I say more? On Half Baked, I didn't know to just go, 'I don't want that, I don't want that...' There's one part of Half Baked that's better than the rest of the parts because it's just me and Dave f*cking around. It couldn't be up to any one else."

(Excerpt 4)

"Everyone wants to know why you don't do a TV show. It's 'cause they're hard, and I'm not curious as to whether I can do it or not. I know I can do it. It comes down to the specifics of who and when and what and where. I did it. I'm not curious. I don't even want my own sitcom. I see my friends that are comedians going in. It's like people who are single and like, 'Oh, I guess I've got to get married.' No! You don't have to get married. If you're a comedian, you don't have to be... Hedberg used to do that joke about, "You're a farmer, you wanna cook?" No! I like farming. That's how I feel about stand-up. I got into it late. I feel like I have some ability at it and I think it's a wildly noble profession. Not because it can be hard and it's grueling. It's noble because if you're doing it right, you can affect change a little bit. Or you can certainly affect the way people think. You can do it in a way that has long-lasting effects. The people that have affected my thinking the most in my life are f*cking Hicks, Chappelle, Rock, y'know, Carlin. These guys really affected the way I think. I don't want to get to the point where comedy has too much credit... although I can't imagine it getting much more credit than it's getting now. I like my comedy a little activist, anyway."

"Jon Stewart got legislation passed. Jon Stewart affected people's lives... The New York Times can rip about the first responder's bill. In fact, they did, they ran it ad nauseam and it made no difference. Then Jon started talking about it and it was like he shamed Congress into passing legislation. 

I don't think an episode of Damages would've had the same effect."


(Excerpt 5)

"I would do a TV show, I just wouldn't do a sitcom. The thing is, I find my peers doing sitcoms and these are people that don't like sitcoms. It's like, I don't like sitcoms. And you know what I never wrote for? Sitcoms. I love sketch shows. Before Chappelle's Show, he used to call me SNL Historian Neal Brennan. [...] I don't want to spend my life doing some sh*t just because it exists. In LA...you believe that an opportunity is what you should be doing. It's like, "No, it's just an option." You don't necessarily have to do it unless you're really compelled to do it. Dave had done nine pilots before that and they all stunk, 'cause he was trying to do a character, trying to do plots...he doesn't care about plots! He cares about jokes. That's why the show was great, he's arguably one of the better joke dispensers that TV's had in a long time."


"...I would love to do a Real Time kind of show. It's something that I'm doing anyway. I've got a lot of people on twitter that are journalists who follow me. There's a show in MSNBC I'm gonna be a guest on...I don't even know what that is...because they know me from twitter. It's doing what you would do for free. People ask me, when I'm on the road, do I dread getting up for radio? No! I get to wake up and talk.  Great! I love talking. If you don't believe me, ask your phone bill...I'm interested anyway...That's my temperament. I'm not gonna work backwards. I'm gonna stick with my inclination and see where it gets me instead of going, 'What hole can I fit into?' When Dave called me to do the Chappelle's Show, his original idea was for it to be a sort of Playboy after Dark. Y'know, what? ...We talked about the sort of things we wanted to do and it became that, but I liked the idea of what you want to do, by nature, and try to build a life around what you're compelled to do instead of building a life around what people tell you to do." "Which, again...I'm in the catbird seat. I did something that was monetarily fruitful, so it's easier. But having said that, I wasn't, y'know before Chappelle's Show, I was just writing screenplays with Mike Schur, who created Parks and Rec. They'd ask me to write crappy sequels and I'd just say, "No, I'm good." And I didn't have money. Now, hopefully, I can make good on...all this sh*t I'm talking."

 "I hope I can."

-Neal Brennan

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