Co­me­dian Neal Bren­nan

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In his most re­cent net­flix spe­cial, 3 Mics, neal Bren­nan’s com­par­i­son of his ca­reer to The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton was hi­lar­i­ous and on the money. Like the fic­tional But­ton’s life, the comic’s stand-up ca­reer de­vel­oped back­ward. Bren­nan’s first stab at stand-up, in his late teens, didn’t go so well, so he started writ­ing for oth­ers, in­clud­ing Dave Chap­pelle: They co-wrote the 1998 film Half Baked, then co-cre­ated the Emmy-nom­i­nated Chap­pelle’s Show. Since then, he’s di­rected episodes of In­side Amy Schumer and Michelle Wolf ’s Nice Lady, as well as con­sulted on Ellen Degeneres’s Re­lat­able. Even­tu­ally, he also re­turned to stand-up, and when his 2016 stage show 3 Mics was adapted for Net­flix, he be­came a star. Now, he has a spot on the stream­ing ser­vice’s Co­me­di­ans of the World, a se­ries show­cas­ing 47 in­ter­na­tional comics. Un­like 3 Mics, this set “is not sad,” says Bren­nan. “This is like a sprint: jokes, jokes, jokes. Even the best co­me­di­ans will tell you they could have cut 15 or 20 min­utes out of a set. This is hope­fully an hour with a half-hour cut out.”

You re­ally spilled your guts in 3 Mics. What has changed?

Be­fore 3 Mics, peo­ple were, like, “You’re a writer. You and Dave [Chap­pelle] got into a fight pub­licly. Maybe you’re racist.” All that stuff. I wanted to ex­plain who I was—it was an ori­gin story in some ways. And I wanted to talk about de­pres­sion in pub­lic, about be­ing in the shadow of peo­ple I’ve dated and worked with. What I’ve learned since is that every­one has a se­cret, some source of sad­ness; I just said mine first. Peo­ple thank me ev­ery day for talk­ing about de­pres­sion. That’s su­per grat­i­fy­ing.

Do you pre­fer stand-up to writ­ing and di­rect­ing for other co­me­di­ans?

In the last year and a half, I’ve done a cou­ple of TV pi­lots, and sit­ting in a room for 10 hours col­lab­o­rat­ing with 40 peo­ple just wasn’t as sat­is­fy­ing. It’s fun to be able to have a thought and write it down and say it on­stage. Stand-up is so unique in all the things it com­bines—phi­los­o­phy, preach­ing, speak­ing truth to power. It’s a good way to talk back to the world.

You co-wrote Seth Mey­ers’s 2011 White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion din­ner speech—the one thought to have hu­mil­i­ated Don­ald Trump into run­ning.

I used to think Trump was go­ing to run and we hob­bled him. We did change it, but po­ten­tially for the worse. That’s one of those Back to the Fu­ture mo­ments: “What? We made him stronger?” —Christina Zhao

“Even the best co­me­di­ans will tell you they could have cut 20 min­utes. This is an hour with a half-hour cut out.”

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