Comedian Neal Brennan
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.”