by Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – Fame and success in one arena can sometimes hamper success in others. It can be hard to move on and fight the burden of the past. For comedian Neal Brennan, co-creator of the legendary sketch show, Chappelle’s Show, finding his place in stand up required a new take to reintroduce himself and let people know where he was coming from. That was Brennan’s 2017 Netflix special, Neal Brennan: 3 Mics, a special in which he had three microphones set up and alternated between them. The left mic was for one liners and short Twitter-like observations. The right mic was observational stand up. The centre mic dealt with serious stuff like his handling of depression and issues with his father. It was an original take that got pretty emotional at times but also vented that through the other two mics.
Even though he’s embarked on this new journey, people are inevitably still inclined to bring up his past successes, something he’s fine with.
“Sometimes people will be like, ‘Sorry to ask you about Chapelle Show,’” he says. “But I guess there are reasons why I could be tired of it. I understand why it’s interesting to people. That’s a level of entitlement I haven’t reached. I hope to get there someday though.”
Upon returning to stand up in the wake of Chappelle’s Show, he also had a fairly popular podcast with fellow comedian Moshe Kasher called the Champs in which he took his immersion in African American comedy and the music scene as a means to talk to people of colour who he had on as guests about issues in a frank way. In his words, “I liked talking to people of colour in a comfortable way. Racially, I’m pretty open I guess. So it seemed like I was being racist. No, we were just talking to people of colour in a way that wasn’t stilted or tense. And some of it was tense, talking about issues; I don’t know that we were ahead of our time. It was things that were relevant to me and relevant to the guest.”
If the Champs provided an outlet for pure comedy, he still didn’t feel like people really understood him. “I think what it was, I hadn’t been doing stand up that long. And it takes awhile for your body to get used to it. So I presented on stage as sort of tense. And 3 Mics was a way of explaining that tension and explaining my personality and giving people a bit of a back-story. So people could understand who I was.”
With his new tour, Here We Go, he’s a little more open to focus on the stand up side of things.
“It’s just stand up. People say I’m more animated than I’ve ever been, more physical, more energetic. But it’s more the right hand mic, just me talking for an hour, stating my opinions. It’s more propulsive.” It allows Brennan to do something better known in classic bits of Def Jam comedy: fucking the stool. “Guess what everybody, guess who’s fucking the stool in this one. It’s your friend Neal B. Fucking the stool. It’s a joke, kind of, about fucking the stool. Nevertheless fucking the stool is fucking the stool. So yeah congratulations to me.”
Catch Neal Brennan live August 16 at the Rio Theatreneal brennan, Rio Theatre