Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan talks his innovative Netflix special & more in BV interview
Standup comedy can be tricky for the viewer, especially when material delves into areas outside people's comfort zone. This is especially true when the comedian is Neal Brennan, one of the creators of Chappelle's Show. Thankfully, Brennan has made it easy for us with his inventive new Netflix special, 3 Mics. Lest the viewer grow bored of characters, one-liners, or “depressing” self-reflection, Brennan switches between, you guessed it, three microphones on the stage. One is dedicated to one liners, inspired by bite-sized Twitter comedy. One microphone is for “traditional” stand up. Of course for Brennan, “traditional” means joking about ISIS and what he promises is “at least fifteen minutes” of racial humor. The third mic is reserved for earnestness and is by far the biggest departure for Brennan. Here, 3 Mics diverges from the typical hour of comedy and becomes a confessional for Brennan, a comedian usually obscured by his observational, outlandish sense of humor. 3 Mics debuts on Netflix today (1/17) and you can watch the trailer below.
Neal, who also works on The Daily Show and has directed episodes of Inside Amy Schumer and The New Girl, talked to us about the special, mining jokes from difficult subjects like depression, and what he's up to next. Read it below.
BrooklynVegan: Can you talk about the production history of 3 Mics with Netflix?
Neal Brennan: They offered me twenty million dollars. I'm kidding. I kind of did the show in a crappy version in Montreal at the [Just For Laughs] comedy festival, and they were not that interested. Then I got it together in New York last year and then they were interested.
You performed this in New York and LA - is there any difference in audience reactions between the two cities?
Not really. I probably did it forty times in New York and three times in LA, so I can't say it was like a huge difference. If you're doing the job right, your jokes should work everywhere. I don't want to be a local comedian.
Do you think the new special will appeal to fans of your writing?
Yeah, I hope so. I think if you like my stand up, or if you like my writing shit, there's probably fifteen minutes about racial issues. So if you think I've run out of those jokes, they worked in New York and LA.
Is there any issue you won't cover in your stand up?
I'm one of those people who thinks anything can be funny. My mind is powerful enough to disagree with someone and appreciate the joke at the same time. I'm not someone who's like, "Well I never!" Then I put my pearls on and leave the theater.
Even with the more "serious" middle microphone, were there any personal issues that were difficult to talk about?
With the middle mic, I don't want to be known as the "depression comedian," you know? That's my only worry with that. But I wanted to talk about stuff that's harder to talk about, or that I'm a little embarrassed to talk about. It's personal, and it's character flaws. I think that's what's cool about [the special]. Everybody would come up to me after the show, and they would all say, "I really related to that part, or that part," and it was one of the three middle mics.
Do you think the middle mic is the biggest departure from your previous work?
On my last hour, Women and Black Dudes, it was not personal at all. I guess the stuff about relationships is personal, but like, there's nothing emotional about meeting Obama. Just, "yeah, funny story," whereas this is more painful and private.
Do you think your emotional candor has come with experience in stand up?
You just get tired of stand up. On stage it's like, "Hey, do you guys want another glib point of view?" There are very few stand up hours that I think are good the whole way through. There's always a weak few bits. So why not pare it down to the best bits and give people something they can relate to. I was happy when I went through the show. Me and my editor played it in fast-forward. And in fast-forward I was pleasantly surprised that there are laughs at the middle mic. It's a different kind of laugh. I definitely wouldn't call it comedy in the middle mic, but it's not pure drama.
What have you learned from doing the same show night after night in New York?
What was interesting is that the story about my dad upset me pretty much every time. I was afraid I would run out of sadness for that part, but a father's love is pretty primal and that's good to know. The thing that I learned was that people were happy to come.
Do you have a favorite of the 3 Mics?
I go between the stand up mic and the earnest mic. That's the cool thing. I would be doing the stand up mic and I would feel like I was being glib, and then I'd be speaking earnestly and I'm like, "Get it over with, let's do some stand up!"
Have the events of 2016 inspired any new comedic material?
I'm basically reduced to nothing now - I have like, ten new minutes. I'm supposed to do a pilot that's political, and I work on The Daily Show, so I always have my eye on it. Right now, politically, I'm exhausted. It's like watching your team have a horrible season. That's how it feels. I don't even like reading the news because it's like an ongoing snuff film or something. I feel like Trump is decapitating America in slow motion.
Can you talk about the pilots you're working on?
I have two pilots - one of them is with The Lonely Island. It's a travel show. That's all I'll say about that. And then I'm doing a FOX pilot that I think is more in the John Oliver vein.