Neal Brennan’s comedy credentials are impressive. With Dave Chappelle, he created Chappelle’s Show, on which he was a director, producer, and writer, receiving three Emmy nominations along the way, and the cult classic film Half Baked. He’s a writer, creative consultant, and on-air correspondent on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, and executive-produced Chris Rock’s latest special, Tamborine. And he was on the most recent season of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where he dared tell the master he wasn’t a fan of his sitcom.
“He took it like a champ, though,” he says on the phone from Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival. “He got it.”
Behind the microphone, he’s no slouch, either. He’s only been taking standup seriously for 11 years, and his first special, in 2014, was named one of Paste magazine’s 10 best of that year. His most recent one, Netflix’s 3 Mics, sees him innovatively employing a trio of microphones, each for a different aspect of his comedy.
Despite all the acclaim and notoriety, Brennan still fears he’ll show up to an empty theatre.
“That’s all I worry about,” he says. “What happens is you sell out a show and you’re relieved and they go, ‘You want to add a show?’ And you’re like, ‘Do I want to add a show?’ Then you add a show and you’re just worried again.”
Fretting aside, there’s nothing he prefers doing over standup.
“I was just talking with a buddy of mine, a comedian, and we were talking about how we get to walk around like Socrates. It’s an amazing job,” he says. “You’re a philosopher, you’re a sociologist, you’re a preacher, you’re a mentor, and you’re a fool. All in one. And you get to showcase your humanity. It’s a cool thing.”
He’s back to a single mike on this tour as he tackles topics such as #MeToo, Trump, race, technology, social media, men and women, and dogs. Standups may feel more confined in our socially aware age than they were during the ’80s boom, but Brennan likes the challenge.
“The good news is I think my ability is growing as the parameters are narrowing,” he says. “I don’t mind the parameters. I like the higher level of tension. If I can say something about #MeToo that makes men and women see it in a new light, then I’m doing stuff. If I say it when only men see it in a new light, or I’m just pandering to women, that to me is not interesting and it’s not very funny and it’s not very creative.”
Then there’s the added challenge of competition. With so many standups, it would seem more difficult to rise above the sea of specials left in their wake. But that doesn’t faze him either. He doesn’t foresee a bust anytime soon.
“There are more good comedians right now than there have ever been in the history of comedy,” he says. “I guess it’s harder to stand out, but it’s a genre and a world with a lot of eyeballs on it and rightly so, because it’s really interesting and it’s the only place where people are thinking publicly, or talking publicly, in a way that’s not circumscribed or cautious. I’m not going to jinx it and say people have an endless appetite, but people have a real appetite for original thought presented in a funny way.”
Neal Brennan’s Here We Go tour stops at the Rio Theatre for two shows next Thursday (August 16).