The Okayplayer Interview: Neal Brennan Talks Racism, Depression & Other Hilarious Shit
Robots and scientists struggle to grasp the phenomenon of human laughter but Neal Brennan has discovered the secret. Or at the very least, his new one-man show 3 Mics (currently running in New York through April 8th) is a perfect illustration of my own personal theory of what makes comedy work: whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us laugh.
Walk with me for a second. Picture two early humans—hunter-gatherers, picking their way stealthily through the primordial forest in search of nuts, berries or monkey meat. Something crashes through the underbrush close by and our heroes immediately break into full saber-tooth tiger alert, scrambling frantically for cover. Three seconds later, they realize the noise was caused by a dead branch. Homo Sapiens #1 looks over and realizes his companion has pooped himself in fright…and busts out laughing. Laughter is our natural reaction to the tree that didn’t snap our necks. It’s how we release the tension, conquer our own fear at the noise that didn’t turn out to be a man-eating leopard this time.
In the concrete (and cybernetic) jungles of 2016, of course, the beasts that hunt us are the demons of public shame, racism, depression–our own failings and casual cruelty to one another. Which is precisely what makes 3 Mics—literally, a stage adorned with separate mic stands for Brennan to address One Liners, Emotional Stuff (like his own personal struggle with depression) and Stand Up (which puts both together), respectively–so damn funny. The show balances punchlines with heavy moments of personal revelation about Brennan’s childhood and frequently makes some of the white people in the audience squirm with the uncomfortable self-recognition of what’s wrong with white people. In the spirit of that endeavor, the Chappelle’s Show co-creator did not hold back on the laughter or the tears in this Okayplayer Interview, openly discussing his own demons, comments that have blown up in his face within the minefield of racial micro-politics and the untimely demise of The Champs podcast. Read on for all these and other hilarious topics:
Neal Brennan: Oh yeah. Ahmir was probably our biggest proponent, publicly. So, we were going to do the final episode and part of it was just waiting for him to get that jet out to LAX so we could do it all together. He was such an early proponent and sort of understood what we were going for so it was kind of like the perfect celeb endorsement.
OKP: And what were you going for? Can you explain the running concept behind it?
NB: The running concept was that when we started–I think it’s still true but, when we started especially–there were virtually no black people on podcasts. You know, [Marc] Maron and all these other people, just didn’t know any black people [laughter] I’m not even kidding, they just didn’t. So the idea was that we would start a podcast were it was just black people or, you know, at worst…non white people.
OKP: Settling for non-white.
NB: Yes. And we did have Sasha Grey at one point. The only whites we had were Sasha Grey, Chelsea Peretti, and Rif Raff.
NB: Which are all, um…all of whom transcend race. Rif Raff certainly, you see why we have Rif Raff. Chelsea was just there because she loved to see what Rif Raff was all about and Sasha was actually on with Flying Lotus so that qualifies her as black. Well, that qualified that episode.
OKP: So FlyLo was her hood pass for that. How many episodes in total?
NB: Hood pass. I think a hundred or slightly over, a hundred to a hundred and five maybe?
OKP: One the standouts in my mind was Larry Wilmore. I learned tons of stuff about Larry Wilmore that you’d never know otherwise–obviously this was way before he had The Nightly Show. What were the homerun Champs episodes in your mind?