Neal Brennan Talks $600 Shirts, Globalization and If Trauma Made Him Funny

Neal Brennan Talks $600 Shirts, Globalization and If Trauma Made Him Funny
"I'm not a charisma machine," Neal Brennan admits to Exclaim! "I'm not dripping with charisma like many of my friends are. But I do have candour, which is close."
Brennan is nonchalant and blunt, but his comedy is anything but cold. Known for his standup special, 3 Mics, and for co-creating Chappelle's Show, Brennan is equally comfortable in vulnerable storytelling as he is in his assertive, yet clever comedy.
"I don't really have a process. I just get agitated or aroused by an idea in the world, and then I want to give my rebuttal."
Inspired his enjoyment of NPR's storytelling show The Moth, his desire to use his pithy quips somewhere better than Twitter, and his need to "explain who I am" and "ameliorate how I came across in standup," 3 Mics was a turning point in Brennan's career as a comic. Brennan's hour-long Netflix special features three different microphones set up on stage, each one designated for a specific role: one for "emotional stuff," one dedicated to one-liners, and one microphone for traditional standup.
"3 Mics has gotten me fans who actually like me. Now they have a sense of what I'm like, so I get to talk in a way that I really want, and it's fun to go on the road. Before that special, so much of my inner monologue was negative. Now, looking at that inner monologue is silly. It's like a bad caller at a talk show who's like 'This guy stinks!' You just hang up on the call."
With John Legend and Jerry Seinfeld among his supporters, Brennan has definitely made it, but he's not going to be splurging his money any time soon.
"Jerry is really into cars and objects, but I just don't care. I have a Casio watch on. It's not because I'm some kind of a holy man. It's just that if I spent $600 on a shirt, every time I'd put it on, I'd be like 'These motherfuckers tricked me!' You know? I wouldn't be like 'It's Alexander McQueen.' I wouldn't call it a piece. You know how people call clothes 'pieces'? I would just go, 'These people tricked me.'
"What I love is getting a new joke, or a premise like a sketch idea or a movie idea. That's the best feeling for a comedian," Brennan continues. "That, to me, is thrilling in a way that a watch isn't."
Brennan credits many forces for making him who he is now. Though he's in his 40s, Brennan is still able to look at the world "like a precocious young kid in some ways," because he's the youngest of ten children. Similarly, he was able to start his career early because his older brother Kevin, who is also a comic, made sure he spent his high school years hanging out at the Comedy Cellar and the Improv.
However, Brennan isn't certain that childhood trauma was a major factor in making him funny. Despite his abusive father and clinical depression, he says the stereotype that comedians' pain leads them to their profession is not always true.
"There are plenty of people who have not been traumatized who are funny. Like I don't know that Carlin was traumatized... I don't think Jerry was traumatized. I think it's a pre-existing condition, being funny," he reflects.
"Then again, just being black in America is traumatizing. Like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock haven't been molested, but they've been black in America. Trauma is such a broad word — there are more comics that have been traumatized than have not been, but it's a matter of how you define trauma."
Even though Brennan has worked almost every job in the entertainment industry and he's currently doing standup around the world, he ultimately thinks life is pretty predictable.
"Because of globalization, most places are kind of the same unfortunately. In the last year, I've gone to Tokyo, Santiago (which is in Chile), Berlin, Paris, London — and I'm not going to say that they're identical, but you see a lot of the same stores," Brennan says. "I think that speaks to the fact that I don't like physical things, but also it speaks to the fact that I'm just a misanthrope and I don't like the beach."

Neal Brennan is performing at Just For Laughs in Montreal from July 20 to 27, and comes to Toronto for JFL42 in September.