Neal Brennan is more than just the co-creator of Chappelle’s Show. The longtime stand-up has written for everything from The Source to Saturday Night Live, even penning the show’s recent Uber-centric sketch starring Aziz Ansari. He’s also been busy on stage, with his John Legend-produced one-man show, 3 Mics, taking over stages in New York and Los Angeles. Those not on the coasts can catch 3 Mics now on Netflix, where it was just exclusively released.
With that special in mind, The A.V. Club talks to Brennan about what he thinks is funny. It’s a question we’ve posed to a number of comedians, including Jen Kirkman and Maria Bamford, and Brennan’s responses shed light on both how his sense of humor came to be and where it might go in years to come.
The A.V. Club: Why did Gangster Party Line make your list?
Neal Brennan: Brent Weinbach made that. I guess I saw it when it first came out. And that is so goddamn funny to me. The guys are real dudes and they’re not good, but they’re also good enough. Also, the timing—it’s just so well paced. It immediately set itself up in my memory. “Wanna talk some shit?” I say that to my dog all the time.
I just think it’s funny and stupid and all the dudes in it are real dudes. It’s just a funny construction.
AVC: Party lines are also funny because they’re such an antiquated concept.
NB: Yeah, and also that these guys get lonely and they love talking shit. It feeds their soul, they just need to do it like, “I need to talk some shit.” And then they would call.
NB: It was hard to pick which Triumph.
AVC: Well, you picked a good one.
NB: I was going to pick the Star Wars one.There’s so much Conan stuff but it just seemed like the best option.
Triumph is such a good idea. It’s basically just roast jokes, but [Robert] Smigel is really good at it. And the women in it, they know it’s funny.
AVC: Why are you into Smigel’s stuff?
NB: He’s one of the greatest comedy writers in the last 50 years. “TV Funhouse” and Triumph and all those sketches. The sketches he wrote at SNL were all great. He’s really unique, and he has an amazing comedy mind.
AVC: Wonder Showzen always comes up when we do these “what do you think is funny” interviews.
NB: Yeah, because that show felt like drugs. They just nailed some of those sketches.
I was going to pick the one at the racetrack, where the kid goes to the race track and he says, “Here’s my impression of you: ‘Gamble gamble gamble die.’”
I guess I like people doing roasts in public. That’s my thing. So yeah, anything from Wonder Showzen is pretty great.
AVC: Why “Slaves” specifically?
NB: It’s just because slavery is the most insane thing… I don’t know that we’ve ever seen in history, but it’s got to be close. The idea of slavery is such a base impulse. It’s like, “I’m going to kidnap you and then you’re going to do everything I want.” Like, what? And then there’s the historical aspect. It had a huge effect on human history.
AVC: Plus kids singing and dancing.
NB: And then they have this thing where they just repeat the footage.
Now that I’m doing this, I’m thinking I should have put in like 10 different Mr. Show sketches.
AVC: If you want to add one, go ahead.
NB: I would add that audition sketch. I can’t believe someone thought of that. It’s such a dynamic, dimensional sketch. It’s just like, “Goddamn, this sketch.”
AVC: Mike O’Brien has done this same type of interview with us and he also picked that sketch. So there you go. It’s a popular sketch.
NB: I think someone actually auditioned for SNL with that sketch.
AVC: Speaking of SNL, you have Eddie Murphy’s famous “White Like Me” sketch on your list. Why did that make the cut?
NB: I think that is probably the first time I thought, “Oh. Being black is different. That is a totally different experience.”
It also has such specific jokes, like, “Such a silly negro,” when he goes to the bank. That’s such an amazing line. That’s how it feels sometimes when you first succeed in show business. It’s like, “Oh, the rules don’t apply to me.” That was the old you.
And then Eddie as the white guy is really funny.
AVC: Is MTN Project Fame a West African version of American Idol or something?
NB: Yeah. It’s an American Idol thing.
People doing rhymes that are nonsense—nothing can make me laugh like that. I remember the first time I saw that, my ex and I laughed so hard that we watched it 10 times, at least. And then we joked about it constantly. If either of us wanted a cookie, we’d say “cookie wookie dookie lookie.” That’s my shit.
AVC: Nonsense rhymes?
There was a thing in the Andy Kaufman movie that Jim Carrey [Man On The Moon] about how he would do it. I didn’t even see the movie. I read the script. But someone asked me, “Do you know what the best part of the Jim Carrey/Andy Kaufman movie is?” And I said, “me lee see ree bee.” I just knew that would be the best part.
AVC: Why are nonsense words funny to you?
NB: They’re so childish and barely human. I don’t know. It just hits me. It’s barely talking.
AVC: Have you always thought that was funny?
NB: Yeah. Steve Allen was on Johnny Carson one time—I looked for it, but I couldn’t find it—and he read the lyrics to “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer like a poet. He read them very seriously. I was maybe 8, but it killed me.
Team America: World Police, “Derka Derka”
AVC: Your Team America pick is also full of nonsense words.
NB: Yeah, plus the walking and the voices, “Gary. You’re a hero, Gary.” And the facial hair. Again, it’s dumb nonsense and people listening to nonsense.
Robert Smigel made a sketch one time—and I haven’t gone back and looked for it—but he made a sketch where it was like Lassie with black and white footage but the cutaways to Lassie were to his golden retriever in his bathtub. It was such nonsense. It’s so funny.
I just love well-organized, very serious nonsense.
AVC: Team America is certainly well-organized. To think about the all of the work everyone on that project had to do…
NB: Team America must have been the biggest pain in the ass. And if we want to talk well-organized, they got Bill Pope, who is the DP on The Matrix, because he was just like, “I want to do something less serious.”
The Borat trailer
AVC: Moving on farther down your list. The Borat trailer is still incredibly funny.
NB: When that like cow or whatever the hell is in his house? It was like, “What did they do?”
It’s so hacky to pick Borat but Borat is very funny.
AVC: There’s a reason people still talk about it. I think it’s coming back around.
NB: It becomes a hacky thing to say “my wiiiife,” but when he said it, it was so funny. I don’t know what else to say about it other than it’s really funny.
AVC: Fat Bastard is an interesting choice.
NB: “Get in my belly” is so fucking funny. The fact that that’s what the guy says to a dwarf? “I’m going to eat the baby. Get in my belly.” It’s all so broad. What does this character want? What does Fat Bastard want? Oh, he wants to eat, and he wants to eat a dwarf. It’s a domino effect to what would now be totally offensive comedy. They call him Fat Bastard, okay? And then he sees a dwarf, who he thinks is a baby. And then he implores the baby to get in his belly because he’s hungry and he wants to eat the baby.
I knew when The Onion saw that pick they’d be like, “What a hacky thing.” It’s so funny.
AVC: I don’t think it’s hacky. I just think that people have just decided not to like the Austin Powers movies.
NB: That’s exactly what I mean. You’re supposed to not like the Austin Powers movies because people ruin the catchphrases. Austin Powers is so funny. That’s another script that when I read it I was like, “Oh my god. He’s doing a fucking parody of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up.” It’s so funny. It’s a James Bond parody but it’s also a Blow-Up parody. I think Austin Powers is hilarious.
Step Brothers, licking dog shit
AVC: A more widely accepted movie is Step Brothers. That made your list.
NB: The thing about that clip is the fact that [Adam] McKay, the director, made it white dog shit. It’s a very specific type of dog shit. I don’t know if McKay or Will [Ferrell] or John C. Reilly was like, “It should be white dog shit” or if it was written as dog shit and then the prop person came over and was like, “Should we do white dog shit?” And McKay was like, “Oh my god. White dog shit. I forgot about white dog shit.”
White dog shit is the only kind of dog shit you see when you’re in grade school. I haven’t seen white dog shit since grade school. But it seemed like I saw a lot of it in grade school.
AVC: What makes it white?
NB: I don’t know. It oxidizes or something. That’s another thing. Why does it turn white?
AVC: It’s such a specific and funny joke. Specificity can be very funny.
NB: Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, they’re trying to be specific.”
White dog shit is such a goddamn funny thing. I hadn’t thought of white dog shit in ages. That’s a great thing about that movie. It captures what it’s like to be that age.
AVC: To be a kid on the playground?
AVC: So, not John C. Reilly’s age?
AVC: The last thing on your list is Top 30 Funniest Ever News Bloopers.
NB: I think funniest compilation reels on YouTube are the greatest. I watch Worldstar every week on YouTube. America’s Funniest Home Videos is consistently one of the funniest shows of my lifetime. Again, that’s not a cool thing. But the grape lady falling on her face? Those clips are so funny. And if they’re popular, I don’t care. That’s fine.