After more than 20 years as a writer, and more than 10 years as a consistently working stand-up comedian, Neal Brennan has nothing left to prove. But he’s still going to bring everything he’s got to Royale on Thursday night (September 27) as his Here We Go tour returns to the very same stage on which he shot his first half-hour special for Comedy Central nearly seven years ago.
With his first new hour of material since his critically-acclaimed Netflix special, 3 Mics, Brennan is finding himself honing an increasingly improving set of stand-up chops that he knew he could attain, but wasn’t exactly sure how to do just that. Somewhere along the way, the longtime Dave Chappelle collaborator found the key to bringing his audience to their feet, and is relishing the outcome.
“The thing of it is, is that I never really crushed a crowd. When I did Women and Black Dudes, I toured with that, and there was a certain amount of, I guess we’ll call it comedic frenzy, but I always felt there was always a level I wasn’t getting it to,” Brennan tells Vanyaland. “But then I did 3 Mics, and the emotional transcendence was great to see, so now it’s really cool to get standing ovations doing stand-up, and seeing that I really can crush. I don’t do it because I have something to prove, but I’m more skilled now, and after 11 years straight of doing this, I have more abilities, I think. And I enjoy having those abilities.”
While he is strutting a newfound confidence, the Emmy-nominated comedy virtuoso is by no means trying to top his living masterpiece. It’s not as if he isn’t going to try and deliver his best material as he continues to get behind the mic, but with 3 Mics, Brennan caught lightning in a bottle, and for him, it’s impossible to supersede what has become the benchmark of his stand-up career.
“I’m trying to one up 3 Mics in the same way I’m trying to one-up Chappelle’s Show,” says Brennan. “That’s just not a winnable strategy. It’s not gonna happen, because of the material I did and the structure of it. I’m not trying to top that. I don’t think of the world in the way of ‘one-upping’ something.”
In 3 Mics, Brennan quoted a friend of his referring to him as the Benjamin Button of comedy, since he started writing with Chappelle before signing up for open mics in a pursuit of a stand-up career. But even with the abrupt end to his sketch show partnership with Chappelle in 2006, until the two reunited for Chappelle’s hosting spot on Saturday Night Live in 2016, Brennan believes the surprising end was a “blessing in disguise,” in a way, as he feels he and his longtime friend may not have come across the surge of success they both found later on had the initial split not happened when it did.
From MTV’s Singled Out and Nickelodeon classics like Kenan & Kel and All That to his gigs as a director on Inside Amy Schumer, a writer on Half Baked, and of course, his huge part in the creation of Chappelle’s Show, Neal Brennan’s creative cred speaks for itself, to put it lightly. He’s had his hands in some of the most memorable moments in television of the last 25 years, and quite honestly, he could care less what you think of him at this point in his career.
“I’ve stopped feeling like I need to prove something,” he adds, “because it’s to the point where it’s like ‘so-and-so doesn’t respect you.’ So what do you want me to do? I’ve done one of the better stand-up specials in the last little while, I did one of the best sketch shows ever, and I don’t say that arrogantly at all, but it’s more like me pleading with my inner voice. Luckily, over the last few years, after 3 Mics and the week at SNL with Dave, there’s a sense of respect now, and again, it’s all because of those new abilities.”