What really happened with Chappelle's Show and more: Neal Brennan interview Part 2


                                   Neal with SNL's Andy Samberg

CAC: Can you talk more about the night of the White House Correspondents' Dinner and when you got home and realized President Obama had the hit out on Bin Laden?
NB: Here's my take on it... Again I don't want to take too much credit for stuff, but I wrote that joke when we were slamming C-Span about, "People think Bin Laden is in the Hindu Kush, did you know he actually has a show on C-Span everyday from 4-5:30?"  I wrote the joke, right.  So I watched as Seth does the joke, Obama laughs, right.  It was one of those... Remember when Bush got in trouble?  For his White House Correspondents' Dinner where he was looking through the WMDs in his office, and people thought it was insensitive.  I thought it was going to be the same thing.  Where they would accuse him of being insensitive for not finding Bin Laden.  So I watched him laugh, and then once the hit came out, once they killed him, the next day they showed that joke and his response.  And when they showed it, they were sort of like, "Oh, look at that knowing laughter."  It was just cool to have written the joke then have it be on the news.  Which is something Seth is used to, but I'm not. Chappelle's Show was never on the news, but SNL is regularly, like Seth wrote all those Palin speeches or sketches and stuff.  So it was really cool.  It was also really cool historically.  It would be like if you wrote like a Cuban Missile Crisis joke or something.  It's kind of incomparable.  That's the thing, like the day before we had been in the Oval Office, eating an apple.  They were like, "Hey there are apples on the table.  Does anyone want an apple?"  And we were all like, "Yeah, yeah I want an apple."  So I'm eating an apple in the Oval Office and I'm reading the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, which they have on the wall.  And I was like, "There's not much to compare this too."  This is kind of without context.  My buddy Alex Baze said it would be like, "Hey remember the time I went to the bathroom on the moon?"  It's sort of like that.  It's just kind of like, "Wait, what am I doing?  I'm in the Oval Office and why?"  So yeah, the whole weekend was pretty mind-blowing.  It was real gratifying, not like I had affected anything, my piece of history.  It was like catching a home run ball or something.  Saturday night was the dinner, and then Sunday night, like at 11 they killed him (Bin Laden).  He did the press conference.

CAC: Did you see it on TV or did someone text you...?

NB: Someone called me and was like, "They killed Bin Laden,"  when it was like a Twitter thing.  Again, it's just all the more impressive that he could be charming and personable and witty... That's a really, really hard job.  It makes me respect the guy so much.  Of course when you meet somebody you like them more.  But all that context, I don't think people understand like the magnitude of the job, you know.  And to think that he's from Chicago!  So it was awesome.  It was great to be a part of it.  And then I got to meet a lot of the speech writers and I'm friendly with those guys now.  It was really awesome.

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CAC: I know a lot of people feel this way, but recently on Joe Rogan's podcast, Bill Burr said that Chapelle's Show is maybe the best sketch comedy show of all time.  Did you and Dave know that the show was going to take off like that?    
NB: No.  And if we are, which again is obviously conjecture, if we are the greatest show... Whatever, the brevity of the run, we only did 25 episodes, so it was far easier than doing what SNL does.  Cuz I think like #2 or #3 would be the Stiller Show, because they didn't do many episodes.  They only did like 20.  Mr Show did a lot, and I think that should be up there.  Obviously In Living Color.  But again, I think the greatest sketch show of all time is SNL, in that, it has been on for 35 years.  SNL is like the war horse.  I would say it's the most sea-worthy vessel of all time.  The fact that it stays on the air and people are just like, "Ah, it's luck.  And it sucks."  It doesn't suck and it's not luck.  Me and Dave read the book about SNL, Live from New York, the Tom Shales book, before we started doing the show.  We read it before the pilot and when we started writing sketches for the season.  And I gotta say, it was really really helpful.  It was really informative and really helpful because we didn't know like you need character sketches, and you need premise sketches, and you need commercial parodies... We just had a general idea, like, "We should do this, we should do this..."  We didn't understand how to build a full, 7 course meal. And that's due to Lorne.  And again, Lorne is 1 of these guys, and he always says, "You can ask for anything except to be appreciated."  But I gotta say, I really appreciate that guy.  Like just as a dude, and people have issues with him and stuff, and I've never worked for him, so it's much easier for me to admire him from afar, but just what Seth tells me, and what I've heard stories about him over the years, and I'm friendly with him.  I'm just really impressed with the guy.  He's very hands on, and it's still a very consistently good show, which people like to say isn't, "Screw that show," and "It isn't as good as it used to be."  I mean I remember saying before Dave and I started that, "The likely arch of Chappelle's show will be the first season's good, the second season is incredible, and the third season isn't as good as the second one."  And I think that can be taken pretty literally.  We never got to disappoint people.  But I'm sure we would have...  If Dave had stuck around.  

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CAC: I think people had a false and unfair impression of how and why the show ended.  I think people believe Dave just freaked out and went to Africa and there was obviously a lot more going on...
NB: I think the thing that was unfair... I think at some point Dave has to talk about it, because he has always been very vague about it.  My perception, my experience of it, wasn't Dave's.  We were the golden goose and Comedy Central was like, "Do whatever you want, we just need the first episode by (a certain date)."  I think the thing that I want to counter would be that somehow I wasn't a good friend to Dave.  I still get Twitter comments about it like, "Why did you sell Dave out?"  I didn't sell Dave out.  We were doing a show, we had the relevant show on television, and he walked out on it without telling me.  And so when he comes back, I don't owe him a phone call.  He owes me a phone call, if anything.  And also, we don't even need to talk.  It's like, "What do you want to talk about?"  We were friends, clearly that disintegrated in the months leading up to it.  When it's a famous person versus a not famous person, people are going to side with the famous person 100% of the time.  If you don't believe me, ask the O.J. jury.  Or the Robert Blake jury, or the Phil Spector jury.  They don't like to think that famous people do human things.  My experience was, it wasn't fair, and then it was extra not fair when Dave went on Oprah and started flagging me as this not good friend.  You know, for a black artist that's beloved to go on TV and say he was victimized by a white corporate structure, that is like white people nectar, it's like white, liberal nectar, like, "Oh my God, this young black man has been victimized."  Dave did real well from the show, you know.  There was a huge benefit to Dave.  So the idea that somehow he was victimized... My experience was he wasn't victimized and that it was a matter of pressure and needing to eject from the pressure.  And the fact that somehow I wasn't a good friend is, you know, garbage.  Because first of all, no one knows what the relationship is like, and no one knows what led up to him leaving and what led up to him negotiating and divide and conquer from Comedy Central's end and all that stuff.  Again, no one is ever really going to know my side of it... 

CAC: They might now.
NB: Yeah, but even I'm still being vague enough that they're not going to know about it.  But just the idea that there are 2 sides to it, I would appreciate.  Again, people love Dave and so do I, but in terms of our friendship, you don't really know what you're talking about.  That's not you, that's just aimed at everybody.  You know what's messed up?  Is that I met Gayle at the correspondents' party and I felt really sold out by Oprah.  The fact that Dave went on her show and slammed me, and no one from her show warned me about it.  No one from her show said, "Hey what's your side of it?  Do you want to come on?  Do you care to comment?" Or just, "Hey, you're going to get slammed, just know that."  There was nothing from the great humanitarian Oprah Winfrey or her show.  And I wish I said something to Gayle because I always really felt victimized from it.  I was completely blindsided.  In fact, I wasn't watching it, and (Amy) Poehler and Seth were.  And Poehler texted me, I knew it was going to be bad when Poehler texted me, "Hey just so you know, we love you."  I was like, "Ut oh. This isn't going to be good."  That was in 06.'  I got slammed yesterday on Twitter about it. That's the media.  People are lazy.  First of all, a lot of journalists are lazy, and then like the people from Oprah's show not telling me or asking for my side of things, and readers are lazy in that they take it at face value.  Which I don't blame them, but it's taken me a long time to realize that if I see something in the news or read it in the paper, that it doesn't necessarily mean stuff.  I just see it as, "Oh, they're manipulating, they planted that, someone from the administration said this, and then they leaked the story."  It's all orchestrated, you know. And I don't think it's orchestrated by the Illuminati, I just think it's orchestrated by press contacts, and people who want to get ahead of stories and all that stuff.  It's like you doing this interview, you're not doing this out of the kindness of your heart, you were pitched me by a publicist.  Once you heard, you were like, "Oh yeah, I'd love to interview Neal."  But you weren't making phone calls like, "How the hell do I get in touch with Neal Brennan!?"  That blew my mind the first time I realized people had publicists.  I was like, "Wait, so people magazine doesn't just write about people because they like them?"  They write about them because they get told to write about them, basically.  

CAC: I think people are always looking for someone or something to be angry at too.

NB: Oh yeah.  America's the capital of righteous indignation.  The more nonsensical, the better.  It's like, "What!  What did you do to Dave!?"  Nothing.  What did I do to him?  I was friends with him for 12 years and wrote awesome stuff with him.  What did you do to him?  

CAC: It seems like writing has always come easy to you.  Are there things you focus on while you're onstage or working out new material for stand up?  
NB: Writing may be easier for me than most people, but it's not easy.  That's the thing, stand up's never easy.  I went on a tear the last 3 months where I wrote a lot of new bits.  And then for the last 3 weeks I haven't written anything.  I don't know what was different about the 3 months where I wrote like 20 new minutes and then now, the last 3 weeks I haven't written anything.  So Yeah, I focus on performance.  And being more dynamic as a performer.  I used to do a thing, and I did it on my Lopez set, where when I was going onstage, I would give a friend of mine 200 bucks and for every time I smile onstage, you have to give me 20 bucks back.  So I knew that if I wanted to get my money back, I would have to smile onstage.  It's like one of these things that's such a good practice.  Because the first time I did it, I lost 120 bucks.  But when I did it on Lopez, Lopez is easier, I did it and smiling helps.  And I got my money back.  So I do that, and I've been doing something recently where I watch the audience laughing, which I never did before.  Laughing at my jokes, which makes you then laugh, and when you laugh you're more likable, and you're having more of a conversation with them.  You're in the moment with them.  Instead of just, "I am performing, we're having 2 totally different experiences now.  You're having fun, but I'm working."  No, it's like, "We're both having fun."  So that's one thing.  And when I was in New York, I was working a lot with Aziz Ansari, and he has a really, really great work ethic when it comes to stand up. He listens to every single set he does.  He'll write notes in his notebook about it, he'll change punch lines, he'll alter tags, and he's really really dogged, to the point of it being kind of weird to people.  Because he'll be sitting at a table with a bunch of comedians, with his headphones on, just listening to his own stand up, but it really improves your (set).  I remember when I was kid, I remember my brother Kevin and (Dave) Attell would tape their sets, and then when I was doing it I wasn't, and now I started, and I just know it makes you better.  So I've been listening to all my sets.  It's just also more positive reinforcement when you're listening to yourself get laughs right before you go on.  So that's helpful also.  The other thing is you just need the flight hours.  You just need the 10,000 hours, you need the reps.  You have to do it, and do it, and do it, and do it.  That's the thing with TV, you don't know how your body's going to react, you know.  When I did Fallon, I wasn't as engaging as I was on Lopez because I didn't know what my body was going to do.  My body tended to get a little small.  Whereas on Lopez, I knew, "Hey, just so you know, Neal, you're body may get a little tight and small.  So you have to counteract that."  Which is why I did the smiling, 200 bucks thing.  

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(left to right) Me, Bryan Callen, Neal, and Dov Davidoff after our October show at the Congress Theater in Chicago

CAC: What do you love about Chicago?

NB: Chicago seems to have the most outdoor events of any city I've kind of been around. Including New York.  Maybe New York does, but they're less centered.  There's like the Taste of Chicago.  There seems to be a lot of things to go to, like festivals and stuff like that.  I like the "L," it's a good, God-damned train.  

CAC: What do you hate about Chicago?
NB: I don't like the level of acceptable alcoholism.  The amount of drinking that goes on in Chicago that's publicly endorsed and accepted and short of like, "It's just what people do," is shocking to me because I don't really drink much.  It's like, "Wow!  This is crazy!"  In Chicago, if you're not drunk by 2:30 in the afternoon, people are like, "What's your problem, man? Are you sick or something?"  That includes women, which I find crazy.  Although if I lived there, I'm sure I'd find it totally agreeable.  "What do you have the flu!?  What are you taking it easy?  No shots today?"  And then I find that it's a very segregated city.  Which I don't like or think is good.  There's not very much integration there.  Someone said it's the most segregated city ever.  I think Martin Luther King Jr. said that, and it still holds up.  It's like Boston in that way, where it's a good, modern city, but there's like that thing they need to take care of.  You know what, I'm not even going to say Boston, it's like America.  The thing is, in New York, and especially in Comedy, you're friends with so many different races that you don't even think about it.  And when you go to other cities, it's like, "Ohh."  That's the thing with Chappelle's show, I liked how it was something that everybody could agree on, racially.  And everybody kind of got made fun of, but not in a way that was jerky, it was just kind of, "Yeah, white people don't age well," or whatever the joke was.  So that was the thing I liked about it.  To me the biggest cause of racism, and me and Dave used to talk about this all the time, is just lack of access.  And it's the same cause of any sort of bigotry.  It's like, "Yeah, if you just hang out with black people for a day, you're going to realize they're like white people, but with different colored skin.  And if you hang out with gay people, you're going to realize they're like straight people except they like a different hole, that's all.  That's it, like that's it.  It's not that complicated.  But I think that racism and bigotry is comforting in some way, like, "No, I'm good, they're bad."  It just makes it clear instead of, "We're all together, we're all highly imperfect.  As a people, we're highly imperfect, together."  Instead of, "No, but they're really imperfect."  That's what I like about George's (Lopez) show, is hopefully that it draws White, Latin, Black people, no Asians thank God, on the show.  But I'm a fan of multi-culturalism, and it seems like an easy thing to do.  So come on out and see us! 

CAC:  Thank you, this is great.

NB: I just hope it gets to Oprah.  That's my entire goal.     

Neal performs Friday, June 17th at 8:00 PM at Park West for TBS' Just for Laughs multi-cultural show: "Viva La Risa."  George Lopez is making a special appearance.  BUY TICKETS

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