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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jim Breuer interview

Jim Breuer's hitting town tonight with the Just For Laughs Comedy Tour so I thought I'd run the full transcript of the interview I did with him last month.

Jim Breuer – Oct. 16, 2012
"SNL and Half-Baked worked for me big-time. It made me money, got me out there in the public eye. However it watered down my standup. So I had to get back to who I am as a standup and get back in there." – Jim Breuer

Jim Breuer: Hey, how are you?

Guy MacPherson: Hi, Jim. Good, thanks. How are you?
JB: I’m great, thank you.

GM: Where are you calling from, Jim?
JB: I’m calling from New Jersey, in my home.

GM: You’re touring Canada. Have you been to Vancouver before?
JB: The only time I’ve been to Vancouver was just to kind of warm up the crowd for Metallica about a month or two ago.

GM: Oh, right, I heard about that. And that was your first time?
JB: Yeah, that was my first time in Vancouver. Vancouver has an amazing reputation and I understand why now. I got to rent a bike and I rode around each day. It’s absolutely beautiful there and the people are great. I really enjoyed Vancouver.

GM: Well, you’ll be here in November so who knows if any of that will happen again.
JB: Yeah, it’ll be a little colder but that’s alright.

GM: You’re used to it. You’re a hardy soul.
JB: I’m used to it.

GM: And now touring across the country.
JB:  From east to west.

GM: I would assume if you’ve only been to Vancouver once, you’ve only been to Montreal, maybe Toronto.
JB: Correct. I have not toured Canada and it’s something that I’ve been really pressing to do for the last couple years. So finally when this happened, it made all the sense in the world. I think by the time I’m done with this tour I’ll have a really good Canadian following to the point where I can come out and tour on my own.

GM: I would think you would have that anyway, don’t you?
JB: Um, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Unless you’re on TV a lot, people forget about you quick. I’m still at that stage where people go, “Wha-, what was he doing? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, the Goat guy. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, the guy from that thing. Oh yeah, I know him.” So I have to establish where they go, “Oh my gosh, yes, that guy. Great comedian.”

GM: One of the top 100.
JB: Oh boy.

GM: Who was directly ahead of you in that?
JB: I have no clue. I don’t get into lists and all that nonsense. Like, I know where my best pizza place is in town; I don’t need to vote for it. I don’t ever refer to that list. It doesn’t change who comes to see the show. The only list I care about is who’s in the audience.

GM: I just thought maybe you’re really competitive and want to take them down a notch.
JB: No, no, that’s crazy.

GM: On this tour, with essentially four headliners each doing a shorter set than they normally would, will it be harder to quell the yahoos that will surely be there yelling out Goat Boy or Half-Baked stuff?
JB: No, not at all. That’s expected. If that’s what they’re a fan of and that’s what brings them in, well then that’s why I got in this industry. So I don’t have a lot of problems with people yelling and shouting out stuff. What I usually do is I hit them pretty hard with the standup and it stands on its own and keeps their attention. If I wasn’t able to pull it off, I’d probably have a real problem with them shouting stuff out. But I haven’t had a problem with them. What I usually do is when I’m finished with my set, I’ll ask, “Did you come here to see anything specifically?” And then if it calls for Goat Boy or Party in the Stomach or whatever they were really dying to see live, then I’ll give it to them.

GM: That’s a good healthy attitude to take because some performers maybe resent a past success.
JB: Oh, yeah, some do but you know what? I’m also a fan and when I go to see my favourite performer, they need to know what I’m coming to see. I’m a metalhead and I went to see Iron Maiden and they didn’t play any old stuff. I literally walked out, I was so aggravated and mad. “We’re doing new stuff tonight!” Well then I’m going to bed because that’s not what I came here for.

GM: So you’re still a metalhead?
JB: I am. I am. It’s like a fine wine. It’s the only thing that gives me a good buzz.

GM: It’s funny. You’re on the Relationship Show tour and the traditional image of a father or relationships is kind of old and safe, but of course metalheads are fathers and husbands and any type of person is, too.
JB: I consider myself a modern-day dad where I still got the rock and roll in me, but yet I take being a parent and relationships very seriously in life. And on stage. I’m married going on twenty years, I have three daughters. My father, who’s 89, lives with me. My mom is close by, she’s 85. So I take family very seriously. But on this tour and elsewhere I’m putting out there that I’m tired of the image of the father as a fat, overweight, beer-chugging stupid guy because it’s not in real life and that image has to change.

GM: And you’re changing it one city at a time.
JB: I’m changing it, baby, one city at a time!

GM: I saw a video of you hitting your dad over the head with a newspaper.
JB: (laughs) He needs to play. People forget when you get older you still gotta play. He loves to play and he likes the busting-chops type of play.

GM: You could see the real warmth between you guys but I would imagine some people look at that and go, “Hey, you shouldn’t do that.”
JB: That’s people who have a stick up their rear end. That’s people who can’t see comedy. Those are the people I don’t want showing up.

GM: Did you finally get the ramp built?
JB: Oh, that’s funny, yeah. I built the ramp. It came out great. But then we had to sell the house. So I had to take down the ramp about four or five months later. Hence why he lives with me now. In my house, I don’t need a ramp. I’m on the ground level so I don’t have to worry about that.

GM: How old are your kids?
JB: 13, 10 and 7. All girls.

GM: Are you constantly embarrassing them?
JB: (laughs) There’s a fine line, yeah. There’s a little bit embarrassment. When they get a little too serious, yeah, definitely I whip out the embarrassment card.

GM: I, like most people, first saw you on Saturday Night Live but I don’t know about your standup before then.
JB: I started in 1985 and I dabbled in it for a couple years. And then I got serious in 1989 and I never looked back. It was my standup comedy that led to everything. Every work, TV, film, commercial, it was all from standup comedy. In the very beginning, Comedy Central held me as one of their up-and-coming stars to watch out for. I was starting to make a name for myself and then I hit Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live and Half-Baked and all that, I wouldn’t say derailed me but it took me off course of what I was becoming as a young comic. So I’m kind of taking back that threshold when I started really refocusing back in 2008.

GM: Did you stop performing live when you got Saturday Night Live or just less frequently?
JB: No, no, no. But what would happen was the crowd that was coming out was a Saturday Night Live crowd so they wanted to see the characters. So it became more of trying to describe the characters. The standup was working but I also wasn’t able to work as much and work on the standup as much. You’re putting all your time and energy in Saturday Night Live and then boom, they send you to a college. And really, when you’re on TV everyone’s just there to see the star, the guy: “Ah! It’s the guy!” So thank God I worked my way up as a standup so I could hold court for years, but after a while, getting back to that original standup where it’s a set-up and a punch and a story and I set the story up here and I have a call-back and I really work the act the way I originally used to do it, that was kind of losing its sense for a while. Like I said, SNL and Half-Baked worked for me big-time. It made me money, got me out there in the public eye. However it watered down my standup. So I had to get back to who I am as a standup and get back in there.

GM: Is standup ultimately the most rewarding?
JB: Yeah, hands down. Because I control the writing, the directing, the editing, and whether I fail or succeed, I’m the one in control of it. And I can handle that. The most frustrating thing is when it’s not in your destiny; someone else is in control of how you’re put out there and you don’t like the way you’re being put out there. It’s very frustrating. Standup, I see right there and then what they like and what they don’t like.

GM: You changed recently to be more family friendly?
JB: Yeah.

GM: Does that mean you cut out curse words?
JB: Yeah, basically. At the end of the day, it’s not to be confused with soft comedy. I think if you look online and look up any of my current bits, there’s nothing soft about it. I just take being a role model with my kids and as a father and as a dad and as a family man – a real family man – I take it very seriously. And I want to be that role model. Being on stage is a big part of that. And that’s a major mission of mine. But I work on it to be hilarious. I don’t want it to be nice and soft and “Oh, he’s the nice family guy.” No. I want to be hilarious, really funny. It just so happens, oh yeah, he’s clean, by the way.

GM: Like Brian Regan.
JB: Correct. If I had to put an idol ahead of me, then that’s the guy.

GM: It’s a big responsibility being that role model.
JB: Not if you’re living it.

GM: With some performers who have kids, I wonder if they let their kids hear them.
JB: And that is one of the reasons why I went in that direction. Once I realized how powerful the internet was, when my kids started looking me up online, I’d see these routines where they weren’t filthy but I was cursing. And I realized, “Aw, man, I can’t let my kids watch this. That’s stupid. Why am I cursing so much? Who am I trying to appeal to?” And trying to write funny instead of just ending it with a curse word. And that major reason was I want my kids to be able to watch it, I want their families to be able to watch it, and I want them to go, “God, that guy is so good, so funny.” Just like you said, like Brian Regan. I really respect what he does.

GM: If we in the media didn’t even mention that you’re doing family-friendly stuff, people probably wouldn’t even notice.
JB: And that’s what happens. I’ve noticed that, too, where people leave and they don’t even really realize it. It’s more of an afterthought and they go, “You know, I don’t think he… I don’t think he said anything nasty.” I want that multi-generation show. I love watching families at a show.

GM: Your kids know you so they know you were an actor in Half-Baked.
JB: They don’t know that. They don’t know anything about that movie. (laughs)

GM: But they will eventually.
JB: Of course.

GM: I never understand if fans really don’t get it or they just don’t want to believe that you’re an actor doing a role.
JB: It’s a little bizarre. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and they’re like, “You got me through my teenage years and I was just like you.” And I’m like, “No, dude, you were like the character. You’re not like me. That’s not me.” Yeah, a lot of people attach themselves to that character but it’s a character.

GM: I think Harland Williams told me he doesn’t smoke pot at all.
JB: And that’s the crazy thing, is I did. I have no qualms about that. However, Harland didn’t whatsoever. It’s pretty funny, he started getting this following but he’s like, “I can’t keep up with this because I don’t do this stuff.”

GM: Who did you come up with in standup?
JB: Uh… Wanda Sykes, Chappelle, Joe Rogan, Jeffrey Ross. We had Keith Robinson, Jay Mohr was around a lot, Wanda Sykes, myself. Ray Romano was a little ahead of me. Those were all guys I used to see all the time. Dave Attell, Jim Norton.

GM: In New York.
JB: Yeah.

GM: It seems every comic now has a podcast but you’re old school. You’re on radio.
JB: I am on radio. I started a podcast and Sirius Satellite Radio was like, “If you do the podcast, we’re not giving you a cheque.” And a cheque is really nice. I don’t plan on walking away from that one.

GM: Yeah, that’s the thing with podcasts: everyone has one but three people are making any money from them.
JB: Yeah, not too many people make money. Maybe Marc Maron, maybe… what’s his name? The original guy… Carolla. I think besides those two, no one’s making money. Unless it’s driving their audience to come see you, maybe.

GM: There’s always that. What format is your radio show?
JB: It’s talk comedy. I have standup comics. I do characters. That’s where I get to do more… People say, “Do you do impressions on stage?” And I don’t really do impressions on stage but I’ll do them on my radio show. Sometimes it’s just real heart-to-heart real-life subjects, which is what’s great about satellite radio is no limits.

GM: Is it a weekly? Sorry, I should know this.
JB: Yeah, every Friday, 4-6 pm Eastern.

GM: There’s a great public appetite for comedians talking to comedians these days.
JB: Yeah. I’ve been doing it for about eight to nine years now. It’s funny because pretty much everyone that came on my show turned around and started a podcast.

GM: Exactly. I’ve been doing one on the radio and podcast for eight years and I had Maron on before he had his show so I like to think he stole my idea.
JB: (laughs) It’s a good possibility.

GM: Of course everyone listens to his and not to mine. When you were here a couple months ago, it was for Metallica, right?
JB: Yeah, they were filming a movie and the movie producer asked if I could go out and do seven minutes of warm-up. Five to seven minutes to warm the crowd up, get them excited, get their energy way up and then bring out Metallica. So I flew to Vancouver thinking I’m doing five to seven minutes and no standup, no show. The day of the first concert, Metallica’s people tell me, “Listen, it’s a Metallica crowd. You don’t need to warm them up. Go out and do 40.” Four-zero?! “Yeah, do 40. They’ll love you.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is not a standup comedy crowd. They don’t know I’m on the bill. You don’t just walk out in front of a raw metal crowd and just start doing, “Hey, I’ve got kids. Who’s got kids and who’s married 20 years?” Thank God I’ve been around long enough so when I did go out there, I believe I succeeded. It was the hardest… It was a hard thing to figure out because the entire floor was a stage, you’re constantly in the round so if I was faced in one area, 90 percent of the audience was to my back. And God knows what they were doing: drinking, smoking, whatever. So it was a little bit of a challenge but I conquered it and I succeeded both nights in a row. Was it phenomenal standup pieces? Absolutely not! But did I pull off the crowd control and amp them up? Yes. So my mission was accomplished but if you came to see me do standup comedy that night, I beg you please don’t judge that event.

GM: And if you were in the audience for that show, would you have wanted to see a comedian come out?
JB: Dude, I would have started throwing things at me right away. Right away. There’s no way if I was 19 years old and I was in the parking lot, or wherever I was, and I was putting whatever in my system and I think Metallica’s going on at 8 and some yo-yo goes up who’s going to try comedy, I’m looking for everything I can to throw at him.

GM: They know you, though. You know that now.
JB: That’s the good thing. They do know me. And I will say to not get booed off the stage, to be able to walk off the stage two nights in a row after blindsiding a Metallica audience, I felt pretty good. That’s going under my belt as a huge success.

GM: You have high standards! You didn’t get booed off the stage.
JB: (laughs) That’s right. I did well both nights and I stood up there 40 minutes both nights so I feel good about that.

GM: I look forward seeing you here doing your normal set.
JB: Yeah, me, too. (laughs)

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