NEW YORK (AP) — Comedian Neal Brennan is a very funny guy but he's only really funny two-thirds of the time in his new stand-up act.
The writer and co-creator of "Chappelle's Show" delves deep into his often painful personal past in the solo show "3 Mics," offering a very human peek at the comedian, sandwiched between jokes about race and gender.
"People connect to emotion, they don't connect to thought," he said during a recent break in rehearsals at The Lynn Redgrave Theater. "There's nothing more interesting than performing for an audience, especially if you're actually expressing things."
The stage he prowls now has three microphones, each of which Brennan visits three times during the course of his show. One is for random one-liners he calls "too inane" to build on. (Sample: "If I was black, I'd stand in front of tanning salons all day and laugh at the customers.")
Another microphone is for his regular stand-up act, which currently delves into Lance Armstrong, Bill Cosby, ISIS and football players being violent off the field. ("You're surprised? Their job, in and of itself, is attempted murder.")
But the middle microphone is where Brennan deals with some heavy but poignant issues, like his relationship with fame and the passing of his emotionally withholding dad. ("To hear my father say he didn't love me was both devastating and also liberating.")
Brennan said audiences take some time adjusting to the realness of the middle microphone but soon warm to it. "They're like, 'Stop doing the other mics! We don't care about comedy at this point. I just want to hear about this stuff,'" he said.
Emmy-nominated Brennan has built a complex career since "Chappelle's Show" went off the air in 2006 that includes directing Nike commercials with Kobe Bryant and Serena Williams, co-hosting a podcast, performing stand-up comedy specials, doing voice-overs for Samsung S5 ads, directing episodes of "Inside Amy Schumer" and "The New Girl," and directing films like "The Goods," starring Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames and Will Ferrell.
The wiry and sardonic Brennan has built a reputation for not shying away from thorny issues like race. "I'm fairly good at distilling things," he said. "I'm not that fearful." He cites as big influences Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Eddie Murphy and George Carlin. His new work has attracted the attention of singer John Legend, who is helping produce "3 Mics."
On this day, Brennan is pretty happy with himself. The day before, he'd been on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" wearing an H&M shirt he bought specifically for the occasion. But, having never taken off the tags, he quickly returned it. "I'm a true animal," he deadpanned.
In turning his comedy skills to theater, Brennan is taking a page from fellow comedians-turned-stage performers Colin Quinn and Mike Birbiglia, whose "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" show was a big influence. Simply doing stand-up isn't enough these days.
"It used to be if you did a half-hour on HBO that was a big deal. Then it became an hour. Now there are so many hours that it's kind of like an arms race," he said. "You need to mutate the virus."