You may have heard the name Neal Brennan in conjunction with the Comedy Central sketch show he co-created with Dave Chappelle (Chappelle’s Show). But in recent years, Brennan has honed his stand-up to the point of taping and releasing his first half-hour Comedy Central special as a solo performer, and also punched up material behind the scenes for awards shows and high-profile functions such as the ESPYs and the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Now Brennan is trying something completely different.
He and his friend, DJ Samantha Ronson, have collaborated on a comedy mixtape. Stand-up bits of Brennan’s give way to beats and rhymes from A Tribe Called Quest, Clipse, Nas, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Erik B and Rakim, KRS-One, LL Cool J, The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, Brand Nubian and more. It’s a very smooth back-and-forth flow from hip-hop to comedy and back. You can listen to it here, then keep reading as Brennan explained the mixtape idea to The Comic’s Comic. Note: Language in the stand-up and the hip-hop is NSFW.
So, why a mixtape? I’d had the idea to do a mixtape for a long time. I have a lot of Malcolm X speeches on my iPod and always thought, “It’s a shame nobody put beats under these so more young people could be introduced to Malcolm X.” Basically, I’m Malcolm X.
Is the stand-up all from one show? Basically, the recording is chiefly from one show, from May, I believe. It was at the La Jolla Comedy Store, one of my favorite rooms in the country.
How did you and Samantha collaborate on it? Did you have specific songs or beats that you wanted for certain bits, did you leave that all up to her, or a third way? I was making it on my computer/garage band and sent a snippet to Samantha, who lives near me. She was like, “You gotta let me do this with you.” Good thing too. Because it would have been a mess without her.
We chose classic hip-hop beats because we wanted stuff that would last. That’s sort of the impetus for the whole thing. Whenever I buy comedy albums, I listen to them three or four times and then erase them. I had just done a 1/2-hour for Comedy Central and had to basically dump the jokes. I figured if I put beats underneath them, people might keep my jokes in their iPod longer. Possibly even forever. Jokes lose their effectiveness in a way lyrics don’t. Which is largely due to the music underneath it.
In terms of beats, these are just beats we both really love. And we tried to match them up with the jokes somewhat thematically.
Do you have any knowledge of past stand-up mixtapes that may or may not have inspired yours? As far as I know, this is the first stand-up mixtape ever. But having said that, I’m sure somebody will unearth one and say I stole their idea.
How much do you yourself think adding classic hip-hop — or any music, for that matter — enhances the experience of listening to stand-up comedy? In terms of music underneath, I think it definitely affects the mood of the joke and overall feel of my act. When I go up after the heckler, it’s pretty thuggish. Maybe in a bad way.
Something something wave of the future and now everyone will do what you just did? I’m not sure if other people will make these. They probably will. Comics all light up when I tell them the idea. But it was sort of a pain. But I’m definitely gonna make more. Working on one that’s the same jokes with Radiohead and Thom Yorke songs under it. It makes all the jokes feel very very sad.
So, what’s next? I’d actually like to do a live version of it with Samantha or possibly a band. They do part of their song – then I do a joke where the next verse would go. Talking to Questlove about it, of course.