Matt Braunger was 39, single, no kids, renting an apartment when I saw him record this hour-plus set last summer at The Bell House in Brooklyn. “I think I’m fucking killing it, you guys,” Braunger told the audience then, and now as his stand-up special, Big Dumb Animal, debuts tonight on Comedy Central. “I don’t know if I’m being sarcastic. At all.”
Which is precisely why he describes himself as the titular big dumb animal. At least now he’s a much “cooler” 40 and no longer a “lame” 39. Either way, though, Braunger worries about being creepy, because that comes with the territory of an unmarried man of that age. At least he knows he’s nowhere near as creepy as the single guys with the dumb confidence to hit on women from across a bar.
And let’s face it. Onstage or off, Braunger always has exuded a playful charm that reads as friendly, not creepy. I remember seeing Braunger for the first time at New Faces in Montreal several summers ago, and thinking how much his personality reminded me of a young Will Ferrell. Of course, Ferrell wasn’t a stand-up comedian but a sketch guy. And yet, Braunger went on to get MADtv (another weirdly brilliant but misused casting call by that dearly departed FOX sketch comedy series). And he is, like Ferrell before him, great at coming across as a big dumb animal. The title makes sense. And so, too, does this hour. More like tall, oafish, but innocent. It’s a role that’s has served him well in recurring supporting roles such as the neighbor he played in NBC’s Up All Night, or even his multiple appearances on Chelsea Lately‘s late-night E! roundtable.
He’s nowhere near as dumb as his friends, though. To Braunger, tired doesn’t mean let’s do coke, it means let’s do sleep. He is coming to terms with who he is and expressing that onstage. That kind of honesty is greatly appreciated. Turning 40 also means redefining what cool means. He’s from Portland, Ore., which is cool now but wasn’t when he grew up there, where his dad was a school principal — something that’s not a welcome reminder when you’re trying to get a lap dance in a strip club. Decidedly uncool. Braunger also enjoys making himself uncool when put in awkward positions such as answering required Red Cross questions about his personal health and sexual history.
One thing Braunger doesn’t get: How come people don’t get that homosexuality is a regular part of our society now? Roll the clip.
In a Reddit AMA today, Braunger said about this hour: “If anything, I think I got a little less fake onstage. We all play something of a character doing comedy, I just got a little more real-er. Yes, that’s a word.”
That means owning up to his personal shortcomings. Such as knowing that he drinks too much — getting cut off in a liquor store is a sure sign of that. Surer than the poster he found himself yelling at. And trying to order a Jagerbomb just seems so much sillier nowadays.
But he sees angels living among us. Don’t worry. They’re very real. Or real-er. And they’re here to bring joy and laughter to our lives. With Big Dumb Animal, Matt Braunger is one step closer to becoming one of those angels. After all, it doesn’t get much real-er than meeting your therapist in the mall food court after you and your girlfriend break up. Don’t worry. You and he both have a big laugh afterward about it.
Matt Braunger: Big, Dumb Animal premieres at midnight tonight on Comedy Central from New Wave’s Comedy Dynamics, and will be available this weekend for viewing on the Comedy Central App. It’s also for sale now in audio formats via iTunes and Amazon: