A couple of years ago, Greg Behrendt found himself telling jokes to a few dozen people at a Baltimore comedy club. Now he’s a household name. Give credit to (or blame) him for co-authoring the best-selling relationship book, "He’s Just Not That Into You," which came out of his consulting work for Sex And The City and catapulted him, via Oprah, from stand-up comic to daytime TV host himself.
I spoke with him as he was making the transition.
Has everything changed? "It hasn’t. It’s just put more people in the room," he told me. "I had never talked a lot about relationships onstage."
I first saw Behrendt at Seattle’s Bumbershoot several years ago (1998, maybe?) introduced as one of David Cross’ friends. A few years later, I got to open for him at the Tempe Improv on a weekend that saw him also appear on The Tonight Show — which resulted in Behrendt flying to L.A. early Friday, taping the show, flying back to Arizona for two shows, then watching the Improv’s big screen drop to broadcast his Tonight Show routine. Back then, he liked to joke about people getting his name wrong all the time. Is it better now that he’s got a TV show coming out? "Nah. It’s still the same. People get it wrong. It’s not a national brand yet," he said.
"It’ll be like a punk-rock Dr. Phil," he told me. What if Dr. Phil were punk, though? "No. If he was in a punk band, he would’ve gone full-on Minor Threat. We would’ve found out years later that he smoked pot but didn’t inhale."
More about his show: "My slogan is: Your life doesn’t have to suck…If your job sucks, you should quit, because you’re not here to do penance. I won’t always have answers for people. A lot of times, I will have questions. I will run in the aisles. I will throw things. And coffee will be made. I don’t know if this will pan out. I’m not sure, but I would like to have a musician as a sidekick, as a co-host. Maybe somebody like Grant Lee Phillips."
Sounds cool. Even if Behrendt’s most recent CD/DVD was titled Uncool. Should Tony Danza be worried? "Tony’s got a nice life," Behrendt said. "If I’m uncool, then Tony Danza must be cool. When I was on his show, he started singing showtunes with me. I was in the middle of something and he started going, ‘Da-da-dadada.’ I didn’t know what was happening. I thought, ‘Dude, could you sing ‘Lamb of God’?"
"It’s not like I’m on Arrested Development. I’m still of a mind that I’m not cool."
He mentions his daughter just had a birthday and how he’s not feeling much like ranting. "I’m not angry at things," he said. "I love all the iTunes. iPodding. I’ve got the video iPod. I like to watch me an Office on the airplane. I’ll watch an Oscar-nominated short film and watch it in my head. I think comedy’s in a really good state right now."
How’s the state of your comedy these days? "I wanted the dudes, but they went and saw (Dave) Attell. My rooms are filled with women, and I love it. They’re like, ‘Dude.’ I’m like, I know. They’re like, ‘Dude.’ I’m like, I know. Get yourself on Oprah. This is what your comedy career could be like," he said. "I’m actually revisiting some old things that I did when I started and couldn’t get off the ground."
"I’ve also tried to show the flip side of (He’s Just Not That Into You), where a guy gets crushed. Late-night drunk dialing. Mix tapes. They (women) just have more faith and trust in us. They have a time clock."
It’s almost April Fool’s Day. Do you get into that? "I don’t like pranks. I don’t like people pretending they’re dead. I don’t like people pulling pranks on me. I don’t mind watching it happen to people I don’t know. Oh, that (George) Clooney. He loves to pull pranks on set. I don’t want to sit on the toilet and sh-t on cellophane. No. It’s just sad that my wife does that to me all the time."
What are you listening to on the iPod? "Here’s what I’m not listening to: Fall Out Boy. What am I not reading? I’m not reading ‘The Game,’ by Neil Strauss. It’s sitting by my bed, waiting for me to start it. My wife is so cool. I actually know Neil, when I did Sex and the City, my job was to go into a room and talk to women about masturbating. That set the stage right there. So my wife was cool about everything." He says she is co-writing his next book. "My wife’s like the uber-wife. She’s almost too good to be true some days. They say, you’re making that up. She hates Valentine’s Day. I don’t have to do anything. She’ll say, this is what I want. And then I’ll go and buy it for her on the Internet."
"When I met my wife, I was doing open mics. To be able to have gone through this whole journey with her, and because of her, has been awesome. None of this would’ve happened without her."
What about his own rock ambitions? "There’s been talk of making the Black Rattle record this summer," he said. "We do a song on my DVD. We do the Itsy Bitsy Spider…We’re going to go into the studio and make the record, The Tyranny of Recess. At some point, I’d love to take the band out. But that’s just a lot of people, blah blah blah, and it’s a lot of hard work. In stand-up, it’ s just you. When everything goes wrong, it’s just you. The audience sucked? Well, they wouldn’t have sucked if they liked you."
"As comedians, we’ll take gigs anywhere. We have such low self-esteem. People will want to do comedy in the strangest places. I did it in the hallway of a school once. Not even a high school. It was just horrible. Everytime I get one of those gigs, I get a stomach-ache. I just want to do comedy clubs. That’s where it’s meant to be." What was that school gig? "At lunch, they set up a mike. In front of the kids. They said, ‘Don’t go blue.’ I opened for an air-band contest once in Fresno, and got, ‘Get off!’ You’ve got to want it if you keep having those experiences and come back for more. I think we’re destined to do things. Who would pick stand-up? This might not go well in front of 200 people and they might rebel. I really think it’s a calling. I think there are people who are supposed to do it. What the f–k would Attell do? What would (Mitch) Hedberg have done? Brian Regan, same thing. They have to go in front of a room full of people and grab a mike. It’s just what I have to do, until I feel like I don’t, and then I’ll quit. If you feel like it’s what you should do, but a full room of people consistently think you shouldn’t, maybe then you shouldn’t. Maybe you should write about comedy, maybe you should be going to see comedy. You were close."
"I dig writing the books. It’s fun. The TV stuff is fun. When I was on Oprah, it was fun. There’s nothing like the rush of doing stand-up," he said. "And since I failed so miserably in rock bands, this is the closest I’ll come to being a rock star."
Just for fun, what other jobs could you see comedians doing? How about Dave Attell? "He would be an excellent and really fun men’s room attendant?" David Cross? "He would be, if there is a move toward anarchy in the United States, he would be our leader. Which is weird. Because anarchists aren’t supposed to have leaders. Dave would be a really interesting therapist, too. Kid’s got skills. Can’t knock him."