Jim Breuer was between gigs in Iowa this fall when I spoke to him over the phone. Breuer has spent the past couple of years hitting the reset button on his career, returning to the road for stand-up gigs in comedy clubs across America, after having cleared the air on everything that had come before — from "Goat Boy" to Half-Baked — in both a 2009 CD/DVD called "Let's Clear the Air," and a new memoir, "I'm Not High."
"I've never seen so much corn in my lifetime," Breuer tells me.
You mean to say you haven't played Iowa before? I find that hard to believe.
"I guess during my hazy days, I played Iowa State, but that doesn't count. You fly in, do a stadium, fly out. This is, I'm here. I've been driving around, and yeah, a lot of corn."
Though his book comes off as corny itself at points — at multiple instances, he writes about coincidences and faith — his stand-up remains cartoonish, and I mean that in a good way. Look at him in footage he shot at one of those Iowa gigs in September at the Des Moines Funny Bone, talking about his desire to be Batman for Halloween. The voices, the facial expressions, the bursts of energy. He can go from calm and collected to maniacally animated in a second.
Roll a clip.
In the book, you describe how Steve Harvey gave you valuable advice when you were just a young comedian. He's still in the game, and now hosting Family Feud. Is that something you'd be interested in doing someday?
"That's a nice little, that's the way, some people grow up in the Northeast…if you're a comedian, you're ready to retire you do Family Feud, you do a game show, it's a sweet little way to end it all, 20, 30 forty smackers a week, just to say, 'Let's see if it's on the board!'"
What was it like getting advice from him?
"It really freaked me out, because I wasn't sure, it seemed like what he was trying to say didn't really come out. I didn't really understand why he pulled me aside. And the intensity of it. I was surprised because onstage he didn't curse, but off he was m-effing this and m-effing comics that."
Did that experience rub off on you, in terms of you giving advice to young comics today?
"Oh yeah, I always do. It depends where they're at. Work work work work. It doesn't happen overnight. Just because you got Last Comic Standing or Comedy Central Presents, it just means you have three more fans. Chris Rock had a special? He already had been doing it for 20 years. He had to take a whipping first."
Do you think YouTube and the Internet has made it easier for comics to break through?
"My kids are 11, 8 and 5. They say you've got to see this video, Dad. And it's an orange. It's a sarcastic orange. I'm busting my rear-end trying to come up with stories and jokes, and this guy, he's probably in Iowa, he's just an orange and he's got 50 million views. He's got more people following him than Miley Cyrus."
In the book, you name names when it comes to comedians you've worked alongside, but you give code names to other people in the industry. It certainly would appear that "Leon" is Barry Katz, who managed both you and Dave Chappelle. If that's the case, then who is The Rat?
"I will not throw a name under the bus. I can do a great impression of Leon, though. (He launches into a voice that sounds suspiciously like Katz) 'Jay Mohr is on fire. I don't know what to tell you, between him and Dane, I…Dave Chappelle left me, Tracy left me.' The Rat you'll have to do your own investigating. You'll have to ask people like Andy Kindler. The Rat used to book the Tri-State area. He was more of a booker."
There's an article shown in the photo pages of you and Chappelle as breakout stars from Just For Laughs Montreal's 2004 festival, but you don't really describe that experience in the book. How did you guys get the buzz that summer?
"I wasn't accepted to Montreal, though. Leon, though. None of us got into Montreal Comedy Festival, but because it was weak that year, Leon got us a hotel and his own room and he aced the house with industry. I mutilated, Jay (Mohr) mutilated, Dave (Chappelle) destroyed. But I had a whole other pickle going on with CBS though, which was great. All I got was a $5,000 holding fee, which I eventually did a pilot for Disney for. It was a whole year or two later, though, that things really popped."
Your style onstage has gone from rocking out with a full band to telling heartfelt stories. How did "Let's Clear the Air" clear the air for what you're doing now?
"Yeah, it did. It opened up the arena to get a lot more family stuff. It just broadened my horizons a bit. The industry likes to lock you down. He's the pot guy! Black his eyes down…no, get back here pot guy! I'm going to write a solid clean hour and just continue to do that as a challenge."
How much did hosting your own satellite radio show on Sirius help with that? That in itself would force you to come up with fresh material on a daily basis, right?
"Oh, God, huge. That was the opening of the doors. Why I took Sirius, I thought me and my friends were so much funnier when we hung out. So many people are like that. My family is so much funnier than me. That radio show enables me to be the guy you want to hang out with in the back. You can relate to me. I have kids. My dad poops and craps himself. My friends and I were really like the original 'Entourage.' You didn't have to be hilarious the whole time. You just have to be real."
Does that mean you've dropped the hard-rock band you toured with during the early 2000s?
"No, no no. that's just a different time. I'm bringing that back, hammer. That thing just missed its mark. I don't think it just had enough support. I didn't have a support team. I have Jerry Seinfeld coming up to me saying, 'I really liked that thing you did with the band.' I think if I had taken on a music management I would have rocked. Instead of the comedy world. But like I said, I'm revisiting."
Where are you living now?
"Living in Jersey. Love it. It's not that tanned Jersey, like the South Shore nonsense. The dopey MTV rejects show. Long Island was that 40 years ago. We patented Snapperheads. Eddie Murphy even talked about, why don't you get back into your Iroc Z28, you must have just seen Rocky."
One last thing. I noticed that your description of how you fell out of favor and left SNL is different from what stories I had heard, which was that you had tried taking your SNL characters to your own show on MTV and Lorne Michaels was unhappy about that, to say the least. Can you elaborate on that?
"I did MTV, but I asked permission for that. There might have been, what you might have heard, was Tracy (Morgan) and me, I thought maybe, but no, it really was Adam McKay and that whole crew was against me. I wrote a movie, it was me and Tracy Morgan, characters we made and the guy who did Half-Baked, Bob Simonds, he was going to produce it, and I think Lorne got angry that we didn't ask him, but he wouldn't let us on the show."
Alrighty then. There's a lot of new blood on SNL this season. What advice would you give them for surviving the pressure-cooker of SNL?
"Don't get caught up in the riffraff. Just try to get on the show once every five episodes, and knock it out of the park when you do. Just knock it out of the park, because that's the only thing the audience remembers. They only remember the home runs, they never remember the bombs and the singles and doubles and dribblers."