Neal Brennan (@nealbrennan) is a comedy writer/producer/director, co-creator of Chappelle’s Show, host of the How Neal Feel podcast, and is featured in his own live standup solo show 3 Mics at Netflix.
What We Discuss with Neal Brennan:
- How Neal’s 3 Mics show came about, and the idea behind its three parts: one-liners, emotional stuff, and stand up.
- The comedy-writing process and how it mirrors real life.
- A mindset to get a more realistic handle on the potential outcome of a given project or situation.
- Tips on getting happy from a guy who’s tried everything — and why achievement can’t be a substitute for happiness.
- When networking, remember Neal’s sage words: “No one’s going to help you in a way that’s not beneficial to them.”
- And so much more…
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Neal Brennan may not (yet) be a household name, but he’s worked with plenty of people you’ve definitely heard of. If you (like most of the world between 2003-2006) ever paid attention to Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show, you’ve seen him credited as the co-creator along with the instantly recognizable Dave Chappelle.
On this episode, Neal joins us to talk about the path that led him from being primarily a behind-the-scenes writer/director/producer to doing standup comedy and starring in his own specials — most recently 3 Mics, now showing on Netflix. To some it may look like a career in reverse; we think it might just be the beginning.
Listen to this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show in its entirety to learn more about why actually being good at what you do is the best way to reach and network successfully with influencers in your field, how Neal writes comedy for other people, the challenges of writing for non-comedians, why depression lends itself to so many comedic voices, how a position of pessimism best serves the process of preparation (whether it’s for joke-writing, setting up a pitch, or going camping), how comedy is a meritocracy, why achievement can’t be a substitute for happiness, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss the show we did with Dr. Drew Pinsky — the celebrity doctor who’s been hosting radio, television, and podcast shows for more than 30 years? Catch up with episode 72: Dr. Drew Pinsky | Give the World the Best You Have Anyway!
THANKS, NEAL BRENNAN!
If you enjoyed this session with Neal Brennan, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Neal Brennan at Twitter!
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And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- 3 Mics
- How Neal Feel | Apple Podcasts
- Neal Brennan | Website
- Neal Brennan | Facebook
- Neal Brennan | Instagram
- Neal Brennan | Twitter
- Neal Brennan: Women and Black Dudes | Prime Video
- Chappelle’s Show | Prime Video
- Half Baked | Prime Video
- Dave Chappelle’s Monologue | SNL
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | Wikipedia
Transcript for Neal Brennan | Comedy’s Triple Threat (Episode 381)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Neal Brennan: [00:00:02] You have to think pessimistically. The reason things worked is because, further upstream, I and Dave were worried about whether it was going to work or not. And we corrected it or we made it good. There was a sketch we did and I was like, "We don't have an ending." And he was getting mad at me. I'm like, "Dude, you can get mad at me all you want. We don't have an ending." Then we figured it out. You know, as much as I was a pain in his ass, I was correct.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:33] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's sharpest minds and most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker. So you can get a much deeper understanding of how the world works and make sense of what's really happening, even inside your own brain. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, you're going to be right at home here with us. For a selection of featured episodes to get you started with some of our favorite guests and popular topics, go to jordanharbinger.com and we'll hook you up. If you want to know how I managed to book all these great people, it's about the network. That's one thing I'm harping on a lot on this show. I'm teaching you how to create your own network for business, personal reasons, whatever you need it for. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Most of the guests you're hearing on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:01:40] Today, we're talking with comedian Neal Brennan. He's a comedy writer and co-creator of the Chappelle’s Show. We're going in on the comedy writing process and how it mirrors real life. Also some tips on getting happy from a guy who's tried everything and why achievement can't be a substitute for happiness. Now enjoy this episode with Neal Brennan.
[00:02:00] My friend recommended 3 Mics on Netflix. And he's like, "Have you heard of this Neal Brennan guy." Of course, I don't know anybody's names that I'm not familiar with. And so I turn it on and I'm like, "All right." And the first thing I see is you're holding these notecards on the mic.
Neal Brennan: [00:02:15] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:16] That my first thought was, "What the hell? You've got to have this memorized already? Like, what's the problem." So what was that all about?
Neal Brennan: [00:02:21] Oh, why do notes?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:22] Yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:02:23] Because if I didn't do notes on that mic, it wouldn't have been different enough from the other mic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:27] Oh, I see. So it has to be like —
Neal Brennan: [00:02:28] I just needed to differentiate it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:30] Like a different energy type deal?
Neal Brennan: [00:02:31] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:31] Gotcha. Okay, cool. Because I felt like where's the weird crutch coming from? It's like when someone gives a keynote but they have their notes on their phone. You're like, "What are you doing? I've seen you do this a hundred times." And most comedy really is the same a lot. I mean, the delivery is pretty similar except for the person's personality is different. Like you got to be Gabriel Iglesias or whatever type guys, but this is a lot different, the 3 Mics format is different. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?
Neal Brennan: [00:02:56] It's basically — so there's three mics on stage, like spaced out, equidistant from each other. So I just alternate mics, basically three times. One's for one-liners, I just do like three or four one-liners. One is for standup, like conventional standup, and then one mic is for emotional stories. And then I just kind of go — I do 10 minutes of standup or 12 minutes of stand up. Then I do eight minutes of stories and I do two minutes of one-liners. And then I just repeat
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:26] Why the break in format from just like, "All right, I have funny stuff. I'm going to go up and deliver it."
Neal Brennan: [00:03:30] There's so many hours now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:32] Yeah, that's true.
Neal Brennan: [00:03:33] There's so many standup hours. It's really, really difficult to stand out. And the people that do stand out, usually stand out because they have their own TV show or they did a roast or they did something that was like, sort of got them a lot of attention. Then people go, "Oh, you do stand up. I'll watch it." So I knew I didn't have a TV show and there was stuff I wanted to talk about that I knew people found interesting. And I wanted to talk about it on stage and I always had that idea. So I figured it out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:58] How do you know someone's going to find that stuff — or how do you even hypothesize someone's going to find that stuff interesting?
Neal Brennan: [00:04:03] Because I've talked about it on podcasts and everyone says that's really interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:06] Oh, that's the good stuff.
Neal Brennan: [00:04:07] Yeah, well, not like that's not the good stuff — comedians have sort of led the movement of being revealing off stage, so to speak, on podcasts mostly. And I would watch my friends do stuff. And if they ever got upset or choked up, I was always like, "That's so much more interesting to me than just another person doing standup, giving a glib, well-thought-out recital of their material."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:31] That they've rehearsed, yeah, a hundred times.
Neal Brennan: [00:04:32] Yeah, like it's their — look, stand up is the best. Like it's better than any movie to me. It's better than TV. It's the best. But there's times where it's like A, I don't want to watch you for an hour sort of one-note; B, great standup is rare. So, I just wanted to do a different thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:48] Yeah, and done. When I saw it, I thought like, why do people recommend these one-liners with a notecard? It's like, who is this guy? And then I was like, "I don't care what TV show he wrote that I liked before. This doesn't make sense. What did this guy contribute?"
Neal Brennan: [00:05:00] By the way, the one-liners took 40 seconds. All this happened in 40 seconds. You had this deep of a spinout. Like, f*ck this guy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:05] You know I watched it like three times. And yeah, I probably did because when somebody recommends something, I'm like, "Am I going to sit down and watch this for an hour?" And, you know, I thought your shtick maybe was, "I'm going to pretend I'm really putzy in front of the mic and that I don't have good delivery of something." And I was like, "Oh, wait, actually, these are funny." And then you went into some deeper stuff and I thought, "Okay. Oh, that part wasn't supposed to be totally funny. I see what you're doing here." Because I didn't read the premise of 3 Mics before I watched it. I just turned it on. I just thought, "All right, I think he did that for the same reasons somebody calls it fluffy," whatever. There's going to be a 3 Mics joke at the end.
Neal Brennan: [00:05:39] Yeah, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:40] So you're talking about growing up in Philadelphia, Irish Catholic. As my friend, Caleb Bacon says, "Your family was a little dysfunctional, so dysfunctional that it produced two standup comics, not just one."
Neal Brennan: [00:05:49] That's right. That's really saying something.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:52] Highly unusual situation.
Neal Brennan: [00:05:54] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:55] Were you funny when you were younger, like when you were a kid?
Neal Brennan: [00:05:57] Yeah, I was always pretty funny. I was like, you know, cute. I was the youngest. So it was like, I was sort of precocious and I was funny. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:04] Was there a time where you realized, like, 'I can do the standup thing, this funny thing, like I got this, I should do this"?
Neal Brennan: [00:06:09] There was no, like moment per se. My brother was a comedian when I was in high school. I was like, "Oh, okay." Like, so I knew I got to spend time when I was in high school with like Dave Attell and Ray Romano and guys like that — that were friends with my brother. This was before they were famous, but I knew like — I got to see them do standup. They were great. I got to hang out at comedy clubs, so I just sort of wanted to do it. And then I was funny around my friends.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:33] Did he ever think like, "I'm funnier than my brother? I should probably get into this"?
Neal Brennan: [00:06:37] No, I never, no. I truly will not play that game. I know that there's just many people saying to him, "You're funnier than Neal." So it's like I'm just not —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:46] It's always a matter of taste. Yeah. It doesn't do any good. There's nothing there. I'm not trying to bait you —
Neal Brennan: [00:06:50] No, no, no, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:51] — dissing your brother either. I just figured like some comics, they go, "Well, you know, I saw other people doing it and I just thought that timing thing, like I can do that. I can mimic that." Or, "I get the same reaction among my friends or amongst strangers," which is more important, obviously, than your friends. So he got you a job working the door at a club. And was it Boston or — ?
Neal Brennan: [00:07:09] Yeah, it was in New York, but it was called the Boston Comedy Club.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:12] Okay, that's a little confusing.
Neal Brennan: [00:07:13] Yeah, because they wanted to make sure no one went. So I was going to NYU for film school and working at the door of the comedy club. And then eventually I was like, I liked the comedy club more than I like film school. I'm more nocturnal. I figured like, let me just work there and did, and it was, you know, like I said Attell, Romano, Jon Stewart, Chapelle — these were like kindred spirits, way more than film students.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:36] Actually, how did you, you start and keep those relationships? I mean, you see the guys there all the time, but there's a lot of people that work in comedy clubs that don't throw jokes at the comics that don't try to create relationships that don't end up being or staying friends with these guys.
Neal Brennan: [00:07:48] Oh, yeah. That's a good question. I certainly was like — I felt an affinity for them. I would strike up conversations with them. I would, you just said, I would pitch them jokes. I didn't pitch a ton of people jokes, but Jay Mohr like we were roommates. He did a joke of mine. Chappelle did a joke. I was useful in a way to them. Me and Chapelle, we're like same age. We got along really well. So I didn't necessarily see it as networking per se. I guess it was networking, but I didn't think of it that way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:20] Sure. I think most people who are good at networking and relationship development don't think of it as networking because the people that think of it as networking are —
Neal Brennan: [00:08:27] It's too obvious.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:28] They're like, "Hey buddy."
Neal Brennan: [00:08:30] "Hey, can I give you a card?" And it's like, "No."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:32] "Let me know when you need a financial manager."
Neal Brennan: [00:08:34] Yeah. I have people often saying like, "Hey, I'm an amateur comedian. Can I send you a link for my standup," and sent me a link. "Can you watch my five-minutes — ?" And I was like, "No, thank you." People see me or somebody's doing better than them in showbiz or doing well as an opportunity. And it's like, once you feel like an opportunity, you're going to shut off.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:55] That's an interesting point that I hadn't really thought of. People send me their stuff all the time. Like, "Hey, can you read my book?" And I'm like, "One, no. And two, even if I did, I don't know what useful input I'm going to have. Because I do my thing totally different than you should do yours."
Neal Brennan: [00:09:09] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:09] Or even like, "Listen to an episode of my podcast. It's only half an hour long." Or even if it's only like 10 minutes long. My feedback would be like, "Yeah, talk closer to the mic," or I don't know.
Neal Brennan: [00:09:18] If you're good. It'll get to me. If you're good at something, somebody will tell me. Like, "Did you see this thing or whatever?" You don't want to jump the gun. People send me scripts, whatever. I have scripts that are written by professionals that they want me to do that I don't read.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:35] Right.
Neal Brennan: [00:09:36] That I just don't have time or interest. So if someone says, "I'm an amateur, read this." It's like, "Dude, this is your one opportunity. Do you want to waste it on this? Like, are you sure you're not going to get any better? Because guess what, if I don't like this, I'm not reading anything else you ever sent me."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:53] "For your entire life."
Neal Brennan: [00:09:54] "For the rest of your life until you die." No, but you know what I mean?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:57] Yeah, I do know what you mean.
Neal Brennan: [00:09:58] Like you need to be smart about people that make online videos. It's like, hey, you don't have to put them all on YouTube. Make five of them, show them to your friends, and the best one put on YouTube.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:09] Oh, good point.
Neal Brennan: [00:10:10] Whereas everyone's like, "Ah, go to my page and dah, dah, dah." It's like, "Dude, if I watch one and it stinks, I'm not going to keep watching."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:16] It's over, yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:10:16] I'm saying that as a guy that people want to see as an opportunity, but that's also the audience's take. Like, you were mad at the one-liners. There's three one-liners.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:24] I wasn't even mad. I just thought if the remote were closer, I would be like, I'm going to lower the volume, but not turn it off. Actually, if my friend hadn't recommended it, I probably would never have turned it on. I didn't know who you were. And so I do watch some comedy, but I have to watch it live. I don't care about Netflix, unless it's like — I'll go and look at Roy Wood Jr. because he's a friend of mine. I'm like, "Hey, you got a new thing. I'm going to support you and I'll watch it." And even if it's not funny, I'll probably still tell you I watched it and I really enjoyed it which was funny.
Neal Brennan: [00:10:50] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:50] Gabriel, my buddy goes, "Look, it's really funny and there's stuff in there that you'll like." And I was like, "I assume he's not talking about the first three lines of your thing of your special." So I gave it more of a chance, but I think about my show in the same way. My show is, obviously, not that funny and totally different. I put stuff in there and if I record something and it just doesn't go that well, I go, "I can't put that in my feed." And my tip for new podcasters is if you don't think, "Damn, that was good," don't put it in your feed because even if you're on episode 400, there's people who are going to go, "I'll just check out that show you recommended." And that's the first encounter that they have with you. And they're like, "That Jordan guy just tried to be funny for 40 minutes. What a dipsh*t? I can't believe people like this. Who is this person?" And you see that in your iTunes reviews. When you put up something and you're not that proud of it. And like a week later, it's like, "This show sucks. Why is everyone recommending it?" And you're like, "You heard the episode I did with that one guy, didn't you?"
Neal Brennan: [00:11:41] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:42] And it's not worth it. It's not worth doing that to people that you think might become connections later. Even if you're not even thinking about that at the time, it might do well to realize that in business or in any craft that you do, you're always communicating, you're always creating a relationship or you're warning people not to do that.
Neal Brennan: [00:11:57] There's also — the thing that people don't realize is like, there's nothing in it for me, meaning helping you — I always tell people like, "I didn't move to LA to do your sh*t." Do you know what I mean?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:07] Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Good point. I didn't think about that.
Neal Brennan: [00:12:11] I moved out here to do my sh*t. I didn't move out here to like — and then hopefully somebody will just call me. I moved out here cause I have my own goals and my own ideas that I want to get done. Most people will help you if they think — if it's mutual, there's a mutual benefit to it that worked out for me. It's like, Jay took a joke from my notebook. I pitched a joke to Dave. So then, when these guys started getting TV opportunities, they were like, "Well, who can help me?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:38] Who writes things that I like?
Neal Brennan: [00:12:40] Yeah, I've made a lot of money off of helping people for no reason other than the love of the game. Like other than like my just — Dave had an idea and I was like, "Hey, do this." And then that snowballs into Half Baked, snowballs into Chappelle’s Show, snowballs into everything I've ever done. Like Schumer, Schumer before Schumer had a show, she was doing the roast and she asked — we were friends. She was like, "Can you help me with the roast thing?" I don't even think she used anything I pitched. And then she gets a show. She asked me to direct it. Then she does a Bud Light campaign with Seth Rogen. And I don't even like those Bud Light, but whatever — so, but it's on the Super Bowl and it's a big spectacular thing. So it's like — and I got work with Seth and Evan and I liked those guys. No one is going to help you in a way that's not beneficial to them in some way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:31] We call it not keeping score and we call it giving generously for the obvious reason that you're giving generously and you're also not expecting anything necessarily in return. You're giving generously, like, "Look, I got this thing that maybe you can use. You're not thinking like, "If he uses that I am — money," right?
Neal Brennan: [00:13:48] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:49] You're thinking like, "If he uses that, that's cool." And then eventually you're not thinking like, "I gave Jay a joke. So where's my comeback. "
Neal Brennan: [00:13:56] This was like in the '90s. So I knew that Larry David had sort of knew Jerry Seinfeld from the comedy clubs. And then Jerry Seinfeld was like, "Hey, I've got this sitcom. Do you want to work on it with me?" So I knew that that was a thing that happened. And I wanted to work with Dave. Like I always felt like we could do good stuff together, but —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:13] Dave Chappelle?
Neal Brennan: [00:14:14] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:14] Okay.
Neal Brennan: [00:14:15] But there was a — not even altruism and this was like if I think of a joke, I cannot tell someone. If I think of a tag for someone to act like I haven't done it this week, but there's very few weeks go by that I don't text someone like, "Hey, when you say that, maybe try saying this," like, you know, I do it with Chris Rock. I do it with everybody.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:34] Does anybody ever get annoyed? Like, "Thanks for your suggestion guy who works at the door, but I got, I got my sh*t together."
Neal Brennan: [00:14:39] Oh yeah, yeah, there was a ton of that. Like Chappelle didn't like it the first time I pitched him but the joke that I've pitched him worked.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:45] Oh, so he did try it, like, "Oh, why not, okay, I'll try it."
Neal Brennan: [00:14:47] Like he knew when I pitched it, that it would work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:50] Right, but he's annoyed that you thought of it?
Neal Brennan: [00:14:51] Look, I'm not saying like, look, there's going to be resistance. Like there's plenty of people who don't, who I'll pitch a joke and then they won't use it. And I'm, "F*cking idiot. Like, dude, I'm telling you that'll work." But again, people didn't move out here to do my sh*t.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:06] Yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:15:07] Which I get. So I don't begrudge them. I just stopped pitching.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:10] You're to cut off. No more jokes for you.
Neal Brennan: [00:15:12] I just go like, "Okay, they're never going to take my stuff," so why —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:16] Why waste your time?
Neal Brennan: [00:15:16] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:17] Yeah. And the brainpower — so are you thinking of jokes for specific people in their act? Or you're like, "I have this generally good thing."
Neal Brennan: [00:15:23] Oh, no, no, no. I have a generally good thing. I'll do it myself, but if I'm watching someone's act, there's like a whole or they say something and they could say more, I will text them, like, "Hey, you might want to say this."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:35] it's a unique skill set. I don't know how many people do that for other people or are even able to do it for other people. Have you seen that a lot? Is that common?
Neal Brennan: [00:15:43] I mean that's kind of what being a comedy writer is.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:45] Just writing stuff for other people all the time.
Neal Brennan: [00:15:47] Well no, not unsolicited, but when you write on a TV show, your job is to work a scene and then, everybody punches it up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:55] Sure. I can see that. It feels like if I'm working on your show with you and Dave Chappelle, I'm studying all your stuff and your voice, and I'm watching it over and over, and you're kind of doing that, but it's automatically happening in your head.
Neal Brennan: [00:16:08] I don't try to immerse myself. It's like I can write for Chris Rock because I'm a fan of his. I know his subjects. I know what he likes to talk about. I know how he likes to talk about it. So it's not like, "Think like Chris. What would Chris say?" It is automatic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:26] So it would be theoretically really hard for you. If you're like, "Hey, look, we're hiring Neal Brennan to write for you, Jordan." And you're like, "This guy? I don't know this guy. I don't know what he does. I want to get out of here ASAP. I don't want to — I don't know how to write for this guy." And it's like, "You're getting a million dollars a week," and you're like, "Oh God," it's going to be a lot harder, right?
Neal Brennan: [00:16:42] If the person doesn't have a voice, it's hard. But if the person doesn't have a clear comedy voice, then it's harder, but it's not impossible.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:49] It's not as easy — it doesn't flow —
Neal Brennan: [00:16:52] Well, yeah, it's like, it doesn't suggest — it's like when somebody hosts SNL, who's like an actress or something and they're all like — all the writers are like, "Jesus Christ, what?" It's easy when it's Melissa McCarthy or Larry David or people that have a clear comedy voice. But if it's like, some chick who just did an action movie and is hot. It's like, "Jesus Christ." So then you're just making — you're just doing jokes because they're hot, but it's not because they have a clear comedic force.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:22] You grew up kind of a rough childhood and your dad was a little bit hard on you from the sound of it or a lot hard on you from the sound of it. How does that kind of thing alter the way that you develop emotionally? And I don't mean like from a therapist's perspective here, but in terms of expression of feelings and stuff like that, which you kind of have to do a lot of in comedy, maybe. How does it alter that? How does it get in there and mix up?
Neal Brennan: [00:17:44] I mean, I don't know any too many comedians that are like extremely happy as people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:49] Yeah. And I kind of noticed that, and I don't know why that is.
Neal Brennan: [00:17:53] Because part of it is like comedy requires brutal clarity and you are not especially happy. You see the world in an unsentimental way and you can see things clearly. And so you take like a brutal, honest truth, and then you basically spiff it up and put a tuxedo and a funny hat on it and you've got comedy. To begin with, you start from something brutal, and then you sort of charm it up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:22] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neal Brennan. We'll be right back.
[00:18:27] This episode is sponsored in part by Mercari. Everybody's got a lot of stuff lying around the house. Clothes, we never wear or clothes that our baby never wears. We had a lot of baby clothes. Did we, Jen? We move some of those baby onesies.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:27] This episode is also sponsored by ButcherBox. There are hidden costs with the low-quality meat, off-flavor, bad for the environment — you know, who knows what you're really getting. High-quality, humanely, raised meat is important. It's better for you. It's better for the animals, better for the environment and not everyone has access or convenient access to high-quality meat. It can be really tough to find a hundred percent grass-fed and finished beef, free-range organic chicken, heritage breed pork, or wild-caught salmon at the grocery store. In fact, we wanted some wild-caught salmon and there was like one pack left and it was kind of like a little bit sketchy on whether it was wild or not. And I had to read between the lines and kind of figure out that it wasn't and probably had pink food coloring in it. It can be really expensive. It can be really hard to find obviously. Every month ButcherBox ships a curated selection of high-quality meat right to my home. So all meat is free of antibiotics. All is free of added hormones. Each box has nine to 11 pounds of meat, which is enough for 24 individual meals. It's packed fresh, shipped frozen, vacuum-sealed so it stays that way. I can either customize the box or Jen can customize the box or you just go with one of their default boxes. Either way, we get exactly what we want and free shipping nationwide, except Alaska and Hawaii apparently. They want you to be a vegetarian if you live there.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:53] And now back to Neal Brennan on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:20:58] People, right now, they're yelling at their iPhone or whatever they're using to play this. And they're like, "The jokes make up for the sadness." And it's like, that's kind of the easy obvious — there's more to it than that. Like you just mentioned, you have that brutal sense of clarity and they even say they being like scientific American minds for example, like depressed people who have a more accurate outlook on reality.
Neal Brennan: [00:21:20] Yeah, and that it's good to have depressed people in a workgroup. I've actually said that at times. I've gone like, "Hey, can we look at this pessimistically?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:27] Really.
Neal Brennan: [00:21:28] Yeah. Because I think you're more prone to make mistakes. If you assume things are going to go well. It's like Jerry Seinfeld has said about standup, "Bad audiences make you edit and good audiences make you expand." So it's like, let's assume this isn't going to work. Why? What are the potential pitfalls for whatever this idea is? And then can we mediate that before we even start? Like when I'm writing comedy, I can't assume like, "They're getting on board for this, then I'm going to say this," like I have to assume that the audience is going to drive a hard bargain.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:01] Right. You have to assume that they're like me and they're looking at those notecards and they're like —
Neal Brennan: [00:22:04] Like, "What the f*ck?" Yeah, exactly. So, which is why I only do a few one-liners upfront, but I know — like a friend of mine did a special and he put a great joke and I said, "Is that your closer?" And he's like, "No, I put it third." And I was like, "Why?" And he's like, "Because people will turn it off." And I think that's a good way to look at things. Because I've actually imparted that wisdom to other people and they go, "No, they won't turn me off." Really? So you're the reception to human nature. I think there's something to pessimism. It can f*ck your life up, but I think it's a decent thing to be mindful of.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:38] If we're trying to apply this at home for example, outside of comedy writing — how does that exercise, if you will, work? Is it just like, "Let's assume that the first thing we do just bombs and the second thing we do also doesn't work." Is that kind of — ?
Neal Brennan: [00:22:50] Yeah, I do that in everything because I direct stuff sometimes. Like, I said, I direct commercials and I direct TV shows and stuff, and directing is all about having an offensive plan and a defensive plan. So I'll have a shot that I want and then it'll be where I want her and it will be no edits and dah, dah, dah. And I was like, "Well, but also I need to get shots in case that doesn't work." I need to get like sort of static defensive coverage in case this big idea is work. And with standup comedy writing or whatever, it's just looking at things critically and like, what if it doesn't work? You need to have a backup plan. Whenever people are like, "Aha, there is no plan B." I'm like, "Oh, you're an idiot."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:34] Yeah, you're screwed.
Neal Brennan: [00:23:35] "This has to work." "Okay, well, then you're f*cking yourself." You have to have a defensive plan. It's like in standup, people always said like, it was fun to watch Johnny Carson bomb. Johnny Carson, the old host of The Tonight Show. When he bombed, it was as funny as when he killed, because his bomb — he would fidget and look off to the side. And it was funny to watch. Dave Chappelle has said like, "You can tell how funny someone is by how they bomb." So it's like, do you choke or do you realize like, "Well, this isn't going well," and then you're funny and you're honest. And your backup plan is your sort of savior.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:10] It's a really good point. I hadn't thought about that before. Once I was at The Laugh Factory, The Comedy Store, I can't remember. I was with my parents, sitting at a table. They were seated kind of away from me because they wanted to see and not crane their necks. And the guy who was one of those open mic, kind of short set deals.
Neal Brennan: [00:24:25] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:26] First guy, doing crowd work. The whole audience was like, "Oh, why are you sitting with these two old people?" "Oh, they're my parents." And then he kind of played with us for a little bit. The next guy comes up and does this like really raunchy, masturbation joke. And he points at me and he's like this guy and he just goes to town. The whole audience is kind of quiet because they know I'm with my parents and he goes, "What the hell happened here? That usually just crushes it." And then he goes, "Wait, sh*t, are those your parents? Oh my God, I'm sorry." And he made a big deal out of that. It was — and everybody — the tension had built up so high at that point that the whole room just exploded in laughter. And I thought, he could have blown that really easily by being like, "Oh, uh," and then just moved onto the next thing.
Neal Brennan: [00:25:09] When I pitch movies or pitch TV shows or whatever, and it's not going well, I will literally say that like, "Well, this isn't going good." And I think if you say it in a confident way, it makes, even though you're still going to bomb, you're bombing less."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:25] Yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:25:25] If you just say like, "Oh, this isn't going well." If you're doing it sweaty way, if you're doing it in a needy way, it can backfire. But there've been times where I've been pitching movies and I've said to the person that I was pitching to, that we were bombing with, I was like, "All right, well, we're going to come back in a year and pitch another one." I think if you're pitching or meeting people or whatever, or trying to sell yourself in some way, I think if you say like, "Look, I can see you don't like it. I understand. I'll come back." Like if you're, instead of just this sweaty thing, like not acknowledging what's happening, I think that can make it way worse.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:00] It's like a bad Shark Tank. Do you ever watch that show?
Neal Brennan: [00:26:01] Yeah, 100 percent.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:01] Where they're just getting killed and you're like, you just, you suck through your teeth because you're like, "This guy — "
Neal Brennan: [00:26:06] Yeah, and you want the person to be like, "All right, this isn't working. I'm rescinding my offer."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:11] Or just like, "I'm just going to show you the product because I'm blowing it right now."
Neal Brennan: [00:26:14] Or I'm not even going to show you the product. This is going so badly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:17] You're just going to walk back out there.
Neal Brennan: [00:26:18] I would love that. If someone on Shark Tank was like, "You know what? F*ck you guys, this is over."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:23] I don’t know if that would make air, but it would be an awesome episode of Shark Tank for sure.
Neal Brennan: [00:26:26] It'd be hilarious.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:27] You wrote Half Baked that movie — speaking of pitching movies. I don't remember why that movie didn't do well because when I watched it —
Neal Brennan: [00:26:35] Because it opened against Titanic, Goldeneye, and Goodwill Hunting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:39] That will do it. That'll do it. But I watched that movie, I don't know, 50 times, and I haven't watched the other ones 50 times combined because — I don't even know. I wasn't like a pot smoker or anything like that when I was in high school or college and whenever that came out, it just turned into this weird — is cult classic the right term? Like it was this underground college, like probably did a million times better on DVD than it did in theaters.
Neal Brennan: [00:27:03] Almost to the number a million times better.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:05] When you're doing Chappelle’s Show, did you decide, "Look, I want to be performing instead of only writing". I mean, how did the transition go?
Neal Brennan: [00:27:11] No, I never — that's the thing like I was never watching Dave being like, "I should be Rick James." He's an amazing performance. I was never jealous or envious of the attention he got. I was happy with the amount of attention I was getting. When the show ended, it was like, "Oh, well, I'm at the whims of somebody else here." I need to be more self-determining and do something where — and I'd been doing standup a bit. So I was like, let me focus more on that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:34] When you're writing a show like that, that's doing so freaking well — you mentioned, "Well, we got to look at things pessimistically and figure out if they maybe aren't going to work." Is there ever a moment when you're writing something like that and you go, "It's definitely going to work. This is Chappelle’s Show we're killing it"? Or did you always kind of go, "Well, you know."
Neal Brennan: [00:27:51] Yeah, there was never — I mean, I was thinking pessimists. You have to think pessimistically. The reason things worked is because, further upstream, I and Dave were worried about whether it was going to work or not. And we corrected it or we made it good because we needed a joke. Like we would go, "We need a joke here. We can't move on until we have a joke here." Like Chappelle hosted SNL a couple of months ago and I worked on it with him and it was like — there was a sketch we did and I was like, "We don't have an ending." And he was getting mad at me. I'm like, "Dude, you can get mad at me all you want. We don't have an ending." Then we figured it out. But it came from me saying we don't have an ending and him going, "I think we do." And me going, "No, I don't think we do." You know, as much as I was a pain in his ass, I was correct. And that happened and there were plenty of times where he — vice versa, like where he'd say, "I don't think we have a joke here. I don't think we have an ending." And I'd be like, "Nah." If someone criticizes something, even if you don't agree with them, I think it's worth maybe coming up with a solution.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:52] That's a really good point. I hadn't thought of that.
Neal Brennan: [00:28:55] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:55] Because even if they're wrong, worst case is, you worked out this non-existent problem.
Neal Brennan: [00:28:59] Yeah, it's like when people, like, "I like to show." It's like, "Okay, I don't." How long did it take you to think of the joke? A split second, take another two minutes and try to beat it. It becomes this ego thing and it becomes this defensiveness thing. Like, "Well, no, that works and dah, dah, dah, and I like it." I bet you do like it. You thought of it. I bet you like it. Me and a buddy of mine who used to be the head writer of Saturday Night Live would say that people go like, "We like that." And he's like, "Oh, I know you do. The audience didn't and we work for the audience. So you need to come up with a better joke here," or whatever. So like you said, if you try to come with a solution and if you can't, then you've done your due diligence and you can sell, do whatever you're doing with a clear head, but the good news is you may think of a way better joke.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:47] Yeah. I suppose.
Neal Brennan: [00:29:47] Or way better anything. Like a lot of what experiences — in my case, it's comedy — it's like seeing patterns and remembering like, "Oh, this reminds me of that. And that didn't go well. So how can I work against that?" That's what wisdom is. That's what experience is. It's like we may be making that mistake. How do we avoid making that mistake?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:10] How clear is that image of like the pattern in your head? For example, are you just going, "I feel like this doesn't work," or you like, "No, last time we tried this and this and this and that followed this pattern and it didn't work"? You know how crystal in this —
Neal Brennan: [00:30:22] It's pretty — it's very clear.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:24] Really?
Neal Brennan: [00:30:24] Like that's what experience is. I'm working on Saturday Night Live a bit this year. I hung out with Lorne Michaels a bunch, and he's been a comedy writer for like 50 years and wrote four shows that you've never heard of.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:36] Sure.
Neal Brennan: [00:30:36] Literally 50 years ago. And he'll talk about a sketch — at Saturday Night Live, they read if these sketches a week.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:42] Jeez.
Neal Brennan: [00:30:43] So, okay. So that's 50 sketches a week, 25 times a year, for 43 years. So he'll talk about sketches and go, "Yeah. I've seen that sketch 10 times. I've written myself twice," and he's not talking about that literal sketch —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:58] Right, it's the same patterns.
Neal Brennan: [00:30:58] He's talking about that pattern of sketch, that format, that formula, whatever you want to call it. So a lot of it is just seeing a pattern, and going — when we were at Saturday Night Live the week, Dave hosted, there was a sketch that somebody pitched and it was a funny pitch, but I knew where it was headed. And I was — I said to Dave, I was like, "That's a good idea. But something tells me it's going to be flat when we read it." And sure enough, it was flat when we read it because I knew what the idea was.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:27] How do you test stuff like that? Do you have a focused audience in there? Are you just like — in the back of your head, you're like, "This is still not funny, because we're rehearsing it and it sucks"?
Neal Brennan: [00:31:35] You just can tell, like by being a comedian and being a funny person, he just, like, "This isn't funny."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:40] It seems like it would be really easy to start writing comedy for comedians instead of writing comedy for an audience of people who just got —
Neal Brennan: [00:31:48] It's the same thing. I mean, comedians might not laugh, but they'll go, "That's a good joke." Like that's the thing is you get to the place where you're like, "Yeah, it's a good joke." We all recognize a good joke when we see it. Having said that, I have a ton of experience, a ton of boots on the ground, et cetera, I still bomb regularly or do a joke that bombs regularly. Like I do a new material show, usually every Tuesday in Santa Monica and the Westside Comedy Theater in LA. And I do jokes every week that don't work. There are things like, I think this might work. That's the thing about comedy is this should work, but it's a fickle thing and it's really subtle. And it's the highest level of difficulty. And if you can do standup or you can pretty much do anything. If you look at like the things that comedians do that actors can't f*cking do. How many actors do you know that can write their own show? Because I know 20 comedians that can.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:41] Yeah, they kind of have to.
Neal Brennan: [00:32:42] Yeah, their own show, not their act, I'm not talking about the act.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:46] No, no, yeah, like a sitcom,
Neal Brennan: [00:32:46] How many actors do you know that can write their own monologues? And then write their own television show and do 25 episodes a year for eight years. Because like I said, I know a lot of comedians and movies and then direct movies and then — you know, it's like comedians can do a lot of stuff.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:02] It's incredible, actually. And it seems like the kind of thing that you would not get good at for a really long time when you start.
Neal Brennan: [00:33:08] Yeah. It's like incredibly trying. There are people that are good immediately. I think Chappelle was good immediately when he was like 14 when he started.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:16] Jeez.
Neal Brennan: [00:33:16] I've heard Schumer was good immediately. I've heard like there are people that are good immediately. But yeah, it takes a long time to get good at. And that's the thing, is that there's really no shortcut. You can be good looking and whatever, but if you don't have good jokes — ultimately the thing about standup is, in comedy in general, whoever writes the most good jokes is the most successful, period.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:35] Meritocracy.
Neal Brennan: [00:33:36] Complete meritocracy. You know, who's written the most good jokes. Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld. Like these are not —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:45] Like, who? Wait, what? Who's that?
Neal Brennan: [00:33:47] This is the hall that you get to. It's like, whoever has the most home runs is Babe Ruth. When you hit 750 home runs, you get to be Babe Ruth. And standup is the same way. It's like whoever writes the most good jokes is the winner.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:01] We talked earlier about trying to achieve things or trying to get good at something in order to make yourself feel better. Because you struggled with depression for a while. I mean do you still?
Neal Brennan: [00:34:08] Still do, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:09] You still do. There's a lot of people that are obviously in the same boat, a lot of people write in as well looking to apply what they learn on the show to issues like depression and other types of sadness and things like that. And what advice do you have for people who are thinking, "Holy crap, this is me. I'm trying to achieve stuff or get ahead or do something great in order to overcome depression. I overachieve in order to make up for something I'm lacking elsewhere in my life." I mean, that's something you've dealt with a lot.
Neal Brennan: [00:34:35] That's what it is. That's what achievement is. I mean, I think all achievement comes from feeling of deficiency. I think there are some exceptional people who are like, "My father and mother told me I was great and it turns out I'm great."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:50] Yeah, they were right.
Neal Brennan: [00:34:51] Yeah. Again, there are rare instances, but most of it comes from a feeling of deficiency. And this has just happened for me recently where I finally feel like I've achieved enough sh*t in my life that the voices in my head have lost credibility. Like the negative voices. It's like, "You couldn't do it without Dave. You dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. You didn't know that." And then, I've done enough stuff in my life where it's like, "Okay, I've written for so many TV shows and done it well." I have standup specials that are well received. I've done enough sh*t at this point. It's like, "All right, voice in my head like you're just wrong, you're wrong." But it took 25 years and it may go away too. That's the other thing. It's like this could be a result of — a part of me thinks it's like these things that I've finally achieved and finally, like 3 Mics being really well received, and me finally going like, "Hey, give yourself a break kid." Or it could just be because I started taking Zoloft again five months ago. I don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:43] That's interesting because it almost to me — as an outsider, it sounds like that's just the voice in your head telling you don't get too comfortable because we might pull the rug out from under you."
Neal Brennan: [00:35:51] Yeah, there is that, but like it's also — all right, there's too much evidence at this point. There's too much evidence that I'm good at my job.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:59] Oh, yeah, no, I'm not arguing against that.
Neal Brennan: [00:36:01] Yeah. I know you're not.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:02] I just meant the voice in your head telling you not to get too cozy because you know, you're worried about that, it could go away.
Neal Brennan: [00:36:08] The other thing I found though is that there's no real happiness in it. I read a Prince quote recently that I've been telling a lot of people which is — somebody was telling him, like "Write more songs. Write — why don't you write another hit?" And Prince looked at them and said, "Look, I've been to the mountaintop. There's nothing there." Like I've achieved a lot of sh*ts. Any happiness I have or a good portion of happiness I have is from meditation and from my own outlook on what life should be. Because I've done a bunch of stuff and it's like, “Nah." It's pretty cool to like, do a Netflix special that people like. And it's pretty cool to do a TV show." Again, you hear this all the time, which is happiness is a choice and I've become more aware of that in the last six months and ever in my life. It really is just a matter of like, I can look for external validation, but ultimately it's just got to come down to like, "Do I want to be happy or not?" There are things I can do to make myself happy in a way that's not outcome-based. There's a term, unconditional happiness. I'm not going to be happy if — I'm just going to be happy. That's what I focused more on in the last few months.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:11] And that's been working out really well so far?
Neal Brennan: [00:37:13] Yeah, it has. I'm sure your listeners will be like, "You don't sound happy." It's just cause I'm fighting a cold and I don't know how to parse out what's the approval I've been getting and what's the medication and what's the new outlook, but I meditate every day and I do CBT, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is like a — there's a list of 10 negative thought styles, which just Google it. It's really excellent. And I've been more aware of those thinking styles and trying to play defense against it in myself. Like I said, I have a good resume. It wasn't necessarily making me happy until I realized like, "This resume sh*t doesn't make a difference." I went on vacation with my girlfriend — I'm single now, but we went on vacation to like Bali and we were doing nothing and she's like, "You're so happy." And I was like, "I love not doing like sh*t. Like this makes me happy." And figuring out that like, "All right, go do that. Do more of nothing." Like I didn't do sh*t yesterday. It was f*cking great. I didn't do f*cking jacksh*t and it was fantastic. I'm lucky and that I don't have to work all the time. But there's something to like, what makes you happy? I like playing video games. F*ck it, play a video game. Like, do the thing that makes you happy. There's such a premium put on achievement. I'm just saying as someone who's done a lot of this stuff and is successful, the next chapter is what makes me truly happy and what kind of life am I going to lead from the inside out, not from the outside in.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:43] This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Neal Brennan. We'll be right back.
[00:38:48] This episode is sponsored in part by Grammarly. So here's a tool that I thought I would never use, never need, never want. It is grammar and typing and you know what they say about good grammar. It's the difference between helping her uncle Jack off a horse and the other version of that sentence with or without a comma in a different place but Grammarly — Jen, you even said, I'm shocked that you use it so much because even I'm surprised that I use it so much. I love it.
Jen Harbinger: [00:39:14] Yeah, Jordan, you're like a walking Grammarly. So you're always correcting me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:19] In a non-annoying way, of course.
Jen Harbinger: [00:39:22] So I was really surprised when you're so stoked about Grammarly. Every day, you're like, "Oh, look at this. This is hyphenated. Did you know that?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:29] Yeah, you can stop there. I feel like a big enough nerd already. Grammarly Premium does help you learn new words, new grammatical structures. And let's not forget. We all kind of judge people when we see bad grammar in an email, or when we see even good grammar that we think is bad grammar and they'll fix that too over at Grammarly. Tell them where they can get a little deal on Grammarly.
Jen Harbinger: [00:39:47] Get 20 percent off Grammarly Premium when you sign up at grammarly.com/jordan. That's 20 percent off Grammarly Premium at grammarly.com/jordan. G-R-A-M-M-A-R-L-Y.com/jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:05] This episode is also sponsored by NetSuite. America is ready to get back to work, but to win in the new economy you need every advantage to succeed. And smart companies run on NetSuite by Oracle. This is the world's number one cloud business system. Essentially, that's a fancy name for a really, really nice dashboard. With NetSuite, you have visibility and control over financials, HR, inventory, e-commerce, and more everything you need all in one place. It works on your phones. So you can make important decisions from your Uber or from your roof deck while you're sunbathing, whatever the hell people are doing at home, pretending to work. Whether you're doing a million or hundreds of millions in sales, you can manage every penny with precision. 20,000-plus companies trust NetSuite to make it happen. And they've got a new playbook of top strategies that America is using to reopen for business. Jen.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:10] After the show has got a preview trailer of our interview with the one and only Dr. Drew Pinsky of Loveline fame. I always love that guy. Stay tuned for that after the close of the show.
[00:42:19] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. You know, you've got to support those advertisers to keep us going. To learn more and get links to all the discounts you just heard, so you can check out the deals for yourself all in one place, those are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. We also have worksheets for today's episode and every episode, the link to those is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Now, for the conclusion of our episode here with Neal Brennan.
[00:42:44] You tried a ton of stuff to get rid of the depression — I mean, ketamine and then TMS, which is like brain magnetic stimulation. I mean, just like stuff that goes beyond the Zoloft or like the —
Neal Brennan: [00:42:56] Yeah, I try f*cking anything. Like I've tried everything including achievement, like as a thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:03] Which is harder than ketamine.
Neal Brennan: [00:43:05] Yeah. I've tried everything and just has to come to a point where you go, "All right. It's not outside of me. It's just not outside of me. It's not about like making contacts and following up and sending out — " It's like, yeah, that's fine. It's not that meaningful. I can work on Saturday Night Live or I can work on Chappelle's Show or I can do a Netflix special. If I don't like it, If I'm not happy doing it, fuck it. What's the point? So I can say I did it. I have enough sh*t that I can say I did.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:32] It's such a tempting trap for people though, man.
Neal Brennan: [00:43:35] It's not even attempting trap. It's our whole society. It's not even a trap. I mean, it is a trap, but the whole thing is a trap. It's all a trap.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:44] Yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:43:44] Like, and I'm not trying to get to like, you know, Matrixy, but it is like —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:48] Philosophical.
Neal Brennan: [00:43:49] Yeah. It's like, it truly is all a trap. It's like people have ambition and don't even know why they have it. It's like, where is it coming from? What's the point?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:58] It's like approval-seeking behavior at that point.
Neal Brennan: [00:44:01] Yeah, and it's just a habit. It's a habit. That's like, do you like it? Do you really like it? Do you feel fulfilled by it? If you do great chances are your full sh*t or it doesn't actually fulfill you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:13] Yeah. I think a lot of the stuff that we used to do — that I used to do personally, especially in this business early on, was just like, "It's got to be big and we have to have like a good social media following and all this stuff, and people have to really understand our mission." And then when I kind of decided that that was less important than just having conversations with people that I found interesting. The show freaking took off from there. It just took off.
Neal Brennan: [00:44:33] Yeah, because it was like, "What do I actually like? I like interesting sh*t." That's part of what was good about 3 Mics. It's like, "Well, who am I actually?" Because there's a lot of comedians that are on stage and then that's not you, that's not who you are. The thing about 3 Mics is like, this is who I actually am. I don't have all the charisma and charm that a lot of my peers have. And 3 Mics was in some way explaining why I don't. Do you know what I mean and going like —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:00] Yeah I do.
Neal Brennan: [00:45:01] Because I f*cking clinical depression and I had a weird childhood. I've been doing all this stuff, here's my story. There are people now that they know the story will like me forever. It's not because when I walk into a room, people want to say yes before they know what the question is. And it's not because of that. It's because I'm honest and I'm relatable as a result.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:22] You kind of nailed the whole concept behind the show, which is like authenticity in the face of just whatever sort of is going on up here.
Neal Brennan: [00:45:30] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:31] Because that I feel like, and I know, is much more interesting and attractive and relatable to other people. You can't have friends if they don't know the real person inside, but a lot of people are afraid to show that because they're busy covering it up with a mask of like, "Look how freaking cool I am and accomplished I am." That's the antithesis of what we're doing here. We're trying to show people that like, "Look all the crap that you think makes you not as palatable as you would like, is the stuff that makes you real. And therefore is the stuff that you should actually showcase."
Neal Brennan: [00:46:02] Right, in my case, it was like — I took an acting class probably seven years ago and I would do scenes and the acting teacher was like, "You're not being real." And I was like, "Dude, I'm such a sad person. You don't want to see it." And then he was like, "No, you have to do it." And I did it and it was like, "Oh," and that was the first time people were like, "Dude, you're really good." And I was like, "Oh, okay." It's like Republicans do it a lot politically where they'll go, like — they'll say, "What's our weakness?" and we'll make it a strength.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:30] Oh, right. It's like a job interview. My weaknesses. I'm just too detail oriented.
Neal Brennan: [00:46:35] I think it's more like, "Was John Kerry a war hero or was he a coward?" Do you know what I mean? Like you think he's so great. It's actually you got it a hundred percent wrong. It's like, "Is Neal too sad?" Let me show you like way more of — 3 Mics is like a stylistically — I do it in an artful way. I'm not just like, "Hmm." You know, like I try to explain in a way — I explain it in a way, that's like, you can understand it and it's helpful to people, but I'm not saying like, "You just got to be honest all the time." I just think that there are things that people keep secret that are unnecessary. I think what I found is everyone's got a thing. And whereas I just went first. And then everyone comes in and it's like, "I'm depressed. I have a bad thing with my dad." So everyone's got a thing. And it's like when people apologize on dates where they're like, "I'm sorry, I'm being so serious." I'm like, "I don't — this is all I want to talk about."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:26] Yeah. Yeah. I don't need to hear about all the great things that are going on in your Instagram feed.
Neal Brennan: [00:47:30] Yeah. I don't care what movie — I don't care. You can quote Anchorman. Like I don't give a sh*t, but I think that it is about like, what do you actually find enjoyable? And then doing that and being yourself unapologetically.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:41] You said that you did a lot of honest writing when you were in a 12-step program. Can you talk about that a little bit? Is that something we can apply at all? Neal Brennan: [00:47:48] I think it's just that thing I said about brutal clarity. It's the depression thing. In some ways, the 3 Mics is the Eminem thing at the end of 8 Mile, which is like, "I am white. I am a f*cking bum. What are you going to say about me?" Like literally what's the meanest thing you can say about me. I'm a star f*cker. Okay. Guess what I'm doing a monologue about. I'm a star f*cker. Here's why. It makes sense now that you hear it, doesn't it? Like, because I have no self-esteem, I was f*cking chasing celebrities around. It's like, what's the worst thing people can say about you? The reason I said it in public is the thing that I — this is going to sound crazy, but I read it in mysteries book.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:28] Really?
Neal Brennan: [00:00:00] It's the thing — In mysteries book, it says, "If you're going out to pick up girls, give your buddy $300 and say, 'Give me $100 dollars back every girl I try to talk to.'" So this was — I would do that with standup. I would give somebody 300 bucks and say, "Every time I smile for more than five seconds, give me 80 bucks, whatever, give me my money back." First time I did it, I lost $220. But this was my way of saying like, "Okay, by calling myself a star f*cker in public, makes it way more embarrassing to do it for me. I can't do it anymore." Like I can't in good conscience having called myself this in public. It's like where people will post their exercise results online. It's a bit of that where it's like, I'm making myself accountable. So if people see me with a famous person, they're going to be a little disappointed. Like motherf*cker, I thought you weren't hiding anymore. And that's what I kind of am doing. Like, that's kind of what I was doing. And that's being brutally honest with yourself and figuring out a way to make yourself stop doing it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:33] How do you stay motivated to start again, and this might not be the right terminology so pardon me, but at the "bottom," I mean, you're doing open mic stuff. Or you were doing open mic stuff?
Neal Brennan: [00:49:43] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:43] You already sort of touched the brass ring with the Chappelle's Show. How do you stay motivated? Because I think a lot of people — when they heard I was interviewing you, they're like, "Oh yeah, he's bouncing back. Like, that must be tough." And I thought, yeah, maybe he doesn't look at it like that. Or maybe he does?
Neal Brennan: [00:49:57] Everything you do was starting at scratch. I mean, as a comedy writer, writing is so f*cking hard that like, it's all starting from scratch. So like from the maker of blank, it doesn't really get people on the seats. It does a little bit, but not really. Like, especially now, there's so much media saturation. I see it all as starting from the bottom. I think when you write a movie or direct a movie, it's hard for everyone. It's literally — even being movie stars, no one gets everything they want. There's always someone who's better than you. For a long time, it was Will Smith and then now he kind of seems to have lost something. So they go, "Kevin Hart. Kevin will do it," or whatever. And even when it was Will, there were movies that Denzel Washington would get that he couldn't get. Like, there was always somebody. In showbiz, you have to do it every day. That's how it's like sports. It's like they don't win a bronze place. They don't automatically give them 30 points.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:53] You had a good point.
Neal Brennan: [00:50:54] He has to score every game. People might play into your defense against him, but mostly it's because he's f*cking bigger and faster than them. I see it as bouncing, whatever you want to call it. But because of Chappelle's Show, people are not predisposed to like something else I do if they don't like it. Because your friend recommended it, you gave me more time, but like everyone's defensive about everything. You don't really get the benefit of the doubt for the most part.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:18] So you shouldn't play like you had it.
Neal Brennan: [00:51:20] The best example I can think of is I talked to Eddie Murphy one time about — when he was on Saturday Night Live. And I said, "Did you just feel like you were dominating and like, you were just killing and you had the Midas touch?" And he was like, "No, man, it was week to week. I was trying to survive." And you think about all the stuff he did, but he was like, "I was just trying to get sketches on." And that's life in showbiz, for sure. I think the way the world is now, I think everything is like, so market-based. No one's going to give you money for nothing, like for the most part, other than of course voiceover.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:54] Yeah. I was going to say yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:51:55] Which is the easiest money that you'll ever make.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:58] You do a bunch of that, huh?
Neal Brennan: [00:51:59] Yeah. I did a bunch [00:52:00] of stuff for Samsung, like two years ago, for like a year and a half. It was the best.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:03] I did Grand Theft Auto IV and III.
Neal Brennan: [00:52:07] What'd you do?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:08] Bad guys like Russians and you know, explosion, guys who were involved in the character's life. Of course, a lot of those little side gig guys where it's like a radio DJ or nerd, and then like a million pedestrians.
Neal Brennan: [00:52:21] Great.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:21] Because they just wanted to knock those guys out and you're already in there. "Can you do an Indian accent?" And I'm like, "Not really." And they're like, "Just try it. Just try one. It doesn't have to be real." So you just do this, like a really racist, Indian accent and they're like, "Nailed it, next." That is kind of free money. I remember getting like $445 for like an hour of work. I thought I was going to get like a t-shirt or something. And I was like, "Sign me up for every video game ever." And then I sucked it like all —
Neal Brennan: [00:52:47] Yeah. You're also not going to get free money for long. Like if you suck, then they wouldn't have got in again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:52] I did a couple of other ones but man, doing like aliens and stuff, it's so much harder than people think. Like you're thinking of an awesome character. They want that, but 10 percent in a different way. And you just can't do it. Like, unless you're an actor, you just can't do it. You had a great quote where you summarized a little bit of this. So you said, "I'm never going to be more successful than I've been in the past two years. I have a better chance of being eaten by a shark. I'll never be famous, but I've got financial success. People in show biz seem to want to work with me and I get to control the stuff I write. Fame gives you noise, which is freaking worthless. I've got a girlfriend I love, so I can't use it to get women and it's not like Dave and I got laid because of Chappelle's Show. He was married and I'm pale."
Neal Brennan: [00:53:29] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:30] What do you mean by fame gives you a lot of noise? I think that's a brilliant observation.
Neal Brennan: [00:53:33] What I've found with like the small amount of fame that I have in the last month or whatever. I've always said like, "I always say I'm famous like an NBA referee where people are like, 'Where do I know you from?'" It can get you laid for sure. But I think, for the most part, it's just like — if getting recognized is mostly an exercise in calming the person down — when someone recognizes you, they just start acting crazy like, "Dude, I just got to say, dude, I can't believe you're here." And you have to just be like, "Yeah, man. It's cool. Yes. I'll love to take a picture with you. Yeah. Okay, great. Here we go. Here. We're going to take a picture. Really nice to meet you." They're having a freak out. And you almost have to give them CPR.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:13] in the middle of the grove.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:14] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You just have to like, give them a little massage. Like it's going to be fine. Fame will get you —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:23] A lot of people are acting weird around.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:24] Yeah. Yeah. That's mostly what it gives you. And then you might pick up like a good, like voiceover gig. You can advertise, you can promote like liquor.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:31] Right. Yeah. Or you get like free Twizzlers at the movie theater.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:34] Yeah, not even, yeah. I mean —
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:36] Love the Netflix.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:37] Yeah. Sometimes you get free sh*t, but mostly it's like — it's valuable for men to attract women.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:42] Really shallow women that you just met.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:44] Or, you know, it just makes it easier even if they're not shallow.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:47] Yeah. Yeah. I suppose that's true. That would have to have — it's just a social value.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:50] Yeah. You're high status.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:52] Yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:54:52] But it's also really ephemeral like you're high status now, but yeah, like. Then when you stop being high status, people look at you like, "Awww, ooh, poor thing."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:04] Remember when you were famous.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:04] Yeah, yeah, people will feel bad for you. And they kind of are f*cking weird too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:10] Like, "How are you doing?” And you're like, "I'm fine. Thanks for treating me. Like somebody just died close to me. I've been fine for years. Like, I’m good."
Neal Brennan: [00:55:17] Yes, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:18] People think they act normal around celebrities.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:19] No one acts normal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:20] No, it's like being around cops. I'm driving the speed limit.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:24] See, I'm a normal driver drive. Look at me drive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:27] Man, you've been generous with your time. I appreciate it. There's a couple of questions from listeners of the show that I feel compelled to ask you since you're sitting here. Do you have pre-show rituals? A lot of comics have things they have to do.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:38] No, I have none.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:40] None. I usually have to have two mugs of tea. And to be honest, if you weren't here and we weren't doing this, like in video, I'd have something probably to take a leak in just in case.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:50] Really?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:51] Yeah.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:51] Are we on video?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:52] No, no, no, no.
Neal Brennan: [00:55:53] Oh okay.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:53] No, no, but you're here. I'm not going to like pee into a bottle in front of you. That would be a weird thing to do around anyone, let alone —
Neal Brennan: [00:55:59] Yes. Thank you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:00] Yeah, you're welcome.
Neal Brennan: [00:56:00] Thanks for not doing it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:02] Would you ever work with Dave again?
Neal Brennan: [00:56:04] I worked with him on Saturday Night Live.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:05] Oh, you do?
Neal Brennan: [00:56:05] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:06] But like on a project, I guess, with just you and him.
Neal Brennan: [00:56:08] I don't think it's even going to be an issue.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:10] Yeah, you're not going to have that ever happen.
Neal Brennan: [00:56:11] No, and if I did, I would get the money upfront.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:15] Yeah. Yeah. Make sure it's in the bank. I love the comedy. You're one of my new favorite now.
Neal Brennan: [00:56:20] Great, thanks.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:21] I don't say that to everybody that comes in. I know, you're probably thinking like, "Yeah, right." Because a lot of people are like, "Sure, yeah. I'm a fan."
Neal Brennan: [00:56:26] Yeah. No, I understand that people are now seeing me for the first time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:29] Yeah. I dig it. Like I told you before, when we walked in, I was at a coffee shop and people were looking at me like, "I hope that he's wearing headphones. Otherwise, we have to call the police." And I don't normally laugh out loud to comedy because a lot of it is not that funny, even TVs.
Neal Brennan: [00:56:42] I appreciate it, man.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:43] What's next for you, man? What's going on next?
Neal Brennan: [00:56:45] I'm doing pilots and just, you know, I'm around.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:49] And in the credits, it will be like, "From the creator of — " and everyone will go, "I don't care."
Neal Brennan: [00:56:53] Exactly. People will go, "It means nothing to me."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:55] Yeah, from Neal Brennan. Hmm, that sounds familiar.
Neal Brennan: [00:56:57] Where do I know that? Yeah, it will happen. It's the 3 Mics guy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:00] All right, well, thank you.
[00:57:03] Thanks to Neal for this one, his comedy special on Netflix is called 3 Mics. We'll link to it in the show notes as always. Links to everything, always in the show notes. And if you buy a book from anybody you hear on the show, please do use our website links. It helps support the show, helping our sponsors support the show. Worksheets for this episode in the show notes, transcripts for this episode in the show notes. There's also a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube, or they will be soon. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter, Instagram. You can hit me on LinkedIn if you want to chat.
[00:57:33] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships, using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty, everybody. Most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[00:57:51] This show's created an association with PodcastOne. And of course, my amazing team, including Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, and Sal Cotching. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who is going through a rough time, if you know somebody who's into comedy, share this episode with them. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode. So please do share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:58:26] As promised, here's your interview trailer with Dr. Drew Pinsky.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:30] It's like a movie script. This person was saying a bunch of crap didn't make any sense. And then you said something along the lines of —
Male: [00:58:36] Is there someone else in there I can talk to?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:38] And then they were like, sure.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:58:40] Yeah, I could tell it was multiple. Yeah. That's a pretty easy thing for me to tell. You listen with your whole body. You don't listen with your ears. And that really started happening with dealing with drug addicts in the clinic because they pull you into a vortex. If I hear the sound, a little cartoon where you start going yogada, yogada, yogada.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:57] Yeah, sure.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:58:58] I know I'm with a drug addict. When I hear that yogada, yogada sound in my head. I'm like somebody's doing drugs. I just know it. I'm just going to be sitting here, listening to somebody going, "Ha-ha-ha." And all of a sudden he goes, "Yogada, yogada." And I go, "Oh, okay, I got it." I can stop listening now and just start asking what they're taking, how much they're on, that kind of stuff. I'm thinking right now, this guy that called us and wanted to know.
Male: [00:59:17] Women always freak out when they find out what I was in jail for it.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:59:20] And all of a sudden, Adam goes, "Wait a minute, find out that you were in jail or find out what you were jail for. He goes —
Male: [00:59:26] What I was in jail for?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:59:26] And we go, "Oh, well, what were you in jail for?"
Male: [00:59:29] I broke into a mausoleum and I twisted off the head of an old lady and boiled up to a skull because I needed it for my little brother's snake aquarium.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:42] Wow.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:59:43] I just don't understand that might be a little disturbing to people. Why?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:46] Okay, so he was —
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:59:48] Psychopath.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:49] Psychopath, yeah. Self-esteem obviously doesn't care if you're successful.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [00:59:53] Right. Self-esteem is something established. I think by five. I mean, you can enhance it and you can move it a little bit, but most of it is to set early and mine was bad. Yeah. That's okay. That's all right. You know, it just, it gives you trouble. That makes you feel bad. It gives you symptoms, it pairs your functioning. That's therapy time.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:11] Okay. Did you ever try therapy for that?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [01:00:13] 11 years.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:14] Oh, my God.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: [01:00:14] Not for that per se. I was having overwhelming anxiety. That was my main reason. At least that's my wife's reason for sending me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:21] For more with Dr. Drew, including what experiencing imposter syndrome usually reveals about you and how we can spot the behaviors of addiction in others as well as in ourselves, check out episode 72, right here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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