This weekend, Neal Brennan will debut his first stand-up special, Women and Black Dudes, on Comedy Central. The subject matter? Women and black dudes. (Straightforward!) Brennan, who co-created The Chappelle Show, kind of got the idea for the title from Chappelle's wife, who once told the guys to focus their material on work and girls only — and "work, for us, was black dudes," Brennan explains. Ahead of the premiere (January 18), Brennan's good friend Seth Meyers — who will make a big career move himself in February, when he takes over as NBC's Late Night host — called up Brennan to talk about the special, Chappelle's texts, and who Meyers poached from SNL. Because these guys can talk, we broke up their conversation with subheds — but everything was said in this order, and we strongly urge you to read the whole thing.
Seth Meyers: Hi, Neil. I feel like we should start with the full disclosure that we’re excellent friends.
Neal Brennan: I always say we are arguably best friends. And then you say, "Who is gonna argue?"
SM: This is a rarity because we’re both in L.A. right now. I’ve always felt a sense of abandonment that you left New York.
NB: Mike Schur left first — he was our mutual friend.
SM: Mike Schur was our gateway friend. I always kind of forget now that when you were in New York, I didn’t really think of you as a stand-up. You weren’t really doing stand-up then.
NB: Yeah, I wasn’t a stand-up. I didn’t start doing stand-up until a month before I left — like in '07. I’d like to point out that I wouldn’t see you very much, for a guy that’s living in the same city with you. I see you much less now because you’re a busy guy. You have that job, that stupid job at Saturday Night Live.
SM: What I miss the most is that you were the only New York friend I knew who had a car ... Drive and pick me up.
NB: Yeah, I’d play my iPod in the car — that was new.
SM: You also wouldn’t play songs. You would have recorded some Alan Dershowitz lecture, and we would have a six-minute drive to a restaurant and you’d try to find something he'd said about South Africa.
NB: There are people who have seen every show now — everyone’s seen every single Breaking Bad, all these shows. I’m the only person I know who’s seen every Frontline [laughter] And no one seems to care. You can’t go, "Dude, have you seen this thing about the fucking filibuster on Frontline?" No one cares. Although I just heard about Sherlock, which I didn’t understand is only three episodes a season.
SM: It’s perfect.
NB: Yeah, I’m getting into it. I’m going to be all over Sherlock.
SM: I’ve watched 50 percent more Frontline in my life because you had watched them.
NB: Yes! Because I’m proselytizing. Snarf! Let’s get down to it. And I call you Snarf because on [Weekend] Update one time, Kristen Wiig was playing Björk and she referred to you as Snarf.
SM: It only stuck with you.
NB: No one else in the world calls you Snarf, but I do. It makes me laugh every time. I was mad that I didn’t think of it. And before we talk about my stuff, I want to talk about your stuff.
SM: Oh, great.
On Late Night With Seth Meyers, SNL, Lorne Michaels, and the Roots
NB: Do you have any idea what your first show is going to look like? We’re a month out now.
SM: I have some sense of the conventions of it being pretty close to the people who’ve done it before. I mean, I think we’ll have a monologue, a desk piece, then get some guests. But I don’t quite know what those are all going to look like. You can’t get too crazy about it in this part of the process. We’re writing stuff now and I think, as you know as well as anyone, it’s like, without road-testing comedy it’s kind of like weirdly theoretical and uninteresting.
NB: Conan used to do the Clutch Cargo thing. Jimmy Fallon obviously did a lot of song stuff and, you know, Twitter stuff. Do you have sort of a thing that you’re thinking [of]? And you don’t have to say what it is.
SM: I don’t quite think we’ve had our eureka moment yet as far as how we’re going to break the mold, but I will say we are certainly in search of that. And I think you have to come up with ten of those and hope one hits.
NB: Are the writers just coming up with segments?
SM: Yeah. We’ll go around the room and every writer will pitch three different segments and then [former Weekend Update head writer and current Late Night head writer Alex] Baze and I will pick our favorite of their three and then they’ll write it out and then we’ll do a table read to see if it's a bucket that holds water. 'Cause often times, it’s like what I’ve always said to you with sketch ideas: If you can’t come up with two jokes for a sketch in the first minute you thought about it, it’s probably not a good sketch idea.
NB: Yeah, you have said that, and I have since quoted you. No, I don’t attribute it to you.
SM: And now it’s on the record.
NB: No, now people know that it’s yours. I would like to note that I referred to the guests on Weekend Update as "the last refuge of crazy people."
SM: Yes. It’s one of my favorite things you’ve ever said.
NB: That I’ve ever said? That it’s the last refuge for a crazy person to come and try to plead their case. Stefon had nowhere else to go.
SM: Right. One way it was explained to me that I liked is that Stefon is backstage with his manager. And the manager is saying, "This is it. This is your last chance to be on television. If you blow this —"
NB: Like, Stefon — you have to go out there and you have to nail this. Like, Bobby, or whatever the thing that Wiig and Fred used to do [Garth and Kat], "Look, guys, you’re crazy. Everyone thinks you’re crazy. Now this guy Meyers is giving you a chance." I like that you’re trying to let these people win. It’s like, "Look, I want this as badly as you do, but you’re crazy. Are you really friends with the guy who was the head of Egypt?"
NB: [Laughter] So you feel that you and Baze are — I’d like to give a shout-out to Alex Baze — one of the great comedy writers of our day, and a great twitterer as well.
SM: The real, only poaching I did from SNL for the new show was that I had to have Alex Baze, and I will say that the day I agreed to do the job, the first thing Lorne [Michaels] said to me was, "You can’t have Baze.” [laughter] He was trying to chess-move me. But I think he said that because he knew it was a fait accompli.
NB: What’s funny is, knowing Lorne, I’m surprised he didn’t say, "So you’ll take Baze" just to try to get you to not take him. Like, "I demand that you take Baze. I think it’d be best if you get Baze out of my hair." And do you feel like you have enough, like you’re making headway?
SM: We’re making headway. We have a good staff. You know, obviously, we’re really lucky to have a lead-in like Fallon, and I think one of the nice things about having been at the network for so long is there’ll be a little bit of patience — I think no one can do this job and have it figured out the first week, but we’ll try to figure it out as fast —
NB: Whenever someone says, like, "Jimmy got off to a slow start," I always tell 'em, "I went to the Friday show of the first week, and it was a great show." It took him a while to get thank-you notes and hot, hot, hot bits, but it wasn’t like —
SM: It was skillful from the start.
NB: It’s a shame Jimmy’s not on this call. I gave Jimmy the Roots.
SM: You gave Jimmy the Roots — take a little credit.
NB: I didn’t give him — I told him he should hire the Roots. Now, the Roots had actually played a house band before in a Spike Lee movie that I was one of the few white people to have seen.
SM: Oh, Bamboozled, right.
On Brennan's special, Women and Black Dudes
SM: This is a perfect segue to the fact that I had watched your special already — you’d sent it to me in the early stages — they sent me a link for this interview, to rewatch it. And I was thinking that one of the things we’d talk about is women and black dudes, 'cause that’s mostly what you talk about. I laughed out loud when I saw that that was actually the title of your special. I had no idea.
NB: Yeah! Chappelle’s wife one time said, "All you guys gotta talk about is work and girls." Now, work, for us, was black dudes.
SM: [Laughter] Right.
NB: I’m not faking the funk. You know what I mean? This is what I’m like offstage; this is just the best I’ve come up with on those two subjects, for the most part.
SM: I would say I’ve never met a white dude who was less interested in white dudes than you.
NB: That was one of our big problems. You love Europe. You love Europe as a continent; you like to vacation in Europe. And I told you repeatedly that I don’t like to go to Europe, because I don’t understand a place that doesn’t think black guys are cooler than white guys. Europe doesn’t think that black guys are cooler than white guys. Europe thinks that soccer-playing white dudes are — that’s the top. And DJs.
SM: I like Europe so much that two Novembers ago my wife and I went to Switzerland, which no one goes to in November. But there are jazz clubs in Switzerland because Europeans love jazz. Even like the pictures on the wall are white jazz people.
NB: They’d rather have a local, beginner from Switzerland on the wall than Charlie Parker cause it makes them uncomfortable.
SM: When did black dudes and women, when was that officially Neil Brennan’s focus? Or interest?
NB: It just happened. There was no decision. It wasn’t like I saw a hole in the market: "You know what no one’s talking about? I’m going to be that guy." Also, I’d like to note that Chris Rock told me not to call the special Women and Black Dudes. And he didn’t say why, and I’m glad I didn’t listen to him. Because my feeling about it is if someone is going through their TiVo or their channel guide and they see Women and Black Dudes, they’re gonna go, "What the hell is this guy talking about?" So that’s my hope. Like, "Who’s stupid enough to only talk about those two things?"
On Brennan's relationship with Chappelle, including Chappelle's texts about The Wire
SM: How did you meet Chappelle? You’re working the door at the Cellar?
NB: I’m working a door at a comedy club in ’92. I went to NYU in 1991 for film school, and when I moved there it was the beginning of hip-hop — not the beginning, but hip-hop went mainstream and Def Comedy Jam had just gone mainstream and Michael Jordan was the dominant man — so just by merit of being around this stuff, I just fell into black people stuff.
SM: This is sort of like the Boris Becker era in northern Europe.
NB: You were pretty deep into the Cranberries at that point, right?
SM: Yeah, I’m pretty deep. A lot of bootlegs.
NB: I was going to Cypress Hill shows, and you were waiting backstage to meet one or two of the Cranberries.
SM: So, your friendship, your relationship with Chappelle — chart that until the launch of the show.
NB: Uh, ’92 friend ... ’94 I moved to L.A. I started writing for TV shows: Singled Out with Jenny McCarthy and Chris Hardwick. Then I wrote for Kenan & Kel and All That on Nickelodeon. I would also like to note, Kenan & Kel, when I saw Kenan [Thompson] in 1995, I said "That kid could be on Saturday Night Live." I would just like the record to show that.
SM: I recently saw a link — link-bait — "All That Cast: Where Are They Now?" It’s so great because it’s like a child and an adult in every photo except for Kenan — he’s like almost in the same outfit now. He’s been doing sketch comedy at a high level for longer than anyone working today.
NB: Yes! You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d done more professional comedy work before they got to Saturday Night Life than Kenan. High-level, paid to do comedy. To the point where I was afraid there would be a liability in hiring him. So then I wrote for All That and then me and Chappelle wrote Half Baked and then we did Chappelle Show starting in ’02. We did ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05.
SM: What’s your relationship with him like now?
NB: It’s great. We talk fairly regularly. He FaceTimed me today. I ignored it. I simply didn’t have time. He texted me last night something I don’t understand that I don’t even think is true. He said one of his favorite parts of The Wire was McNulty’s funeral. Did McNulty die that I don’t remember?
SM: No, they faked his funeral at the end. It was like a fake-out where you thought it was his funeral but then he was alive on the table. He was out of the police force.
NB: Oh, right. The last season of The Wire wasn’t great, right?
SM: I would say that the conventional wisdom is no.
NB: I mean, it wasn’t as good as the other seasons ... it wasn’t as dramatically satisfying as the other seasons. 'Cause I literally didn’t know what he was talking about when he texted that. So, we talk, as they say, "On the reg."
On the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner
SM: One of the things in Women and Black Dudes is you tell the story about meeting President Obama at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
NB: Thanks to Old Man Meyers [who hosted]. Thanks to Snarf.
SM: The day of the correspondents' dinner in our Washington, D.C., hotel room, I remember I had you, John Mulaney, Alex Baze, Mike Shoemaker — we were going through the stuff. I remember feeling incredibly lucky that I had the Knights of the Round Table of comedy helping me out that day.
NB: I think it may have given you confidence, I was like, "I would like to tell these jokes." Meaning these are all good jokes.
SM: I was so nervous and when you left the room you said you were jealous that I was going to get to tell them, and it was the best thing you could have possibly said ... When you think about days you wish you could relive, that’s kind of one of them for me.
NB: Ab-fucking-absolutely. Absolutely.
SM: The other thing I remember — I don’t remember who wrote the joke, and I don’t know if you will, but I was on the fence about the Donald Trump joke that you said I absolutely had to do.
NB: The black joke.
SM: Yeah. Donald Trump says he’s a friend of the blacks but unless the blacks are a family of white people, I bet he’s mistaken. You noticed it was missing.
NB: You never said you were cutting it. I was driving to Whole Foods in a cab, and I was like, "What the fuck happened to that joke?" And I called you and I was like, "Hey, where’s that joke?" And you were like, "I cut it." I was like, "No! You can’t cut it." I remember it being like this very tense — Neal all of your racial training, will this pass? That’s where I came in handy. Like, Neal Brennan on race jokes.
SM: Do you remember there was one more you were pitching that I wouldn’t do about Obama — about how quickly he was aging.
NB: Well, somebody did that joke the next year! "When you ran for office it was 'Yes We Can.' Now I look at you: 'It’s Just for Men.'"
SM: No. I don’t even want to say it!
NB: What was it? Turns out black does crack?
SM: Yeah. Do you stand by that now?
NB: No. That wouldn’t have worked. You flipped it into a sketch on the show, and it didn’t work.
SM: That’s right [laughs].
NB: We’ve had some good times, my friend.
On Brennan's podcast, including one-time guest Blake Griffin
SM: We’ve had some really good times. I want to talk about your podcast real quick, 'cause it’s one of my favorites.
NB: We could call that Women and Black Dudes, too. 'Cause that’s mostly what we talk about. We mostly have black guests on — probably 95 percent black guests. Just because, I know a lot of black guys that Marc Maron doesn’t know. And I can get them. Now, the hard part is explaining to black dudes what a podcast is — literally, I have gotten many texts, "What the fuck is a podcast?" from guys that I’ve invited on.
SM: [Laughs] So, if someone’s jumping in now, what are your, like, three everybody has to listen to?
NB: The Chris Rock one is great, the Blake Griffin one is great, there’s one with Roy Wood Jr., that one was great.
SM: I’m a little threatened by your friendship with Blake Griffin.
NB: [Laughs] What do you find threatening about it?
SM: I just think you guys are really good friends, and I’m threatened by that.
NB: We’re really good friends but what’s embarrassing is, not only does he have a better basketball career than me — he has a better comedy career than me.
SM: Yeah, it’s like if I was as good at basketball as he was at comedy, I’d have fourteen and eight a night.
NB: It’s also embarrassing being friends with a guy who’s younger than you and so much bigger than you, physically. We’re going to eat, and we’re walking — I’ll be like, "You need to sit down, man." Like, you just feel like a bitch walking with him. But, no, he’s a really good dude. And on the podcast he’s actually really, really funny.
SM: I think my favorite story about you guys — you were saying you and he were watching preseason basketball and I asked how you guys ended up watching preseason basketball, and you said you went to see that movie Queen of Versailles but it was sold out.
NB: Oh, yeah. Yes, that is exactly right. I forgot to order tickets, thinking it wouldn’t be sold out.
SM: He’s a better athlete, he’s funnier than you, and you couldn’t even bother to buy the tickets ... Well, I think this has been pretty fruitful.
NB: I think so as well my friend.
SM: As always, I want to say thanks. You are always the first person I call when I need opinions or advice. No one crystallizes an opinion faster and I’m very lucky to have you as a friend.
NB: I’m very proud to say that when I found out you got Update, I teared up because I was proud of you. But I’m so used to your success, when I found out you got Late Night, it did nothing.
SM: You’re gonna come out and watch some test shows, I hope, in February?
NB: Oh, yeah. I meant to ask you. What do you need?
SM: Just come out. Be there. Bring those eyes and a big old beating heart. You’re great because you are a great bit-doctor.
NB: Thank you very, very much. And then let’s have the people watch Neal Brennan’s Women and Black Dudes January 18 on Comedy Central and then on comedycentral.com for five dollars after that. And we’re going to watch Late Night with Seth Meyers beginning —
SM: February 24.
NB: All right, very good.
SM: The best part about this is, after everything we said, when this is over, I’m going to call you back. That’s the best part about this.
NB: We’re going to review what we said?
SM: Yeah. Of course. All right, bye, buddy.
NB: All right, see ya, buddy.