Kurt Braunohler doesn’t want you to trust him and he explains why in his first ever Comedy Central one-hour special Trust Me, premiering tonight at midnight. For Braunohler, this hour is part of his current comedy goal: to make the laughs mean something. “I want to get to a place that’s not just silly haha, but actually has a reason for being funny.” As a comedian, he’s already proven that he can get laughs, but with the current political climate and his upcoming fatherhood, he’s decided to dig a little deeper. We talked about the meaning behind the new special, his evolving material, and - just for fun - tubing.
I’m excited to be talking to a fellow tubing enthusiast. I was glad the subject came up in the special. When I was making notes for this interview I wrote, “Kurt is a tubist,” but then I realized we can’t call ourselves that because the title of tubist is already taken by those who play the tuba. Do you know of a name for tubing enthusiasts?
Well, a tuber is a root vegetable. We’re probably at a loss. A tubiner? That sounds like “two boner.” A tuburger? That’s just two burgers though. Everything is already something else.
How often do you go tubing?
Honestly I’ve gone tubing exactly twice in my life. But I want to do it all the time. One of the two times I’ve ever been tubing was in the LA River. It’s essentially a drainage ditch.
I assume that was an illegal ride.
It was an illegal ride. My wife and I organized it. It was going to be this big, grand tube race down the LA River. We had 500 people signed up to do it and the city found out about it and flipped out. They were like, “If you do this there will be cops there.” So we “cancelled” it, but then did it anyway. We ended up only having about 20 people there, but it was great. We did it downtown where it looks like Terminator 2 in this little stream of toxic runoff that we tubed down.
Ok, we could talk about tubing all day, but we need to shift gears. Congratulations on your first one-hour Comedy Central special.
Thank you very much.
Take me through the process of how you found out that you were getting a special and then the work you had to do leading up to it.
I’ve been working with Comedy Central for a while. Roustabout, my jet ski adventure, was a digital series that I had done for them. I did two other pilots for them as well that didn’t happen to get picked up. I had this hour and I got a good tape of it and sent it to them. There was some back and forth for a while and then you just kind of get a phone call like, “Okay, thumbs up.” That thumbs up was probably a full year ago. So it’s been a long time coming. I’m very excited for it to be out in the world finally.
You chose Portland as the city to tape in. What’s your relationship to Portland?
I really like Portland. My record label from my first album, Kill Rock Stars, is based there. I’ve been going there for many, many years. They are fantastic comedy audiences. They’re enthusiastic, smart, and come out to shows. Comedy Central has never shot a special in Portland so it was a first for them and they were excited to shoot there.
The title of the special is Trust Me. This special has a message. You spend a little bit of time onstage before saying that for the next 45 minutes you’re going to establish why people should not trust someone that looks like you. Why did you feel that it was important to have an overarching message for this release?
At least for me, when I’m listening to a standup hour, if it’s just a collection of jokes…and I love jokes. The purpose of an hour is to make people laugh, but it having a reason for existence makes it more of a meal. It also kind of gives you a reason to want to finish it. That’s my big problem when I listen to comedy records. In the middle I can just drift off and not want to finish it. I wanted there to be a reason, a through-line that kind of pulls you through the whole thing. I also wanted to have something to say. I have this platform. It’s going to be on television and beamed into people’s houses. I thought it would be irresponsible of me, given this opportunity, to not have something worthwhile to say in addition to making people laugh. I think at a certain point as a comedian…in the beginning it’s about trying to figure out how to say things onstage and get laughs consistently. When you’ve been doing it for ten years and you’ve figured out that you can make people laugh it starts to feel a little empty at the end of the night. Great, I made a lot of people laugh. But was it just all surface laughs? I’m trying to find a way to get a deeper, better laugh. I’m not claiming that I’ve done this yet, but it’s one of my goals. I want to get to a place that’s not just silly haha, but actually has a reason for being funny.
It’s interesting to hear you say that because your comedy leans to the absurd. You do crazy stunts, odd characters, bizarre act outs. Do you think that with the style of your comedy the goal is more difficult to achieve?
I think there are two sides to it. On one side, yes, I’m obsessed with the absurd. It’s my style of humor. It’s what I like most. But it also felt like because I was talking about all of the absurdities in our world…one of the biggest absurdities is that we still have such a disparity based on someone’s skin color. It’s absurd that even in 2017 a person’s skin color can actually matter. It’s fucking insane and it needs to be addressed. At that level it kind of feeds right into the absurdity. If I’m talking about all of these little absurdities I have to address some of the larger ones as well. I’m very interested to see how this special is received. I’ve been trying to do this balance where a lot of jokes are very silly and then there are some jokes that are more serious in nature. But they’re all still jokes so I’m hoping that they can sit nicely next to each other.
You and your wife are about to become parents, right?
Any day now. My wife is two weeks out.
Has the idea of becoming a father changed your outlook on your career and your art?
100%. I’ve already started writing my next hour. It’s going to be about becoming a dad, but also my mom died last year. We were trying to get pregnant while she was sick. We found out my wife was pregnant the day after my mom’s funeral. The next hour I’m writing is all about my mom dying and also becoming a father kind of in the exact same moment.
Other than this special what else do you have coming up?
I just released a new podcast last week. It’s on the Feral Audio channel with myself and Joe DeRosa. It’s called Emotional Hangs and it’s all about adult friendship. We get mushy and vulnerable with each other. I also have an Audible audio series coming out in April with my wife called Wedlock. It’s a show all about romantic relationships. It’s very highly produced, kind of like an audio television show. And then I’m in this movie that comes out in June called The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon and starring Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Oh, and I’ll be in six episodes of the new season of Lady Dynamite.