Over the past few years I’ve noticed that I somehow enjoy listening to a comedian talk on a podcast even more than I like listening to their material. It’s easier somehow. You can get to the behind-the-scenes understanding of the source of the material, so you don’t really even need the final product anymore. But then without the material, what’s the point? With his new one man show 3 Mics, Neal Brennan has managed to combine the two to create a truly unique comedy experience.
The concept is simple: three microphones on stage: one for one-liners, one for stand-up, and one for “emotional stuff.” (There are also three stools paired with the three mics, which was a fun silly detail.) It’s like hearing a particularly deep episode of WTF intercut with examples of the guest’s best bits. One obvious analogy is that it’s a kind of comedy tapas, where you can sample a little bit of a few different foods, but a better comparison is to one of those Japanese restaurants where the chef cooks in front of you. Except imagine the whole time, he’s saying stuff like, “So I have untreatable clinical depression and my father told me outright that he never loved me. Anyways, here’s a shrimp.”
The danger of a show like this is that it could end up being embarrassing to watch, the same way an exercise in an acting class is embarrassing to watch. It does ask you to shift gears in a way that seems unnatural to the whole theater (or comedy club) experience. Brennan at one point makes the observation that “driving normal” next to a cop car is really more like “performing driving normal.” I imagine going into a bit about how the Pope dresses like a space pimp right after opening up about string of failed relationships feels similarly like “performing normal standup.” And this could easily be awkward if the standup material – the implied result of all this trauma and the reason we’re here in the first place – is shitty. But no need to worry. It’s good. Especially the sex stuff. We’re to assume this is the material Brennan has been workshopping in those Sunday Westside Theater shows he’s always tweeting about.
Brennan himself is the rare personality that is both fastidious and fully candid at all times. He does that weekly show even though he’s already wildly successful. He has a thriving career as a director, implying that he’s professional and easy to work with. He seems like the kind of guy who lint rolls every inch of his shirts before going out, and he applies that same care to expertly parsing comedy ideas and kneading them into uniform 2-3 minute chunks. There are probably four or five huge laughs in this show, and they each have a triumphant quality; he’s not only being funny, but proving that he’s using those neuroses for good rather than evil. Also, the three microphone stands are paired with three stools. That was a fun little detail.
I imagine that many different types of people will get many different things out of this show. What I saw as mostly a deconstruction of standup, while someone else could easily see as a more backstage Hollywood story (Brennan, I assume most people reading this website know, co-created Chappelle’s Show and has somewhat lived in Chappelle’s shadow, at least standup-wise). It also works on the level of a regular one-man show, albeit maybe a bare-bones one.
I even thought at one point that it was like a weird version of Inside Out, with an adult man instead of a young girl. Not exactly. But kinda. I think in particular what this show has in common with Inside Out is that it uses its structure for maximum emotional manipulation, which I understand turns some people off. But then you get a break to hear some funny standup. So there you go.
Oh yeah, and there are also jokes. The third mic is for one-liners. At first this seems extraneous – he’s basically reading tweets up there! But as the loose narrative goes on you realize: that might just be the key to the whole thing.