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'Chappelle's Show' Co-Creator Moves Into The Limelight With '3 Mics'

Near Brennan performs his Netflix special, <em>3 Mics.</em>
Brandon Hickman
Near Brennan performs his Netflix special, 3 Mics.

After working mostly as a behind-the-scenes guy on Chappelle's Showand Inside Amy Schumer, Neal Brennan is now stepping out as a performer.

Brennan tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he didn't get seriously into stand-up until Chappelle's Show,which he co-created and co-wrote, ended abruptly after the host left the country. "The way Chappelle's Show ended I just felt bereft, and I felt like I needed to be more self-determining and the most self-determining thing you can do in comedy is stand-up," he says.

But stand-up comedy is just one aspect of Brennan's new Netflix special, 3 Mics.On the show,Brennan literally works withthree different microphones: One is reserved for one-liners, one is for stand-up and one is for personal stories about depression and his family. He says the three-mic concept sprung from a surplus of wide-ranging material.

"I would do podcasts ... and talk about more serious stuff ... that you kind of can't talk about in a conventional stand-up hour," he says. "And then I had all these one-liners left over from Twitter. So I wanted to repurpose them. I didn't want them to go to waste. "

Interview Highlights

On becoming aware of his depression

When I was a kid, I used to cry every day, when I was 7 through 11, to the point where my brothers and sisters would, there was an ongoing joke where they would make me cry to keep my streak alive of crying every day. ...

It never occurred to me, like, you know, this is clinical depression, and I don't know even know if it was. I maybe just was sensitive little kid. But I think probably once I was an adult ... you realize, 'Oh, this isn't just an attitude ... there may be something clinically happening here.' I think I started taking medication when I was 24.

On growing up in a family with an alcoholic father and 9 siblings

[My father] was not an empathetic guy. He didn't want to have kids ... that's another thing that you weren't even allowed to really admit or acknowledge or live a life based on — like you couldn't say I don't want kids. ... I think most of my mother and father's life was just like, 'What's everybody else doing? I guess that's what we have to do.' I think my mother was happy to do it. I think my mom loved having 10 kids, but I think my dad hated it. Really, I really think he just didn't like it, and he was kind of stuck, which is, you know, that's how he behaved.

He wasn't, like, a 10-drink guy, he was a 3-drink guy every day ... and then he felt deputized to kind of rage, or be vitriolic, and I think it gave him the confidence to let out his true self, which was kind of nasty and competitive and petty. It was never fall-down stumbling slurring drunk, it was just more like bullying drunk.

On meeting Dave Chappelle at a New York comedy club

We were the only young guys, we were both 17 or 18, so I think we had a shared sensibility. ... I had gone to film school, we just had similar taste in movies, and what we liked or what we didn't, or things we thought were hacky, or things we thought were done to death, and we would just talk and we'd walk around for hours.

On why Chappelle left Chappelle's Show and went to South Africa

I think it's hard when something goes out to that broad an audience. You can't control what people make of it. ... I think a lot of black artists reckon with this. ... Do you just keep doing your thing and accept that there is going to be a certain amount of the audience that doesn't understand what you're doing at all? Or do you kind of fold it up and go, This is too important for you to misinterpret, so I can't risk it, which in some ways is, I think, the path that Dave took, which was I can't deal with this misinterpretation, it means too much to me and it's too painful.

I was on set waiting for him when I found out he was in Africa, I didn't know he was going until he was gone. ... It was painful on a lot of levels. ... This thing that I made with him was now ... over. ... Yeah, it was painful on a personal level.

On what he learned from directingInside Amy Schumer

The thing I always say about the Schumer show is the way that Chappelle's Show was about the horror of being a black man, Schumer's show was about the horror of being a woman, just the day-to-day inconvenience. What's it like to have a world-class intellect in a world where you're treated like a third-class citizen, and that applies to Amy and Dave.

Dave is smarter than everyone he talks to, and is routinely spoken down to by the merit of being black — maybe less so now that he's famous — but as it was before he was famous, there was always this ongoing condescension which I think women have to deal with on an hourly basis as well.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.