Neal Brennan Talks About The Approval Matrix, Comedy Kale and Why Journalists are Hypocrites

Neil Brennan talks about the Approval Matrix

[photo Tyler Ross]

Neal Brennan—a standup veteran, writer, director of Inside , and co-creator of Chapelle’s Show—has now taken on yet another venture: he’s the host of Sundance’s new show The Approval Matrix. Currently in its third week, the show is based on the much-loved back page of New York Magazine, which grades pop culture topics on a scale of “brilliant to despicable,” and “low-brow to high-brow.” With only three episodes under his belt, Brennan has already managed to offend masses, calling C.K. “the kale of comedy” and stating that he believes “affirmative action has no place in art.” Neal sat down with us to discuss his new job, his comments about kale, and why he thinks journalists are hypocrites (uh-oh).


The IBang: So, as a long-time standup, writer and director, what is it like being a talk show host?

Neal Brennan: The thing about being a host, and the thing about this show, is that I get to be as pointed and/or intelligent as I am funny. So I don’t just have to be funny the whole time. There’s more than just jibber-jabber jokes. So it’s nice to be smart. I like being smart on TV.

The IBang: How does it feel to transition from being one person on stage to sharing a stage with four other people?

…you gotta kind of give them a look like ‘Shut the fuck up.’

Neal Brennan: That just makes it easier. It’s like, ‘Hey, wanna share this burden with me?’ I don’t feel like, ‘Would you get outta here? If Hannibal wasn’t here I could really shine.’ It’s variety of opinions. It’s people to play off of. And it can just be like giving traffic directions. Like ‘Hey, guy, you haven’t said anything in a while, what do you have to say?’…There’s a woman on this week’s episode who also was kind of filibustering a little bit, so I had to sort of—I didn’t shut her down, but you know. It’s hard to know where the line is because you don’t want to shame people, but you gotta kind of give them a look like ‘Shut the fuck up.’

The IBang: On the show, you guys only have twenty-two minutes to discuss huge topics, like television and fame. Do you ever wish you had time to go deeper into these issues?

Neal Brennan: There’s a repeat of the show on Thursday nights and it’s a longer version of the show. It’s eleven minutes longer. Now, it is comedy, and, generally, the shorter the things are, the better. So I like the twenty-two minute version better. But there’s definitely stuff in the longer version.

The IBang: Which topic would you discuss longer if you could?

Neal Brennan:  The topic this week. It’s ‘America’s Hall Monitors’ and it’s just about how everyone’s video or audio taping each other and snitching and how places on the internet, like Jezebel, are shaming mechanisms—meanwhile, it’s like, ‘You guys aren’t exactly marching, Jezebel. You’re doing just about as little as you can possibly do and still congratulating yourself.”

The IBang: Everybody was outrage by your comment from the first Episode of The Approval Matrix that “Louie C.K. is the Kale of comedy.” You stated recently that you were directing that comment at the critics who praise “Louie” because they think both comedy and laughing are passe. Do you think other critically-acclaimed comedies, like “Orange is the New Black” and “Silicon Valley” and “Girls” can be called comedies?

Neal Brennan:  No, they’re not. They’re not comedies. That’s the thing: I’m in comedy, I’m from comedy, so the comedy I respect the most is shit that makes me laugh. Stuff that on a comedy club stage would be hard to follow. It’s hard to follow . It’s hard to follow Dave [Chapelle]. It’s hard to follow Louie, , , , , , Attell. Those are the best. Those are the standard bearers for comedy, to me. So the fact that on TV there’s this degradation [of laughter]…And it’s sort of impolitic for me to say this, but I said it on the show: It’s harder to get laughs with four cameras and a live audience. So what [writers] do is, they go ‘Well, this way we get to do more nuanced comedy’ [when they work on single-camera shows]. You mean stuff that won’t get laughs? You could call me a laugh fiend or whatever, but that’s just what I believe in.

I always say Louie should come with a mirror, so you can watch yourself watch it, and go ‘Can you believe how tasteful I am.”

The IBang: Do you think that this thought pattern—that comedy doesn’t have to make you laugh, or that single-camera comedies are more artful or more respectable—is held among people in general or just critics?

Neal Brennan: It’s not a people thing! Look at the ratings! These single-camera shows don’t do that well. Other than Modern Family. But Modern Family is jokier….I don’t go to comedies to feel smart. That’s not what I use it for. I go to Frontline to feel smart, or to inform me. I always say Louie should come with a mirror, so you can watch yourself watch it, and go ‘Can you believe how tasteful I am.”

The IBang: Your comments on the show about how you believe affirmative action should have no place in art also got some attention.

Neal Brennan: “First of all, let me say this: The rage at my Louie comment has outnumbered ten to one the affirmative action comment. Which speaks to what fucking hypocrites journalists are. People take more issue with that than a straight-up human issue. A human jobs issue.

The IBang: Well, do you think it’s an issue? I think people hear your comment as ‘It’s not important to represent minorities in TV.’ What I took away was that you believe forced or shameful placement of minorities into art is not smart or purposeful. Donald Glover having a guest appearance on “Girls” is just a random bandaid for a larger issue.

Neal Brennan:  Right, but that’s what you’re asking for. That’s all you want. Again, no one said anything about Puerto Rican girls living in Brooklyn, Asian girls living in Brooklyn. I feel like journalists do this thing where they go ‘Who will listen to me?’ Apatow listens to journalism. Lena listens to journalism. They’re the ones who have responded in the past, so I feel like journalists continually go after them. So is it just “Girls” and “SNL”? “Big Bang Theory”, they have an Indian guy, so they’re fine. I didn’t hear any outrage when Poehler played Kim Jung-Il, when Darryl played Jesse Jackson. Cause all the black people I knew thought that shit was hilarious.

The IBang: So just be hilarious and everything will be fine?

Neal Brennan: Yes! Be hilarious first!

The Approval Matrix airs Mondays at 11pm et on the Sundance Network. | Follow on Twitter @NealBrennan and @ApprovalMatrix | Approval Matrix on the Web


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Kelsea Bauman is an LA-born, NY-based writer and editor. When not writing for The Interrobang, Kelsea writes web series, short stories, and screenplays. You can also find her making music videos and short films, and sometimes doing comedy–but shh, don’t tell anyone about that last part. She thinks she needs more practice first.


  1. YotaruVegeta

    August 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    That whole Louis CK thing is so irritating. I’ll be waiting to see if Approval Matrix is the funny that Brennan’s talking about. I bet not.

  2. Nice Guy Eddie

    August 29, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I’m glad he was able to define comedy for me, I need him to let me know when I’m allowed to laugh or not.

  3. JCGregg

    August 29, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    What is up with his brother Kevin? Funny guy. Saw him at the Cellar one night and he killed. Then we went to Comic Strip. He walked out and some dick walking put a shoulder into him and tried to knock him over out of the blue. We looked at each other and laughed.

  4. notraywagner

    August 31, 2014 at 9:37 am

    YotaruVegeta That is a good point. One of the first things in the article was about how his show doesn’t demand funny. “So it’s nice to be smart. I like being smart on TV.”

  5. Nata

    August 31, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    YotaruVegeta Maybe just wait and see.