If you’re the kind of person who likes your stand-up delivered with a hearty side of pathos, Neal Brennan has the special for you. Brennan, the co-creator of The Chappelle Show and three-time Emmy nominated writer, director, and producer, has adapted his stage show, 3 Mics, into a one-hour special premiering on January 17 on Netflix.
The concept of 3 Mics is unique as Brennan rotates between three separate microphones – one for traditional stand-up, one for one-liners, and one for introspective confessional monologues covering such topics as his depression and the death of his father. “The idea (behind 3 Mics) came from me wanting to do something a little different,” Brennan said in an interview with The Interrobang. “I did an hour a few years ago (2014’s “Women & Black Dudes” on Comedy Central) and while it was good, it didn’t make me a big star or anything. I wanted to figure out a way to help me stand out a little more.”
The best way to do that, Brennan said, was to be honest and draw on his own life experiences and share them with the audience. The 3 Mics conceit gave him that format, allowing him to physically break from the stand-up mold and engage the audience on a different level. “When Twitter first started, I thought it would be funny to have two microphones on stage, one for stand-up and one for Twitter jokes,” Brennan said. “I never did that. But I had that idea. Then when I thought about incorporating more personal things, I thought about the three microphone idea; maybe I could do all three. The challenge was making sure there was a good mixture and not just a whiplash between the three.”
While stand-up and one-liners are pretty standard fare, Brennan’s fascinating and frequently uncomfortable confessionals constitutes the soul of 3 Mics. “It’s like emotional stand-up,” Brennan said. “I didn’t want to present it like traditional stand-up, you know, like ‘So my dad was dying …’ I knew to ease into it, but things get heavier as they go along.” Brennan said he was inspired in part by Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, which made him want to turn the focus inward and pull aspects from his personal life into his stage show. “I liked the idea of doing something narrative where there’s something more emotional,” Brennan said. “I think that that’s as interesting or as relevant as any other style. I wanted to do something more unique. You get tired of just being one thing on stage – at least I do. Somebody once said to me that I was funny and also kind of interesting. Let me try to be both of those instead of just being funny. Whether or not I achieve that is open to interpretation, but I wanted to use the skills I have and do what I can do. And maybe I can do something that other people couldn’t.”
Brennan experimented with the three microphone set-up in 2014 in a brief set on “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail.” That convinced him that the concept was sound and could work on stage.
He debuted 3 Mics off-Broadway in February 2016, running for eight weeks at the Lynn Redgrave Theater. John Legend served as producer. Brennan performed dates in Madison, Wisconsin, and Chicago last summer. The show comes with a disclaimer warning audiences that the show is unlike your typical chuckle-a-minute comedy show, but Brennan admits the serious and emotional content has been jarring for some audiences. “During the show in Chicago in August, a woman went on my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and was writing me live during the show saying, ‘Dude, you’ve got to stop it with this heavy shit. I’m here with my family. I’m a big fan of yours, but you’ve got to stop,’” he said. “Some people just aren’t with it and you have to say oh well, but for the most part people go with it.” Years of therapy and 12-step programs helped Brennan get to a place where he feels comfortable opening up to audiences in a stand-up setting, he said. “I don’t know if I have a unique emotional story, but I’m willing to talk about it more than other people are,” he said.
Watch Neal Brennan: 3 Mics premiering on Netflix Tuesday January 17, 2017.