“My father told me exactly in your words, he said never take shit from anybody. That’s one of the things that I was raised on. And the other thing was, he said you have to be able to look in the mirror every morning and like the guy you see there. And if I took that crap from anyone, I wouldn’t like the guy I see there. And I’ve paid heavy prices, very heavy prices for my principles, for that principle. “
“If you don’t take the chances, you don’t start to get the edges. It’s very comfortable to be on the stem, cause it’s very secure. Most people are there. And the edge of a leaf, you think of a leaf the way it moves, whoa, you can fall. But that’s where all the excitement is. That’s where the thrills are. Go out on the limb. To the edge of the limb. And sure you might fall off. But that’s where it’s all happening.”
Every week we choose an episode of Ron Bennington’s epic interview series Unmasked, to release on iTunes, only choosing from the best of the best. The hour recorded with David Brenner is one of the earliest eps- recorded in the series’ first year- 2008- and it remains one of the absolute best.
The Unmasked series which began in 2008 with a brilliant hour with Patrice O’Neal, has taped nearly 200 episodes since, documenting the careers of the most interesting comedy writers, directors, filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, satirists, political comedians, comedic musicians and of course, stand up comedians in the business. It is a veritable archive of the greatest comedy of our time. Past Unmasked guests have included Bob Newhart, Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd, Simon Pegg, Tracy Morgan, Paul Feig, Jim Jefferies, Gilbert Gottfried, Bobcat Goldthwait, Louis C.K., Brian Regan, and over 150 more comedy greats.
David Brenner was a genius. He invented observational comedy. Think about what that means and how gigantic that is. He changed the way comedy is performed and paved the way for most of what comedy fans enjoy watching and listening to today. Instead of telling jokes, people talked about their lives. “Did you ever notice?” became a premise that changed everything. What he did first, eventually led to the creation of Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, dozens of other sitcoms, and most stand up that has been performed in the United States since Brenner.
The hour spent with Brenner is brilliant, and one of the best of the entire series. Even if you’ve never heard of Brenner before right now, you will fall into this hour so quickly. His stories are fascinating, and so sincere, that you will wish this Unmasked was longer than an hour. He talks about growing up in a tough neighborhood in Philly, where things were so grim, not only couldn’t they climb the success ladder, they couldn’t even find a bottom rung. Things were really bleak for him starting out, but he inherited a solid work ethic, and moral code from his father. Brenner explains how his observational style of comedy was also something he learned from his dad who showed him how to find the funny side of any situation. Brenner misapplied that in some cases early on, but eventually turned it into a career that changed entertainment.
His “never take shit off of anyone” attitude also came from his father, and he has story after story about how that attitude served him in some ways, but in many other ways was an obstacle for him. The stories about blowing opportunities because he couldn’t take shit, or be phony are really funny, and they will either inspire you or provide a cautionary tale depending on your own goals.
You’ve heard it said that the Tonight Show used to change lives overnight, and nobody has a faster overnight success story than Brenner– he was down to his last $3 when he got the Tonight Show. He talks at length about Carson, and the show and his many appearances- again, all great stories.
Finally, you’ll hear plenty of Brenner’s philosophy, and there are plenty of notes young comics will want to pay attention to. Recorded in the Fall of 2008 in New York City, this is Unmasked, from the Archives, with David Brenner and Ron Bennington.
Don’t use iTunes? Download the episode here.