Neal Brennan is a comedian, director, writer most noted for co-creating
Chappelle Show with Dave Chappelle. Brennan’s body of work also includes co-writing the movie Half Baked, directing the movie “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard”, and most recently a podcast entitled “The Champs” with DJ Dougpound and Oakland’s own (and Courting Comedy favorite) Moshe Kasher. Neal Brennan will be at the San Francisco Punch Line for one night only; (11/1/2011, 8 PM, $15) and you should definitely attend. An exclusive interview after the jump.
Courting Comedy: You’ve recently launched “The Champs” podcast with Moshe Kasher and DJ Dougpound. What’s your favorite aspect of doing the show?
Neal Brennan: My favorite part of the podcast is getting to give listeners/white people access to conversations with black dudes that they would otherwise never get to have or hear. I’m lucky that I have a lot of black friends who are legitimately interesting to talk to. And I’m also happy to show how funny a guy like Blake Griffin is in the right environment.
Due to a lack of interest from my intended publisher, I have decide to present to you the long awaited interview with Nate Heller, in its entirety. Nate Heller is a Bay Area musician, whose projects include the band She Beards. She Beards will be performing at Snob Theater @ Dark Room Theater on October 28th. 10 PM. $10. More information: Here. Thank you for your patience. Thank you Nate Heller for the interview.
[Note: This interview occurred Spring/Summer 2011]
Courting Comedy: What was the first instrument you learned to play, what’s your current instrument of choice and what’s an instrument you wish you knew how to play?
Nate Heller: Mom put me in piano lessons when I was about four or five years old, with our neighborhood teacher Amy (whose son Andrew happened to be my best friend at the time). Shortly after that Andrew and I went into the Piedmont boys chorus a couple of days after school. It was wretched. I hated it so much that I often faked being sick to get out of going (I liked faking sick a lot as a kid). This totally backfired when I feigned illness on the day that we got to perform the National Anthem at an A’s game. I must have forgotten that it was happening cause I was a huge Ricky Henderson fan and would have given my undescended left testicle to meet him.
Currently guitar is my primary instrument (and voice I guess), although I own a banjo, a piano, and an accordion. I can still play keyboard okay, but I’m pretty piss-poor at all the others. It’s still fun to mess around on them anyway. I guess I wish I spend more time learning accordion, cause the one I have is a really beautiful one that my friend Gabe gave me a few years ago. His dad gave it to him, and when we lived together I played around on it so much that he gave it to me for my birthday.
After a brief hiatus, Courting Comedy presents another “Jabari B(ooks) Davis” (w/ @jabaridavis)
"Why Should White Guys Have all of the Fun?," by Reginald Lewis is probably the most inspiring book that I have ever read. Its the story of a Black Business man doing things in a predominately White Male dominated field, that not even white men could accomplish. He became a billionaire by simply asking himself a question most Black people never consider asking themselves. 3 yrs ago I walked into the San Francisco Punchline on a Sunday, watched the whole show, and left with one question in my head, "Why Should White Guys Have all of The Fun?" My answer was that they shouldn’t. And thats when Jabari Davis and Associates was born. The book title that started a movement!
A couple of months ago I conducted a correspondence interview with musician Nate Heller. Nate is the current front man of band She Beards whom will be performing at Bottom of the Hill this Thursday (8/25) alongside Wave Array and Lucky Jesus. More information on that event is available: here.
Technically the interview is destined for “Antithesis Comedy" in the near future, but in the meantime we present a section as a preview of what’s to come. Also featured is a selection from She Beard’s latest EP. Enjoy after the jump.
What was your first favorite band and what band shaped your current appreciation for music?
I’ve always loved music - family holidays usually saw us crowded around the piano with mom playing and everyone singing along. Our mom and dad were pretty instrumental in us kids’ desire to be creative. Mom was especially encouraging (or forceful?). She really wanted me to be able to read music and be able to sing, which I will reluctantly admit that piano lessons and boys chorus helped immensely with.
But like most kids, I think I really started to become opinionated and devoted to bands around age eleven or twelve. Weird Al was the first CD that I owned, but when puberty hit I started having more “serious” feelings about music.
I had an unhealthy obsession with Smashing Pumpkins, but I also loved Green Day, Weezer and Jimi Hendrix. This was also around the time that I convinced dad to buy me an electric guitar unbeknownst to mom, and soon she stopped insisting that I stay in piano lessons and I switched to guitar.
What defines you most: are you a musician, a producer, a songwriter, a hybrid or something else completely?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I definitely don’t think of myself as a musician primarily. Whenever I play music with really good musicians who are classically trained, or just practice a lot, I realize that my I just don’t have the chops they do. I love to produce music and write songs, and I think my biggest strength as a producer and musician is being able to listen to a piece of music as a whole and add or subtract elements based on what the song needs.
I guess I like to think that I am part of a newer generation of artists who can do everything themselves - It’s really easy to set up a studio in your house, compose a beat, add some instruments and write vocals these days. Going into the studio even when I first started playing in bands was a much more expensive and time-consuming process. Now, from my home studio, I am able to produce mashups, full band recordings, music for TV and film, etc.
A few of the most recent things I’ve done that [illustrates] how diverse a home studio can be - I composed a really stupid intro song for Emily’s FCC radio show (in about ten minutes), I finished 25 tracks of music for a company that licenses songs for TV and film purposes, and I also produced a song for my extremely talented thirteen year old neice who had never been in a recording studio before. It came out so good that I plan on recording a full album with her this summer.
How many bands have you been in?
I’ve been in hella bands. Is hella a number? I’ll say around 7-8 bands that actually practiced regularly and/or played shows.
I remember when I lost my virginity in Jr High to a white girl on the good side of town. I took three buses to her house, only to be extremely uncomfortable being outside of my comfort zone. Even though no one was home, and we were alone, I still felt as if I was committing some crime. It was then that I realized, what Bigger Thomas from “Native Son” felt like. Only difference between Bigger and myself, is I put the pillow under here head!
-Jabari B. Davis
[Short, sweet, and a very deep reference. I was laughing so hard I made the people around me uncomfortable. I love Richard Wright.]
"The good thing about Autobiographies, is that you never know how they can change the direction of your life. I remember in the summer of 1994, I picked up "Monster," by Sanyika Shakur aka Cody Scott. A riveting and graphic tale of GangBanging in Los Angeles. At this point I was swaying between GangBanging and Education, leaning a lot more towards GangBanging. As it seemed like the most logical choice at the time.
This book was powerful. In the sense that it was the first book that I read in less than 6hrs. The dialogue and tone of the book was so vivid and descriptive, that I went on a ride with the author. By the time the book was over, I personally felt like I had murdered enemies, been in and out of prison, got shot multiple times, and found myself after years of being in solitary confinement. It took less than 6 hrs, and a book to satisfy my desire to go down a path that so many other black men had succumbed to. “Monster” Cody Scott was in my eyes, the Michael Jordan of Genocide, and doing it better than him, was impossible. The only thing I could do more Gangster than him, was go somewhere he’d never been. Like College.
Four years later I walked across the stage with a degree in Philosophy from Fresno State, wearing Blue Chuck Taylor’s and Blue shoe laces. Not because I was a Crip, I was far from it. I did it to honor “Monster” Cody Scott. He sacrificed his life, so I could do right by mine! Now thats Gangsta!”
-Jabari B. Davis
[We are proud to present a new collaboration with comedian Jabari Baraka Davis. In addition to being a successful comedy businessman with anecdotes of cultured thuggery, Jabari Davis is an avid reader. Davis has agreed to provide insight to his literature tastes and thoughts in weekly installments… It’s like Reading Rainbow with more swag. Enjoy:]
" One of my favorite books coming up, was "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens. Story of a young man, going from ashy to classy, through the help a few influential people. It was sort of a fantasy for me, an experience I yearned for in my own life. It wasn’t until I found myself in a Penthouse over looking the Bay, that I realized, I was no longer Jabari Davis. I had become Pip. Only difference between Dickens version, and my life, is that I’m actually fucking Miss Havisham. “
-Jabari B. Davis
photo by. Raun Harris
A few months back I interviewed Julian Vance for a piece featured on Antithesis Comedy. Much of the interview was trimmed out for brevity. Here is the majority of the “missing” interview. [P.S. For the full experience, imagine frequent laughter between the two of us amid the questions and answers]
Courting Comedy: What rooms were running when you started?
Julian Vance: The Java Source was great. The Java Source was every Friday and Saturday night in the Richmond, kinda across the street from Rockit Room. You had to walk through about forty old Chinese men smoking cigarettes and gambling out front. It was all the way in the back and people fucking hated that we were there. People would come in and turn right back around. The normal customers, every time comedy would start, they would get up and walk away.
CC: Was it always consistent?
JV: It was consistently bad. It was always a shitty experience but you got onstage twice a week… Another great [room] was the Luggage Store. It’s on Market, [its] still called the Luggage Store. This was a mic for comics only, there was no audience. And you would have to pay a dollar to perform, not even pay a dollar, donate a dollar to keep the space open. It was more like a writing workshop than anything else. You would be done with your set and people would tell you what you did right [and] what you did wrong. It was the first place I ever bombed. It was my third or fourth set.
CC: Did you ever do the “scouting” thing of checking a mic out first?
JV: Naw, I just went. The first mic I went to was the Brainwash. This was back when they were doing the lottery system so you picked your name out of a hat. I pulled number “2” and nobody pulled number “1”. I had never seen live stand-up comedy performed before, never been to a comedy club and I went up first.
CC: How did people respond?
JV: My first set went over really well. I still remember the first joke I ever told, which looking back on it is cringe worthy. The first joke I ever told was: “So I’m a fat kid who wants to be a stand-up comic which is code for ‘I’m a virgin’.” [I did] five minutes. I got off stage, I walked right out of the Brain Wash, didn’t talk to anybody. I called my mom. [At this time] Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams had some handprints in some cement around the corner from the Brainwash. I walked past that and thought “I fucking made it man! I’m here!”
Comedy in San Francisco isn’t glamorous. There are institutions (Punch Line, Cobb’s), premier nightclubs (Purple Onion, Deluxe), and amazing atmospheres (Dark Room, Brainwash) but most comedy is crusty glitter-litter. Slow bar nights in notorious neighborhoods, anonymous audiences overrun with hopefuls. Precarious stageships with ominous backdrops of black drapes or tinsel that contrast with the fleshy struggle in the foreground. Jokes thrashed with silence for being too old or two new for a group of cynical, self-centered peers. Comedy in the City is akin to opening scenes in boxing films: smoky, loud, ill-illuminated clubhouses for many fighters but few champions. These rooms serve as training grounds, caverns to develop strength, conditioning, stamina and strategy.
One such establishment is the Deco Lounge at 510 Larkin St. A spectrum flag hangs over the doorway, bartenders serve drinks with optional nudity, promotional material features aggressive bears and drag queens, pool tables, condom buckets and narrow bathrooms with a million implied stories. Located firmly in the Tenderloin, Deco trades traditional drug addled weirdness with subdued sexual strangeness.
Every Monday the establishment hosts an open mic comedy night for free starting at 7:00 PM. Deco is a great kick-start to the rest of night and the rest of the week. Tony Koester serves as the resident host, approximately twenty comedians take the stage in two hours and the bar as always accommodating.
The Ballad of Gay Tony
It’s a quaint coincidence that San Francisco boasts two hosting Tony’s (Koester and Sparks). Both share an affinity towards fresh talent, stand in stout dimensions, graciously suffer threats and danger, and generate sexual innuendo in a fraction of a second. At the crossroad of Kindness and Creepiness, both more often stay on the former road. The two Tony’s diverge at the trajectory of their targeting systems: Sparks makes lewd compliments to the attractive female comedians and Koester sets sights on the handsome boys. Ivan Hernandez and Conrad Roth get the brunt of it but never fear, the gay-straight badinage is good natured, entertaining and fleeting.
Koester keeps things rocking and rolling; the night moves at a brisk pace. Comedians look at their notebooks and drink Pabst, lounging in a verbal Jacuzzi that is lukewarm at best. The atmosphere of the room removes the need for melodrama, selling or pandering. Stripped of the yuk-yuk bullshit, the comedians use the time to hone riffing and refine rough, slower paced, anecdotal material. The results are very real, very raw, and very hilarious revelations never uttered elsewhere.
Some nights are uncharacteristically electric. A fine mist of giddiness can make a hollow room full. Sometimes comedians stay well past their set and a contingent of appreciating audience applauds the comedians’ hard work. Sometimes festive patrons watch the comedy in anticipation of a subsequent drag show or dance party.
The grab bag of experiences makes Deco a positive, popular place to mentally work out. If you’ve yet to bound its boards or watch its shows, you’re missing out on something worthwhile.