So I says to my 24 year old daughter, I says:
“Hey, wanna go see some comedy?”
She says yes, I say who? She says Neal Brennen, and I was pretty impressed.
“Do you know him from the Chappelle show?” I ask.
“The Chappelle show; with Dave Chappelle”
After a few more questions, I learned that she hadn’t been familiar with the comedians in town, so she watched standup clips to decide who she wanted to see. She chose the one that made her laugh, which is how she ended up choosing Neal Brennen: Unacceptable as her first ever live comedy show.
A little background: Neal Brennen first collaborated with Dave Chappelle on the cult classic Half Baked, released in 1998.
He co-created and co-wrote Chapelle’s Show with Dave Chapelle, and the rest is history. It bears noting that they promised between themselves to never reveal who wrote which sketch; a quiet sign of both their artistic integrity and their mutual respect.
Neal’s been nominated for three Emmys, and has an impressive list of credits including directing JAY-Z’s 4:44 documentary series, and writing for episodes of SNL. Oh, and he does really good comedy.
It was my first time seeing a show at the Gesù, and it was the perfect venue. The space felt intimate, the seats descending to the stage, putting Brennen among us instead of raised and separate. There was no opener, no mic stand; it was personal, and knowing that this was his one Montreal performance, made it even more special.
Adding to the uniqueness of the experience was the fact that this show felt like a funny one man show. Sure, there were set ups and jokes, but the tapestry of the performance was more intricately woven than simply that. He spoke of his struggles, his frustrations, the strange journey of this life and the state of adulthood that we’ve all found ourselves mysteriously catapulted into.
The writing was perfect, his presence authentic and endearing. In a time where stars hire publicists to teach them how to come across as human, Neal Brennen brought an honesty and candor that reminded me that we’re all on this weird ride together.
And we laughed, of course; at COVID, drugs, relationships, societal expectations, it was liberating to look straight at the dark spots without denying the darkness, and yet also finding light.
This was wholly different than other comedy shows I’ve seen. Brennen had the crowd in the palm of his hand the entire time, controlling the pace and tone of the show with conductor-like precision. There were moments when you could’ve heard a pin drop as we waited to see where he would lead us.
The 90 minute show flew by. The standing ovation felt full of love, and Neal stood gracious and humble, taking it all in.
It was the perfect last show for my festival coverage; profound, professional, masterfully hilarious.
As for my kid, she followed him on social right after the show, which is of course how that gen shows their approval. While she doesn’t know it yet, she’s going to have trouble finding a show that will live up to it, I sure look forward to helping her try.