Interview: Comedian Matt Braunger

RAGHAV MEHTA | Updated 9/26/2013

"MADtv" alum talks comedy interviews, podcasts and busting your ass ahead of his run at Acme.

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There are only a handful of comedians as irrefutably lovable as Matt Braunger. The Portland, Ore., native - who’s headlining Acme Comedy Club through Saturday - came up in the thriving Chicago comedy scene alongside beloved contemporaries such as Pete Holmes and Kyle Kinane (the latter of which, coincidentally enough, will be headlining Acme next week). “I’m kind of a lightning rod for awkwardness, kind of an awkward rod. And it’s not just because I look like an enormous toddler,” Braunger declares on his stellar sophomore album “Shovel Fighter,” which was released on Comedy Central Records last year.

Braunger took some time to speak with about comedy interviews, his new 15-minute podcast and some of the less-than-glamorous aspects of a career in standup.

Q: As a comedian, do you ever feel pressure to be funny in interviews?

You know, it's interesting. It's almost like how you want to be as relaxed as you can be on stage and to give the audience a confidence in you. I think it's the same thing in interviews. There are people who think - and part of this is true, sure - you have to be funny all the time because you never know who's listening or reading. And sure, that's true but it's a real quick way to be overbearing and just obnoxious. I don't so much feel pressure as much as I've been doing this a long time, so I just let it happen if it happens. It's insufferable for the reader and especially the interviewer.

Q: Then it just feels like you’re auditioning for the interviewer.

A: Right.

Q: So, what's a typical day like for Matt Braunger?

A: Well, I guess I'll go by today for example because I don't really have a routine. But today I'm meeting with my writing partner where we've been taking this show idea that we've been pitching to a couple of production houses and we have this one little problem we're trying to fix with giving it a stronger hook. You know, a deeper plot function. So, I'm working on that for about an hour and a half and then I go to Nickelodeon where I'm doing a short with them, which hopefully will get turned into a series about two little 8-year-old kids who completely disregard authority and look at life as being on a two-man Indiana Jones kind of thing. They're storyboarding it out for me, the illustrators, so I'll be going over the boards and then I have therapy. I do therapy every Monday.

You launched a podcast recently that's 15 minutes long. Why only 15 minutes?

A: I wanted to have something that I had to do once a week that would just be broadcast. I wanted to do a podcast but I didn’t want to depend on having a guest. I'm not really an interviewer, I'm not really a host. The concept is I hop in to your vehicle or your iPod or what have you for 15 minutes, like I'm hitchhiking, and then I hop out. And in between I talk about whatever I think happened that week that I think is funny.

The goal is to make it entertaining. Ideally it would be like a 15-minute set. There's a little more rambling than that. But the point of making it 15 minutes is to try and get away from the bloated podcasts out there that are like two, three hours. That's great if you have that kind of time but I don't. I love podcasts because I can just sit in my car and I feel like I'm with the person. It's a lot more relaxed than having to listen to song after song after song. When you have five or six favorite podcasts and they're all two hours, that's just too much time.

I'm on the 23rd episode now. It's a fun little thing and it's an excuse to be creative on a different level. Whereas with the stage I'm doing jokes and refining the jokes. With this I can just take something that struck me as being very funny or rack my brain for some old story I forgot about that I don't tell on stage and sometimes stuff I do on the podcast becomes jokes that I do on stage.

Q: Well, you're so fluid and conversational in your standup. You come off as the kind of guy who prefers to talk it out onstage opposed to sitting down and writing material.

A: Oh, definitely talk it out. I'll write down certain phrases or ideas to make me remember what I'm getting into and what the story is. It's funny, though, because it wasn't until I started doing sets on television, where you have to type the whole thing out and send it in, have I even consider that kind of thing. And it's brutal. I hate it. I love writing scripts and writing themes. Even if i had a character and I wanted to write a monologue, great. But in terms of just writing out jokes, in terms of how I talk, I read it and I'm like, "This is horrible." But it's what they need for standards and practices.

I love the fact that I just recorded my album for Comedy Central, which is also a hour special, I had the album and just gave it to them and that's all I had to do. I can't imagine having to write out an hour.

Q: You said recently in an interview that your new material is more on the personal side. Do you feel like you weren't being personal before and why do you think you weren't?

A: No, I mean, I like weird stuff that makes me laugh that'll I share onstage and weird ideas. But I'm not going to take a hard left turn from that kind of thing. It's not going to be an album that starts with, "When I was molested. . ." or something or a horrible breakup or something like that. I've talked to some people who say, when they see a comedian, they like knowing who the person is. One of the keys for me for great comedy is perspective, probably the key. We want to see things through your eyes and we want you to bring us there. So, what makes you different? And I do that. But I want to talk about a little more personal stuff. Nothing too insane.

Q: In regards to having a career, so much of standup seems to depend on just volume and being producing content even though it might not lead to anything.

A: Most of it won’t and all of it might not. Absolutely. It’s more ... you know, it’s the corniest thing to say but it’s more about the journey not the destination. It’s just keeping busy. It’s one of those things where I really wish I would have lived like that more in my twenties when I was just bouncing around Chicago, doing shows and having fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s kind of what my 20s are for. But in my 30s, that’s when I really started going, "Oh, nothing comes to people unless you just bust your ass." There’s no other way around it.

I used to bristle, and I still kind of do, when someone I know who’s doing comedy is like, "Well, I don’t want to wait that long." Well, no one does, man. Kyle [Kinane] and I have a friend, I won’t mention who it was, but we were working 9-5’s and he was working two nights at a bar and just didn’t do anything else. And he’d always be like, "Oh I never have any money." And it’s just like, "Well, you don’t work" and he’d tell me, "Well, I just love free time." No one gets to say that. Who does not love free time? What a crazy thing to say. It’s just like saying "I love the taste of cheese and the feel of sex." Whoa. Mind-blowing, dude.