Comedian Matt Braunger May Be Made Of Mistakes, But He’s Also Doing A Lot Of Things Right.
Welcome to Humor Us, our column in which Dallas comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other comedians about the ol’ funny business.
Matt Braunger’s current Made of Mistakes act may be peppered with questionable thoughts and vivid descriptions of awkward actions, but the guy’s resume is pretty sterling.
He’s enjoyed success as an actor, having scored roles in Up All Night, Take My Wife and Agent Carter, among other projects. His stand-up, meanwhile, has been featured on Comedy Central and Netflix and earned him slots at a number of top festivals, including Montreal’s Just for Laughs and Austin’s South by Southwest.
He’s an obvious talent, capable of stretching an idea to wonderfully absurd limits. He’s also a master of finding rich veins of humor to tap into when talking about experiences in his life that could be — in less capable hands — downright sad.
He does more than just perform too, having co-founded Portland’s venerated Bridgetown Comedy Festival along with comedian Andy Wood. In other words: Braunger has a few notches on his belt, but he maintains a keen interest in the flourishing of local comedy scenes, and he tries to glimpse what’s happening in the stand-up world of any city he’s visiting.
That’s just one of the things I discuss below with Braunger in advance of his trip to town for a three-night run at Hyena’s Dallas next weekend, which kicks off with a free show on October 6 (more info and tickets here). We also discuss his current act, and the emerging trend of people investing in their own local comedy scenes.
Aside from how this is a new act, what would you say is different about “Made of Mistakes” versus what you’ve performed in the past?
It’s a little more specific. It’s a little more focused. It’s all jokes I like a little more, and it’s getting great reactions on the road. The great thing is, under that mantle, I keep discovering new jokes and new stories. It’s not like I’m a fuck-up machine, but there are just… I’ll do one on a daily basis, thoughts I’ll have, or a direction I’ll go, like, “Oh, that’s horribly wrong.” And then you kind of work backwards from there. But it’s been fun.
Was that something you set out to do, to have a central theme? Or was that something where the natural writing process led you to it?
A lot of it kind of fell into that, and honestly, not everything in it is like that. The one big thing I want people to take away is that this is not a one-man show. God forbid. Shoot me in the head and throw me in the lake if I do one of those. But, no, there are things that are not mistakes, they’re just stories or observations. I got asked to do an hour at Just For Laughs this year at Montreal, and everybody said, “You can call your show Matt Braunger Live if you want to!” but I was like, “Nah, I kind of want to give it a name that means something, or a name that means absolutely nothing.” When my first album came out, I was this close to calling it Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Only because that’s the biggest selling album of all time. And I’m glad I didn’t, because Michael died a couple months after, and I probably would’ve never done another joke the rest of my life because of the backlash. But I love it when people have names of things that will only reference one thing. Andrew Orvedahl has a comedy album called Hit the Dick Lights, about how spotlights on comedians are so pointless, and one was just focused on his pants. It’s a throwaway line, but he named his whole album after that. But basically it was because of Montreal. I had a little theme I could hang 75 to 80 percent of my jokes on, and it made sense. I was like, “Oh, great, let’s give it a real name.”
Were there any candidates as far as the nonsense names go?
Oh, boy. There’s so many. There’s Star War, with no “s.” Which, I have a whole bit about a store calling itself that. That was just the most perfect corporate ripoff I’ve ever seen in my life. Like, no “s” is your loophole.
So that’s a real store you found?
It’s a real store, yeah. You gotta go to the show or have someone go to the show and tell you about it to get the whole thing. It was in a strip mall. It’s now gone. I think it was destroyed by lasers in space. But it was there. But what else, what else… My Hand in a Man’s Mouth. That’s a whole story that I have. Mushrooms on the Fourth of July, that’s one too. You kind of want something that’s a little grabber.
What’s the experience like when you have an established act you’re taking across the country. How do you anticipate different reactions from people in different regions? Or do you maybe not think about that so much?
Not too much, no. If I do a local reference, I’ll usually yell “pandering” out, like, about myself, kind of as a joke. I feel like what people want to see from a comedian is the comedian’s perspective, and kind of forget about where they are. If I find something that I think is hilarious in the town, because I always explore the places I go, I’ll definitely talk about it. Or if something happens. When I was in Montreal — it’s such a beautiful town, but it’s also filthy in a lot of ways — I remember looking at something someone had written in beautiful cursive on the sidewalk, and then I realized it was in piss. I was like, “Wow.” I had to talk about that. There’s someone in the town who has beautiful penmanship with their dick. Like, it was amazing.
Yeah. But generally, I’ll just kind of do my act, and move the movable parts around a bit so it’s as fun for me as it is for them.
This is me talking as a comic on a vastly smaller scale: What is the change like when you go from building your initial headlining set versus the point where you’re like, “Time to construct something new!” and then time to construct something new after that? How does that change your approach?
It’s kind of gradual. Things kind of just fall away. I feel like, by the time you tape a new hour, you probably, at least a little bit, are a little tired of those jokes, and you kind of can’t wait to stop doing them just a little bit. And you probably have at least 20 minutes that are different from that hour that you can kind of build on. With someone like Louis CK or Bill Burr, where they’ll have a new hour every single year, I think they work it, and they’ll get to an hour, and they’ll just do the hour, and they’ll throw it in the trash, and they’ll go start doing mics, and start again. I never really did that as an exact mathematical science, just because I work on other things, too. And my mind doesn’t really work that way. But I think the larger point is it varies from comic to comic. Any comic who says, “This is how you do it,” I think is wrong.
Is this show your first stop in Dallas? Have you come through before?
I’ve been through, but I don’t think I’ve performed there before. I don’t think I’ve done any shows in Dallas. I’ve been all over the rest of Texas, but not Dallas, which is really surprising to me.
Just one of those things that never came up for some reason?
Yeah. I look at it this way: I’ve been headlining for about seven to eight years, but there’s only so many “comedy clubs,” and I do as many non-traditional comedy venues, like rock clubs and things, small rock clubs, as I do comedy clubs. And there’s 1001 comedians. So there’s always going to be a club I haven’t done, or you-name-it hasn’t done. Or a city.
As far as traveling in general, do you get to experience much of the comedy scene where you’re performing?
Honestly, it’s rare that I don’t check out at least one comedy show that isn’t at the venue I’m at, that I’m not on. I’ll usually at least get a beer and watch some of the locals, try to get a feel for the scene. Usually, whoever’s opening for me, be it the feature or emcee, or somebody doing a drop-in set or something will be like, “Oh, have you heard of the so-and-so room?” I’ll say, “No, what’s that?” “It’s a stand-up thing that starts at 11 at night on a Thursday.” Alright, great. Let’s go. It’s fun. It’s a cool way to kind of get to know new comics. There’s always funny people everywhere you haven’t seen.
Is that the norm for headliners in your experience?
No. [Laughs.] It’s pretty… Well, I think it’s not as true now, but when I started out, I didn’t know many comics who didn’t leave their hotel rooms. And they were just kind of miserable. I spend almost no time in my hotel rooms when I’m on the road, unless the weather’s brutal, or the ground’s covered in snow. I love to get out and explore the town, do what the locals do. I think some headliners will definitely do that, but some definitely won’t. I’m not one who likes to hang out with a bunch of people, especially people who come to the show that I don’t know necessarily, after the show. That’s a little weird. When people are like, “Oh, we’re going to a party, do you want to go?” “I do not.”
“You guys have fun!” But I like hanging out with the comics who will open for me, perform with me and stuff. Through them, their other friends will be comics. And there are some nights where I just want to go home. I gotta go back and read my book or watch TV or whatever. It varies.
Anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing in Dallas?
Just the fact that I haven’t been. Most of my visits there have been going through the airport and stuff. I have friends who play various venues in Dallas and really dug the local scene. I feel like with any city you go to now is going to have awesome stuff. I don’t know if it’s modern technology that helps people find each other, or if it’s just the fact that people like to create cool scenes where they live. There’s probably someone who’s like, “I like awesome coffee and fun bars, but I don’t want to go someplace that’s ‘hipper’ than this, because I like living here.” And they create their own scenes. And that’s really everywhere. It’s a pretty exciting time right now. I’m excited to find out what the stuff in Dallas is, that doesn’t even have to be new, even the stuff that’s traditional, that’s been around forever, that the locals just love.
As far as the phenomenon of people building local comedy scenes, has that always been happening since you’ve been touring, or is that newer?
It’s really newer. I think it’s in no small part due to festivals like mine, like the Bridgetown Comedy Festival that I helped start… God, it’ll be 10 years ago next year. And other grassroots festivals. Where people find out about these and go, “Oh, why can’t we do that?” And there’s no reason why they can’t. Not necessarily start a festival, but start a room, get people onstage who should be onstage. It’s just like the whole ’80s DIY punk rock thing — you might as well do it yourself. You don’t have to wait for someone else to give you the nod, or tell you you’re special enough to do it.
It’s funny, because I’ve talked to so many local comedians for this column, and the DIY thing comes up a lot. It seems like the mentality’s really spreading.
Yeah! It’s great. I feel like it’s rough because I think it’s harder and harder to get people to go to comedy clubs, but then at the same time — I feel like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m not — but more and more people are going to comedy clubs that would never go to comedy clubs before, because comedy clubs are kind of branching out and finding new and interesting people that have gotten an audience from anything from the internet to some weird TV appearance, to just word of mouth.
I know you’re in the middle of Made of Mistakes, but do you have any idea of what’s coming after that?
I’ve got a couple of projects coming down the pike that we’ll see if they see the light of day, if the corporate overlords that pay me for ideas will allow them to appear places. We’ll go from there. I think there should be a special recorded relatively soon, if not at the end of this year then the beginning of the next. And definitely an album, of course, with that. But, really, the thing I’ve been into lately is collaborating with hilarious friends to come up with cool new ideas that get us excited and energized to create new and interesting hilarious art. That’s about the vaguest answer I could have given you, sorry.
I noticed while researching you for the interview that you have Bridgetown, you have podcast work, you’re talking about some other projects. Is that kind of the norm now? It seems like more and more comedians are finding avenues not outside comedy, but maybe beyond what we think a comic is going to do.
Anyone can put a podcast up, anyone can put anything they film up. You have so many more options and ways and vehicles to get your voice out. I think a lot of comedians should be doing more, myself included. I always feel like I’m not doing enough, especially when I talk to some other comics. I’m like, “God, you’re always doing new things.” But I think, as far as I can see, it’s more the norm than not for people to do at least a little bit more than just doing stand-up. But, hey, I really feel like just doing stand-up is fine, too. Like if you don’t want to do anything else, that’s fine. I’m not gonna be the one to be like, “Oh, start a podcast!” when that’s the last thing in the world you want to do. You should really do what you feel comfortable and flexible doing.