Comedy Preview: Jim Breuer
One of the most beloved working stand-up comedians in the country, who can now add heavy metal vocalist and sports network mogul to his resume, will stop at the Columbus Funny Bone this weekend on his "Family Warrior" Tour
If you’re enthusiastically holding tickets in your hand for one of Jim Breuer’s four shows this weekend at the Columbus Funny Bone, his own excitement to play in the Arch City on his current Family Warrior Tour promises a pretty outstanding return on your investment.
“Seeing me live — that’s where I thrive the best,” he told me during a phone conversation a few weeks ago. “Oh, and I’m gonna…I kill that room. I kill…that…room. Columbus always has a deeper thing — I always bring a daughter there and we have the best time. Don’t ask my why I always pick Columbus. The restaurants, the movie theater, the shows. I think I’m bringing my youngest daughter to that one. She wants to sell merchandise, so I’m ready!”
Breuer is a 20-year veteran of the stand-up stage, TV, and films. But, perhaps his greatest accomplishment is having the distinction of being the only cast member to make my typically nonplussed mother laugh during a Saturday Night Live sketch.
But truly, New York native Breuer is one of the most prolific and admired comedians in the business. Named one of Comedy Central’s “100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time,” Breuer got his start as a touring stand-up comic, which eventually brought him to the club circuit in New York City. In 1992, he joined the cast of the syndicated TV series Uptown Comedy Club alongside Tracy Morgan and Debra Wilson. A highly-rated guest appearance with Dave Chappelle on an episode of the hit ABC sitcom Home Improvement in early 1995 opened doors for Breuer, who would join the cast of Saturday Night Live that fall, where he would remain for three seasons, and rose to national recognition in the process with his now-revered character work and uncanny celebrity impersonations.
In 1998, Breuer would reunite with Dave Chappelle to co-star in the film Half Baked, which has since become a cult comedy classic. He has also appeared in Zookeeper, Dick, Titan A.E., Once In The Life, and Beer League. Breuer also found a home on TV for several years, hosting MTV’s Beach House, VH1’s Web Junk 20, as well as guest spots on Kevin Can Wait, Liv and Maddie, and on Comedy Central’s Comedy Jam and This Is Not Happening.
At the heart of Breuer’s more recent work is his reflection on his personal growth and family. If you haven’t yet seen Breuer’s 2009 documentary, More Than Me, which chronicles the time he spends with his then 85-year-old father on the road during his 2008 Breuniversity comedy tour, it’s an incredibly poignant, and exceptionally funny, film. In 2011, Breuer received high praise for his autobiography, I’m Not High: (But I’ve Got a Lot of Crazy Stories about Life as a Goat Boy, a Dad, and a Spiritual Warrior). He has produced four acclaimed comedy specials, the most recent of which, Jim Breuer: Comic Frenzy, debuted on the EPIX network in 2015.
Breuer has also managed to turn his long-standing love of heavy metal music into a bona fide second career as front man of Jim Breuer and The Loud & Rowdy, who released their first album, Songs From The Garage, in 2016. Breuer’s appreciation for the genre is so evident in the album’s excellent construction, and as a lead singer, he sounds fantastic.
“That’s natural,” he exclaims. “I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager, so that’s been my alter ego. That’s been the direction I really wanted to go. But the comedy took off a lot quicker, so it was really hard to keep up with the band thing and so that was always in me. I didn’t take voice lessons or nothin’ — that was always there.”
Those who want to dive deeper into metal geek-ery with Breuer can stream his weekly podcast, The Metal In Me, on his official website.
I really want to know more about your work with The Loud & Rowdy. You were just in Columbus playing Rock On The Range a couple of months ago as a featured artist. That had to have been a great experience for you.
“Oh my God, yeah! I mean, that’s the second time I’ve played that place, and, when you’re on stage and, you know, there was too many people in the tent and they wouldn’t let anymore people in the tent to see me. And you turn to the side and there’s James Hetfield watching you with some other bands. I mean, and you hear James Hetfied laughing (impersonating) ‘heh-heh-heh-heh!’ And there’s a guy from Volbeat, and then some other band. It was awesome.”
How did you contribute to the writing and production of Songs In The Garage?
“The songs are mostly me and Rob Caggiano who did the guitars and produced it. I would write the lyrics, the premise, and riffs for the songs. So I would record all the riffs, and I’d show the band and have them imitate it. Or I would tell my guitarist ‘I want, like, this to sound sorta like a Black Sabby tune — here’s the lyrics I had in mind and here’s what the song’s about,’ and then see if he could come back with something. But at the end of the day, it really came down to me and Rob, where I would write and he…drove me nuts! I mean I never worked so hard in my life! So hats off to him! He’d make me re-write stuff and it would take me 10 hours. And it would drive me…I have never been so frustrated in my life.
He made me work hard. He was tremendous to be around, and it was a big learning experience. But pretty much Rob…and I’d leave and he’d go (impersonating) ‘Listen, I changed this up. Don’t get pissed at me.’ And I’d go ‘Well, alright. Let me hear what you did.’ And then I’d listen and…agh! Like raising teenage girls, I wanted [the sound] to be very, like sad but true. Heavy, dark, and dreary. I wanted it to be where I was, like, I was sitting her down in a chair and talking slow, you know? And he…he’s like (impersonating) ‘Listen, you’re gonna scare people…you gotta…listen, I’m gonna make it more poppy.’ And we fought! We fought over it, but…he said (impersonating) ‘Your audience is not that metal! No-one’s gonna…’ I mean, whatever — to each his own, but at the end of the day they’re still good songs.”
Are you planning on making a second record?
“I am, but it’s gonna be a lot different. I definitely want to make another one. He and I have talked about it — maybe next summer we’ll tackle one.”
Your material has shifted over the years in terms of content and focus. Are your values fundamentally different now than they were when your career began?
“Oh, God, yes. Like stand-up wise? Hands down. Years ago, I’d play just to be funny. And during the SNL days, I’d play just to crush and I’d play a lot just to appease the audience. Where as the last 10 years, I changed the whole tune where I said ‘I’m going to to perform what I’m best at.’ And what I’m best at is relatability, a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of a message, and over the top with some of the stories. And that’s the only thing that keeps me going is the passion in what I’m talking about. And the direction…where years ago, you know, it was…uhh…more like the Half Baked days. But then my kids grew up — I know their eyes are on me…I know the internet…I know their friends are watching. I’d rather them have their peers be proud or excited — ‘Oh, I saw your dad do…oh, my God, your dad’s really funny with this bit he does!’ So I changed my whole tune once they were all in school. And I was like…the last thing I want to do is have one of their friends going ‘my mom says your dad’s disgusting! He talks about drugs and he’s really filthy and he curses all the time!”
There was a moment when…we’d have a dad’s night out in town. And one of those nights, and I’m gonna say this was around 2006, this woman next to me said ‘Oh, you’re the guy from TV! But you’re really filthy and blue.’ And I said ‘No, I’m not blue. Have you ever seen my stand-up?’ And she said ‘No, I would never go see it because it’s raunchy!’ And I was so pissed at her, but at the same time I thought ‘Well, if she’s saying that, how many other people are saying that? Why are they saying that? What is the image of me?’ And while I’m on TV and movies, I can’t control my image — my real life image. So that was the moment when I said ‘I am going to control my image from this day out.’ And I started doing that in 2008. I know a lot of comics who were, like, ‘Oh, you’re all family now?! Oh, you don’t curse?!’
And, you know, I’m on my fourth new special, a book…and I’m inspired. I’m gonna rock it to the end, and it’s what I’m best at.”
I know your mom passed away very recently, and watching the relationship between you and your dad in More Than Me was really touching. In what ways do you grow personally and professionally after you experience those profound losses?
“The greatest part of that is your kids watch everything you do. They’re watching the whole scenario. They watch…’Oh, how’s he gonna handle this? And how are we supposed to handle this? I think when my dad went, my youngest one was nine or ten at the time. And she sat in that room pretty much until his last breath. Because she saw my calmness and how I handled it. You know, I’d go in…and even though he was unconscious, I’d talk to him as if he heard everything — and laughing, and playing the music he liked. Even though I knew what was going down. And she…I didn’t really realize how powerful it was until almost a year later when she wrote a letter on his anniversary. Which, I didn’t even realize was the anniversary — I completely blacked it out. And she wrote a letter, and I…pfff…I dropped to my knees sobbing.
It just made me realize as another death comes, or you go through another issue or crisis in the family, it’s how you walk the walk. And they study everything you do, and that’s the most important thing in the world. And that…I also like figuring out how to bring that to stage. Finding the funny in it, because there’s definitely funny in it. It’s just finding it. And that’s kind of what I’m doing now as we go out.”
You recently launched a new website, Bats, Balls & Breu, which was born out of your love for Mets baseball. How did that idea come about?
“Well, when I started doing those recap videos, you know, I’d get a lot of Mets fans watching them. But there were also other fans from other teams, and I started getting: ‘I don’t even know baseball or watch baseball, but I love watching the videos’, or ‘hey, I know you’re a Mets fan, but darn I wish you were an Orioles fan,’ or ‘I wish you were a Braves fan.’ And then I started talking with some of these people, and we’d go to a game together. I actually wanted this to launch last year — it’s been two years in the making — and I had an idea where I went ‘How amazing would it be if I could create a network, like an ESPN, for the fans — but run by the fans?’ And you start off with just the recaps, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
So that’s what Bats, Balls & Breu is. So people put on recaps after a game, and then I’d take the best of the recaps and make it into a weekly show. And then I’d FaceTime with some of these guys and say ‘Give me your predictions and what you think about your team, and what you think is really going on with your team.’ And so that’s…I’ve gotten to go to some ball games — I went to Seattle and met someone…I go meet a Nationals fan or a Braves fan. And I love that. It’s still growing, and hopefully in a few years, it’ll be what my vision is.”
You’ve achieved so much as a comedian over the course of your career. Are there other things you’re still anxious to pursue?
“Yeah, yeah. There are two major things I want to do…there’s a lot of things I want to do. First, I want to write very successful TV shows. I don’t know if I need to star in them…I would like to write a movie, which I’m in the process of…everybody‘s always in the process of…but I haven’t really done this in 15, 20 years. I plan on going back into the acting role in about three years — very aggressively. So once the last one’s out of the house, that’s something I really, really have a lot of passion about pursuing again.”
Jim Breuer will take the stage Friday and Saturday night at the Columbus Funny Bone at Easton Town Center, 145 Easton Station. Tickets (21+) are $30 (the show at 7 p.m. Saturday is sold out), and can be purchased here.
For more information, visit officialjimbreuer.com.