WHETHER YOU RECOGNIZE THE FUNNYMAN best as Goat Boy, the host of “SNL” sketch show “The Joe Pesci Show,” or his infamous role alongside Dave Chappelle in “Half Baked,” the name Jim Breuer is somehow set inside all of our heads. Yet among his many accomplishments in sketch, television, film, and radio, the comic’s first and long-lasting love is and forever will be stand up comedy. With a personality that heightens physicality and animation, Breuer began his act in high school and soon moved to New York, where he was quick to turn some heads. In 1995, he earned a spot on “Saturday Night Live,” and the rest is undoubtedly history.
His newest special “And Laughter For All,” which has just been released via EPIX, comes eleven years after his first, “Hardcore.” Yet though the years have gone on, Breuer’s act is as brilliant as ever.
Jim spoke with TSJ about his time on “Saturday Night Live,” embracing his “stoner comedian” title, and how he’s learned to wait for the fastballs while at bat.
The Smoking Jacket: I watched your new special. I really, really enjoyed it. You never seem to miss a beat.
Jim Breuer: Good! I haven’t even seen it.
TSJ: You’re kidding.
JB: Nope. Once it’s done I can’t really look at it. It’s out of my hands. Once I put the work in and help edit and stuff I’m like okay, it’s done. I can’t watch it from beginning to end. On to the next one, that’s how I think about it. It’s kind of like a surprise party, like oh yeah, I forgot! But I hope people like it.
TSJ: Trust me, you’ll be pleased. It’s part of a pretty cool thing, the EPIX Comedy Unbound lineup. It ends with the “The Improv: 50 Years Behind The Brick Wall” documentary?
JB: I believe so. I know EPIX is pushing comedy very hard. They have a lot of great specials coming out. Also, they’re airing the documentary I made with my dad, which I’m very excited about it. It’s called “More Than Me.” It’ll be on right after my special.
TSJ: That’s great! So you’ve been doing stand for about 25 years now, and in watching your special it’s obvious that you still have that energy you had when you first started out. Was your act as animated in the early days?
JB: It always was. That was my style, being animated. I’m a storyteller too. I act out all of the characters I see and all of the characters in my stories. I’ve always been very physical and animated. Now instead of people being like oh, he’s animated, they’re like yeah, he is but it’s about family, so he’s got something to say!
TSJ: [laughs] Where did you start?
JB: I started in high school at rock clubs. I’d go up before some friends who were in bands. Then I started doing comedy clubs in Levittown, where I’m from. So I did it for about a year and half until we moved to Florida. I didn’t re-start until 1989 or so, but technically I started in 1985.
TSJ: Was there much of a scene in Florida?
JB: Yeah! It was really good. It was me, Darrell Hammond, Billy Gardell, Tom Rhodes, Brian Regan would also come around a lot. Larry the Cable Guy, who was Dan Whitney back then, was also there.
TSJ: I didn’t realize so many of you guys were from Florida. Was stand up something you took to rather quickly or was there still a struggle?
JB: You know, I hate to sound cocky but once I set my mind to it, it came pretty quick. In ’89, my goal was to be the best open-micer, which I accomplished quick. Then I wanted to be the house Emcee, and I soon did that. Then I wanted to do road gigs and by the end of the year I was. I wanted to do middling and headlining and it happened. Then in ’91, I moved to New York and by the end of the year I was on television. By ’94, I had a whole bunch of development deals, and in ’95, I was on “SNL.”
TSJ: I know everyone who has been on “Saturday Night Live” is asked this but was that the dream?
JB: No, not at all. It was the furthest thing from my mind, honestly.
TSJ: Were you a fan?
JB: I was but it wasn’t one of those things where I was like oh man, I’ve got to get on there! If anything, I was being developed for sitcoms and that was more in my radar. I had a show very, very, very similar to “King of Queens” that we were developing but I then got “SNL.”
TSJ: Well, that didn’t suck.
JB: [laughs] No, it didn’t suck.
TSJ: Is it true an intern turned the writers onto your Joe Pesci impression?
JB: Yeah! And that intern became a writer in television, actually. He heard my impression and was like, Dude, you’ve got to do Pesci on the show. The original idea was to do him at the Update table. We wrote it but then one of the writers overheard us and said he had a better idea, which was the talk show.
TSJ: Your first special was “Hardcore” back in 2002. How would you say your act has changed over the past eleven years?
JB: I think the main thing is that I’m a lot funnier, and that’s because I’m more focused. I feel like I wasn’t too focused back then because I was trying to appeal to a certain group. I don’t feel tied down anymore. I’ve become myself, I think. And I think that happened with my last special, I came out with guns blazing. Ever since I’ve been popping out one ever year and a half or so. They get better and better.
TSJ: What caused that? Just age and maturity?
JB: Pretty much. I think that happens with a lot of comics. You find yourself. It’s happening with Louie and Marc Maron right now. We find ourselves. We’re in our 40s. It’s like, All right, I got it! [laughs]
I discovered I’m a fastball hitter so why bother swinging at curve balls and sinkers? I’ll wait on the fastball and then put it on the upper deck. Stick to what you destroy at. And what I do onstage now I destroy at.
TSJ: That’s what I was getting at with the new special. It’s hard for me to imagine you writing all of that. You’ve got to improvise.
JB: I do! I improvise every single show. Every one. I might have the same premise or the same area to bring up but every single show I create more and more. Sometimes I drop things but I always find ways to make each show unique. All of that stuff you saw in the special, I’m not even doing now.
TSJ: I like that. It works in your favor. People come see you live and they’re not seeing what they just saw on the special. Something like that you can’t do five or so years into a comedy career.
JB: There’s no way. There’s a lot of guys who are like I’ve put out six DVDs! It doesn’t matter. How many hits do you have? How many home runs?
The greatest thing I learned at “Saturday Night Live” was that nobody cares how many times you sucked or how many times you were on; they only remember the big highlights, the big ones that everyone talks about.
When I make specials, I don’t feel as if I need to make one every year. That won’t define me. I just know that when I release one I want everyone to be talking about them. And this one, I know I’ll appeal to families, to metal heads, and to comedy fans. I also think I’ll gain a lot more fans.
TSJ: In speaking of your fans, you’ve been coined as a “stoner comic.” Was that ever something you wish didn’t happen? Or did you embrace it?
JB: At the time I definitely embraced it, yeah. I was a little bit in that world [laughs] and had a good time with it. I rode that wave and it felt great. I loved it! It was like putting out a good song.
TSJ: I know you drifted into radio a while back. Did you find that transition simple?
JB: It was such an easy transition.
TSJ: Is it an easier medium?
JB: No, not at all. I think a lot of guys who are stand ups think radio will be easy but it’s very difficult. It’s not stand up, no matter what you think. In radio, you have to be entertaining in a conversation. People will listen to you but you better be entertaining and touch emotions.
TSJ: Plus there’s no immediate reaction with radio. With stand up you can play off the crowd.
JB: Yes, exactly! In the beginning I definitely had a hard time with that. I just assumed no one was listening. I guess I was wrong once I started doing tour dates.
TSJ: Did it help with the tour?
JB: No, not at all, which is why I’m glad my Sirius days are over. And everyone says I should go into podcasting but I really don’t want to. I’d rather do a visual podcast.
TSJ: It’s like what you said before: you’re a fastball hitter. Do what you do best.
JB: Totally. This summer, I know I’m going to take a camera around and people will be able to watch. Also, I’m doing something at The Stress Factory in New Brunswick, NJ, where it’s a night of storytelling that we’re going to be animating.
TSJ: Animating the set? How exciting! For who?
JB: For my own web channel. I’m psyched man. And who knows, if it gets a lot of viewers I might do like ten or twenty episodes. That’s the world we live in.
TSJ: It’s pretty obvious that you love stand up. Everything you do is based around it. Do you think you’ll ever stop?
JB: No, never. And I think for two reasons: one is that I absolutely love it. And two: it’s the only world where someone can write, direct, edit, and control what happens. I can live with bombing onstage if it happens. I can live with doing that to myself.
Stand up is probably the only thing that is live where you are in total control most of the time. That’s why Louie is so on top of the world. He’s the first guy who has ever, ever accomplished that. He writes, edits, directs, casts; he does it all. No notes – get out of my face.
TSJ: Is that something you want?
JB: Oh hands down, yes!
TSJ: I hope it happens with the animated series. That sounds like a great idea.
JB: We’ll see dude. Anything can happen. But in the meantime, I’m real excited for it!