Interview: Stand Up Comic Matt Braunger

Braunger.jpg
Photo courtesy Matt Braunger.

At well over six feet tall, it would be hard to miss longtime stand up comedian Matt Braunger in a crowd. The good news is, he's not trying to blend into the crowd anyway. After all, this is that one stand up who admits to having normal parents. You know, the one who goes on Letterman and spends half of his set talking about owls, then releases his stand up album Soak Up the Night on vinyl. And besides, that growing crowd was here to see him all along.

Now a mainstay in the LA stand up scene, Braunger has spent years perfecting his craft and digging in for a climb to the top. Now in his 30s, with Montreal Just For Laughs, SxSW, and a Comedy Central special behind him, it seems inevitable that much of Matt's future will be spent head and shoulders above the rest. LAist was fortunate enough to sit down with Braunger (or, rather, cower behind a food truck inside a Culver City parking lot) for a few questions.


LAist: So you grew up in Portland, went to college outside of New York City, lived in Chicago and moved to LA. Which city wins?

Matt Braunger: In terms of livability, I’d say Portland wins, but there’s no way to make a living at what I do there. There’s two comedy clubs now, but still...no. Overall, it’s a close tie with Chicago, though. And I really do enjoy living in LA, I really like it here a lot. So to answer your question: all of them. (laughs) That’s a vague, bullshit thing to say.

And while you were in Chicago studied under (legendary founding father of long-form improvisation) Del Close briefly.

MB: I did, months before he died. It’s like how our parents knew exactly where they were when Kennedy died, all of us know exactly what we said to make Del laugh, because it wouldn’t happen that often. I remember - we went up and did monologues, and mine was: I grew up loving toys, but also reading Greek mythology. So I would play, but there would also be huge stakes. Like, if Flint didn’t make it to the top of Mount Mom’s Couch, he would not only lose his life, he would lose his soul. And I remember Del cracking up at that.

So what made you take the leap into stand up?

MB: You know how when you joke around with a friend who is also a performer, you get going on a riff and then someone’s like ‘is that joke mine or yours? Can I use that?’. I did this joke, and my friend said ‘That’s awesome, I’m going to use that joke’, and I said no, you’re not. He said, ‘But you’re not a stand up!’, and I said ‘I AM NOW!’. It was more selfish ownership than anything. I went to see (my friend) at a show, and the host said ‘I heard you’re funny, do you want to get in free and do some material?’, so I just sat at the bar and wrote some stuff on a napkin. Unfortunately, I did really good that first set, and came away thinking it was easy. Then it took months and months to get back to that moment again.


In 2007 you really came on the scene, with Just for Laughs in Montreal, and then parlaying that into great gigs at the Vegas Comedy Festival , SxSW , and Rooftop Comedy in Aspen. How important are those festivals for getting some traction in the industry?

MB: It’s interesting. I think now people can see a clip of you online and throw you in a festival, although Montreal Just For Laughs is kind of the anointed one. You get exposed to a lot of people who start keeping an eye on you from there, but at the same time people can be doing it for years and not get seen. Then they suddenly get seen, and people say ‘oh, this person’s awesome’.

The cool thing is, people now I think are doing it for the love, more than ever. Six, seven years ago, people were going to Montreal and getting deals. It’s not that quick buck anymore. I definitely think festivals help, but in the end they’re kind of more fun than anything. You get to hang out with a lot of comedians, you get that little pass to get into see bands. They help, but I don’t think people should hinge their hopes on getting into those festivals or not.


Since then, you’ve done a stint in the popular webseries IKEA Heights -

MB: (laughs)

And you were on the ill-fated last season of MadTV.

MB: That’s correct. I brought it down by the horns.

Andy Daly talks a lot about how MadTV wasn’t the right move for him, he didn’t feel like his material fit in. What were your experiences?

MB: Mine was totally random, because I don’t do characters, and I don’t generally do impressions. (Before the audition) I had torn a ligament in my leg, and I went in on crutches. I basically auditioned while teetering on crutches, and the whole time they didn’t know if it was a character or not. Fast forward, I’m at a festival in Arkansas, and I’m backstage, literally about to go on, and I got a call from my agent saying I’d gotten MadTV, and I just said ‘you’re full of shit’. I think I would have been a lot more nervous going into something like SNL, because that’s a little more high pressure. MadTV was just fun, because I would joke about something in the hallway, and a producer would say ‘that’s funny, why don’t you go write that out’. I’d write it as a sketch, submit it, and it would get produced. There’s just nothing like watching a group of Teamsters build a set that you came up with for Iron Discipline Gym.


You’ve got Soak Up The Night out now, and a Comedy Central special under your belt, yet you’ve been doing a lot more legitimate acting lately.

MB: A little bit. I did a bit role in Pushing Daisies, a few episodes of United States of Tara. It’s weird, because that’s how I started out. As a kid, I was always an actor, that kid that watches the Oscars every year. I was really enamored with acting, and I guess I still am on some level, but I’ll never be one of those people who are amazing. I can definitely fill a role. Channel 101 and IKEA Heights have helped because I can do small roles. I’ve had to take acting classes to really get back into it, but I know I’ll never get cast as John F. Kennedy. Unless he’s really doughy.


You also released Soak Up the Night on vinyl through your website, which is such a funny choice.

MB: I was the first artist on Comedy Central to come out with vinyl. It was just a fun thing to have, and it’s limited edition. I think they only printed up 1,000 copies. It’s very fancy.

I thought it would have more to do with you being a huge audiophile, or playing towards your laid back appeal.

MB: Yeah, I can’t afford a CD player. (laughs) It’s not one of those pretentious things...


You had a day job up until the last few years. Do you have any advice for those workaday comedians who are looking to break through after hours so they can quit too?

MB: It’s entirely random. I took a risk leaving my job, but if you have enough saved to get by, you might as well try it. It’s so hard to give any kind of advice, because it’s a different story for everybody. I still have a crappyish old car, I still rent. I’m making a living but I’m not wealthy by anyone’s means. Obviously the only advice you can say is do it as often as you can and try to be true to your perspective.


You describe your parents as traditionally supportive in a way that's not usually found much in comedy, but you're still able to simultaneously mine dark material and lighthearted jokes. Do you think there's any real corollary between how someone is raised and their ability to do comedy?

MB: They’re both school teachers. They know what it is to get up in front of angry faces that might not want to see you. And they know what it is to take a risk and do something you believe in and believe you’re good at. They’ve always been supportive. There were those moments where they were worrying about me, but when I did Letterman or MadTV, I think there was a bit of collective exhale. I don’t know if they’d admit that, but it’s just because I’m the only child. If I had a brother who’s a doctor, they’d say ‘oh, you can be a fuck up, do some heroin’.


Finally, share with us some road show horror stories.

MB: The first road show I ever did was the weekend after September 11th, 2001. I was so excited, because I’d just started doing stand up. We were somewhere in Iowa, and I just never wondered in my head why the acts they booked had cancelled. Every set was awful, and I’m on stage going ‘yeah, you’re right. I want to cry too. What the fuck was I thinking?’.