Neal Brennan isn't one for convention. "A buddy of mine calls me Benjamin Button 'cause he says I'm doing my career backwards," he says during 3 Mics, later adding, "my gut told me to write with Mike Schur, then it told me write Chappelle's Show and then it told me to do standup. Like, you gotta follow your gut, right? Here`s the thing about guts though, they're wrong like 85 percent of the time…You just have to hope they're not catastrophically wrong."
It makes sense that for his first Netflix special, the writer/director turned standup comedian would continue to follow his gut and break with tradition, alternating his performance in front three microphones lined up across the stage — one for one-liners, one for traditional standup and one for "emotional stuff."
It's an idea that sounds slightly chaotic, but Brennan has clearly put a lot of thought into the pace and look of his performance, cutting the lights in the theatre and changing his body language and delivery style when he switches microphones. He begins reading one-liners from a small stack of cards before moving on to standup, then emotional material and cycling back to one-liners.
The one-liners aren't bad, but aren't necessarily memorable because of how strong and/or personal the rest of the hour is, but they act as a good palette cleanser following heavy and emotional moments. His standup, with the exception of some uninspired material about women and men, on student debt, slavery, sports scandals, Catholicism and concealed weapons ("If I had a concealed weapon on me, that's all I would think about all day. And then I'd go to Whole Foods or something and someone would cut me off and I'd be like, 'Am I about to smoke this motherfucker?'") is extremely sharp.
But the most captivating moments come in front of the "emotional stuff" mic. He's incredibly honest, speaking powerfully about his struggle with depression and its treatments, being a starfucker — in his personal and professional life — and his strained relationship with his father. He lightens the mood with a few jokes, but they don't make his stories any less striking.
His ability to balance moving storytelling with regular standup is exceptional and refreshing, and performing 3 Mics in this way isn`t just for the sake of originality — it's a clear glimpse at who Neal Brennan is: witty, vulnerable and optimistic. It's safe to say his gut was right about this.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.