Neal Brennan JFL42, Toronto ON, September 20
Published Sep 21, 2018"It's been a while," Neal Brennan said while scanning his phone for a setlist of bits he could proceed with, just past the halfway point of a stellar display of wise writing and understated physical humour. An acknowledged break from roadwork didn't really hinder him as, even rusty, over the last few years, Brennan has emerged as a master comic.
Best known for co-creating Chappelle's Show, Brennan reclaimed his name with the 2017 Netflix special, 3 Mics, which he initially showed off in Toronto at an intimate show in 2015. While his latest hour is nowhere near as confessional (how could it be?), it reveals the same kind of incisive analysis of human behaviour and the state of the world that makes Brennan a vital truth-teller.
Instead of simply railing against someone like Donald Trump, whom he views as an anxiety-inducing monster, Brennan can turn a national crisis into an allegory about how politicians lie about everything the same way he has lied to his girlfriends. It's lucky, he says, that lying boyfriends don't have to face off against attack ads from opponents the way politicians do. In his performance of this bit, one can visualize such an ad, as he satirizes all of the markers of the form.
When he delves into why Trump's bias against "Mexicans," is really the president's catch-all for racism toward Latinos, or how Muslims and members of ISIS can be differentiated the same way an intensely fanatic white kid at a JAY-Z show is part of the crowd but also not, your own mind gets into gear.
Such bits are a rare blend of super smart with absurdly silly that vividly jumpstart your imagination because the attention to detail in his material is next-level sharp. Perhaps the porn stuff is a little distracting, as a result, but that's more on us than him. At the very least, "Here we go," takes on a new meaning when you leave the show.
It's true that Brennan is still honing how all of these ingenious bits are going to flow together. One could see him searching for them on stage a little bit, which reveals an act getting closer to its final form and sequence. That said, there's nothing clunky here. Brennan's material is extremely sharp, of the moment, and clearly generated from the mind of an intellectual who can examine our low brow timeline and generate jokes at the highest level.