Neal Brennan loves Louis C.K. but says ‘Louie’ is the kale of television (Interview)

By | August 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm | 22 comments | feature slider, News, TV/Movies | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Neal BrennanIn this vast, cacophonous digital age, television programming finds inspiration from Twitter feeds, Tumblr blogs, podcasts and YouTube channels. So, it’s oddly quaint that Sundance TV is about to launch a new series based on one page of a magazine (magazines are like books but flatter and shinier)— specifically the back page of New York magazine. On that page for the last 10 years is the Approval Matrix, a wildly popular graphic feature wherein New York’s editors decide which pop culture entities are highbrow, lowbrow, brilliant and despicable.

Starting Aug. 11 at 11 pm ET, the printed feature will come to life on your smallscreens as The Approval Matrix with host Neal Brennan, a veteran stand-up comedian and co-creator of Comedy Central’s iconic Chappelle’s Show. Once the show’s six episodes begin to roll out, pop culture nuts will bask in the fast-paced shit-shooting sessions Brennan deftly cultivates. Each week a rotating panel (tune in for Jon Stewart, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Hannibal Buress, Jim Norton, Whitney Cummings and more) gets honest about television, celebrities and beyond.

Luckily, we’ll also get a great sense of Brennan’s opinions and philosophies— some of which will grab comedy nerds aghast. Aghast, I tell you!

To wit, in one episode I screened, Brennan takes time to voice his dislike of Louie, Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning series on FX. Few in the press or industry have said anything even barely negative about C.K. – Andy Kindler and New York comedian JL Cauvin are two exceptions that come to mind – so comedy goers will likely watch in complete disbelief as Brennan explains himself.

At the start of each The Approval Matrix episode Brennan delivers a monologue to sort of tease the meat of the show. In the episode in question, Brennan asks, “Are you a liberal arts major that likes to hang out at micro breweries bragging about your love of awkward comedy?,” before playing the part of said micro brew enthusiast: ‘I don’t like jokes in my comedy, you guys.’ Then Louie is going to hit you right in your flabby, ironic midsection.”

Later in the episode where Brennan and his panel – comedian/producer Whitney Cummings, comedian/writer Julie Klausner, TV Guide’s Matt Roush and Today’s Willie Geist – decide where to place each show on the Approval Matrix, Brennan announces, “Two And A Half Men and Big Bang Theory vs. Louie.” Cummings immediately interjects: “This is going to piss me off, I know it.”

“It’s really going to piss Louie off,” Brennan assures, before placing the cube that represents the aforementioned series on the Matrix.

“I’m going to put Two And A Half Men in ‘Lowbrow but Brilliant’ vs Louie,” Brennan says. “Again, I love Louie’s stand-up; I love the stand-up sections of the show. I find the narrative to be non-existent and kind of sloppy and kind of lazy. So, I’m putting him in ‘Lowbrow and Despicable.’ I think Louie is like the kale of television. I think people like to say they watch it but I don’t think anyone is really…”

Roush defends Louie a bit, placing the show in the highbrow section of ‘Despicable.’ Cummings and Klausner also offer diplomatic defenses for Louie. But Brennan isn’t done yet. “It’s not comedy,” Brennan says about Louie. “You’re not laughing. If you’re not laughing, it’s not comedy. It’s something else. What I just said was comedy because [our studio audience] fucking laughed.”

I chatted with Brennan about that episode to further delve into his Louie opinions. Check it out after the video.

I watched the episode of The Approval Matrix where you sort of explain your dislike of Louie, which not many industry folks have done.
Yeah, and I’m sick of it. Someone asked me, ‘Do you think you’re better than Louie? No, but I’m not worse than him. Everyone in the press seems to think everyone’s worse than Louie. And it’s like you start to feel crazy after a while. Like, am I out of my mind? I think Louie’s stand-up is the fucking best but I don’t like the show that much and it gets so much critical acclaim that I’m starting to be like, ‘Do I not understand what a narrative is or what TV is?.’ Honestly, it makes me feel lonely. And I just wanted to voice my opinion.

It’s almost like no one dares say anything negative about Louis.
When know one dares to do something, I think that’s the time comedians should step up and dare.

Are you concerned with blowback or with Louis getting pissed?
What’s he going to do? What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to get blackballed because my taste in TV is different than his? I don’t think so. It’s just my opinion. And I don’t think it’s any more or less valid than anybody else’s. If he gets pissed, then he’s a giant hypocrite—a guy who believes in free speech and honesty. Sorry, man, I don’t like that part of the show. I believe in plots and stuff.

You said on the episode that Louie isn’t comedy. You said it’s something else. And I felt there was more to that thought but maybe you got cut off. So, what is Louie?
I don’t know. It’s like a New Yorker cartoon. I would say it’s like David Sedaris but he does his stories live and it fucking destroys; he gets huge laughs. I think it’s like Dramedy? If people aren’t laughing, maybe it’s like light drama? The greatest example of [the problem with assigning genres] is when Jerry Maguire beat The Nutty Professor for best comedy.

That reminds me. Not that I should spend time getting upset about awards shows, but what do you think of Orange is the New Black submitting as a comedy for the Emmys?
I don’t think it’s a comedy. It’s like if no one has AIDS or cancer, then it’s not drama. It’s like if you don’t handle drama with absolute gravity then somehow it’s comedy. If the show doesn’t have this self-serious, straight-down-the-middle dramatic tone, then somehow it’s comedy. I don’t think it’s fair. But having said that, I think you’re right about not getting upset about awards. No one gets funnier by going to the Emmys. I almost think comedy shouldn’t be awarded in any way. A part of me thinks, ‘Don’t award comedy.’ It’s not going to make it better. Comedy does best when it’s abused. Richard Pryor was the funniest person ever—and mostly because he grew up in a whorehouse. That breeds better comedy than growing up in a loving household. And I feel like the cultural household for comedy is getting more and more loving.

I would think that’s a good thing for comedy.
I’m of two minds about it. I’m happy about it, too. I’ve been nominated for an Emmy and it was nice and all. But at the same time, it’s just a straight up vanity fair. ‘The winners! We’re all here! We’re the good ones! Thank god those people who are slightly less talented than us aren’t here. Keep them out!’ It’s villainous.

Check out The Approval Matrix when it premieres Aug. 11 at 11 pm ET on Sundance TV.

Be sure to subscribe to the weekly Laughspin Podcast on iTunes or on SoundCloud for all the latest comedy news, audio clips and more! Listen to the most recent episode below!

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

  • Penn

    Yeah, I tapped out after a couple of seasons. It seemed very self-indulgent to me, and not very funny. Still love his standup though.

  • Chris Price

    The backlash is full blown now. Shame.

  • Big Ice Bastardman ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    He is absolutely correct about Louie, the show is sloppy and annoying.

  • Susan

    i totally understand getting sick of a hype. im sick of the hype around louis ck. but i wont blame louis for that. his stand up is brilliant and his show is great, its not a laugh track comedy with a laugh every ten seconds. why do you think its on FX and is very low budget, Neal? because Louis and Landgraf are aware its not a broad comedy.

    what really makes me angry is using a show thats talk of the town to have some publicity for your own show. thats disgusting, dissing others to get into the news because you cant by your own talent.

    there is truth about self contragulating art hipsters, but i find people who are always anti things just because lots of people like them even worse. “im so anti mainstream!!!”

    also bitching about awards comes of bitter when you never won a lot of them. they obviously mean crap, but come on Neal would be the first one to talk “ironically” about winning five Emmys.

    boohoo Louis CK doesnt do what i want him to do. get over it. Metallica wont do another Master of Puppets by the way. to me thats one of the worst things critics or fans can do: demand that an artists does how they please.

    you dont like Louie? Fine. you dont laugh? fine. simply watch something else and dont use that show to attract viewers to your crappy rating show (LOL)

  • keendya

    And I think that all category debates aside, Louie’s best episodes like ‘God’, ‘Bully’, ‘Eddie’, ‘In The Woods’ are the best fucking TV in decades.

  • keendya

    I think he didn’t even watch the whole season of Louie. I think it’s hard to categorize Louie as Comedy or Drama because each episode of louie has totally different stories and tones. It’s right that Louie is more of a drama than it is a comedy, but you can’t count comedy out of Louie. Period.

  • SlamAdams

    Louie is one of the best shows on tv. Chappelle Show was good too. Super funny most of the time, but Louie is far more interesting.

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  • dave

    These people must be smart because they swear like criminals and mental patients.

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  • mr_magoo

    who is Neal Brennan?

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  • Bubba

    This conversation can be ended swiftly:

    Chapelle’s Show > Louie

    Need anything else cleared up? Just ask!

    • patrick

      You can’t really put it that way. Neal brennan wrote FOR Chapelle’s show. Louis C.K stars, writes, produces, directs and edits Louie. Say something now.

  • Neal

    I’m Neal and I want my show to be successful so I’m going to say I hate an Emmy winning Show.
    Obviously that will draw enough attention to have people watch my worthless opinion based crap.
    I am a genius!

  • ODI8R

    Neal Brennan is fucking nuts if he honestly thinks he’s equal to Louis CK. I guess sucking up to executives and doing middle-of-the-road stand-up boosts people’s egos.

  • zzzjjj

    Totally agree w/ Neal.

    I think it’s a problem of expectations.

    If you love Louis CK’s standup (which I do), then you wouldn’t expect a TV show written by Louis CK to turn out the way Louis has. It does not have the same energy and brilliance that his standup has.
    But maybe if you’re coming to Louis w/ less regard/knowledge of CK’s standup, then you can evaluate it on a different level.

    (I know I’m shitting on the show a bit, but I’m really trying to understand why I can’t get into it and nearly everyone else has.)

    • Nai

      Maybe because you don’t even know what it’s called, it’s Louie not Louis. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but if your going to agree in not liking the show you should know what name of it is. Maybe your missing a ton of the back story or details which could dramatically enlighten your experience in viewing the show, as you have missed the most basic detail in the title.

      • William Cross

        C’mon man, your whole life is just an accident? You had no intentions of being a jerk, but your second sentence was already prefacing the topic? Lewie is ok, spelling the title correctly may have greatly enhanced your enjoyment, but some people just aren’t as deep as you, and we just like comedy to be funny.

  • w/e man

    I’d agree with Neal if he was attacking just the way society reacts to Louie, but his comments about the show itself are off.

  • Guy number 2

    While I respect him having his own opinion, I completely disagree with his notion that nobody really enjoys watching Louie. Personally, I love it and I do laugh my ass off. Obviously that’s my opinion, and I believe that it is the opinion of many people. All I’m saying is don’t group “everyone” in the same category of your own “opinion.” Because that’s all it is; your opinion.

  • Guy commenting on the internet

    I laugh my ass off when I watch Louie. It’s lonely to not understand a cable show very few people watch?

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