In 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.
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