The Comedy Club at Bay Street Theatre continues its series of all-star stand-up acts on Monday, July 22, with David Brenner. Known for his hilarious and brutally honest commentary on everyday life, Brenner is no stranger to the Bay Street Theatre stage, having performed there twice before. Dan’s Papers talked with the comedian about his career, family and more.
A Philadelphia native, Brenner looks back on his childhood and adolescence there fondly and believes his roots there keep him grounded.
“I still have some family there, and my best friends are the guys that I grew up with there since first grade,” he says, noting that his friendships proved invaluable as his career took off.
“When I was riding high, it didn’t matter; to these guys, I’m just David Brenner.”
Brenner believes in keeping his two “personas” separate. “When I step off the stage, I’m me. The person. When my foot hits the stage, I’m the persona, the comedian. If you and I were backstage and discussing, say, what’s going on in Egypt, I do my show, step off the stage, come back and continue our talk. I go back to being me. I don’t have this idea of, ‘I’m a star.’”
Growing up in Philadelphia provided Brenner with many interesting life experiences—like being in a Jewish gang, for example.
“It was a really rough neighborhood. I was a great negotiator,” he says with pride. “And humor played a major part in that. My father told me that if you get someone to laugh, they’ll stop hating you. So what I’d say if they weren’t going to back off, my last words were always this—‘Is there anything I can do or say to change your mind in this matter?’ And if not…well, then all hell would break loose,” Brenner laughs.
Brenner credits his father with giving him the gift of humor, noting that skills can be learned, but “with this, you start talking [funny] when you’re a little boy, it’s a gift. You didn’t do anything; you’re just that way. Very lucky. It’s genetics. Hopefully your genetics don’t make you a robber, that’s bad,” he jokes. Brenner is also very close with his three sons and mentions that his middle son, Wyatt, is “a clone of me. I’m a clone of my father,” noting that at times, they say the exact same thing at the exact same moment. “They’re all very funny.” Brenner laughs that they are very good sons. “They know [not to cause trouble]. I’ll say, ‘okay, do that again and you’re out of the will!’” he jokes.
Although he has the distinction of having the most talk show appearances in television history (he was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 158 times!), Brenner acknowledges that his broadcast appearances are becoming fewer and far between.
“I don’t get on TV much anymore because of the audience,” he sighs.
“But my material is current. I was one of the only ones doing news topics back in 2000, before Jon [Stewart] came on with his show and other great guys like Lewis Black, but all of a sudden I’m an also-ran! I don’t have the ‘18-35-year-old demographic’ so I don’t do very much television anymore. Now, most of my stuff is live.”
He also thinks that the bar for quality comedy has been lowered significantly, with many comedians finding great success with poor material, noting “They say the cream always rises to the top…but I say, ‘how do you find it in an ocean of milk?’”
Brenner is looking forward to returning to the Hamptons to perform at Bay Street.
“I never know what I’m going to do there,” he laughs. “It’s not a proscenium arrangement [a traditional theater stage], and it’s not a theater in the round; it’s a theater in a three-quarter round, which is great for stage plays. It’s a challenge,” he says. “I sometimes use [cue] cards, but where are you going to put cards there? So working there, I’ll be winging it,” he says happily. “I look forward to the engagement.”
David Brenner will perform at the Bay Street Theatre on Monday, July 22. For tickets and more information, go to baystreet.org.