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Interview: Comedian Matt Braunger - new special, "Shovel Fighter," premieres tomorrow on Comedy Central

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 02:  Matt Braunger performs on stage at the Gramercy Theater on December 02, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/PictureGroup)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 02: Matt Braunger performs on stage at the Gramercy Theater on December 02, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/PictureGroup)
Brad Barket

Comedian, actor, and writer Matt Braunger is following up the Comedy Central 1/2 hour that he did 2 years ago with his first hour special "Matt Braunger: Shovel Fighter" which premieres Saturday, July 14 (tomorrow), at 11pm on Comedy Central. The DVD release is Tuesday, July 17 and will be uncensored, include more content form his show as well as extras including a very funny clip of Braunger calling the "head" of Comedy Central with ridiculous demands for services and props for the show. The extras also include an explanation of the elaborate background that hangs behind Braunger during his performance and "commercials" tied to a joke in his set about "Lonely Man Dinners," answering the question, who is the man that eats a very lonely dinner by himself?

While Braunger insists that he's not a "famous" comedian, he is a performer you will see on the "Chelsea Lately" roundtable at least once a month, who was in several episodes of the most recent season of NBC's "Up All Night" as Gene, and who hails from the best lineup that the now-defunct "MADtv" ever had. You can catch Braunger performing spots around LA but look for him to do full sets on the road as well as special performances in festivals such as the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, that he co-founded, as well as this Fall's premiere edition of the San Francisco Comedy and Burrito Festival.

There is a definite look that you've established for "Matt Braunger: Shovel Fighter," explain that to us.

Matt Braunger: Yes! We have this kind of Depression-era freak show backdrop and these partially-dimmed footlights to complete the look of an old-timey circus. I'm even wearing work boots to look like one of the guys who would be driving the tent-pegs into the ground with a wooden mallet to help set up the circus.

You could have been one of the guys who chained up and whipped Dumbo's Mom.

Matt Braunger: Exactly! Yes! Wow! I have to tell my Mom that because we've talked about that being the saddest part of the movie. That still gets me every time. Now here I am, one of the guys whipping Dumbo's Mom.

Disney hasn't gone that depressing in a long time, that's not something you see in "The Little Mermaid."

Matt Braunger: No! There's no real human consequence anymore. You never see anybody really starving or suffering. They touched on those things in the past and it was so real. We've sterilized it now, that's a really good point. I guess characters lose their parents in Disney movies but there's no really horrible good bye like we had in Dumbo, that cradling trunk, my God, I need to stop thinking about it! I had actually recently read "Nightmare Alley" by William Lindsay Gresham which is a very dark version of those [Depression era] times and it's set in a circus. So when they asked me about how to theme the show I said "Let's do this!" We didn't go dark with it, but that book had a profound effect on me, about how [back then] you would pay money to just look at someone. The worst example would be a circus geek who was, basically, a guy, who was an alcoholic, who they would glue feathers to or whatever, to make him look like an animal, and he would bike the heads off of chickens. They would then throw a bottle in there and he would drink it. It's someone with the worst level of addiction getting exploited. There's no parallel between that and comedy, thank God! Throwing a bottle at some guy and saying "Make us laugh!" But I just wanted to have that kind of strange, American history feel, for the circus that we don't know now and never will again.

Well, we do have Charlie Sheen.

Matt Braunger: Oh! Yup! Our circus has become everything, on every level. Us Weekly has become the new carnival barker: "Worst Beach Bodies!" "Look Who's Passed-Out In A Car!" Excellent point!

In the show, you have so many great stories, there's an excellent one about you and your friend getting really drunk and thinking there is someone in the house, because I think everyone has had an experience of getting hammered with a friend and something weird happening.

Matt Braunger: [Laughs] Yes!

Also, there's a bit that I saw you do last summer at Just For Laughs about clowns, I believe you closed the special with that.

Matt Braunger: That's a story I've been doing for about a year and a half. That bit is so silly and weird, people just love that, the "clown pub crawl."

The process of figuring out a set has always fascinated me, how did you map out the hour?

Matt Braunger: If I was in Los Angeles or New York I worked on chunks of it at a time, but while I was on the road, I used those opportunities to do the entire set, to get it ready. As the taping approached I worked on shifting bits around quite a bit. I'm not the best at transitions because my mind bounces around but I worked on making them as least jarring as I could, working on the flow from one story to the next. What's odd is when you are editing it, you move certain bits around in order to work with commercial breaks. It's great to do stand-up that goes on television but at the same time you kind of wish you could just go out there and do a lot more new stuff and noodle around with old stuff but that wouldn't be fair for the TV and DVD audience. It's actually a lot of work which is kind of the antithesis of what I got into the business of comedy for but it's good work because you are refining the art that you do. It becomes a fun puzzle.

There's this energy that you have in the special, as if you have got to get these things out of you, you have to relate these stories to us or something is going to happen!

Matt Braunger: Yeah! That's how I've always felt. My first couple years of doing comedy I had to work at slowing down and to not yell all the time. I was known for yelling and I didn't want to be the yelling guy. But back to your point, I've always felt like I have to get this out of me. I always bristled at performers who act as if the audience is privileged that they are up there. When I first started performing in LA, in a lot of the rooms, if you didn't have an open notepad in front of you people would act like, "Ugh! You mean this guy is actually trying?" I don't mind if people have a notebook, I would rather they have the notebook and get all the jokes out that they want to tell, but it was weird to be judged for _not_ having a notebook. Marc Maron described me once, "You're like a puppy, you just chase sh-t until you catch it, then you break it down, and then you chase something else."

You not only love performing but you're a fan of comedy as well, as evidenced by your work with the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Oregon, your old hometown. How did that come about?

Matt Braunger: I used to perform at a comedy club in Portland that would be filled with nobody from the actual city of Portland because they were being brought in from the suburbs. That's fine but I didn't always have the best time there so I had a friend who booked for a nightclub where the shows would start at 10pm so I asked for the 8pm slot and she said "sure." I would then fly to Portland from LA, have a local comedian open for me and charge $5, so I would make enough to cover the flight, I would stay with my parents, but I would get to perform in my old hometown. Andy Wood, who lives in Portland, would open for me, so he and Kimberly Brady told me that they wanted to start a comedy festival in Portland and I said "Yes! Do it!" Basically my involvement was me asking my more famous friends to come and do the festival and that involvement has increased a bit more now but those little shows I started was the jumping-off point. I was over the moon to have a festival in my hometown. The way the festival is organized is that we have famous people to get asses in seats and then people who aren't famous at all are there to get exposure. I often joke that if I wasn't one of the founders I wouldn't book myself because I'm in between those two places.

Oh I don't know about that, you are a regular on "Chelsea Lately" and it's been great to see you on "Up All Night" and I see that you are going to be in other festivals coming up, including RiotLA and The San Francisco Comedy and Burrito Festival this fall.

Matt Braunger: [Laughs] Thanks! Yes I will be at those this Fall and I'm really looking forward to them.

You are so productive in comedy between your work on TV, this festival, and touring. Are you one of those people who are so motivated that you feel a constant need to get up and perform or do you separate the work from a more private part of your life?

Matt Braunger: You know, I don't get up as often as I could, and a lot of that is [because of] Los Angeles - if I lived in New York I would have way less of an excuse. I don't get up every night but I make an effort to get up a couple times a week and then do writing as consistently as I can. I have an active social life but so many of these people are also comedians - we all moved out here for the same thing but a lot of them are writers and what not. It's funny though, you know if I hung out with comedians and all we talked about was comedy, I would want to kill myself, it's just too much. It's funny, comedy is really strange because it's so unrelatable to other people. One reason why the TV show "Louie" so amazing - I've never wanted to do a show that is about comedy or being a comedian but to that show's credit they really nailed it because they made it relatable. I think the only time we really talk comedy is if something unusual or unbelievable happened. We'll talk to each other about where we performed recently, "Hey, I was in San Francisco last weekend, it was great! Now let's go get some beers!"

For more information on Matt Braunger check out his website and his very funny Twitter feed.