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Matt Braunger’s first ever recorded, hour-long comedy special “Matt Braunger: Shovel Fighter” premiered Saturday, July 14th at 11 PM ET/PT on Comedy Central.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: What made you interested in being a comedian in the first place? Were you inspired by any particular comics growing up or were you always a class clown type of person?
Matt Braunger: A little bit of both. I never thought of it as being an actual option but I was always a fan of comedy and definitely was a class clown. I basically started out as an actor and when I got to Chicago I started doing improv, then from there just got into stand up and just kept doing it.
TCC: Do you ever miss doing the improv? Do you hope to get back into that or are you happy doing the stand-up?
Matt: I’m fine with stand-up. I did improv for a couple years and it helped me a lot, it was great but I’d rather watch people that are really good at it now. I like the “one man band” I have where I can just go on the road and do my own thing. In terms of being on an improv team I don’t really miss it.
TCC: Now, you got started with improve and clearly stand-up is different. I’m wondering how do you end up coming up with jokes? Are they more based in reality or anecdotes that happened to you or your friends or do you sit around and think,” Oh yeah that would be a great joke, why don’t I work on that a little more?”
Matt: I don’t know if – I know I certainly can’t – I don’t know if anyone can just sit and go, “Alright ideas, hurry up and come.” They just come to you as they do and then you hopefully remember them or write them down. That’s the beauty of stand-up, you can have jokes that come out of anywhere: an idea, or a conversation, or something you saw that you tell the story of and they can turn into bits which you’ll do in a show.
TCC: One of your bigger jokes seems to be the “Baby Owls” joke. I’m assuming that is based on a real life story you’ve heard?
Matt: That was a joke I did almost a decade ago back in Chicago when the Harry Potter movies were just coming out but I stopped doing it for a couple years. Then around 2006 or 2007 I started doing it again and people were like, “Wow, that’s a great joke.” It kind of became my signature thing. I don’t really do it on the road anymore unless people really ask for it.
But to answer your question it came out of my childhood knowledge about owls, how vicious owls really were and then going to Harry Potter movies and going, “Well, this makes no sense.” Also, there was a news segment about how kids wanted owls for Christmas and the [animal] specialists on the show were saying, “That’s the most insane idea ever. They’re not puppies.” And then a friend of mine did find a baby owl and called the Humane Society and all that. It was definitely based in reality.
TCC: From the first time you think of it, to what it ends up becoming when you’re recording a TV special or album, how much does a joke usually change?
Matt: It’s hard to mathematically measure it, it either evolves or it just kind of stays. I’ve had jokes that have gone on for a year or a year and a half that have gone on a record or a special. Then I’ve had jokes that I came up with weeks before and haven’t developed as much but I think they are good enough to put on wax or on tape.
TCC: Do you usually have a good feel for what you think your audience is going to enjoy?
Matt: Yeah, I feel like you gain that ability to read an audience as you go on longer in the business and the art form. You definitely know not to do your dirtier stuff for your Sunday church crowd. You also learn that you shouldn’t change how you are or what you’re like just for a particular audience. The best thing is to just go from the gut from what you think is funny and not pander. The only thing I go by is to not curse too much if there are very old people in the audience, that’s just courtesy.
TCC: What do you specifically bring to the stage? What do you think your greatest traits are when you are doing a show?
Matt: I’ve always been one of those people to be excited to get up there, so no matter what my material is it’s going to have some genuine enthusiasm. I generally resent it when a comedian, or any performer for that matter, goes up there and acts as if the audience should be happy that they are there and have this entitle attitude. Give people a reason why you’re on stage.
TCC: Is there any added pressure when you know a particular show is being taped or being recorded for an album? Is that in the back of your mind at all or do you just go out there like normal and try to do what you do?
Matt: The worst is that you’re going to be different than you would be to a regular audience if there weren’t cameras there. You almost have to forget it. It is not like you are going out there and singing the National Anthem where you have to remember every single word or people will boo. It’s comedy, so the looser you can be the better. I think every comedian out there, for the most part, has a couple of sets online that they regret. I certainly do. You can’t really let it bother you. There certainly is pressure but it’s best to just forget about it and go out there and have fun.
TCC: Do you get more excited for taped shows? Do you relish the experience? Or do you just get out there and whatever will be, will be?
Matt: It’s a combination of excited and whatever will be, will be. I think my half hour and my house special that is coming out were a lot more fun because when you only have five to seven minutes or, for a late night show especially, you have four and a half minutes I like to joke that’s just about enough time to get the microphone out of the stand. You have to cram all these jokes in there and I’m always worried about rushing through stuff. With an hour special I can definitely take my time and have a lot of fun with it. When you have taped sets that are a little shorter that’s where it gets a little annoying because it becomes mathematics, which I hate. In terms of if [a show] is being recorded you have more fun if you have longer sets.
TCC: Do you have a particular joke that you think is among the funniest?
Matt: I’ll skew towards the newer stuff. The actual shovel fighter joke (the joke called shovel fighter) I really like because it either crosses or people don’t get it, it’s really weird. I don’t have a lot of stuff that’s just strange and odd. I’m trying to do a little more stuff like that. It’s a joke that I just made up one night and it did really well [the first time] and I’ve done it on the road for certain audiences and a couple of people get it but then some people are just like, “that’s weird and depressing.” I’d say that’s one of my favorites right now because it’s not a sure thing. So I guess I’d pick that one. I can’t really look at any of my jokes and think, “that was amazing.” In terms of an actual joke you can’t necessarily be like, “Well I nailed it there, right? High-five.”
TCC: Are there any other projects you are currently working on that aren’t related to “Shovel Fighter”? Is stand-up your ultimate goal or are you hoping that stand-up opens other avenues in acting or television shows?
Matt: I have a recurring role on Up All Night on NBC and we got picked up for a second season so I’m looking forward to doing that. I’ve got a project that I’m redeveloping to go pitch around. Basically I’m always writing and auditioning. Stand-up is not a jumping off point. They’re not finding funny people and going, “here’s a sitcom,” like they would do in the ‘80s or ‘90s. I think that’s a good thing because you have to develop your craft. I’m lucky because I’ve been acting since I was younger, which I really like, but I also don’t have that thing where I started stand-up to get noticed as an actor. I’m always trying to work on other things but I feel like I’m always going to be doing stand-up, it’s something that’s fun, it’s therapeutic, it’s always there. Anyone who comes to any of my shows I’m always knocked out.
Chris: Are there any specific comedians that inspire you or that you really respect?
Matt: In terms of ones I look up to you’ve got your Louis CK, Mary Bamford, Patton Oswald, Doug Standhope, Chris Rock – the people I’m always astonished by and the people that I think are amazing. But the people I started out with in Chicago constantly amaze me: Kyle Kinane, Pete Holmes, Hannibal Burress, TJ Miller, outstanding performers. I’m just so inspired by them and I get such a kick out of just how good everyone has gotten. My philosophy is that you can never stop being a fan. Rather than watch someone kill, and comedians are always going to feel this way, you are going to watch someone kill and be like, “dammit. Why are you doing so well? I don’t want you to do as well as me.” That’s just part of you and for the most part you want to fight that part and instead thing, “Wow, that person is funny as hell. “ Sort of my key to stand-up, never stop being a fan.
Chris: I have one more question that’s completely unrelated to comedy, so before we get to that is there anything in particular you’d like to say about Shovel Fighter?
Matt: Just that I’m proud of it and I think it’s funny and I hope people like it. I tried to make it as funny as I could and I think people will like the animation at the beginning and the way we built the set and hopefully the stand-up. (Laughs)
Chris: So the last question, which stems from the first time I ever brushed elbows with fame, I stupidly asked Keira Knightley what her favorite meal or dish was to eat. So I figured why don’t we just ask that as the final question and we can have a little list of comedians’ random favorite meals. So what is your favorite meal or dish to eat? It can be from a restaurant, your mom’s cooking, or something you make.
Matt: Wow, shit. You’ve got to understand I’m a real pig, I go and try to find who has the best what, there, that, and the other. (Thinks). Off the top of my head I’m just going to say it is…ugh. It’s a tie between the ribs at Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City and the barbeque shrimp at Mr. B’s in New Orleans. I’m not one of those people that can make a list of all time favorite movies, it changes per moment.
Stick with Chris for more the latest information on the comedy scene with The Comedy Column, weekly, only on TheCelebrityCafe.com.