Night Moves & Funny Dudes: Matt Braunger at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase
This interview originally ran on March 9, 2017. Braunger returns to the Ann Arbor Comedy Club from March 12-14, 2020.
Portland-raised, Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian Matt Braunger has been a regular fixture in comedy clubs and on late night talk shows for over 10 years with his brand of introspective observational comedy. Braunger, 42, will be getting married later this year for the first time and is currently working on new material for a new hour-long special during his Enraged to be Married tour that hits Ann Arbor this week.
In the late 1990s, fresh out of college, Braunger moved to Chicago where he worked with improvisational guru Del Close, and along with comedians like Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane helped create an alternative comedy scene in a city that didn’t have one. Finally deciding on stand-up instead of improv, Braunger moved to Los Angeles to further his career, eventually landing a spot on the final season of MADtv in 2009.
Since the end of MADtv, Braunger has been a regular on the NBC comedy Up All Night, had a recurring role in the second season of Agent Carter on ABC, and most recently appeared on Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s Seeso comedy Take My Wife. Along with his acting appearances, Braunger has also released three comedy albums and appeared as Bruce Springsteen in the Channel 101 series Yacht Rock.
Braunger will appear
Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 March 12-14, 2020, at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and we talked to him about Midwestern comedy scenes, his upcoming special, politics, his podcast, a new Amazon Prime series, and Bob Seger.
Q: You’ve come through Ann Arbor a few times over the past couple of years. What is it about Ann Arbor that keeps you coming back?
A: Just the raw anger that everyone seems to have and the non-livability. No. It’s an incredibly awesome place just to be. It’s this Midwestern gem that not only has a love for the arts, and for sports, but also great food and drinks with lively and interesting people. And the Comedy Showcase is kind of evocative of that because people just go without knowing who’s playing because Roger (Feeny) and company are so good at what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it for so long. I don’t want to go so far as to call it an oasis -- but screw it, it’s an oasis.
Q: Speaking of the Comedy Showcase, Ann Arbor has comedy clubs and open mics, but making a career out of stand-up comedy in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area can be kind of tough. You started in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles. Do have any advice for local stand-ups who are thinking about going to the next level somewhere else?
A: If you’re going to make the jump I wouldn’t be too impatient. One thing to keep in mind is that Rodney Dangerfield didn’t start doing comedy until he was 40, so you got to look at it in terms of the long game, and kind of define what your definition of success is and maybe even refine it. I think the goal is to obviously a) make a living at it and b) just be happy in your life. I know a lot of people who are very successful, who are absolutely miserable, and I know people who you might have never heard of, but they live amazing lives by making a living through their art. As soon as we can throw out the model of what it is to be a star I say the better because pretty much any of us can do something dumb on the news and be famous. If you’re going to be a comedian try to do the stuff that makes you laugh, that works for you and for the viewing public because all we want is to see uniqueness, someone who is delivering their perspective. Work really hard on that, but don’t neglect the rest of your life, and don’t drive yourself crazy by wondering why you aren’t further along. One of the best quotes I’ve read is, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Q: You’re currently on the Enraged to be Married tour, and you’re working on material for a new hour-long special. How is that going?
A: I’ve got about an hour and a half to two hours of material that I keep interchanging. My last special came out in 2015, and since then I’ve been writing and moving things around. Last year, I did the Made of Mistakes tour, and this one is Enraged to be Married. I pretty much name my tours on what makes my fiance laugh. People shouldn’t come and expect stuff all based on my upcoming nuptials, but there are things from that. I like to pick a silly name that helps the theme move along, but it’s not a one-man show.
Q: If people follow you on Twitter and have listened to your sets they have a good idea of where you stand on issues and your political beliefs. Have you noticed any changes to the atmosphere of the rooms you’ve been playing since November?
A: No, not really. The great thing about comedy clubs is that they’re still a bastion of relief where you get to escape the rest of the world even if you are talking about current events. I play a theater once a year in Portland, Oregon, and last time my first five minutes were getting the political situation out of the way. One of the tenets of therapy is that if you’re feeling something you share it, especially with yourself, so I got into that a little bit, but it was just to clear it out of the way to get to the funny stuff. I think with being political is that you just have to make it funny, and with what’s going on right now so often you get so mad that you’re screaming or ranting. I think you can make anything funny, but it’s up to you on how to do that. I wouldn’t say the atmosphere has changed, but people need to laugh now more than ever.
Q: Do you think that has raised the importance of comedy? To laugh away some of the fears some of us may be having.
A: From that perspective, absolutely. Sadly, it’s the comedians like John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert that are doing the reporting through satire. I get it if someone wants to off the news, turn on America’s Funniest Home Videos and watch a montage of babies fall down carpeted stairs. I get it, I understand. You need that release to be healthy, otherwise, you’ll put your head through a wall. I know people who say, “I feel guilty enjoying things now,” and I’m like, "Don’t let anything rob you of your joy."
Q: I find myself using Twitter more now as an outlet to get something off my chest or to comment on something ridiculous someone has said or done.
A: I find maybe I share too much political stuff on Twitter and Facebook, and maybe I should limit myself to one a day, and the rest of the time do some funny stuff. I really bristle when people are like, “Go back to the funny stuff,” and I’m like, "Where do I send the refund?" For the most part, I’ve stopped responding to those people.
Q: The New V.I.P.’s, an animated show for adults, has been announced for Amazon’s latest Pilot Season. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
A: I really hope that does well because Steve Dildarian (HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim) created it, and this is like that, but really, really dark, and funny. Myself and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) are the main guys in an office that is getting downsized in almost absurd ways, accidentally murder their boss, and spend the episode trying to bury his body. There’s not just cursing, but also dark themes that always makes me laugh in animation. It sounds all over the place, but I remember when we were doing it, and having to stop takes to laugh because we were riffing on each other so much. I’m definitely biased, but it’s one of those things where you take some of your favorite comedic actors, turn them into animated people doing terrible things, and that’s comedy to me. I hope people like it.
Q: Your podcast, Ding-Donger, will be premiering on Feral Audio soon. When will that be available, and you’re giving advice with this version?
A: I’ve recorded three episodes so far and that will come out by the end of March. People can write to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. I can do abstract stuff, but I want to answer questions if people need advice because I’m a 42-year-old guy who’s getting married for the first time. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, so I feel like I’ve lived through a lot of stuff that people might be curious about, and I can give them honest advice without any kind of judgment. I also want it to be funny, but I’m not going to try and abuse people’s trust. I genuinely I want to help.
Q: Finally, because we’re an Ann Arbor-based site, I wanted to ask what it is about Bob Seger that makes you such a fan of him and his music?
A: I think a lot of it is my friends from Michigan like Mike Burns (creator of Twitter’s @DadBoner), Dave Lyons, and J.D. Ryznar (Yacht Rock) they’re some of the funniest guys I know, and a huge part of my Los Angeles experience. I also liked a lot of that music growing up, and you kind of get a sense of humor about the partying old guy especially as you become more of a partying old guy. It kind of has that unapologetic, ridiculous, rock guy bringing the beer hall feeling to a stadium. You can genuinely enjoy “Turn the Page,” but you can also laugh at it. We did a Bob Seger musical in 2014 (A Night of 1,000 Bob Segers) with Kyle Kinane, Tim Heidecker (Tim & Eric), and a bunch of other friends, and we each played Seger at a different part in his life. I got to be “Night Moves” Seger, it was a blast, but it was arbitrary based on almost no history. For me, Seger is about how unabashedly fun the music is, how dramatic it is, and how ridiculous it is, but it rocks. I also kind of like that rock purists think he’s garbage.
Jeremy Klumpp is a freelance writer based in Ypsilanti.
Matt Braunger will be appearing
Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 March 12-14, 2020 at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 212 S 4th Ave. Visit aacomedy.com for tickets and more info.