Interview with Jim Breuer

“I get it. I got heavy eyelids that cover half my pupil. I look f*cked up all the time. People’s expectation levels of me are below zero…”

Jim Breuer on Marc Maron’s “WTF with Marc Maron,” October 24, 2013

Jim Breuer’s role in “Half Baked” as Brian, a giggly, fried-eyed stoner, was hilariously accurate—almost to a fault. The 1998 cult film propelled its star Dave Chapelle into bigger things like HBO specials and a successful television show, but it seemed to pigeonhole Breuer, whose material felt like the same rehashed tale about munchies delivered with a slurry, slo-mo cadence.

It was stale.

There was also Breuer’s character Goat Boy, during his three-year stint on “Saturday Night Live.” Goat Boy was a veejay/talk show host who uncontrollably interspersed fits of “naaayyy” and “mehhh-maaahh” into every sentence. And that was it. The sketches were hugely popular, but had the complexity of a fart joke. While I enjoyed Breuer’s dead-on impression of Joe Pesci, I wasn’t sad to see him leave SNL in 1998.

Enter: Marc Maron.

I divide my opinion of Breuer, a native of Valley Stream, into two phases: pre-Maron and post-Maron. Though I never hated Jim Breuer, I just didn’t like him. But now I exist within the parameters of post-Maron, which occurred, unsurprisingly, after listening to Breuer’s appearance on Marc Maron’s hugely popular podcast, “WTF with Marc Maron.” During the interview, always set in Maron’s garage, Breuer discusses his career and its messy potholes in a refreshingly candid manner. He reveals the shift from a persona which stagnated his career and misrepresented his personal life, to now, a comic comfortable in his own skin, with maturity and insight.

I listened twice.

As evidenced by his quote at the top, my initial assumption of Jim Breuer was shared almost by everyone—even Jim Breuer. His shift into post-Maron occurred in 2008, though, way before the podcast. He decided to shed the fur of Goat Boy, and discarded Brian’s tie-dye shirt and bong. While not ashamed of them, or anything from his past, he’s neither of them now. He’s just Jim Breuer.

And his eyes, while tired, convey this self-assurance. Looking at Breuer’s career now is like a ride in your grandfather’s Cadillac: the car is old, but the leather interior smells new. From his 2013 documentary “More Than Me,” about touring with his aging father, to a new rock video, “Santa Claus Ain’t Coming To Town,” tours and successful standup specials, there is palpable growth.

“It’s a slow, building process,” he told me.

And people are happy to see it. After selling out Huntington’s The Paramount on March 08, a second show has been added.

I talked to Breuer on a number of things before his shows at The Paramount, including his new image, growing up on Long Island, his father, death and weed. Of course I had to ask him about weed.

imageNiko Krommydas: I listened to your appearance on “WTF with Marc Maron” and was surprised with your insight. Do you still get that a lot? Do people think you make goat noises all the time?
Jim Breuer:
Totally. It’s a long, building process. Once I came to terms with that, I realized I had a lot of years of rebuilding ahead of me. I started in 2008. That was my year to start over again. I was doing fine until television and film came along, and I was on the path I wanted to take, and all that did great for me. But the perception of who I am had changed, so I knew I needed to start over. And the results are now just kicking in. This tour, I’m starting to notice more families in the audience. The last special was the most downloaded original comedy special that Netflix has done. The book, the documentary, the appearances on [Howard] Stern—people are starting to discover this whole other guy. I’ve always been that other person, but people now are just catching up. And that’s fine.

NK: “Half Baked” must go with that misperception. You’re not smoking weed anymore, right?
Yeah. I stopped.

NK: What’s your opinion of marijuana in the States right now? Colorado just legalized it for recreational use.
It’s good. I have a lot of drinkers and alcoholics in my family. They’re ugly, they’re messy, and it ruined their lives. But alcohol is legal and promoted, you know? At the end of the day, I don’t really care. I went to Amsterdam and had my kids with me, and people weren’t running around like drug addicts, all doped up. Here, I think the commodity will be exciting for a little bit, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone is going to go, “Oh my god! It’s legal now! Let’s all go crazy!” There’s people that don’t drink, and drinking is legal. To each his own. I think finally the government figured out we could make money off of this. That’s all it is. The tobacco companies were losing trillions of dollars with cigarettes, so how are we going to get this back?

NK: What if, say, your kids started smoking weed one day? And who knows—you might be able to buy weed at Whole Foods in 10 years.
My youngest is 9, and in 10 years, my three kids will all be in their twenties. If they’re teenagers and I catch onto them, it’s like anything—you can’t stop it, but you can give the pros and cons about it. I remember being in that world. It’s like cake. Okay. I’m gonna have one slice a cake at the birthday party, or the wedding. Perfect. But if I eat cake every day, I’m going to get fat. Same thing with any substance. Are you doing it every day? Are you doing it just to do it? That’s when it starts to be a problem, whatever it is.

NK: Did you feel like you were glamorizing it?
With “Half Baked,” it turned into an obsession of being that type of persona. But I really wasn’t like that.

NK: You grew up on Long Island, right?
Yeah. Valley Stream.

NK: Did you like it?
Hands down, the greatest upbringing and childhood I could ever want. It was the perfect place to grow up. Everyone knew each other. Everyone looked after one another. There was a pride to be from here.

NK: Do you still feel that when you go back?
When I go home and play, it’s like visiting family. When I play Long Island, you’re not going to see that show anywhere else. The Paramount actually added another show, because the first sold out. It’s such a great feeling. I feel like I’m playing Nassau Coliseum.

NK: How close were you with your parents growing up?
Very close. My mother worked at the airport, and my father was a garbageman. We were very blue-collar. I remember being on the streets, and my dad was like a silent rock on the porch. Every so often you’d look out the corner of your eye, and he’d always be sitting on the porch with a beer, reading the paper. Every once in a while, if something was a little out of control, he would stand up and bark. [Jim barks.] He was like a tree. They’re just there, but you just knew they were solid.

NK: You made a documentary, “More Than Me,” about your father in 2010.
Yeah. And I got across what I wanted. I started traveling with him in 1990, doing road gigs together, and I started to discover who he was. I knew the tour for the film was going to be the last tour for him. He started to have a hard time getting around. He was starting to disintegrate physically, and was just about to start hitting a walker. And I’m glad I got that on film. I wanted to show other people that it’s okay when your parents get older. You may not have a lot of common ground, but you can still sacrifice little things to keep those relationships strong. The best thing about the film is that I showed how funny he was. He’s hilarious. But what I got out of it more was, people would come up to me and say, “Man you changed my life. I had a dad like you. I had a mom like you. They never told me they loved me, but now I understand better.”

NK: You said, “I started discovering who he was…” Who is he?
If he wasn’t my dad, and I knew him as a man, I would say he was the ultimate male figure. And what I mean by that is, he grew up with nothing. His mother was dead by three. There were 10 brothers and sisters. He lived in the Great Depression. No shoes. His father was a raging alcoholic who would abuse his kids. Horrible things. When he finally made it to high school, he shipped off to World War II. After three years in the South Pacific, he comes home and does what every American was supposed to do: Start a family. Meanwhile, he’s trying to drink the pain away. By the time I came along, he never took out any of those issues on us, though. There are bibles and all that, but sometimes there are sacrifices walking among us, in your very own house. That’s what I learned from him. To this day, he doesn’t complain about anything. He always did what was right. It always blew my mind. He had every reason to trump that horn. He had every reason to be a miserable, mean, viscious drunk. But you would have never known any of that existed when I grew up.

NK: You mentioned you knew it was his last tour. Did it make you think about your own mortality a lot? Like hey, maybe one day I won’t be able to wipe my own ass.
Oh yeah. 100 percent. I’m living it right now, because he lives with us. We have a nurse who comes and helps. It’s reality. If there’s not someone to take care of you, you’re just left out in the cold, or at a nursing home. I started saving up my money for that situation about two years ago, just for that.

NK: Are you religious at all?
The word ‘religious’ is a dirty word. Religious people think religion means you go to church, you read the bible and you believe in jesus, but if you don’t, you’ll be punished. In that sense, no, I’m not religious. Do I believe in higher spiritual energies and a God? Yes. Absolutely. There’s nothing you can say or do to prove otherwise. I’ve just experienced those moments. You can debate or argue all you want, but I know what it is. I’m not trying to convince anyone else. But religious, it’s the new dirty word. And that’s a shame. People that complain about religion aren’t mad at God. They’re mad at people that use God to get across their greed and power.

NK: Do you think the word will ever separate from that?
No. That word is stuck.

NK: Let’s talk about some newer things. I watched the video for “Santa Claus Ain’t Coming to Town.” I love that you’re basically yelling at your children for four minutes over music. Are they that evil?
[Laughs] No. No. But it does get that frustrating sometimes. Christmas will come and I just get these big lists. Kids today feel like they’re deserved.

NK: Your newer material is based more on your family, right?
Yeah. Being a comedian is very lonely, especially on the road. I’ve had a rebirth, though, with my writing. I never had the drive or discipline to do it, but now when I get on the road, I write. I’ve been writing this new record that combines heavy metal and comedy. I’m starting to write films again. I’ve definitely filled in a lot of the lonely moments, and I have plenty to write about now. I also just have confidence now. There are maybe comedians that are more popular or clever, but I feel like I’ve hit a stride. I’m in my prime right now.

NK: Do you attribute all of it to family?
100 percent. I have the structure, and now I have the vision of who I am. I’m defined now. I am a 46-year-old father who used to be a headbanger. I have an edge to me, but I have my morals. I’m a family guy with a little bit of an edge. A lot of people can relate to that, too.

Jim Breuer plays The Paramount in Huntington on March 08 (8:00pm and11:00pm); $29.50-$74.50;

niko krommydas

Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.