Comedian and podcaster Matt Braunger has been an amiable and lanky fixture of the stand-up comedy scene for the past decade. Nimble-voiced and expansive in social perspective, he’s been a secret weapon in the hands of podcasters and animators throughout the entertainment industry. His stand-up specials (Shovel Fighter, Big Dumb Animal and Finally Live in Portland) have benefited from the mechanized chaos of varying streaming platforms — he eschews references that date the proceedings, and he specializes in a welcoming vibe that never feels condescending or disingenuous.
For his latest special, in the midst of his nationwide Out of the House Tour, Braunger will record at Zanies, giving Nashville’s comedy scene a major event. We spoke with the comedian by phone.
I’m required by the Ministry of Civic Pride to ask what made you decide on Nashville as the place for your new special.
Nashville audiences are fantastic, and they like to go out and enjoy themselves, but I specifically wanted to do it at that club [Zanies]. I wanted this to happen at a club that’s been embraced by the place that it’s in, and there are 10 or so clubs that can’t miss in the United States, and I wanted to shoot there. Last time around, I shot the special in a rock club, like I’d done for the previous one, and they were both awesome and I love both those specials. But this time I wanted that comedy-club feel, because I think we’re missing that. I would say it’s 30 percent the people, because Nashville audiences are incredible, but it’s 70 percent that club. It’s perfectly built for stand-up.
You’ve been touring the country in a surprisingly comprehensive fashion, and the amateur sociologist in me wants to know what you’re seeing from audiences. How are they doing?
I went to every kind of place, and I did it with expedited speed, and it drove home that we’re more similar than we are different, despite what some people might think. People are happy to see a show, and if you’re not comfortable doing that, I understand, but I have, happily, what I call a vaccinated fan base. It’s not the biggest fan base, it’s maybe in the tens of thousands, but they generally just want to have a good time and not eff over anybody else in the pursuit of that good time. If anything, people are really happy to go to shows — it’s an event.
Going to a show has become special again.
And it’s not even that the event is special, it’s that you make it special. But yeah, that golden month before Delta reared its ugly head — that was amazing.
You recently became a father, which is something that feels like a defiant statement of hope in the future. How do you reconcile the impulses of being a dad, being a comedian and being a citizen of this terrifying experiment that we call being alive on earth right now? Because it seems like those three things might be at odds with one another.
It’s absolutely horrifying when you think about all of it. I think you have to choose hope. You definitely have to work toward making things better, and a lot of that is not letting everything get you down all the time, which is a huge part of taking care of yourself. I’ve learned — so late but at least I’m learning it — so much of this life is how you react to things. Do I flip out, do I bang my head against the wall and say all is lost? I can think of five or six horrific things I could talk about, about how the future seems incredibly grim. … This may sound simple and silly, but I was doing a yoga class, and the instructor said, “Just work on turning toward joy as best you can.” When we got the results of the pregnancy test, I thought for sure it was going to be a high-five, “we did it” kind of moment, like in a rom-com, but it was more “oh.” We couldn’t even meet each other’s eyes, processing the magnitude of it. But everything since then — it hasn’t even been “look on the bright side,” it’s all bright side.
If a restaurant had a Matt Braunger sandwich on its menu, what would it be?
There was a place in Portland that was a food cart, and they made a sandwich for me. I don’t remember exactly what all it had on it — I know there was beef brisket, and maybe a sharp cheddar. … But for now, I’m gonna go really crazy and it’s going to be a crab salad sandwich. Just dungeness crab on a soft crusty roll with a little bit of greens and a little bit of mayo, and some Old Bay. That’s a tough one to sell, because I’m sure it would cost like $20, but it’s so good.
What’s the song you use to kick-start your day?
It does change. … I really like the title song from Mo’ Better Blues. It’s got a hard-won optimism to it that feels nice. For more of a nighttime song, “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” by Herbie Hancock. If I’m having a weekend coffee morning, then we might have Thin Lizzy “Waiting for an Alibi” or “Push It Along” by A Tribe Called Quest. You could ask me that tomorrow, and it would change.
As a notably tall person, how does it feel when you’re in a public space and you find yourself a default public utility?
I don’t mind. If someone smaller is trying to put their bag up and they can’t, I’ll offer. Sometimes they’ll ask, and I’m happy to help. We all have different advantages. … We all need each other for different things.
I always ask people I meet who are above 6-foot-2, because it’s this society-wide phenomenon where no matter how curmudgeonly someone is, there are aspects of being a human being that require cooperation and help.
We want to help each other, but we don’t want to be in debt to each other.
You’ve done heaps of animation voiceover as well as lots of TV and film work. Which do you enjoy more?
If I had to pick one, it’s live action. You perform with so much more. It is fun to do voices and have them become part of cartoons, but I’ve been an actor since I was a kid, and live-action performance is one of those experiences that I love, when it all comes together.
Your appearance on the Kingcast talking about Creepshow was a delight, and also very helpful in getting a feel for your aesthetics. I love talking to people about horror because that’s how you find out who exactly they are, and I’m interested in what horror films you’ve seen lately that have really affected you.
His House was fantastic. I think everyone agrees about that one, but to hang it on the refugee experience and the loss of a child and to do it that well — just incredible. And the one that has one — actually two “Holyshit!” moments was Saint Maud. I was really knocked out by that. I do like the slow-burn approach, but I’m not always knocked out by it. But I’m so glad I gave Saint Maud a chance, because I was so immersed in her turmoil and in that world. And usually I don’t like ambivalence. I’m very much a “Did it happen?” kind of person, but the way they do it is so good. That’s my pick.
You’ve lived in Portland, Ore., Chicago and Los Angeles. Which one do you think has been the most conducive to your creative process?
I will say Chicago affected me in emotional ways I never used to think about while I was there. If I had lived there as I got older, it would have been devastating to me. It’s so cold in the winter and so hot in the summer, and there’s a fleeting, maybe month of spring, and you just squeeze every moment out of it. I was there for six years, and I look back and it felt like 10 — in a good way. Chicago was my actual school, because I was an adrift actor when I actually was in college, and Chicago gave me a path, and it was stand-up. From there, I chose L.A. because I didn’t want to go back to NYC, so I went to L.A. and I hated it for a solid year. Now I dig it, but I know all of its problems. I’m reading this book right now, Everything Now, but it’s the argument for L.A. being America’s only city-state, and it’s kind of true. It’s so big, and so many people are here, and you can find whatever you’re looking for if you dig deep enough. As someone says in that book, “You get out of L.A. what you put into it.” I think Portland is the most relaxed of the three. It’s generally a very welcoming place. It was cool to grow up where they didn’t judge you for being artistic. But all things considered, depending on who you are, L.A. and Chicago have more of a sense of immediacy for motivating creativity.
I never got to interview Harris Wittels, so it’s a very special thrill to get to talk to someone whose work has transformed the English language. Because of your bit about drunk dining, you can go throughout the English-speaking world and ask for “ham dancers” or “cheese babies,” and it’s quite possible that someone will understand, and be able to serve you something. And you very well may have helped save drunk lives that way.
It’s not up there with “humblebrag,” because that is — to this day — perfect for the modern era. Half of Instagram is humblebragging. … But it is funny that “ham dancers” now just means drunk food. But there are several restaurants that have ham dancers on their menu, and I’ll find out about it and think, “I want my money,” you know, just messing with them. It’s an honor.
And no two recipes are exactly the same.
They couldn’t be. You have to come through with the cheese babies and the hot boy. The thing is, ham dancers and cheese babies, you can picture what that could be. But the hot boy?
You’re broaching the surreal there.
Definitely veering into surreality.