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SXSW Interview: Jim Breuer

The 'SNL' alum bleats about the show, stand-up, and Metallica
Russ Espinoza, 10:30am, Fri. Mar. 14

You may not have heard any gut-busting bleating noises from “Goat Boy” on the national airwaves since the late Nineties, but comedian and former SNL cast member Jim Breuer hasn’t been eating tin cans since he left the show in 1998 and co-starred with Dave Chappelle in the stoner-comedy classic Half Baked that year.

Foremost a stand-up comedian, Breuer returned to his roots in 2008 after a six-year hiatus from the stage with the “Breuniversity Tour.” His second Comedy Central special, Let’s Clear the Air, premiered the following year. Both tour and special, however, exhibited a reinvented, more mature act inspired by family and fatherhood. While those subjects may have bad connotations for some, Breuer still delivers with sneaky intelligence and inexhaustible energy.

Breuer headlined back-to-back Laugh Button Live shows at Esther’s Follies Monday night along with stand-ups Nate Bargatze, Matt Braunger, Jerrod Carmichael, Austin’s own Maggie Maye, and (of all people) Sinbad.

The Chronicle spoke with the 46-year-old family man over a hard-earned cup of coffee about the thrill of stand-up, SNL, and Half Baked, plus a favorite subject of his: Metallica.

Austin Chronicle: Can you walk down the street here without people making goat noises at you?

Jim Breuer: They haven’t made the goat noises, but they do stop me and ask, which is cool – better than being ignored. I just got swamped just trying to get coffee, which is fine. It was cool. They could ignore me.

AC: And you wouldn’t want that, because it’s a testament to how much they’ve enjoyed your work —

JB: This is true. This is very true, right?

AC: What gives you the bigger thrill: doing sketch or stand-up?

JB: Oh god, stand-up. Hands down. There’s nothing more powerful than stand-up. Crushing with your own material, with your own energy, controlling an audience: There’s no better high. It’s awesome.

AC: There are a lot of great Lorne Michaels stories out there from former SNL cast members and other comedians who didn’t make the cut. Do you have a particular Lorne Michaels story that stands out to you?

JB: Um, it’s not that fascinating, but … He’s so matter-of-fact, you don’t realize how powerful his low statements are. Robert De Niro’s never done television his whole life, live TV; and he’s coming on with me and Joe Pesci, and right before the sketch starts – Lorne never walks up to me during a live sketch – he comes up and he’s like, (in an uncanny Lorne Michaels voice) "Jim, you ready? ‘Cause this is a big one. People are gonna be looking at this for a long time. Just make sure you’re ready." Uhhh, okay!

I mean, I don’t have crazy stories about him. You know, when I first met him, he had me in his office, and he was eating popcorn for, like, it seemed eternity – just not even acknowledging me in the room. And then I finally said, "You like popcorn, huh?" and he got up and rambled something about Dan Aykroyd and [John] Belushi for 10 minutes, then he’s like "You know, just have a good audition." He’s very intriguing: powerful, brilliant, awesome guy.

AC: What sketches did you pitch at SNL that never saw the light of day?

JB: The ‘"Shut-Up" guy, and he’s on my audition [tape]. Yes, the "Shaddup! Make it!" Came really close with Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani, but Mayor Giuliani [who hosted during Jim’s three-year tenure on Nov. 22, 1997] chose the Pesci sketch instead.

AC: How much of what you did in Half Baked was improvised?

JB: For me, none. I went word-for-word the entire movie. Everything out of my mouth, everything, is completely on script. So I didn’t improv. Me personally, I didn’t improv anything. Dave got to improv a whole lot – and rightfully so, it was his film.

AC: You took a six-year break from touring as a stand-up from ’02 to ’08, so how long into the Breuniversity Tour did it take until you felt like you hit your stride again?

JB: It was … What that tour did for me really, that tour was more about breaking my fear and boundary of going into my wheelhouse, which was talking about family. That was the first time I went, "I’m going all clean. I’m going full-blown family," and if I can conquer all these universities that know me as the Half Baked stoner guy, if they accept me for this material and I can prove to them, "Listen, you’re not getting Brian from Half Baked or this SNL guy, you’re getting a comedian that crushes," then I’d be okay. So that’s what that tour really was. And I found out from the 23rd standing-O in a row, I was pretty hopped-up. They gave me all the encouragement in the world.

AC: You presented at Metallica’s 30th anniversary show in 2011. If you did your impression of James Hetfield to him, what did he think about it?

JB: Haaa! I think he likes it, because one time he said, he goes, "Hey dude, I wanna let you know I stole your bit." I go "What do you mean?" He goes, "I now do an interactive at the concerts going ‘Yeah! Yeah! Ooh!'" And I went, "James, it’s not my bit, it’s you. I’m doing you. So at the end of the day, you’re not taking anything from me. I’m imitating you." He said, "Aaah! I just wanna let you know that." So I think he likes it.

AC: You joined SNL at 28 and became at least fairly famous right away. Now you have a family, a wife and three kids, did you ever really plan on having a family, or did it kind of just happen?

JB: Oh no, I always planned on having a family. I was married at that time, too. I was married a couple years already. So I started as a comic at 18 and got really into it by the time I was 21, 22, so I was on the road a lot. I lived everything I needed to live like a rock star. So by the time I got the show, it was – I was pretty grounded with my wife, and then as soon as the show ended we started a family. [She’s] the one and only – 20 years now.

AC: What have been some of the low points in your career?

JB: Oh god, there’s been a bunch. Literally getting booed off the stage at Gator Growl – like 45,000 people, it was horrifying. Ugh! Horrifying. That’s really – there’s aren’t too many where I’m like, "Oh god, that was horrifying." Maybe a pilot, I did a pilot for Comedy Central that was just… I hated. I hated it beyond belief. That’s really it for me, I guess. I don’t dwell on the lows too long. I kind of put them away and just start fighting back.

AC: How about some high points?

JB: Getting my first TV show, which was called The Uptown Comedy Club; meeting and working with Joe Pesci and De Niro on SNL; and Metallica’s 30-year anniversary event and getting to sing with Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Brian Johnson of AC/DC. Brian Johnson, AC/DC, singing "The Hokey Pokey" with him, I’ll take that over any other moment.

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