Neal Brennan’s unassuming opening sequence for “3 Mics” — a series of three shakily drawn white microphones — tells you everything you need to know about his intimate and self-deprecating new comedy special: it’s endearingly simple in its execution.
Emblazoned with the three primary aspects of his act — one liners, “emotional stuff” and stand-up — the title card fades into blackness, accompanied by the audience’s raucous applause. Brennan begins his special on the stage, an unusual departure from the tried and true “jog” that many comedians employ to begin their shows. “I’m vegan, but I’m a hypocrite about it,” he begins at his first microphone, the “one liner” microphone, to the delight of the audience. “Like I wear leather and I eat meat.”
Saying his comedy is simple sounds critical, but it’s not. Contrary to Bo Burnham or Anthony Jesselnik, there aren’t layers to peel back on Brennan’s jokes. What you hear is what you get — and what you get is hilarious.
Ten minutes into the special, the lights go down and Brennan steps to his second microphone to begin the “emotional stuff” portion of the show. He chronicles his battle with clinical depression and the perks and punishments of living a life that comes across as cold and distant, marked with a need for achievement and adrenaline.
“I’m not lazy, nor did I approach this lazily,” he says, midway through his anecdote. He’s referring the the too-common perception that those plagued with depression are simply “too lazy” to pull themselves out of a particularly bad mood. Often, sufferers also struggle with the difficulty of proving the presence of a mood disorder at all.
“Like, I went to a psychiatrist and a psychologist — and if you don’t know the difference, congrats you’re having a great life,” he finishes.
It isn’t long before Brennan resumes his quick-witted one liners, though, sliding back to the first microphone with ease. “Getting a neck tattoo is people’s way of saying ‘Yeah, minimum wage is fine for me,’” he says — and the audience is in stitches. Each joke is short and entirely separate from its predecessor in this portion of the program, with new content coming faster than a snap of the fingers.
Brennan quickly settles into a rhythm, alternating deftly between his three very different types of content. Each subsection of the special, of which there are several, follows a specific order, with clever quips acting as hors d’oeuvres for a stand-up main course, with an intimate, personal narrative for dessert.
But despite the complexity of a show like this, Brennan rarely misses a beat, masterfully balancing content that is difficult to naturally mesh. And though the overall feeling of the show can come across as slightly disjointed, it’s a well-developed and thoughtful romp through radically different comedic styles.
Neal Brennan may have come up through the ranks as a writer and director, but with this latest foray back into comedy, it’s easy to imagine that soon he’ll be standing beside, rather than behind, the acts he’s helped propel to stardom.