An Interview with Comedian Neal Brennan

The Approval Matrix host talks brilliant TV shows and Blake Griffin.

by | August 11, 2014 | Comments

The Approval Matrix will already be familiar to fans of New York Magazine. Its weekly must-read infographic measures highbrow and lowbrow culture on a scale of despicable to brilliant. And now the “deliberately oversimplified” back-page roundup has found its way to Sundance TV in the form of a talk show hosted by comedian Neal Brennan (The Chappelle Show, The Mindy Project, Inside Amy Schumer, Half Baked).

For tonight’s premiere of The Approval Matrix, Brennan takes on the topic of “The Golden Age of Television” with guests Whitney Cummings, Matt Roush, Julie Klausner, and Willie Geist. In an exclusive interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Brennan shares a preview of what’s to come, including his passionate view of Jackass, plus Blake Griffin’s surprising taste in television.

Rotten Tomatoes: What do you think people mean when they say we’re living in a “Golden Age of Television?”

Neal Brennan: There is now officially more good television than there is time to watch it. Having said that, we talk in another episode about the fact that folks spend ten hours a day either online or watching TV, so there probably isn’t 70 hours of good TV a week, but there’s a lot. There are more channels; there’s more options. I don’t think that there is proportionally more good television than there’s ever been — there just used to be three channels and now there’s 300, so it’s multiplied by a factor of 100.

RT: In the first episode of The Approval Matrix, you mention that there are certain shows that you “should” watch — meaning that you feel pressured to take them on. What ones?

Brennan: I think it’s that you get left out. It’s Game of Thrones. I’d say Parks and Rec falls into it… I think Breaking Bad was there. I think the Hannibal show is going to cross. Maybe Schumer. And I think John Oliver’s show is f—king fantastic. Whether it crosses over is, like, whether or not they’ll put it on HuffPost. I’d put Girls on that list too, by the way.

RT: How much do critics matter when you consider taking on show?

Brennan: It helps. I take it into consideration. I’ll go like, ‘Alright. It’s getting a lot of recognition so I’m assuming there’s something there.’ and then I’ll take it on. My arc with Girls was interesting in that I watched the first one and didn’t like it, and then — no one’s going to believe this — but Blake Griffin of the Clippers told me to watch it. He watched the next four and was like, “No, I’m telling you — watch it.” The least likely guy in the world. I watched Girls because a jock told me to.

RT: And now how do you feel about it?

Brennan: I really love it.

RT: So Blake Griffin was right?

Brennan: [He] was right.

RT: What would be an example of something despicable and lowbrow, so that it would be in that bottom, left-hand corner of the matrix? Reality TV?

Brennan: Yeah, I’d put Real Housewives in there.

But just because something is lowbrow doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, right?

Brennan: Yeah. The best example of lowbrow-brilliant in the history of television is Jackass. Jackass to me was about as close to perfect as I’ve ever seen. Jackass is one of the only shows where I lived in New York when it was on the air and I told somebody, “I’m going to walk to L.A. and volunteer to work on that show.” I couldn’t f—ing believe it. I mean, I still can’t believe it. I’ve never seen a show capture the spirit of young men better than that show… when they always talk about Sex and the City for guys? That’s the Sex and the City for guys. It was so good.

RT: Many of these lowbrow shows are just so weirdly fascinating.

Brennan: Yeah, I think Jersey Shore is that. They’re just getting drunk, but it’s an amazing show. It came out of that True Life [I Have a Summer Share] on MTV and it was so good that they were like, “We should do a full show of this.” Jersey Shore is one of the best shows of all time… They had so many hooks. They had ‘t-shirt time,’ they had ‘smush,’ they had ‘gym, tan, laundry.’ They had these great dumb things like ‘grenade.’ The had these things that you really felt like part of the group and it was just amazing. I have nothing bad to say about it.

There’s also that thing I say [about Jersey Shore]: are they not actors? Because if it’s written for them, they’re really good actors. I don’t say that facetiously. In the fame episode [of The Approval Matrix], I say to Jason Biggs that I don’t think acting is that hard because I’ve never met a doctor who said, “Yeah, I never went to medical school. I just sorta picked it up.” People go, “Acting is so hard,” but obviously acting is not that hard. Like, Jon Hamm was slamming the Kardashian sisters and it’s like, “Hey, you went to college and took classes for a year. Be quiet. Stop acting like you’re Laurence Olivier.”

Even athletes have to practice every day. Again, to bring up Blake Griffin. He’s one of the best of the players in the NBA, but guess what? He wouldn’t be if he only practiced for a year.

RT: And also that Blake Griffin guy is not a horrible actor.

Brennan: He’s a great actor! That’s the sad thing. He’s a hilarious guy. That’s proof right there. He doesn’t practice acting.

RT: It can be a little embarrassing for the professionals when you see someone like Drake come on Saturday Night Live and kill.

Brennan: I know! I always say to Blake Griffin that he has a better comedy career than I do.

Blake Griffin and Drake in “Drake vs Blake” at the 2014 ESPY Awards.

RT: OK, so now for the lightning round. I’ll name some shows and you tell me where they fall in your approval matrix.

Brennan: Okay.

RT: The Simpsons.

Brennan: Highbrow brilliant.

RT: The Bachelor.

Brennan: Lowbrow brilliant.

RT: Mad Men.

Brennan: Highbrow brilliant.

RT: Broad City.

Brennan: I’ve only seen one but I’ll go lowbrow brilliant.

RT: Sex and The City.

Brennan: Lowbrow brilliant. And I only put it in lowbrow because of Michael Patrick King’s love of puns.

RT: Big Bang Theory.

Brennan: Only seen a few. We’ll go lowbrow brilliant.

RT: Survivor.

Brennan: Lowbrow brilliant.

RT: Arrested Development.

Brennan: Highbrow brilliant.

RT: Game of Thrones.

Brennan: I’ve never seen it… I guess you could say Game of Thrones could be highbrow despicable because there’s a lot of boobs and violence on it, right?

If only Blake Griffin had made Neal Brennan watch Game of Thrones, we’d have a definitive answer.

To see how Brennan and his panel of guests rate other highs and lows of our culture, tune into The Approval Matrix on Mondays at 11:00 p.m. on Sundance TV.

For more TV news, visit the Rotten Tomatoes TV Zone.

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