Matt Braunger Talks About his New Special, Improv, and Career Moves

Chad White

Matt Braunger is a guy you see a lot. He’ll play a character of some sort that you’d totally recognize from your favorite show. Braunger has been around the comedy world for years. Improv was his forte as was play acting.

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His career started out in Chicago and now he’s currently in LA. Braunger’s television rap sheet is staggering with appearances on Madtv, @midnight, Chelsea Lately, Up All Night, and Conan’s Tonight Show. Aside from television, Braunger runs his own podcast called Ding Donger where he hitchhikes with the listener for thirty minutes and promptly exits. I didn’t do it any justice with my description.

This Friday marks the release of Braunger’s second special, Big Dumb Animal. I recently sat down with the comedian to talk about it.

So you started in Chicago with improv right?

Yes. For about two years. Then I got into stand up.

Did you know anything going in prior to that?

Nothing going in. You mean like comedy wise?

Yeah like comedy wise.

I actually moved over there just to be an actor. Rather than come to New York or L.A. right off the bat. You know, fresh out of college, I wanted some real world experience. Chicago had such a great level of livability. There are hundreds and hundreds of black box theaters I could get involved in. I got there and didn’t find a lot of success. Didn’t get booked in anything but then I just started taking improv classes so in the end, that was a good thing.

So did you do the improv classes at a college?

I would take classes at Improv Olympic or iO as it’s known now.

Did that help you with television performances like MadTv or Up All Night?

Sure. I think taking improv classes is helpful for anybody. It just helps you adapt. And go ahead and make strong and bold choices and not sit on the sidelines. It helps me make things up on stage better. It helped make other people better. And listen more. One thing is it really teaches you how to listen.

I had somebody tell me that improv was really good at helping you with your speech or with job interviews. Things of that sort.

Yeah, it’s just kind of communications practice really. With the pressure taken off.

You’re a regular at UCB. Am I right?

Oh yeah.

What’s the scene like there?

It’s great. They set up shop in LA almost a decade ago. I was very excited because the world I came from in Chicago, you either did standup or you did improv. Nobody did both. This is back when you had what you kind of would call the alternative theme for standup. We would just do shows in bars and things. Now, you go to Piper’s Alley where Second City is and there’s comedy that’s in the complex. UCB here in LA and in New York has improv, sketch and standup. Which is great. It’s not how it was when I was starting out. So it’s just nice to be welcomed into that. I only do standup for the most part at UCB. But I like to see all the different shows.

Do you like doing standup more than you like doing improv or acting?

Boy. Tough one. I haven’t done improv in a long so it’s kind of hard to judge now. I kind of have to go with standup because it’s my forte. I haven’t done necessarily demanding acting roles in a while. You know guest roles and work harder and stuff. But I won’t have a ton of lines. I haven’t done an actual play in I don’t know how long. I guess it’s a vague and undefined answer. It depends on the situation. But if I had to throw a dart I’d probably say standup. That’s what I connect with the most.

Do you want to get back into play acting?

Yeah, sure. I’d love to do one again someday.

Do you want hardcore dramatic stuff or do you want a little bit lighter?

I’d do either, honestly. As long as I really react to the material. Whatever floats my boat at the time. Something that makes me go “oh this is amazing,” I’ll do it.

Earlier you said that you haven’t done improv in a while but you were on @midnight like seven times!

[laughs] You know, I can make stuff up pretty easily. When I say improv, to me, that’s like you’re working with a bunch of people on stage and you have to build a world together. That kind of thing I haven’t done in a while. I think I did a show a couple months ago. But that was just like a drop in. That was fun but it just doesn’t happen that often. But I love going on @midnight and just dicking around. So much fun!

I liked it when you and I think Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer did “Tuxedo Guys.” What was that about?

[laughs] They just started with that thing and I got a phone call with “oh do you want to bring a tuxedo and continue it.” And I was like “sure.” And then from there we all started wearing different outfits. I wore like a cowboy shirt once. And Huebel showed up like a matador. I kind of just got pretty ridiculous.

That was definitely one of the best recurring bits on the entire series so far.

Yeah it was fun.

Do you still do your podcast, Ding Donger?

I do. I just did it live for the first time in New York last week and that was a lot of fun.

That’s the one you do alone. How do you do that live?

You sit on a stool and talk on a mic. You have some topics written on a card of paper that you get to. I had no idea I was going to go. My whole vision of the show is I hitchhike. I jump into your car or your iPod, whatever you listen to the podcast on, and I’m with you for half an hour. Then I say “I’m getting out; this is me.” So I was just like “I don’t know how the hell this is going to go.” But it actually went great. I think the smart thing was that they paired me with another podcast Jacki Kation and she had an actually guest. So I went first and she went second. It was about a solid hour and a half for everybody. It was a good show for podcast fans to see what happens live.

Why did you start doing the podcast?

I wouldn’t say necessarily out of boredom but partially out of boredom and partially just to go ahead and put something out there once a week that people can listen to. It’s great to have a bit of an outlet because I write all the time but a lot of it never comes to the surface of any kind of public consumption. I’m writing show ideas or stuff to pitch or jokes that get trapped; whatever. This way it’s just kind of a portrait of my life in progress. It’s just a fun thing I try not to overthink too much and just put out once a week.

So you write often. How long did it take you to write your first special, Shovel Fighter?

Hm. About a year and a half I’d say. I’m usually about a year and a half to two years per hour, hour and a half of stuff I’m really proud of doing or enjoy I guess.

Going from Shovel Fighter, how has Big Dumb Animal improved over your first special?

I think it’s a lot more cohesive. The problem I found with Shovel Fighter is that – I mean even the name alone – you hear that and you’re like “I don’t even know what the hell that is. You’re fighting people with a shovel?” I named it after one of my jokes.

[laughs]

Whereas Big Dumb Animal I talk about where I am in my life right now and just summon myself up in hopefully hilarious manner. It’s a name I say to people and they just laugh right away. They’re like “ha, I get it. It’s you.” I had a guy I was waiting tables with – God, this was years ago – and he was one of those guys who was kind of a jock guy but like a funny jock guy. I came into work one day and he was like “hey you big dumb animal!” And he just made me laugh and I was like “oh you son of a bitch!” That phrase just stuck in my head. It’s because I’ve had all of these various jobs where the only reason I was hired was to carry stuff around or whatnot. It’s like at times when I’m on stage, it’s very much that. A big dumb animal. Like “here’s a story where I was a fucking idiot.”

But you’re obviously a smart guy. You’re into plays which I assume you’re into literature. Are you reading anything right now?

Yeah I’m going back and forth between the new Michael Connolly novel and Jim Gaffigan’s book Food: A Love Story. I got that over Christmas and that’s a lot of fun to read. And I just got this book. I’m blanking on the name. [laughs] Of course the one that is the actual literature is the one I’m blanking on. It’s about a British guy that…goes to Italy. I got that the other day and I’m just blanking. It’s like something in Venice. That shows you how smart I am! But that’s the thing. Technically I’m not dumb; I’m not stupid. But the thing is you’re defined by your actions. If you do dumb things, in a way, you’re still being dumb. You know what I mean? [laughs]. Which is almost more sad. It’s way less of an excuse.

So what does the future hold for you Matt?

I’ve got a video series coming out on Comedy central that wrote with Kevin Avery who writes for Last Week Tonight and wrote for Totally Biased. Then I’ve got a couple show ideas I’m going to shop around for this season. And hopefully just collaborate with more creative friends and just put some good funny stuff out there. 

Big Dumb Animal premieres this Friday on Comedy Central. Follow Matt on Twitter.