Comedian David Brenner became a household name in the ’70s after appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
Brenner is still doing stand-up comedy, and will appear March 1 and 2 at Zanies at Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles.
Tickets are available at www.stcharles.zanies.com.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Brenner about his career.
Eric Schelkopf: Comedy Central has called you one of the greatest stand-up comics ever. What is the key to stand-up comedy?
David Brenner: I think the key is to say something that the audience can relate to. Another thing is surprise. When you turn on the light of the punch line, it’s not what they expected. I think that’s the key to comedy, and to stand-up.
You plant your feet on the stage, you look them in the eye, and then you tell them the truth.
ES: Have you had any times where you just bombed out or not connected with the audience at all?
DB: It’s interesting, because I think that the higher you go, not only the harder you fall, but the farther you fall.
In the early part of my career, when I bombed, I didn’t just go on the toilet, I went out the pipes into the sewer system and right out into the ocean, you know?
I think you are assigned x number of bombs in your career. And you just try to get them out of the way so you don’t do it again.
ES: I know that last fall you were auditioning comics for one of your shows on Long Island, N.Y.
DB: You know, today it is so difficult for comedians to make it. When I was coming up, there were maybe a dozen of us in the whole country.
But now there are I understand between 14,000 and 17,000 working comedians, as compared to a dozen of us young guys and another 25 to 35 maybe established acts.
There are 14,000 to 17,000 of these comedians out there. Some of them are remarkably great, but they will never get a career.
ES: Do you think it is easier for comics to capture the spotlight these days?
DB: Well, I think it’s more difficult for them to make it, but it’s much easier for them to get laughs, because the public has lowered the bar.
There are some good comedians out there - Jon Stewart, Lewis Black and Stephen Colbert, all brilliant and clever. But the cerebral mind in America has just about disappeared, and we have cerebral material, thinking man’s material.
You look at the comedy we used to do, and then you look at the comedy that is being done today, and you can see the comparison. And yet there are probably more brilliant comedians today than when I was coming up.
ES: Of course, you got your big break on “The Tonight Show,” when Johnny Carson was the host. What was it like the first time you stepped out on that stage?
DB: What it really was, was that I never wanted to be a comedian. I had no intention of being a comedian.
I only wanted to do a television show because I wanted to prove to people who wouldn’t believe, and I could show them that I once did stand-up comedy.
I was a writer, producer and director for documentaries for TV. As a matter of fact, I did documentaries for WBBM in Chicago. I did 150 documentaries all told in my career.
I decided to do comedy for a year because I didn’t want to keep taxing my brain, trying to think of what was the next thing I wanted to do.
I went out on “The Tonight Show” because it was one-time only. And the next day, I had more than $10,000 worth of job offers. I realized I hit the mother lode and I had a career, in something I just did as a lark.
So, I wasn’t nervous. I knew what everybody’s job was who were up on the stage. To me, it was like coming home.
When I went into a nightclub, that was nerve wracking. I had never before been on a stage at a nightclub. But going on television, that was a piece of cake for me.
ES: You made 158 guest appearance on “The Tonight Show,” the most of any guest on the show. Why did you like doing that show so much?
DB: The main reason was it was the number one rated show on television. Anybody who was anyone in show business watched Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson had the power.