Jim Breuer is definitely on a high—though he’d probably prefer not to put it that way.
After beginning a stand-up career in 1988, Breuer first appeared in the mainstream in 1995 on Saturday Night Live, where he became known for a spot-on Joe Pesci impersonation and his Goat Boy character. A year later, after appearing with Dave Chappelle on Home Improvement, he was briefly cast alongside Chappelle in an ABC sitcom, Buddies, but was fired before the first episode aired. SNL let him go in 1998. Breuer believes the show’s then-head writer, Adam McKay, politicked to get him fired according to his appearance on WTF with Marc Maron.
That same year he starred as Chappelle’s friend in the breakout stoner classic Half Baked. The film was a success; however, Breuer has since shied away from the stoner persona thrust upon him. Over the past two decades, he’s continued working as a stand-up while showing up in a potpourri of media. He popped back into the mainstream in 2015 as his Mets fandom took center stage in a series of social media videos he posted after the teams’ games, where he’d passionately rant or rave—or both—about the baseball club’s performance.
After opening for Metallica during a recent tour, Breuer’s got a new stand-up album out April 5. He recorded Jim Breuer: Live from Portland during a Metallica tour at Helium Comedy Club in Portland, and it’s the first offering from the Virtual Comedy Network, a label founded by Jim Serpico, the executive behind shows like Rescue Me, Maron, Benders, and SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL.
Ahead of the album’s release, Laughspin caught up with Breuer, now 51, during his busy press schedule to talk about the new album (a review for which you can read here), his career lows, and the aforementioned current high.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space considerations.
Congrats on the new album! Where are you, career-wise, that made you think this was the right time to put out a new album?
I’d love to say this is a well-planned album, but almost like all the things that have really taken off in my life, this came out of left field. I’m on tour with Metallica, and we had two days off in Portland. I booked Helium to make a little extra cash and work out some stuff, and I went in there and, honestly, I was just having fun. I had no intention whatsoever to record it for an album. When the set was done—I’ve got a guy on the Metallica tour who records everything—he said, “I recorded the set. I professionally did the audio track.” I went, “Oh! Okay,” and I didn’t think anything of it.
About a month and a half later, my manager and my team are going, “Have you listened to this? This is really good.” I went, “Well, I was just kind of messing around; it was the first time I talked about Metallica,” and the next thing I know they say, “This is a killer album.” I’m like, “Really?” Because I can honestly say, since then, I have a completely different hour-plus of, what I think, is bone-crushing, A-plus material. Some of the material on the album I think I only did that night.
The last time this happened to me was when I filmed me and my father on tour. When it was over, the guy who was filming everything said, “I think I have an amazing documentary film.” It was meant to just be web material, and I knew it would be my father’s last tour. I said, “No you don’t. You don’t have a film.” But he showed me what he had and it blew my mind.
This record is sort of the same thing. I went, “Wow, I did not see that coming.”
How important is it to you that this album is launching a new label?
It’s not that it’s important. I’m honored, and I feel that the trust—because Serpico has been around a long time—and his excitement and trust that this is his first one, I don’t take that for granted. It’s almost like I’m coming in to pinch hit with the bases loaded. I want to drive these runs in.
I know it’s out of my hands, as far as people who’ll like it. But for him, I would like this to do very well, and for people to like it and talk about their favorite bits, because it just makes Serpico look like he made a great decision. That’s where my head’s at right now.
He’s been extremely positive for me, since day one. I can’t stand Hollywood, and I never could. I’m a Long Island, family, moral guy. I’m all for one, one for all. I’m all about doing the right thing, as much as you can, and Jim Serpico is that guy, too.
You’ve gone out of your way to rebrand yourself from the Half Baked, Saturday Night Live days. You make very public that you haven’t used the f-word in over a decade, for example. Why did you decide to go that route?
2008 is when it started. My first concern was my kids started looking on the internet, and I had all this material where it ended on, “It’s effin’ s-,” or “crazy s-,” and “f- this.” And, it’s like, “You sound like a dope. You sound like everyone else.” And I don’t want to sound like everyone else.
If you listen to radio—like Howard Stern before he went to SiriusXM, and, at that time, Opie and Anthony—although you knew what they were talking about, they couldn’t say it. And to me, that was so much funnier, because it left the illusion in your head. I took that method and thought, “How do I create certain words and scenarios without saying [something profane]?”
The other thing was, I was in my town, and a woman approached me and said, “You’re the famous guy in town.” I tried to downplay it and said, “I’m not famous,” and she said, “No, you’re the comedian, but you’re really blue, and dirty and, like, the drug guy.”
I said, “Have you ever seen me?” She went, “No, but everyone knows you’re dirty. You’re like a frat boy.”
And I was so mad, but right at that moment I thought, “If she thinks that, other people think that, and why do they think that?”
I vowed, “I’m going to create my own destiny from now on.” I’m a family, moral guy, and the world needs to know that. They were introduced to me through Saturday Night Life and Half Baked, which I adored; however, [I thought at the time,] “They don’t know me; they still don’t know me.”
The first special [after that] was called Let’s Clear the Air. Some people took it as a pot reference.
You can’t win!
No! You’re right. I basically said, “Look: Here’s my SNL stories, here’s my Half Baked stories. We’re moving on. This is who I am; this is what I’m going to be every time you see me now. Those of you who want to take the journey, come along; those who can’t handle it, it was nice knowing you.”
With all that said, how do you feel this change has affected your career overall?
It’s the greatest thing in my life. Forget the career—my life. Where I’m at, and what’s important in my life, that has just brought a calm and a bliss. It’s just, “Hey, here’s what I’m going through. How can I help other people go through this, and find the funny to help them?”
Has it forged a new connection with your fans?
It’s basically this: I’ve invited everyone that wants to be around me. I can probably say, I haven’t met all my fans, but I can honestly say I’d probably have most of my fans over my house to hang out. That is huge. They know everything about me now, and I think there’s people that love the comedy, but there’s people that go, “I love who you are. I love Jim, the person.” And that has turned into a more important thing than anything else.
Did you live that stoner life or was that kind of an act from the get-go?
No, I never lived the stoner life. Did I get high? Yeah, hell yeah, I’d get stoned. And I really enjoyed it.
But after Half Baked came out—and I swear on my life this is a true story—it was 2001, I get a call from the head of Cannabis Cup. He says, “We’d really like for you to be a part of Cannabis Cup this year.” I went, “Um, I don’t know anything about race cars.” And the guy belly laughed—belly laughed. He says, “You’re so funny. We’re gonna fly you out here—”
And you don’t even know what it is.
No clue! Zero clue! And I went, “No, I’m being serious. People ask me to golf, I don’t golf. I don’t know anything about race car driving.” And then he went silent. He finally goes, “Do you know what cannabis is?” I said, “No.” He said, “It’s marijuana. Do you want to do a marijuana tasting?”
I said, “Marijuana tasting? What are you talking about?”
So now he’s trying to explain it to me, and I said, “I got a two-year-old kid here. My wife’s pregnant. That ain’t my thing. But thank you.”
Your career is kind of a case study of the ups and downs of show business—there was the SNL departure controversy, the near miss with the show Buddies. How have you been able to power through it all?
My best friends and my family. I’m not even kidding you.
When Buddies [wasn’t going to happen], that moment, my best friend brought it right back to blue collar. Right in the doorway of the hotel room, he’s holding a beer in his hand at like noon, and he says, “I guess we’re going out tonight because you don’t have to get up in the morning, cuz you ain’t got a job!”
It took two seconds and I belly laughed so hard. I said, “You’re right. Let’s go.”
They’ve always kept me on the ground, and I can honestly say that’s what’s pulled me through, forever and ever.
You had a really interesting arrangement with Metallica on their recent tour. What was that like for you? What were the challenges opening a show for a heavy metal band?
They wanted me to emcee host for the crowd. They said bring a DJ, do whatever. The frustrating part was people were like, “You’re opening! You’re opening!” And I said, “I’m not opening. I’m emcee hosting what goes on before their show.” Even though it said that in the press, people just thought, “Oh, Jim Breuer’s opening,” and people were like, “Oh, he wasn’t that funny.”
Because you weren’t doing joke jokes.
No. And do you know how hard it is to do in the round, in front of 15,000 people waiting for Metallica?
So when they asked me to do it, the best conversation I had was with Lars [Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer]. He said, “Look, every time we bring a band nobody shows up. It’s a bummer for the band, it’s a bummer for us. So what we’re looking for from you: You know how to read a crowd; you are our fan base; you know the band very well; you know our audience well. Tell them why you’re here. Tell them stories, play music, whatever it is. We trust you. You’re able to pull off anything. And most important: you don’t have to be funny.” And that lifted up all this weight off my shoulders.
The first thing I did was, when you walked in the arena, the first half hour, music was playing throughout the house, but on the big screen I showed obscure Metallica photos, from throughout the years. Then my DJ goes up and tells the crowd he’s taking requests. I also told him that most of the people in the crowd are going to be like me: maybe in their 40s with kids, their wives. I wanna hear Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, maybe work in a Pantera here, a Slayer there, but not [overly intense metal], you’re gonna make them nuts.
My job was to get people inside. Lars told me early on, “Don’t be disappointed. You’re lucky sometimes if there’s like a thousand people in there.” Well, I can tell you, by show three, there was an average of about 7,000 people; by show 10, it was three-quarters packed.
If I have the opportunity to do it again, I’m gonna crush it to a whole new level, because this was a learning experience. Sometimes the crowd was in the mood for stand-up comedy, so I’d give them a little stand-up comedy. Sometimes they were very rowdy, so I would then go in the audience: I’d pick people out and start talking with them. I’d find the oldest person in the crowd. I had game shows, I’d bring people on stage and if you won I’d bring you backstage.
And then when I left, the show kept going. I had a camera follow me backstage. I’m giving away [seat upgrade] tickets to people in the upper tier. I’m looking for the band. One of the most successful things I created was the sing-along. I took metal anthems, and when I knew Metallica was ready to go, I’d go back into the arena and lead a sing-along to them. This just murdered every night and people had such a good time. They were standing, and it was time to bring Metallica out. It was the greatest gig I ever had in my life.
You do an amazing impression of James Hetfield, Metallica’s frontman, on the album. I assume you have done it for the band, so what’s their response?
James laughs, but he laughs harder when I do Lars.
Yeah, I’ll bet.
He thinks that’s the funniest thing in the world.
Does Lars laugh when you do James?
He does. Lars, I think, is a little like, “Oh God, here we go with the impression again. I’ve heard this so many times.”
How did your Mets post-game social media reports get started and why do you think they’ve become so popular?
It was lighting in a bottle that started out of a real-life situation. My wife was going through chemotherapy, during her second time getting hit with cancer. People on my team were constantly telling me, “You need to make videos [for social media]”, and I can’t stand making videos. I’m a very terrible self-promoter. I don’t like it. I feel like I’m whoring myself. I tried a couple videos, and they were so forced and I hated it. And then I’m watching game one of the Mets 2015 season. It was a very intense game against the Nationals. I’m watching it like it’s Game Seven of the World Series, and just hating the Nationals. My wife, with no energy whatsoever, was giggling. I said, “What’s so funny?” and she said, “This is what you should be making videos of, you being a Mets fan. It’s real. Do this. Just do it as a fan, off-the-cuff, not as Jim Breuer the comedian.” And I just went, “Oh my God, that’s freakin’ brilliant.”
I did it. It was so much fun, so I did every single game. The next thing you know, the Mets win 11 games in a row, and then they make the playoffs and the World Series. Major League Baseball was talking about it. Radio stations were talking about it. By the end of the year, it’s getting 2 million hits.
I honestly feel why it did so well was the timing. I don’t think anyone ever did it before, and it was the honest passion. It wasn’t staged, and that is what people are driven to.
So there’s the story of the Mets videos: a dark place, and that year brought our whole family together, for something to cheer about, to lift my wife up, to lift my family up. It was pretty amazing.
The Amazin’ Mets!
There you go. I am the Forrest Gump of entertainment. I mean, I grew up with Metallica—How did this happen? I grew up a die-hard Mets fan—I’m in the Mets world. I really sit back and look at my life, and I am so blessed for everything that comes my way.
Jim Breuer’s Live From Portland is available April 5 via Virtual Comedy Network Records.