In advance of his shows at the Tampa Improv (Thursday, December 12- Sunday December 15), I got comedian Greg Behrendt on the horn to talk about life, love, laughter and weighing theoretical airplanes without a scale. It's a task that may prove easier than a successful stand-up career spanning 20 years and a slew of best-selling relationship books (He's Just Not That Into You, It's Called a Breakup Because it's Broken).
Kevin Tall: Hello? Is this Greg? This is Kevin from Creative Loafing.
Greg Behrendt: How’s it going, man?
Doing great. So I was wondering, do you get the weekly edition?
Do I get the weekly edition of Creative Loafing?
Yeah, like the L.A. Times?
Fuck! I can’t sell shit!
[Laughing] Here’s the thing... You’re hilarious.
I try. I ask funny people serious questions and serious people funny questions, I dunno. Ask Dominic Monaghan.
I love it.
I feel sorry for anyone reading this not familiar with your material, not only because they’re missing out on a lot of laughs, but this interview is going to read like a bunch of inside jokes. But ya know what, fuck them if they don’t like chicken fingers.
I mean, fuck them if they don’t like chicken fingers! Here’s the thing, what we’re doing is we’re laying down the breadcrumbs for them to make their way back to real comedy.
Right? We’re building a house of comedy, and we’ve laid down the breadcrumbs.
And in building that house of comedy, you better make me a porch, bitch!
I mean, come on, “make me a porch, bitch,” you’ve got it. Buddy, that’s some classic shit. Some of that shit isn’t even that good.
Well, I’ll argue with that one.
It’s been a full decade since Jack Berger delivered the immortal line ‘He's just not that into you’ on Sex and the City. You’re listed as a ‘script consultant’ on the show. Talk to me about how that came to be and what came of it.
We can use language, right?
Well, the staff was seven women and two gay men, and Michael Patrick King—who was the executive producer and a friend of mine—said, ‘Would you like to come work on the show?’ and I said, ‘Doing what?’ Well he goes, ‘Well, there’s a staff of seven women and two gay men and we need someone to come over and tell us what pussy tastes like.’ So, I mean, how do you… What do you even say to that? I didn’t even think he was serious. You don’t hear that kind of language in a job offer that often.
Yeah, in my last job interview, it was “How would you weigh an airplane without a scale?” I didn’t get that question.
Here’s the thing, I just wouldn’t… If that’s part of the job, forget it. Right?
Yeah. And they must have to weigh ‘em, right?
Oh! I thought we were talking about that other thing. The answer to that question is water displacement. Since water has a corresponding mass per volume, however much water is displaced by the plane, you can then tell how much it weighs.
Are you telling me that somewhere there’s an enormous swimming pool that they drop airplanes into to see how much they weigh?
I’m hoping it’s theoretical, like a gauge for someone’s problem solving abilities, but shit, I don’t know.
Oh, theoretical water displacement. Interesting. Um, ok, we’ve gone really far away.
The first of many forays, no doubt.
So then I got a job on the show, and my job was to say ‘That guy shouldn’t have a purse.’ And I worked there for the end of the run and I had a now-famous conversation with a girl standing in the hallway about she was seeing a guy who didn’t want to have sex with her. And she asked me what I thought, and the only reason that I said that I think that’s bad is because I wanted to get back to the cookie I was eating. And she fought me on it and at some point I said, ‘You know, he’s just not that into you.’ I don’t remember saying it, I would be lying if [I said] I did. But the girl standing next to me remembered, her name was Liz and she became the co-author of the book. It was her idea to write a book and my wife’s idea to follow through. And there you have it, we wrote a book, when it just could have been a warning label.
So the book, He’s Just Not That Into You, led to The Greg Behrendt Show, if I’m following the timeline correctly.
Yeah, pretty much. There was a second book called It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken and I had resisted the talk show thing for a while, for about a year and a half. But, because my profile had changed so dramatically, I was having a really hard time finding comedy work or anyone to take me seriously as a comic, or anyone to take me seriously on a comedic level, including Comedy Central and those places. So, not that I didn’t have a choice, of course I had a choice, but I didn’t have that many offers to do anything in the TV area except for to do a daytime talk show. And so I thought, you know… I think, I read this the other day it was a quote by Justin Theroux, who wrote Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2 and is an actor and all that stuff.
And more famously is with Jennifer Aniston.
And more famously, yeah, yeah more famously. And he said, ‘If you have to sell it back to yourself, it’s not a good idea.’ Or if he said, ‘If this seems like a smart career move, it’s not something you’re doing passionately.’ I thought it was both of those things and I gave it a shot and it was what it was.
It was like the Mr. Rogers version of you... and I know you can rock a sweater and Black Rattle lets me know you can do kids programming. So, it was what it was.
It was what it was. I think it was a misguided but earnest attempt to make something different in a genre that doesn’t want or need something to be different.
You didn’t have enough people throwing chairs and shit.
There was already enough of that. We were trying to go for earnest. We were trying to go for sympathetic. We were trying to raise the bar and not give into the racial stereotypes. And nobody cared. The interesting thing is we had numbers that were good enough, the next years those numbers were fine. Like, the paradigm had changed, because of the way the world had changed. And so the fact that we got almost a million viewers every day, that, at that time, was terrible. Oprah was getting six. Then it turned out the next year, oh yeah, 0.8’s good. But it doesn’t matter anyway, I wasn’t up for another year.
So then there’s the cinematic adaptation of He’s Just not That Into You, in which you make a cameo as a church official with the biggest shit-eating grin ever. It looked like you just went buffet style on all the bridesmaids. What did you think of the final cut of the film?
I thought it was fine. You know, I didn’t have anything invested in it, other than it was based on the book that Liz and I wrote. Like I have said in the past, I didn’t really care if they made a western. They made a movie out of it and they paid us handsomely for the rights. There’s no way to pull off something like that with a book that is so dear to everybody and not have some people like it and some people not. But I think they did a very good job. Given what it was, they made a decent movie. It’s not an embarrassment and it’s not a work of art.
So, we know about ringing the doorbell first and ‘fuck you’ sized candy bars for Halloween. Do you have any insight on the holidays even later in the year? Talk to me about Kwanzaa, Greg.
I don’t have any Kwanzaa observations, but I have been saying about Thanksgiving, to me, the event eating thing… I like to leave the Thanksgiving table like a lot of people leave the gym. Sore and dizzy and shaking. If I don’t feel like I’ve been turkey-fucked in a gingerbread prison then I haven’t really experienced Thanksgiving.
So, have you made any birds lately?
I have been making birds almost every show because I’ve been retelling… I was doing that bit in New York when I had a nervous breakdown. So I tell the bit in a story about the bit, which is kind fun.
It’s very meta.
I’m using 8-yeard-old stuff by reclaiming it and putting it back in perspective. So that way, if Criss Angel’s time has passed, it’s really more about magic than anything else.
Well, he actually does have another show coming up, from what I’m seeing on commercials. Rehash your beef with this guy, for readers unfamiliar, keeping in mind we can’t see your hands.
I always say that I love magic but I hate magicians. I like being fooled. If you wave your hands in front of my face and I think you’re doing a trick, I’m easily impressed. If you pull a quarter out of my ear, I’m quite certain you’re a wizard. But I don’t like the way most magicians don’t act like they’re magical; they act like show business dicks. With David Blaine and Criss Angel, it’s like a come-on, they’re using it to get women or to be cool. Magic isn’t cool. It’s magic. And I can’t do it, because I can’t scream, but then I’d do my imitation of what it’d be like, how you would feel if you could actually make birds. What that would feel like every time you made a bird.
With the Criss Angel joke, you get the audience to help you remember his name. Is he really that forgettable or does it just lend itself to your conversational, story-telling delivery?
Now I don’t. At the beginning, I couldn’t remember his name. I kept wanting to call him… I can’t remember what it is I called him. I had some other name for him. You know how you have those weird mix-ups. You know how there’s that steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse? I keep wanting to call it Chris Ruth. I have no idea why. So I would just start to say ‘What’s-his-name’ as I remembered I thought his name was ‘The Mind Eraser.’ I have very vague notions of things I’m actually familiar with. That’s why I have a new two-minute podcast called ‘Vague Stories with Greg Behrendt,’ which is sort of like a spin-off from my regular podcast, ‘Walking the Room.’
I saw you live in Tampa about 6 years ago at the Improv. I asked about your tattoos. And since I’m sure I’m the only dude to ever do so, you now know exactly who I am, right?
Yeah, I’m that guy. And you’re that guy from that thing. So do you guys really build those houses in a week? [Note: Greg looks like Ty Pennington]
You know, it takes us a little while longer to finish the inside, but we don’t tell people that. Also, a lot of times people don’t like the houses after we’ve built them. They act like they do but they don’t. And then they try and sue the network. ‘Cause people are essentially bad.
Fair enough. Not really the thought I’ve ever gotten from Greg Behrendt, but you heard it here first, world. People are essentially bad.
I was asking about your tattoo that reads ‘Faith without works is death.’ Talk to me about that one.
That’s just a reminder, you know, to try and walk the walk instead of talk the talk. It’s sort of one of the big modern problems with religion. I don’t have any problem with you living like a Christian or a Jew or whatever religion it is that you are. But if you’re preaching it and not living, then it doesn’t make sense. I think it’s just sort of an across-the-board thing with how you carry yourself through the world. And it has to do with my sobriety and everything else.
Did you ever get the ‘Devil filing his taxes’ tattoo?
No, or what was it, like a [gargoyle] making a salad?
No, I think I’m done. The last two tattoos I got were drawings that my daughters made of both of us. When True was 3, she drew a picture of me. When Mighty was 3, she drew a picture of Amiira, and those are both tattooed on my forearms. And I think I’m pretty much done. I don’t know that there need to be any more work done. I have a tattoo between my shoulder blades I may have worked on, just so that it looks a little bit better.
And fuck… you’re 50, bro…
I’m 50, bro.
And don’t miss my point. You’re 50 and you’re probably more awesome on a Sunday than my 30-year-old self is an entire year, so don’t worry about that.
Well I don’t know about that. You know, I’ve been saying lately, when you’re 50, your hands hurt from standing. So it’s a weird time. But also, you’re also so vulnerable and closer to the other end of the deal. You have a little bit more gratitude, a little bit more perspective. You realize a lot of things don’t really matter that you thought were super important. Things that you were so worried about or upset about are really kinda dumb.
Like burritos in the baby crib, right?
Yeah, like leaving a burrito in the crib. That’s gonna happen. Like being a parent and worrying about all that stuff when really, you’re gonna make mistakes and really that’s not what parenting is about. It’s about being around, spending a lot of time.
So, after I’ve bombarded you with all of your own material, getting back to your live show, Louis C.K. said he flips his entire routine every year. How often do you turn over material?
Not every year. Here’s what I do: I work up the hour that I really, really like and then I try and perform it into a recording device. And then I start over again, but I do it slowly. And as I do it, when someone comes out to see me, as I’m building that, I’m also playing hits from my 23 years of standup I’ve been doing. Halloween, I’ll throw in the Halloween bit. I’m doing this hour, but right in the middle of it I did a Criss Angel bit because I haven’t quite figured out how this part’s gonna end. Sometimes I have a bit and get rid of it. But I work pretty hard to turn it over. I had a friend come and see me just recently in Tempe who’s an old friend that’s seen my act a lot. And he was like, ‘Man, that’s all new, every word of that!’ And that feels good, ya know. I care about it. I care about the craft, I feel like it’s important to be able to keep excited. Because it would drive me crazy if I didn’t have anything new to say.
When you turn over material, is it kinda compulsory in an internal way or does it depend on the gag and your feeling for it?
Yeah, every single bit of mine is experiential. So things have to happen or I have to be in an observant mood to be able to find things to talk about. I went through a period where my life just wasn’t that interesting, I wasn’t living an interesting life and I was sorta depressed and I couldn’t figure out what to write about. But I don’t love That Guy from That Thing. I like it, but I wish it was better. There are some parts of it that are just like, ‘Man, that stuff was just written. Blah blah blah, that’s the way I’ll work it.’ But I do it because I want to keep it interesting for me. Todd Barry’s like, ‘cause he has such a real, alternative fan base, and they’re always going, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard this one, Todd,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, ‘cause I wrote it. It’s my joke, I wanna tell it. I wrote these jokes, I wanna tell ‘em.’ And I understand that. Sometimes you wanna tell one of your old stories because you love it. Every once in a while, I’ll throw in the old chain wallet joke ‘cause I love it. And every once in a while it fucking crushes, but I would hate if I hadn’t moved on from there.
Switching gears, I wonder how your sobriety affects your interaction with fans after a gig. Typically, in our culture, you buy a drink for a guy after a show to show your appreciation. How do you approach that situation?
It all depends. I have social anxiety, a little bit. There are moments where I just don’t wanna go out and talk to anybody. I used to sell stuff, and, also, when the book was really hot, I felt like those women had come out not even to see standup but to get their books signed. So I did a lot of pressing the flesh those days. But then I started to have a nervous breakdown about it because I felt controlled by the book, which is my own little bit of madness. My sobriety makes it so I sometimes just can’t… don’t have the… Ya know, if I had a couple of beers maybe I’d be like, ‘Ah, fuck it, let’s go out and talk to people.’ Also, when I have a couple of beers, I’m like, ‘Let’s go out and break something,’ or ‘fuck somebody.’ That’s why I don’t have them anymore. So I’m just left with my raw feelings and sometimes after a show I go out [and mingle] and sometimes I don’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t love everybody though. I really do appreciate people and I try to let them know that on-stage. But I had to get to the point where I know some people came out and want to do the handshake but I just can’t do it tonight.
So, three comedy albums, three relationship books, The Greg Behrendt Show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and your band, The Reigning Monarchs. What’s next for Greg Behrendt?
Well, oddly enough, we’re gonna take a trip back to Oprah in a couple weeks. She does this thing called ‘Lifeclass’ and the producers really flipped out over It’s Just A Fuckin’ Date, so the cool thing is I’m going with my wife. Amiira is the co-author and we’re going out as partners, as opposed to me being the sole face of the book. And it’ll be fun, it’s a little bit more casual than her other show and obviously it’s on her own network… it’ll be fun. And the Monarchs… we wanna get a tour. The record came out, we have a record release party this weekend. We’re gonna be on this thing called ‘Comedy Gives Back,’ which is on YouTube. And it’s the 6th and it’s a 24-hour comedy show around the world and the Monarchs are the house band for the first 12 hours, plus we’re gonna play full versions of a couple of songs. So whatever I can do. I’ve said I’d like to write books, I’d like to play music, I’d like to do standup; is anyone interested? And then I just go.
Merchandise-wise, when are we going to see the Greg Behrendt toaster cozy?
I don’t know that the toaster cozy is ever going to see the light of day, but I do love merchandise. I have a company called Estoy Merchandise and we make my merchandise and the merchandise for the band and the podcast. Which I also love my podcast quite a bit, ‘Walking the Room.’ You’re probably more likely just to see some t-shirts, maybe a bowtie.
Bowtie? Bowties are cool.
Yeah, the Reigning Monarchs sell a bowtie, although I think we sold out of them already. But we sell a black and white checkerboard bowtie.
Thanks a lot for your time and I look forward to seeing you.
Good talking to you, bro. Take care.