It’s not hard to get caught up in the infectious energy of Jim Breuer. The 47-year-old stand-up comic and actor has the kind of personality that you can’t help but be inspired and excited by. That’s the case if he’s doing a short online video to talk about the fate of his beloved New York Mets or if he’s onstage telling a strangely poignant story about having to hose his elderly father down after an unfortunate bathroom accident. He crackles with enthusiasm and positivity
“You know what I am,” Breuer says, speaking on the phone recently, “I am that scene [in Animal House] where Belushi comes in and gives that crazy speech even though he’s getting the facts wrong. I’ve been that guy my whole life. That guy who, when someone dies is, like, ‘Let’s find the good out of this and lift each other up.’ Life is too short for dark and misery.”
That kind of thinking runs counter to almost every other comic working today. Just dial up any random episode of Marc Maron’s podcast and wait for the moment where the interview dives deep into the tortured psyche of a famous or not-yet-famous stand-up. But listen to Breuer’s episode of WTF and you’ll hear a distinctly different take on the life of a comedian. Sure, he delves into the hard times like his stretch on Saturday Night Live where he clashed with writers, other cast members, and his own ego, and getting fired from a potentially star-making sitcom after the pilot was filmed (a series that ended up lasting all of five weeks on the air). Yet, Breuer doesn’t bear any scars from either experience. He embraces every up and down as part of the strange, sometimes disappointing but always interesting comedy of life.
“I wanted to be their biggest star,” he says of his SNL days. “I wanted to be able to make movies and then come back and be a star on the show. That was my dream. I wish I had that conversation with Lorne. But, you know, the job became very strenuous when you’re fighting things the public doesn’t understand. I was honored to be invited to the 40th anniversary show. It felt really good. It felt like going back to a frat house and whatever times there were, you remember the good times.”
Therein lies Breuer’s most obvious gift as a comic and a human: finding a positive spin on life’s toughest times. It’s a thread that runs through his latest stand-up special Comic Frenzy. The hour-long set, filmed in his home borough of Long Island, shows him finding the humor in his father’s unfortunate incontinence, an African safari with his wife and daughters that very nearly turned fatal, and wrestling with the idea of gun ownership. It’s not the groundbreaking stuff that touches nerves or challenges sensibilities. Breuer’s stand-up may be loud, brash, and peppered with his faculty for vocal sound effects, but it’s also like a hearty meal. You walk away from it full, satisfied and comforted. And, to stretch the metaphor even further, once you’ve had some time to let it settle, you quickly find yourself hungry for more.
Why then isn’t Breuer as well-known as other comfort food comics like Jim Gaffigan or his buddy Brian Regan? It might have something to do with his perception in the eyes of many comedy fans. Until he scores another breakout role in a TV show or film, he’s likely always going to be carrying the yoke of being Goat Boy or Joe Pesci (his two most-famous SNL characters) or one of Chappelle’s buddies in the cult stoner comedy Half-Baked. Or, for the folks that have read up on Breuer’s career, they might get put off by the fact that he’s an avowed Christian and family man, something that brings to mind well-meaning but dull comics like Henry Cho or Mike Warnke.
In reality, Breuer’s work over the years lands right in the center of those two extremes. He can be as goofy and in-your-face as he was on SNL, like the opening bit on Comic Frenzy that finds him bouncing between impressions of Ozzy Osbourne, Brian Johnson and Angus Young of AC/DC, and Metallica’s James Hetfield, and he makes sure to write material that caters to all ages. But he never preaches or proselytizes, nor does he try to live up to any braying or heavy-lidded expectations.
Not that he’s even the least bit concerned about trying to hit the heights of many of his peers. Gone are the dreams of, as he puts it, “buying leather pants and a kangaroo,” which was his expectation after he left SNL and made Half-Baked. Instead, Breuer is plainly content to still be able to entertain people and make enough of a living off of it that he can take his family on a nice vacation at least once a year.
“So many of my relatives and friends told me, ‘Listen, these kids are only in your life for a short period of time,’” he says. “I don’t want to be chasing their childhood when they’re gone and going after that lost time. I save all my money so we can be together for the entire month of August or two weeks in March. And we have the greatest, funniest memories. To me, that’s way more important than, ‘Oh I’ve got a hit movie’ or ‘Hey, you’re the top dog at this.’ It’s nice and it’s great to be that, but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta come home.”
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.