Comedian Neal Brennan on his 30-year friendship with Dave Chappelle, dogs as roommates and his new stand-up show

Comedian Neal Brennan is on stage at the Variety Playhouse on July 16. (Photo credit: Matt Murphy)

Everyone’s journey to self-acceptance is different. Some people undergo therapy or write daily in a journal; others try exciting new activities.

If you are Neal Brennan, you create a standup comedy show brilliantly. The comedian, writer and director has written for “Chappelle’s Show,” “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” and the movie “Half-Baked.” He’s on tour now for his standup show “Unacceptable,” in which he unflinchingly explores his attitudes and behaviors with wit and honesty.

Neal Brennan joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom ahead of his Atlanta performance at Variety Playhouse on July 16.

Interview highlights:

Reflections on lifestyle and connection that led to “Unacceptable:”

“I live in LA, and we do 15-minute sets more or less every night, and so you’re building out sections of your act, kind of piecemeal. Eventually, I looked at it, and I was like, ‘What am I getting at?’ And what I realized I was getting at was that I feel kind of defensive about my life,” said Brennan. “I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I don’t really drink. I don’t really smoke weed. I don’t eat meat. I have a bunch of things I just don’t do that most people do. I’m racially bilingual, I would say. So… I’m an outlier in like ten different ways, and it made me realize, ‘Oh, I feel isolated a lot of the time, and kind of unacceptable, if you will.’”

“Women are judged the most for not being married, not having kids past a certain age. In the South, I believe it’s 23,” Brennan chided. “No, but by a certain age, if you’re not married with kids, it’s like you fail in some way, and I’m trying to explain to people, this is not a failure. This is just a choice, and a lot of it comes down to luck… But we judge each other like it’s skill and like it’s talent. I say we’re all fans at an NBA game taking a half-court shot. You know, when those people miss the shot, people go, ‘Aw,’ they don’t go, ‘Screw you, what’s wrong with you?’ We have no empathy for each other and no empathy for each other’s choices.”

Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan, a friendship for the ages:

“I’ve known him since 1992, so known him 30 years now, since we were both 18,” said Brennan. “You know, he’s just got a world-class, one-in-a-billion mind, and he’s just insanely talented and smart and funny. Chris Rock one time said, ‘You’re not competitive with Dave.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I would if I thought I could win.’ I actually am competitive with him. Like, he would laugh at me saying I’m not. He once said I’m the most competitive person he’s ever met, and I said, ‘That’s because you can’t meet yourself.’ We have an ongoing joke which is, I want his last words on Earth to be ‘Neil was right.’”

On looking for humor in the madness of American politics:

“When people use the term ‘gallows humor,’ that always seems redundant to me. Because I think that’s the essence of humor, to begin with; it’s like ‘whistling past the graveyard,’ as they say,” said Brennan. “Now that Roe v. Wade’s been overturned, it should be legal to slap anyone who says it doesn’t matter who you vote for. They should legalize that. Because so clearly, it was always wrong. And it’s like, ‘Yo; you were so wrong about that.’ It really matters who you vote for. And you know, Republicans are not messing around. It seems like liberals never understood that.”

“I think in some ways I’ve studied at the Dave Chappelle Institute, and I’ve studied at the Chris Rock Institute. I’m very lucky that I’m very close with both of them,” Brennan said. “It’s basically a story of colonialism. And America, and especially Black people’s experience in America, it’s colonialism crossed with kidnapping… Chris Rock said something to me about Jim Crow that’s indelible, and this is one of these things that he’s never said publicly. He said, ‘You know, I understand slavery. Yeah, it’s just like, brutal. Like, ‘Hey you, come work for me…’ but Jim Crow is just sadistic. And it’s like, what are you doing? What? I can’t… the same water fountain?’ So I’m lucky to have friendships where they’ll say something like that, and I’ll get insight that I would never get otherwise.”

Neal Brennan’s stand-up comedy show “Unacceptable” is on stage at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on July 16. Tickets and more information are available at