When Life’s B.S. Makes Neal Brennan Sick, Jokes Are The Best Medicine

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Neal Brennan: 3 Mics cover art

 

Life is hard. We’ve heard that line before and likely had the sentiment proven true time and time again throughout our days. But how we cope when bummers and rainy days storm on us is either what propels us towards victories or plummets us into incurable depths.

For director, writer, and comedian Neal Brennan, it’s the ability to find humor in a life full of problems ranging from daddy issues to depression (requiring the aid of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist) to dealing with a professional career in show business as being the guy next to the guy; he’s best known for co-writing Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show with its star Dave Chappelle. The pop phenomenon flamed out after two seasons, when Chappelle wasn’t sure if his audience—increasingly becoming white—was laughing with or at him as he performed his, at times, racially controversial sketches.

When the show wrapped, Brennan’s gut urged him to step into the spotlight himself, which meant starting from ground zero as an open mic comedian after directing and writing one of the best sketch comedy shows of all time. He jokes in his new Netflix stand-up special Neal Brennan: 3 Mics that a friend said hIs career trajectory was Benjamin Button-like, because it’s going in reverse order. But 3 Mics is proof positive that his career is, in fact, moving forward.

Mics features a skillfully managed stage set. Brennan sidesteps to three different microphones, each with its own purpose. Stage right is for quick, no-context one-liners: “The little league world series. Or as pedophiles call it: The world series.”). Stage left is dedicated to standard stand-up (bits about college loans, being in the grocery store with a concealed weapon). But the most impactful content comes from the center mic’, where he earnestly talks to the audience about his bouts with depression and a father that didn’t love him.

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Poster used for Brennan’s 2016 3 Mics tour

 

Often these monologues are so intimate that I felt uncomfortable being privied to such vivid details of his life, like finding out what it was like to see his dying father for the last time in the hospital and learning about their final discussion.

Finding a way for us to laugh at his depression, Neal explains that Black people enjoyed his beaten down spirit. “Always,” he recalls matter of factly of their reverence. “They’d be like, ‘Neal, man, you don’t give a fuck!’ And I always want to say, ‘Well, that’s because I’m sad.” I love his dry, witty humor. Just as it seems we’re all about to be swallowed up by his misery, in comes Breenan with a light quip to rope us out of the quicksand.

Towards the conclusion of 3 Mics, Breenan, again at center microphone, speaks about that drowning feeling.  A joke, to him, is like being blessed with an air bubble as he’s flailing in a sea of despair. “For a second, things slow down and I can win,” he says, as he pretends to inhale a small bit of oxygen on stage. “It’s something I’m so grateful for… Jokes.”

We all have our own struggles, though not everyone finds the tools to deal with them. God only knows if Neal would still be with us if he didn’t have comedy. And that was a mighty big gut punch that hit me as the credits rolled with Electric Guest’s “See the Light” (what a beautiful song that is, by the way) playing. I sat on my couch at midnight, dead serious after steadily letting belly laughs loose for an hour.

How many people aren’t as fortunate as he was to find humor or whatever it is that could help them endure life when shit’s not going their way and looking bleak? A lot, right? Suicide is essentially what people do when joy, faith, and optimism have left the building for good. Here’s hoping that we all can find the gift that helps brighten things up. Or help someone find theirs. Or actually be someone’s light. As Neal shows with 3 Mics, every little bit helps.

Lil Yachty Joins Nautica’s Boat Club

 

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Lil Yatchy | c/o Nautica

 

Some business relationships are so clear and obvious that when they happen it’s absolutely no surprise that they did. Such is the case with Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty’s recent deal with prep fresh brand Nautica.

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A post shared by King boat (@lilyachty) on

 

His name is Yachty. Nautica’s logo is a boat. He’s’s been a fan of the brand and tagging Instagram pictures with him wearing their shirts for two years. They took notice of Yachty as his fame rose and signed him. Smart move.

Lil Yachty and Nautica President Talk About Why Their Collab Will Float Your Boat: Exclusive

I talked to Yachty and Nautica president Karen Murray for Billboard about how they linked up and what’s in store for their 2017 together. The answer? Retro vibes aplenty.

Give it a read.

Guilty Pleasures & Confessions of a ’90s Kid: I Loved the Power Rangers

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers | image c/o Saban Brands

 

As an adult, just about everything I’m into is no secret. What I love, I love out loud—I tweet about Knicks games‘Gram bits of concerts I hit and I recommend things I’ve read to buddies when we hang. But this hasn’t always been the case.

I kind of laugh at the idea of guilty pleasures, because I don’t have a Love & Hip-Hop or some other show synonymous with trash TV secretly holding a place on my DVR or in my heart. The idea of things in pop culture that I used to adore in secret came to mind a few months ago when the teaser for the newest incarnation of Power Rangers came out.

It immediately made me think about the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers live-action Fox series that debuted in the fall of 1993. I loved that show so much. It had martial arts and a Benettons-diverse collection of high school teens dealing with young heartaches, insecurities and such. It was like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Saved By the Bell in one. It may be the first true drama I watched day in, day out. It was straight riveting TV for a child yet to reach 10 years of age, as I was.

Though I hadn’t experienced a double-digit birthday, I did have a firm grasp of cool—at least what I knew my peers would tease me for liking. And as a kid who grew up with classmates that were much more excited about darker cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series or what Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan was doing on the basketball court, I was sure to keep my fandom for Jason, Billy, Trini, Kim, Zack and eventually Tommy close to the vest.

I remember scoring a power morpher and power com via McDonald’s Happy Meals and being geeked to bring them home and play.

My sister and I would detach the cardboard tube on wire hangers from the dry cleaners and pretend they were swords as we fought air monsters after transforming into Rangers. Those were great times, ones I never dared share with anyone who didn’t have the same last name as me. I also recall being incredibly fearful that I’d run into classmates when I saw Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie at City Place Mall down the street from my apartment building in ’95, months before I turned 10. It was my first guilty pleasure.

As I hope you have since your childhood, I’ve grown to be a way more confident person in my adult years, unafraid to say I like a lot of things that typically are either widely considered nerdy or not exactly intended for me to be a participant. For example, I love Project Runway (shout out to Tim Gunn!). Many might be surprised to find a straight 6’5 Black man glued to Lifetime TV as he prays that his favorite designer’s dress wins the weekly competition. But I digress.

Yesterday, Lionsgate released the second trailer for Power Rangers, out this March. They debuted their updated costumes, gave us a look at Bryan Cranston’s Zordon, Bill Hader’s friendly automaton Alpha 5 and even a quick glimpse of their Megazord. For the two minutes I spent watching that great preview, I felt a bit like that child I was, happily letting my imagination roam free of reality’s restraints. It’s even better to watch stuff like this now, because I actually have the balls to be fun-loving big kid out loud, one who doesn’t care if you think I’m a “grown-ass man” who shouldn’t enjoy watching the rainbow crew defend Earth for two hours.

Nah, I say. It’s morphin time, bruh. The Rangers are getting my dollars come March 24.

My Trip to Apt. 4B, a Taste of N.Y.C in L.A.

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Apt. 4B Owners Monique and Moon | photo c/o Instagram, shot by Andres Tardio

 

One of the favorite interviews and stories of 2016 came towards the end of the year when I went down to Apt. 4B, a boutique on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles pushing ‘90s Hip-Hop-inspired wears, and spoke with owners Moon and Monique. The couple was celebrating the store’s first anniversary and I talked to them about its beginning and future for Billboard.

Los Angeles’ Apt. 4B Clothing Brings ’90s NYC Street Life to the West Coast

4B is modeled after a ‘90s era ‘hood NYC apartment and as someone who grew up in a similar style home and then spent several years as a resident in both Harlem and Brooklyn, I can vouch for the validity of their decor—from the floor tiling to the posters on the wall. Their execution’s top notch.

But the best part was getting to know them. My fiancee and I plan on one day having our own company together, so hearing Moon and Mo’ talk about the dynamic of their working relationship gave me a look at what my future might look like. Though many say that you shouldn’t do business with your significant other, they seem to be handling it well.

 

“It’s not easy,” Monique said of working with her man Moon. “It’s not always fun. I don’t always like him. He doesn’t always like me. But we love each other and it’s worth it.” After laughing a bit, Moon added, “It’s extremely rewarding. Much more than partnering with someone random. Even the small successes are huge, because of that connection.” Inspiring stuff here, folks.

Los Angeles’ Apt. 4B Clothing Brings ’90s NYC Street Life to the West Coast

In their short time, they collaborated with and helped celebrate anniversaries for Bad Boy and Roc-a-Fella Records, finding ways to transform the shop into an event space at times. Moon had this great quote about thinking big and accomplishing goals:

“If it’s something that we want to do, we do it. It’s good that we start with a huge, almost impossible idea. Then we start carving at the stone until we get to the marble statue.”

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Moon, Monique and Jay Z | summer ’16

 

Read the full feature here. They talk about Jay Z popping up at 4B, the rap lyrics that embody where they are in their lives now, and their dream-chasing journey.

Fences and Whether Love’s Needed to Be a Good Parent

Fences.jpgIf your daddy’s a good one, let him know. Denzel’s character Troy Maxson in Fences is a father and husband who is more dedicated to the tasks that come along with the job than affection.

He gives his eldest son (from a previous marriage) Lyons $10, but only after giving him a hard time for needing the loan as an adult in the first place.

To him, being a father doesn’t come with a promise to love your child, but a contract confirming that you’ll tend to it—provide a roof over its head, feed it and coach him up to be fit for a solid job after it graduates from high school. If there is any love there, it’s the toughest the feeling has to offer. His relationship with his youngest, Cory, is contentious, to say the least. Troy denies him the chance to play college football and earn a scholarship for fear that no white-owned company will hire him after they use him up (it’s a period piece, set in 1950s Pittsburgh). Instead, Troy believes he’s pointing Cory the right direction: a job adjacent to the steady gig he has as a garbageman.

To Troy, being a husband to his dedicated wife Rose means that he’ll hand over his paycheck to her at the end of the week, provide “a sack of potatoes and a bucket of lard,” and comes home to her every night. Although he may stop at another woman’s house every now and then before getting back to his.

The scene that perhaps earned Viola Davis a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role is when Davis’ Rose humbles Troy—high on himself for the supposed sacrifices he’s made to be a family man and “standing in the same place for 18 years”—by saying he’s not the only one who has fantasized about being with other lovers and another life.”What about me?” she yells.

Troy himself is the product of poor fathering. In one Fences scene, we learn that Troy’s dad was a hard-ass who bossed him around and forced him to work as soon as he could walk. There was no love, just harsh grooming. Troy, once a talented baseball player before the sport was integrated, didn’t get to play in the big league. He lives with the frustration of being too old to compete with the likes of Jackie Robinson and with the angst of racism not allowing him (or his son) to achieve their true dreams. When your actions are guided by fear, regret, and misplaced frustration like Troy’s are, those around you suffer.

And that leads me to think about my dad, who’s been nothing but supportive and loving throughout my life. When I decided I wanted to be a journalist, he never questioned me. When I decided I wanted to move to New York City to begin my career, he didn’t try to keep me tied up in Maryland or redirect me towards a more lucrative profession. In fact, he helped me find an apartment and gave me seed money. Throughout my life, he has both put his wingtips in my ass and held my hand. Denzel’s Troy only does the meaner half of that.

I’m not quite sure if love is required to be a good parent, but it sure will be a heavily used tool as I build my future children up. Fences functions as a cautionary tale of sorts: Unclinch your fists and open your arms up to your sons and daughters. Life will beat them up and weather them down with its stresses. When it does, be there with a hug.

Shout out to dads who allow their children to dream of a life greater than theirs. Thank you to dads who love big.