In the late 90s, he injected Saturday Night Live with a hilarious megadose of raging id in the form of “Goat Boy” and an unhinged Joe Pesci impression. His comedy may have grown up since then, but today it’s packing an even bigger punch as he deftly filters life-and-death matters through his unique lens. In this exclusive interview, Jim Breuer tells Robert Irvine Magazine about the passion that drives him, cooking with his daughters, and the key difference between Yankees and Mets fans.
INTERVIEW BY MATT TUTHILL /// PHOTOS BY PHIL PROVENCIO
RI MAGAZINE: The most surprising thing to me about seeing your new standup is that it has a strong emotional throughline. One bit stuck out; you talk about how when you come home, no one acknowledges you when you get through the door. You’re out on the road getting big crowds, lots of applause. There’s groupies everywhere. You could be indulging in so many different things, but you don’t because you’re a good guy. But when you come home, no one even cares.
JIM BREUER: Yeah, you can be the almighty at work; everyone’s at your feet, and everyone’s your yes person, but when you get home, it’s always an even playing field, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest rock star, the highest CEO, when you come home—you don’t know what’s been going on since you’ve been gone, and so I’m always ready for that.
RI: But the takeaway for me was that you place a huge value on that. You like that when you come home, you’re just dad and you appreciate that.
JB: Absolutely. Well, the way I’ve always viewed it is if you’re not grounded at home or if you don’t have a moral base to go by, no matter how successful you will become or anything like that, it’s never going to mean anything because you need that in your life. It doesn’t matter. It’s been proven time and time again. You can make millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. It just means you’ve got more money in the madness that you’re already living.
I grew up very blue collar with family morals and I still hold to that standard. And I love when I show up to venues and they look at me like I’m nuts because I show up in my Honda Insight. And they go, “Where’s your people? Is it just you?” I’m like, “Yeah. Should there be more people?” That’s always been me, and our family’s always been the top priority.
RI: Well it’s fine to have grown up that way, but most people, when they reach a certain level of success they change significantly. For a lot of people, being on SNL for a long time like you were, would have done it for them. I feel like you must’ve had a moment early in your career where you saw how weird someone can get when they’re surrounded by people who just tell them how amazing they are, and it probably gave you the chills.
JB: Exactly. I see that all the time. Sometimes when my kids are with me and someone comes up and they go, “Oh my gosh, I loved you in this and that.” And then they walk away and the kids go, “Dad did you know them?” I go, “No.” And then they go, “That’s weird.”
I guess it is weird from their angle because they don’t see that at all. But I think you strive for that. And I think it’s the way you interact with people, too. If I let them know, “Hey, I’m with family and I thank you very much, and it was nice talking to you. Move along.” We’re not going to get to know each other now because you liked me doing Goat Boy 40 years ago, or whatever the scenario is.
RI: You humor has grown up quite a bit. I know you still love doing silly voices and over-the-top impressions, but you’re using those things to serve up some material that’s pretty deep. You talk about your wife having cancer. On Howard Stern you told that heart-wrenching yet really funny story about caring for your dad at the end of his life. When you first started venturing into this kind of territory, were you nervous that it might be too heavy and the crowd would say, “What did I just show up for?”
JB: Oh, one thousand percent. But I noticed the more I talked about how I honestly feel and trying to find the funny and the vulnerability in it, so many people can relate. So when I talked about my father and holding him until the end, and then he passes on and I’m asking for some type of sign, and then his bird shows up. And the bird showed up every day, so I made a bit around it. But I can’t tell you how many people go, “Oh my God, I needed to hear that.” It’s just a healing, funny moment. You think you’re nuts until you put it out there and so many others can relate. They say, “I had that too, but it was a dragonfly. I’m not religious, but…” I go, “Well, yeah, I’m not either, but there’s something. We feel something’s connecting us.”
And when I put my wife’s stuff out there with the cancer, the overwhelming response was a very inspiring one. It made me realize there are so many people under these circumstances. And so many people looking for some type of light, some type of smile, some way to heal it, some way to laugh and get through it. And that has been my passion for quite a while now.
I love what I’m doing. I love the e-mails I get, that say “I’m going through the worst time of my life, and my sister passed away of this type of cancer and seeing your show is the first time we were able to laugh.” That means a lot to me. That makes me realize not to forget what you have. It’s not just a business, it’s something deeper.
RI: Since family is such a huge part of your routine now and Robert recently released a cookbook called Family Table, let me ask you, do you cook for your kids or are you a typical dad where you just kind of man the grill in the summer?
JB: No, if we can push my wife out of the house two, three days a week and just let her show up when we’re ready, we do that. The favorite thing we have is Sunday Sauce Day. And that is we make meatballs and sauce and we talk in characters all day. It’s a whole event. We play Dean Martin and Louis Prima and all the great songs. And we hang out all day and we laugh and we invite friends and family. It’s kind of an open-door policy, whoever shows up. And that is such an awesome family hangout time. We love it. I wish I could do it every day, to be honest with you.
RI: And what else are you cooking on Sauce Day?
JB: Well it’s always rigatoni, meatballs. We do sausage and some pork. We sometimes do appetizers, stuff the little red peppers, do cheese and the crackers and olives, some dipping oil. Bread, a baguette with some mozzarella, we always have mozzarella. And always garlic bread.
RI: You have a huge number of tour dates this fall, but I don’t see anything in production on IMDB. Is that because TV and film would take you away from your kids and your wife more?
JB: Well that’s what I did years ago in ’99. I kind of I walked away from it all when my oldest daughter was born. And I did all stand-up and then I could have done some TV and I did pilots, and I just realized… I know this sounds silly, but I remember the movie Pulp Fiction, and I looked at John Travolta. And John Travolta was someone that his career was pretty much done, over. You never heard from him. And that movie re-launched him. What it taught me was, Hollywood’s always there, no matter what. Your family’s not. Kids only grow up once.
I didn’t want to move to LA. I didn’t want anything to do with LA. I don’t enjoy how I feel when I’m out there. I don’t connect well with the rat race that goes on out there. So I left it all. I wanted something to keep me home, went into radio and that was very successful on satellite. And then in 2008, I started going back out. And then not until recently, just these past couple months, I got inspired by some really heavy emotional stuff.
I became best friends with a guy that lost his wife and we would connect at this coffee shop in my town. And there was a bunch of people there. One guy has an autistic child that comes. Another guy’s from the fire department in Newark. And the next thing you know, we were just all talking about our lives. And I went, “Oh my God, I’m going to start writing this because it has so much.” It’s so funny. But it’s so passionate and so deep on every single level.
And so that’s the first project I started writing and I’ve just been about my fourth episode and we’re meeting soon to see if we’re ready to start putting this around town. And it’s the first time I’ve done that in 15, 20 years. But I love it. And again, it falls back on the passion. I want to do it because I know people will be affected by it.
RI: There’s a lot of room in comedy now where, at least on cable, they aren’t just joke-fests, but 30-minute dramas with these comedic spikes.
JB: I’ve always been a fan of dramedy. I like silly comedy, but I felt like I was always pushed in that arena. I started off drama acting and then I was also doing standup comedy. So once I hit Saturday Night Live, and I had development deals and all that jazz, it was just always pushed in the area of, “Yeah, be goofy.” I don’t want to do that goofy guy. I don’t mind being funny, but I like some type of deeper substance to it. I didn’t want to do TV just to make money. I really want to affect lives now. And I know I keep saying it and this sounds corny, but I’m just being serious. So I want it to be a dramedy. I want you to be able to cry, I want you to be able to think. And I want you to be able to laugh hard. And to me that’s the perfect storm of a great show.
RI: Let’s talk about the Mets.
RI: I’m a Mets fan, and your Mets reaction videos have been something that all of us as fans, we looked forward to them, either joining you in celebration or leaning on them in times of crisis. If we took the camera away from you, are you just as fired up about the Mets on a night by night basis?
JB: This is how the whole thing started. I was watching the very first game of 2015 on TV and Max Scherzer was just signed by the Nationals and he’s the big star. On the mound for the Mets was Bartolo Colon. Max Scherzer had a no hitter going into the 7th inning. Bartolo Colon had a two-hitter, both had a shutout.
The Mets finally break the no-hitter… So, long story short, I’m watching this like I always do, like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. My wife was going through chemo and is laying on the couch. She’s watching this and—with no energy—she starts cracking up. I go, “What is so funny?” She went, “This is what you should be doing videos of. Just don’t try to be the guy, the comic, just put this on video as a fan.”
I went, “Oh my God, that’s brilliant.”
So I did that and then she goes, “Do every game.”
I said, “Are you a lunatic? Do you realize baseball has 162 games?”
She was like “You’ve got to do it. The fans will love it.”
I’m like, “You’re nuts. I’m not … Do you realize I got shows? How am I going to watch every game?”
She’s like “You’ll figure it out.”
I did every freaking game that year.
And we bonded as a family and got through what she was going through at the time. And I did not see that perfect storm coming. Who would’ve thought they went to the World Series that year? So to answer your question, yes, I’m like that all the time.
RI: For people outside of New York, could you please explain for them the difference between Yankee fans and Met fans? Because I always took it as Yankee fans have some kind of chasm in their soul where they need to be associated with the best. It’s like wearing Armani all the time. Mets fans, I feel like we do appreciate the game itself more. But by virtue of being Mets fans, we’ve signed on not for consistency, but for seeing something unbelievable and beautiful maybe only once in a blue moon. But it’s right there in the slogan: Ya gotta believe.
JB: I compare the Mets to real life. Real life brings you heartache, disappointment, time and time again, has spurts and majestic moments. It has faith, it has hope. You’re always questioning. That is what the Mets are. Yankees, they’re already in the playoffs in May and they’re like, “What’re we going to do about this guy?” They complain about a hitter that batting .300 and he’s only got 30 homers.
So I think the Yankee fans are used to eating in the finest restaurants where they’re used to walking in and it’s like, “Oh, we’ll get you a table right away, sir.” Mets fans go, “I can’t believe we’re eating here tonight! We’re going to spend a lot of money, but it’s okay! Hey, it’s a lifetime moment, let’s take it in!” That’s what Mets fans are like.
RI: You were opening for Metallica on their last tour. You’re a huge fan of them and you were combining your comedy and your fandom. Was that a tough gig because you’ve got a crowd filtering in, and most of them expecting to see another heavy band and instead there’s this comedian?
JB: It’s just what you said. That room made it ten times tougher. But I could not believe they gave me all freedom to do what I want. They went, “You know what, we have bands constantly coming and opening for us, but unfortunately nobody comes to see them anymore. So, it’s a bummer for the band. It’s a bummer for us. What we want you to do is give them a fan experience. You don’t even have to be funny. Bring a DJ, do whatever you want.”
I have to say the greatest compliment for me was Lars told me, “Don’t be disappointed. It’s probably going to be 500 to 1000, tops 2000 people when you’re up there.” But every night, I’m going to say it was 8,000-12,000 people out there every time I went out. And I can honestly say I think they had a great time.
RI: I ask this of everyone we interview, because we have so many readers write in and say they feel stuck—in bad relationships, in dead-end jobs, etc. And you have found a very high level of success in an incredibly difficult and competitive field where the odds of making it are very low. What would you say to the person who just feels perpetually stuck?
JB: My whole life, from my first job, I always said, look, “We’re stuck here, so if we’re going to be stuck, how do we make this the best time we can while we’re here?” And that attitude seemed to always affect everyone around me and always made us drive to have a better day and do better for ourselves. And at the end of the day, you’re never stuck. You’ve got to take chances and it’s most likely fear that will always hold you back from taking a step.
And people say, “Well, I can’t, well I can’t.” That’s the biggest curse word in our house. I don’t care what my kids say. “I didn’t do good. I failed.” That’s fine.
When they say, “I can’t”? I said don’t bring that word into our house. There’s no “can’ts.” Don’t talk yourself out of any possibility. Enjoy life while we’re here. Even when you’re stuck you may affect someone’s life around you while you’re there. You may inspire them. And maybe that’s why you’re there. Who knows?
RI: When you were trying to make it in comedy, did you ever hit s wall and think about giving up?
JB: Never. I’ll never give up. Even to my last day, I already have plans to be around forever and ever. It may not be doing standup. I hope it is. Even to my last day, but no matter what, I’ll never give up. And I never ever thought of that for one second. Every time I got knocked down, to be dead honest with you, I came up swinging harder than before.
RI: When the kids are in bed, you and the wife sit down to watch what?
JB: I only, only watch the Mets.
JB: I don’t have any TV show. I have nothing. Zero. I’m a loser. My wife’s always watching something. She’s attached to some programs, but I don’t-
Jim’s youngest daughter [cutting in]: That’s not true. You watch Below Deck.
JB: I used to.
RI: No. You don’t watch Below Deck.
JB: I did.
RI: Oh my God.
JB: I got hooked on Below Deck.
RI: That’s the worst. I always walk in on my wife watching it. I’m like, “Oh, you’re watching Boat Whores again.” What is it about a show like that, that would actually hook you?
JB: Well it’s the boat. I always wanted to do that. A little out of my price range. So, I live it through watching that. And I also always wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes. I know people are hired to stir things up and all that but I got hooked. I was like, “Oh wow, this one’s got attitude!” And, “Oh jeez, why are they picking on that one?”
RI: Well, it’s good to shut the brain off sometimes.
JB: That’s what I’m talking about. Just a mindless sit down. And the guests, I always want to see what kind of guests are on it. I always wonder, “Okay, are these people hired just to cause problems? Do these people want to be actors?” I’m always fascinated with that.
Breuer is taking his standup routine on the road in the “Live and Let Laugh Tour” For dates and tickets, click HERE.