Brent Weinbach, Taking Comedy Seriously
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because comedy can be funnier when you don’t overthink it.
By Libby Coleman
Stand-up comedian Brent Weinbach is laser-focused and serious-faced. When he sings the entire list of Doritos ingredients or leads the audience in arhythmic clapping (an awkward game of follow-the-leader), there is absolutely no joy in his delivery. Commitment to the bit is everything.
The late eccentric performer Andy Kaufman, famous for lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme song, would be proud. Weinbach, from Los Angeles, has performed unsmilingly on Conan, Lopez Tonight, Comedy Central, HBO, IFC, ABC and Adult Swim; he has a host of Web shorts and was, not surprisingly, the 2007 winner of the Andy Kaufman Award, which celebrates cutting-edge artists with fresh and unconventional material. Though he hasn’t broken out yet, he’s “really well respected among other comics in the LA scene,” says Robert Ham, who profiled Weinbach in The Portland Mercury.
Sometimes he’s deadpan; sometimes he’s deadpan-er.
Weinbach’s all mixed messages and crossed signals; for a guy telling jokes for a living, he’s monklike. Then there’s the peppery gray hair that he’s had since he was 16. This chameleon could be in his mid-40s. Onstage he wears plain, professorial clothing (nothing “trendy,” he says), which is not exactly the best sign at a comedy club that he’ll be taking the stage. His facial expressions are morose as well: Sometimes he’s deadpan; sometimes he’s deadpan-er. His thick eyebrows might be used for comedic expression (think of Groucho Marx), but Weinbach seems like he hasn’t moved them in years. His comedy has the audience asking: Is this guy even joking?
Weinbach’s serious facade contrasts with the downright silly things he says — like the nonsensicalness of his bit “Russian Alphabet” (“G is for jiggle”). Most of his material’s not traditionally funny on paper, and certainly not writerly, but the performance is entertainment at its finest. Just don’t think too hard. “I want them to react and not understand why they’re laughing,” Weinbach says.
If you’re wondering if the solemnity’s intended, it is. When Weinbach first started doing stand-up, he says he tried to be conversational. It felt phony. Instead, deliberate, speechlike delivery was in the cards. In a parody of stand-up comedy called “An Experiment,” in which he asks the audience to laugh at complete gibberish in order to test if their laughter becomes real, he mugs uncharacteristically. Minutes in, with discomforting quickness, he switches out of gibberish back into his serious state — “What we can conclude out of this experiment,” he says with long pauses, “there were too many unknown variables … so we have to throw out the data.” Weinbach is back, and the laughs that follow are genuine.
Weinbach doesn’t always get the audience to follow along — even he’ll admit that. One performance on Conan was particularly cringeworthy. Having an “unusual manner,” as Ham says, has the potential to fail. And of course none of this is entirely new. It’s in the same vein as Dana Carvey, David Cross, Rowan Atkinson and Andy Kaufman — all performance over substance — which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you like your comedy.
Either way, weird and Weinbach have more than three letters in common: They now have Brent.