WHEN COMEDIAN BRENT WEINBACH IS ON STAGE, his posture is stiff and straight. He grips the microphone with both hands and holds it close to his chest. And when he delivers his material, it comes out in a halting monotone, while he also shoots a thousand-yard stare to the back of the room.
"Because I'm half Filipino and half Jewish, a lot of people ask me, 'Who's Filipino? Your mother or your father?'"
Insert a longer than normal pause here.
"My name is Brent Weinbach."
It would all be unnerving if he didn't break out of it often to comment on his unique persona or take on another—like the teens who once mocked him for wearing too-tight pants during his days as a substitute teacher. ("You look like you wear your little brother's pants. This fool wearing hand-me-ups and shit.")
"I was always uncomfortable with the idea of being conversational on stage," Weinbach says, speaking in a very normal voice from his home in Los Angeles. "Some people try to create the illusion that they're hanging out with the audience. The fact that there's lights and a microphone and a stage makes it already something that's not a normal hangout. I just embrace it more as a performance."
His skewed sensibilities extend into nearly everything he has helped create. His first two comedy CDs, Tales from the Brown Side and The Night Shift, which mix together live recordings and warped studio-based material, were inspired by noirish radio artist Joe Frank. And the many short films he has made, either as part of his old sketch group Boomtime (also featuring fellow stand-ups Moshe Kasher and Alex Koll) or with his friend Doug Lussenhop (the Tim & Eric associate better known as DJ Douggpound), nimbly balance the silly and surreal.
Other works tip the scales firmly into the realm of the bizarre, like his parody ads for AOL and the My Buddy doll. The clips are stylized perfectly to look vintage, while also taking some strange and skin-crawling turns.
"The My Buddy one really wasn't because of the time period," Weinbach says. "I was just thinking, 'What if there was a My Buddy commercial that showed what boys really did with those dolls? I had a friend who had one and he just mutilated it, cutting it to pieces. He did it to a Teddy Ruxpin doll as well."
Those satirical clips, and the one he made for a 900 number for gangsters, also exude a strange, nostalgic feeling that can only be tapped into by someone who's spent an inordinate number of hours watching TV in the late '80s and early '90s. For Weinbach, that time wasn't completely wasted. He was an obsessive fan of live comedy, absorbing episodes of An Evening at the Improv, Def Comedy Jam, and Comic Strip Live, as well as HBO specials. Through those shows, he got to see Steven Wright, Rowan Atkinson, and Harry Basil, conceptual comics that would inform his distinctive take on stand-up.
I learned all this only after he deflected my question about what inspired him to do comedy with a completely made-up story.
"It was back in the Persian Gulf War. I was running tech, and I was always cracking jokes in the office and sometimes out in the field. Some of the other soldiers said, 'You should do comedy!' So we went into town, and there was an open mic night in Tehran and I did it!"
After a beat, he spilled the truth. "The real story is that it's really boring. I wanted to do it and I did it. My whole life I've wanted to do this. I was working on material in high school. I had a friend in college who had been doing it and I followed him around one week and forced myself to start doing open mics. That's it. I have to make up fantasy stories for how I got into comedy. I was working as a vet in China and seeing all these sick animals made me want to cheer the world up."
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