“If I had a nickel for all the times people Tweeted me, ‘When are you coming to Wilmington?’” comedian Matt Braunger told encore last October during an interview. “I’ve heard really amazing things, not only about the history of it and how beautiful it is, but also what kind of awesome grassroots comedy movement that’s been happening there over the past five or six years.”
Alas, Braunger’s shows were postponed at Dead Crow Comedy Room due to conflicts in his exploding schedule. He landed what would become a recurring role as Dr. Samberly on ABC’s “Agent Carter,” one of Marvel Comics’ latest series. The writers unexpectedly kept penning Braunger into more episodes. “It sucked [to cancel half my fall run], but it also was fun to go back in the ‘40s and dress in what my grandpa would wear and drive in old cars,” he says. “It was fun to jump into that world … and be the pinky toe of the Marvel universe.”
Braunger also launched a free web series with Comedy Central, “White Flight.” He has a whole new hour of standup for his rescheduled debut at Dead Crow Comedy Room on February 19 and 20.
As a 40-something, Braunger initiates a lot of self-deprecating humor in his routines. He identifies social stigmas of being unmarried, childless and essentially, the “big dumb animal” of his one-hour 2015 special (available on Netflix). In his anecdotal humor, Braunger’s tales aren’t necessarily exaggerated but definitely amplified true stories.
“I feel like it’s intellectually corrupt to tell some BS story—what’s the point of that?” he asks. “What a dumb thing to do, what a boring thing to do. At that point I would just be a liar.”
Wilmingtonians will get to see Braunger’s latest material, which he’s been crafting for a year and a half. The process of writing and developing jokes has been the same for more than 10 years, with the audience playing a big part. Reading an audience during a performance is key, as well as knowing if they’re willing to travel down his comedic path.
“It really comes down to me being an only child and just wanting everyone to hear me all the time,” he jokes, “and having enthusiasm about certain things that stand out to me as fantastic or weird or scary.”
Braunger’s comedy borders the unbelievable at times, but it’s the way in which he frames stories that provokes. He not only gets a laugh, but (hopefully) gets people thinking. His “White Flight” web series, for example, is a wildly over-the-top sequence of scenarios based on some hard truths of our society regarding racial stereotypes, injustice and inequality.
Set in 2042 America’s white population is no longer majority and the suspicious powers-that-be, known as the Dan Corporation, have teleported most of them to Canada—err, the new United States. A handful of white emissaries, including Braunger’s character, Gary, were left behind to act as liaisons or representatives of sorts.
“This was just a really ridiculous idea I had that I was going to Comedy Central to pitch,” Braunger admits. “I feel like there’s too many shows about 30-something, 40-something white male comedians figuring shit out. . . . So this was a really ridiculous idea that could also get people talking about race, about class, and about just trying to bring people together through our differences.”
In its developing stages, Braunger simply shopped around the show’s premise to friends of color. “I would just talk to my friends and ask, how would you deal with Gary? Would you help him? Would you not like him or stay away from him? Would you blame him?” Braunger lists. “We started getting into really funny scenarios, just in terms of how ridiculous we could make it without it being too heavy handed.”
Once picked up, Braunger sought help from his friend Kevin Avery, who’s also a writer on John Oliver’s HBO series “Last Week Tonight.” Braunger wanted him to cowrite the first six episodes. “I flew to New York and was there for a week,” he says. “We wrote the whole thing at night—when he was done with his real job—so I owe him a lot.”
Even though “White Flight” episodes (about 6 to 7 minutes each) were shot in August of 2015, their plots remain fresh and relevant—some now more than ever. In episode four, “Be Whiter,” Gary (also a struggling actor) lands an audition for the latest Tyler Perry movie. He thinks he’s a shoo-in for the part of “White Mike,” especially since he’s the only white actor waiting to audition among several actors of color donning bright blonde wigs, ponchos and other “white” accessories. Yet, the casting agent isn’t convinced he’s right for the part, spouting commands:
“Can I stop you right there, can you … how do I say this … whiter?”
“Much whiter, like blinding-me-in-the-face white.”
“Let’s do country club meets redneck.”
“Hmmmm … more … NPR.”
“OK, can you give me Gilligan doing cocaine with the professor?”
“Solomon Georgio—who plays the casting guy—developed that with me and he just improvises all those lines of the ‘type of white,’” Braunger tells. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot of feedback from black actors who have had it happen so many times.”
It’s a timely scene. Somehow white actors still are cast in roles scripted as ethnically diverse. Take Emma Stone as Allison Ng in 2015’s “Aloha.” The film industry and this year’s Academy Awards’ all-white actor nominees also are being criticized for lacking diversity and equality. Braunger cites one issue being an Academy made up of 90 percent white voters, 74 percent of them males with a mean age of 63.
“That’s the mess of everything: You’ve got to mix it up because it won’t mix itself up,” he observes. “Generally speaking, I don’t think filmmakers are just way more comfortable with a white cast; it’s the marketplace. So we have to look at ourselves and go, ‘Do I assume everyone in this movie is supposed to be white?’”
Braunger uses “The Hunger Games” as an example, when one female character, Rue, was played by black actress, Amandla Stenberg. The Internet was all abuzz with people who thought the book’s character was (or should be) white. “And I thought, why do you give a crap?” he continues. “It’s a pivotal character who dies, in the future—spoiler alert for the readers—and that just made me lose my mind.”
Not only do audiences expect white characters, but Braunger says there are still a lot of people who get uncomfortable seeing too much color on the screen. “We have to get away from that,” he adds. “There are people who always benefit from the status quo being kept the way it is. So, when people flip out about people making movies and only using white people—well, why? Do you think this person is only trying to hire white actors? Maybe they are—I’m sure a lot of people are—but at the same time it’s also the viewing public. It’s the marketplace.”
Braunger says web series are like TV pilots these days, and “White Flight” has potential for pick-up. In the meantime, he’s happy to be back on the road doing standup. He can sidestep different challenges presented when writing comedy for a scripted show versus a live audience.
“Standup I can do almost anytime I want and have a ton of freedom, which is great,” he explains, “but when I get to make a web series or a TV show, I get to collaborate with other interesting, creative people and make something happen that’s a lot less auteurish. Standup is pretty much pure auteurism, unless you have some people writing for you (which I don’t). You have to write it, you have to edit it, you have to figure it all out. In the end, it all comes down to you, and that’s great.”
Braunger plans to shoot another comedy special in 2016, but Wilmington will hear most of it first at Dead Crow Comedy Room on Fri., Feb. 19, or Sat., Feb. 20. Folks can follow Matt Braunger at www.mattbraunger.com, or watch “White Flight” at www.cc.com/shows/white-flight.