Jim Breuer used to be quite the pot smoker, especially during stressful points in his life. Not anymore. But as he has noted many a time, he always looks baked.
So the title of his new autobiography, “I’m Not High,” is not ironic but sincere.
In fact, since Bill Cosby lectured him a few years ago, Breuer became a “clean” comic. This means no cursing and a brighter view on life.
“It’s not dark,” said Breuer, in Atlanta this weekend from Friday to Sunday at the Punchline. “It’s not sexual. I could end every joke with an F bomb or sexual shock. But I have more respect for people who don’t.”
Breuer said he was never filthy but would curse a lot. Then he started looking at guys like Brian Regan and Jerry Seinfeld. “I realize their material wasn’t that different,” he said, “but they had class about them.”
And Cosby’s words truly resonated with him. “He said, ‘I want to make sure that your audience will always be inspired.’ It was a powerful thing he said. And I never forgot it.”
He was also motivated as a young comic by Atlanta radio host and “Family Feud” lead man Steve Harvey, before Harvey even had his TV show but was already a successful stand-up comic. Harvey told him many years ago that there would be times he’d be in some fleabag motel in the middle of nowhere and want to cry. But he had to forge forward. In retrospect, “it was very odd for him to come to a guy like me,” Breuer said, “and try to inspire me the way he did… you never know where a message is coming to you from.”
One of the saddest chapters is about “SNL” great Chris Farley, who died of a drug overdose in 1998. At one point, Farley in a drugged-out state actually asked Breuer if he was funny or simply a fat, stupid guy. Farley’s insecurities and addictive personality led him down a path where he was hanging out with drug addicts and prostitutes instead of true friends and family.
“It proves that no matter how much money you make or how successful you are professionally, if you don’t have people around to keep you grounded, it all means nothing,” Breuer said. “He found himself face down overdosing. What a disturbing, horrible way to end your life.”
Breuer said he wrote a couple chapters of the book while he was in Atlanta for his last gig at the Funny Farm around 2008 – a serious one about his friend Kristen, who died in a car accident when he was much younger, and his teasing relationship with Yankee fan and former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani. (Breuer is a die-hard Mets fan.)
Once the idea of writing the book got in his head, he was motivated to do it. “The toughest part was when it was done,” he said, “and wondering if people would read it and be into the way I was. I’m still wondering!” Early feedback, he said, has been good. He saw someone at the airport reading a story about comedian’s books in Vanity Fair and the writer gave him some good ink along with books by Lewis Black, Jim Norton and Sarah Silverman.
The primary point of his book, he said, was after all the comedy, the TV shows, the movies, the radio show, “at the end of the day, I put my family and my morals and my intuition ahead of everything in life. I hope more people would do that.”
Not that he didn’t make bad decisions and ignored his intuition or had trouble in his marriage. Far from it. He signed with a lousy agent early on. He signed on to a sitcom with Dave Chappelle in which he was fired before it even aired. And after he signed on to “Saturday Night Live,” he told the press in front of Lorne Michaels that he never watched the show growing up, that he was out partying on Saturday nights, not watching TV like a loser.
Breuer was also very specific about his aging dad’s incontinence and taking him on his comedy tours to keep him alert and inspired. His dad had no problem with him writing or talking about it. “I think the book was the proudest I’ve ever seen him in my life,” Breuer mused. Being an author, he said, “puts you in a different realm.”
He said he’s flattered that a radio guy he grew up with, Howard Stern, has become one of his biggest fans. “It’s not like we go to dinner together but he puts me out in the forefront. He’s generous toward me. And he has no agenda. That’s the part that blows me away. He really likes me. I’ve had so many of his fans buy my book and show up at book signings and at comedy clubs. He’s the most under-rated entertainer of all time.” (Asked if he wanted a sidekick job on Stern’s show, he said no. He wouldn’t mind having his own show on Howard’s channel, though.)
And Adam Carolla, who I interviewed last week before I heard about his critique of Breuer, happens to be in town this week at the Punchline right before Breuer. Carolla apparently critiqued Breuer at some point. Breuer responded by calling Carolla a talentless hack.
“From what I heard,” Breuer said, “his show is dreadful… He’s never been successful on his own. He’s another guy in society with nothing going on. He should keep his mouth quiet.”
Carolla explained the “feud” on Dave FM earlier this week.
Breuer did Carolla’s “Love Line” ten years ago, Carolla said, and flat-lined for two hours. “He didn’t do anything,” he said. That was Carolla’s only interaction with Breuer. David Alan Grier was on Carolla’s radio show. Carolla was looking at Comedy Central’s top 100 comics of all time and Grier was on at No. 92. He saw Breuer at No. 89. “Then I made fun of Grier,” he said. “He’s funnier than you?” he told Grier. He said he passed a message on to Breuer to apologize but Breuer is still peeved.
The Punchline Comedy Club
280 Hilderbrand Drive, Atlanta
Friday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m., 10 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 23, 8 p.m. 10 p.m.
Sunday Oct. 24, 8 p.m.
All dates, $25 each. Buy tickets here. 404-252-LAFF (5233)