Interview with Brooks Wheelan: This is Cool, Right?

Is This Thing On? with Mike Carrozza

Mike Carrozza drinks milk Mike Carrozza. Photo Sarah Cotton.

In late January of 2015, Brooks Wheelan released his debut album This is Cool, Right? The album has a wonderful flow and autobiographical element chronicling stories throughout Wheelan’s life. It’s a really fun listen. Wheelan has been part of the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal for the last two years and will be back in town at the Comedy Nest in late April. It would not surprise me if the festival asked him back again for the summer as well.

I had the chance to speak to Brooks about his album and here’s what we had to say.

MC (Mike Carrozza): Hey, Brooks. I just wanted to start off by saying thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.

BW (Brooks Wheelan): Oh, man, of course. You’re my friend and you like comedy, so let’s do this!


MC: I was really excited when you announced that you’d be recording an album. I was wondering, how long ago did you know you wanted to put out an album?


BW: Probably in August. I did an hour at Largo. I did like 70 minutes and after I did all that I was like “I should record this. I think it’s alright.” Then I just really honed that for the next three or four months on the road. Went out, trimmed it, brought it down to like 55 minutes and then recorded it. I kinda wanted to get it out there and move on.


MC: Kinda like a “this is it”, packaging it and moving on to some new stuff.

BW: Yeah, absolutely. I was just on the road so much. I was getting bored of my own material. But I really like it. I think it’s good. So I didn’t just want to like leave. I gotta record it so I can start working on some new stuff and start having fun again.


MC: You mentioned that you honed it down to a tight 55. Does that mean that there isn’t anything from the album that has been cut?

BW: Yeah, the album is just like a single show recording. It was two shows on the same night. I did the same 55-minute show and then just cut the recordings together.


MC: I’ve had the chance to speak to some comics about their albums and sometimes they’ve mentioned having to cut out bits or pieces of material out of their special —

BW: Well, I understand if you’re doing a Comedy Central hour, because those are 42 minutes and you’ll have to cut stuff out for sure.


MC: Then again, Kinane’s special was trimmed to 50, but the full version online was 66 minutes.

BW: Yeah, it’s trimmed for commercials and stuff, right? So, I mean, I didn’t have to deal with that at all. It’s just audio. I was just like “yeah, put it all in.” I cut it myself, so —


MC: Oh, you edited it yourself?

BW: I mean, I did the paper edit of it and the dude with the software put it together. It makes you real sick of your material.


MC: Haha, I totally get that.

BW: I’m glad to put it out and people like it. I had heard it so much that I lost all frame of reference for the material. I was just like, “is this terrible?”


MC: It’s a weird thing to have to listen to yourself constantly.

BW: I mean, it took me like a day. Like a twelve hour day and I was like, “this sucks”. Listening to my jokes over and over haha.


MC: Did you intend to go into it only audio or did you want to try going for video as well?

BW: I mean, if Netflix or Comedy Central or something had come to me like “Hey, do you wanna do an hour special?” I would probably have done that. But they both were like “Not yet.” I was just like “Well, I’ll just show that I can do this.” Showing people by doing it is a good way to say I’m ready. I’ll put out an hour, by myself.


MC: It’s on Comedy Dynamics, too. They’ve picked up plenty of fun specials like Morgan Murphy’s and Tom Segura’s.

BW: Yeah. The producer Jack Vaughn, he was the guy who produced Mitch Hedberg’s records. So I was like “I’ll meet with him” and then I found out and I was just, “I’m in.”


MC: That’s so cool!

BW: Yeah. They’re so hands off, too. They let me do whatever I want. I got to put it out on vinyl. They let me design the artwork. Take the photo for the back and stuff. They were literally like, “Do what you want, man. We trust you.”


MC: That must feel amazing that they’ve got your back. They trust you so much. That must be a great feeling.

BW: It’s great! Plus, if you screw up, you have nobody to blame. It’s all on you. But conversely, if it’s good, you’re good. You can’t say they messed anything up, it’s not possible.


MC: I remember the week it came out, it cracked the top ten on iTunes in Canada! That was really cool to see.

BW: I’m excited because it came out the same day as [Kyle] Kinane and Louis C.K.’s specials and I was like “Oh, my God!” To me, they’re the two best comedians. It’s pretty cool. I’m happy that it’s a debut comedy album and it’s good and then the next one will be better and then hopefully, the next one is also better.


MC: I wanted to speak really quickly about the album title and tracklisting. “This is Cool, Right?” can be taken in a few ways with inflection. How do you mean it?

BW: It’s totally somebody who is unsure of himself, you know. Self-doubt. Telling themselves what they’re doing is good, but they need validation. I don’t know. It didn’t really mean a ton. It was just something I thought of one day. “This is Cool, Right?” like “Please Like Me”.


MC: I like that you use the tracklisting to kinda dismissively just say, you know, “opening stuff” or “drug stuff”. Tell me about your thoughts on your tracklisting.

BW: I mean, with dudes like Hedberg, it’s tough. His jokes are all over the place. You never know what you’re getting into with a track called “Candy Bars”, you know? Like he has a lot of jokes about vending machines, but that’s not all there is. I thought about being dumb with my tracklisting, but then I thought no, it’s all pretty fluid and about the same stuff so I’ll just name mine what they are. I wanted to downplay it though, so yeah, just “stuff” after everything. It’s “(blank) stuff”. I also didn’t want to capitalize, so it’s all lower case. The least aggressive stuff. I don’t like aggressive comedy, I like it very much laidback.


MC: When I noticed that I thought, “did iTunes fuck this up?” Then I figured, no this is probably you doing your thing.

BW: Actually, iTunes initially capitalized it and I had to call them. “Uncapitalize them, please.”


MC: The album cover —

BW: The album cover I basically ripped from The Allman Brothers. Just an album called Brothers and Sisters. If you look up that album, that’s what I shot.


MC: Haha, really?

BW: I was just listening to that record when I was deciding to put out mine and I figured I can just use this cover idea. I mean, one guy on the internet was like, “I liked it better when The Allman Brothers did it 41 years ago. Check your facts next time!” I was like, “Yeah, no, I know that. I copied them. I love it.”


MC: It’s so strange when people don’t understand — you’re a comedian!

BW: Yeah, people take stuff pretty seriously. But I think I’m lucky. I’m not out there enough for people to be mad at me or whatever.


MC: Not even after Saturday Night Live?

BW: I mean, people don’t have a lot to be mad at me about. “He thinks he’s so good for being kicked off that show?” Haha, no. It was mostly failure. It’s hard to be mad at somebody for failure.


MC: It’s fun that you address it on the album. Your debut album, you talk about being fired from SNL, but you still end by telling us your favourite sketches that you’ve pitched. I think I told you this last time I saw you, but the Olympic diver sketch is so funny. One of the funniest things I’ve heard.

BW: Oh, thank you, man! That’s also a big reason I wanted to put the album out sooner rather than later. I wanted to stop talking about SNL. It becomes less and less relevant. Eventually, you become that guy and people are like, “He’s still talking about that show? He was on one season.” So I recorded that in November and that wasn’t too long after I was off the show. I just wanted to be done with it. I didn’t want to be the guy talking about a show he was on five years ago. I don’t mention it anymore, which is kinda nice.


MC: So it’s entirely done.

BW: Yeah, I don’t talk about that in my act anymore. I never liked comedians who talk about experiences with celebrities. I don’t care what you saw Hugh Jackman eating one time.


MC: Last I saw you, you were working on New York material. Is that stuff that didn’t make the cut or prepping for the turnover?

BW: I think it just got cut because I didn’t want to be New York-centric. When I’m in New York City, I just moved out of there recently, I do stuff on New York City. My last show there, I opened for John Oliver and I did maybe 20 minutes on New York City and I just realized I’m writing too much on this place. I need to leave it because this stuff doesn’t really translate. You don’t want to be the dude in Tacoma bitching about another city. Like, “What? Subway? Like the restaurant? Okay…”


MC: Well, you recorded your album in Madison, Wisconsin. What made you choose there?

BW: Madison’s got this comedy club Comedy on State and it is one of the best comedy clubs in the country. I mean, if you listen to the album, the crowd is, haha, absolutely too hot. To a degree where I addressed it like “you guys need to relax”. They applauded a Kindergarten Cop reference, I mean no one applauds that. It is one of the best comedy clubs in the country. I wanted to it there or Acme in Minneapolis, but I had just played there so, Madison it is.


MC: Did you have any of your buds on the show, too?
BW: I had my friend Matty Ryan come up and feature. Whenever I’m in the Mid-West, I always have Matty Ryan come feature because he’s funny, but he’s also a fun dude to hang out with which is a really important thing about being on the road. Just hanging out with fun people.


MC: Of course, you don’t want to get sick of somebody immediately like after an hour.

BW: He’s great. We started in Chicago together. I mean, I started in Iowa, but spent some time early on in Chicago.


MC: I had no idea.

BW: Yeah, I mean, Chicago was the nearest city to me, so I would drive there a lot. It was about four hours.


MC: Last night, at the Comedy Nest, I saw the promos they were rolling for the upcoming shows and saw that you’ll be in town in April (30th to May 2nd).

BW: I am! I’ve done Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival two years in a row and I just wanted to come back any time. My agent’s great and hooked it up. I really like Montreal.


MC: Have you ever played at the [Comedy] Nest before?

BW: No, I’ve only ever been down for the festival. It’ll be fun. I mean, even worst case scenario, I’m still in Montreal for a weekend. So it’ll be fun.


MC: Are you doing any other Canadian cities?

BW: No, just Montreal. I booked it when I was still in New York so I thought it would be a quick trip. Now, I have to come down from LA.
MC: Well, at least when you’re down here, you know you’ll have a great time.

BW: Yeah. Exactly.


MC: Let’s come back to the album. I’ve only seen you here at the festival in bursts, doing 7-10 minute long sets and I hadn’t really noticed how much story-based material you do. I was wondering if that’s how you approach comedy, by mining your history and stuff

BW: The album is very autobiographical. I mean, there’s like ten minutes of jokes up top and then the next 45 are pretty much from when I was a little kid to when I got kicked off SNL. It’s like a straight story split into bits. I like storytelling. I think it resonates more. At the end of the night, you’re going to remember story if it hit close to home. Personally, I remember stories more and enjoy that more. When you see me doing ten minutes, I never really get into the pocket of being able to do that, so it’s mostly jokes and messing around with the idea of comedy. Screwing with the mics and going behind the stage. When you have an hour, it’s easier to just be yourself, get into a groove and normal.


MC: It’s fun because we clearly both respect and admire Hedberg, but we also love Kinane and both their styles are different, yet we remember their stuff very well.

BW: Yeah. Hedberg was personal within his jokes. All his jokes are personal jokes. He talked about drugs, which he did. He talked about how much he loves candy bars. He was just the best comedian, to me. He knew himself as a person through those jokes he was telling.


MC: I’ll have to listen to those albums again. It just usually feels like a barrage of jokes, but you’re right, I feel like I know him well by the end of it. There’s always that personal touch.

BW: I mean, I’m just better at stories anyway. Besides, I think that’s where comedy is going right now. It’s the least hack thing you can do. Your stories are yours. Nobody can be like “Hey you stole that bit about stuffing your dick in your brother’s mouthwash.”


MC: I’d like to get a little more specific about the album. I know here the album cracked the top ten. How’s the album been received so far?

BW: I think people really liked it. I think it made it up to number two, behind Kinane’s over here in the US, which is cool. It’s never a bummer to lose out to Kyle Kinane because he is the absolute best. People like it. I don’t know. Nobody has come up to me to tell me they disliked it, which is cool. And it’s nice of them to keep it to themselves, if they did dislike it. I don’t know. Hopefully, it’s a hard record to dislike because it’s so personal. “This dude is talking about his life.”


MC: I will say this. I knew I had to get some work done and I decided to listen to the album for a bit for the third time. I told myself “Okay, I’m only going to listen to the first like three tracks,” then I ended up listening to the whole thing again. The flow is fantastic. That’s a great thing about it.

BW: Thanks, man. When I was looking at the jokes I wanted to do, they kind of fell right into place. There’s a real A to Z of my life. I don’t know what to do with the next one — I don’t know how I’ll be able to make it flow as well as this one. I don’t know we’ll see.


MC: It’s definitely a good concern to have. It motivates you.

BW: Flow-wise, it was what I wanted. We’ll see what I do for the next one, because right now I have no clue.


MC: Well, I assume you’re in the process of turning it over.

BW: Yeah, I’ve got 30 new minutes I really like.


MC: Wow, already 30 minutes!

BW: That’s part of why I wanted to put the album out! I was doing almost like two different shows on weekends because I got so bored.


MC: I’m excited that you’ll be coming back to see what you’ve been working on.

BW: I mean, the stuff I kept off the album are maybe sillier act-outs that wouldn’t play well on audio. I didn’t want to do any visual jokes, except for the opening thing where I do that to mess with the idea that it’s a CD recording.


MC: It’s a soft open, you’re addressing the recording.

BW: That was kinda like ripping off Hedberg. He always did jokes about recording a CD on the albums.


MC: Yeah, man. Tons of comics end up using that to kinda set up the audience. It’s such a power move on that audience. Do you listen to comedy albums?

 BW: Well, I listened to a couple before recording mine. I listened to like Kumail [Nanjiani]’s or Pete Holmes’ or [John] Mulaney’s. Then I was like, “I should listen to some bad ones, too.” It was bumming me out because I was thinking “I’m not doing what they’re doing.”


MC: What bit has gotten the biggest response so far? Has anybody come up to you to tell you which joke is their favourite?

BW: I think the one that most people talk about is “tournaments and brackets stuff”. It’s about how I’d create lists. I was just a weird little kid, but people relate to it like, “Oh my God, I did that, too.”


MC: Well, that’s actually the one I have written down here, haha. I think it was also one that I hadn’t heard yet, which may have been why it stands out to me. But it’s such a compact bit. It’s a solid little story, you play with voices and stuff. It’s a definite stand-out on the album.

BW: I like that bit a lot because it’s just me being a creepy, creepy, little kid.


MC: I want to ask about what else you’re working on. What’s next for Brooks Wheelan?

BW: I moved back out to Los Angeles and now I’m working on trying to write a TV show. So that’s the goal right now. We’ll see. I’ll be doing stand-up and hopefully I can do some Comedy Central stuff. Just keep going on for the next hour. Whatever that is.


MC: You’ve got such a nice optimism for the unknown in all this.

BW: Yeah, man. It’s the greatest. I have a little bit of money and my job is to be a comedian. I get to drive around, see the world and fucking do this thing I’ve always dreamed of doing. I won the lottery. People were like “What a bummer, you got fired from SNL! What’s next?” I just get to say, “Not much, I just get to go back to doing my dream, again.”

MC: That’s lovely. Thanks so much again for doing this.


Keep an eye out for Brooks Wheelan this summer at Just for Laughs and his upcoming show on April 30 at the Comedy Nest.