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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Johnny Pemberton (left) and Matt Braunger are coming to Turner Hall for a free comedy show.

Funny or Die: A chat with Matt Braunger and Johnny Pemberton


Funny or Die and Old Milwaukee are bringing comedians Matt Braunger and Johnny Pemberton to Turner Hall for a free stand-up show tomorrow night. Braunger is most known for his roles on "MADtv," NBC's "Up All Night" and his own Comedy Central special "Shovel Fighter." Pemberton made appearances in several big comedies last year – including "The Watch," "This is 40" and "21 Jump Street" – and is currently starring as Mason on ABC's new family sitcom "Family Tools."

We got a chance to talk with the duo of comedians about the tour, memories of Milwaukee and messing with random people on the road.

OnMilwaukee.com: How did you get involved with the Funny or Die Tour?

Johnny Pemberton: It was a raffle.

Matt Braunger: (laughs)

JP: Most of those things are really boring answers. It's just like you get a call from your agent, they you about it and you go, "Well that sounds great!" I was in the parking lot of a Bank of America, and that's where it happened.

MB: Same for both of us … except I wasn't in a Bank of America; I was at a car wash.

OMC: Matt, you did a lot of impressions back when you were on "MADtv" in 2008, like Nick Jonas and Charlie Sheen. Have you ever gotten any feedback on any of those?

MB: The weird thing is that I had to do a bunch of those for "MADtv" because I was one of only two white males on the show, so we had to cover a lot of ground. It was like, "You're Charlie Sheen! Now you're John Mayer!," who I look nothing like. I had to kind of work on that, but impressions have never really been my thing. When I look at someone like Bill Hader, I see them, and I'm just blown away by how they do it.

I do remember when I did John Mayer and it came on "MADtv," people were like, "Worst John Mayer ever," and I just was thinking, "I look NOTHING like that guy. That's the weirdest person for me to imitate. I might as well do Morgan Freeman."

OMC: Who do you look up to as your comedy idols?

MB: Definitely George Carlin, Richard Pryor. In terms of more modern contemporaries, I'd say Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, people I started off with like Kyle Kinane, Pete Holmes and Kumail Nanjiani. It's great to start out with people you know are amazing and see them get better and better, and then you get better and better.

JP: I like Richard Pryor a lot. I've liked him for a long time, and I listened to his stuff constantly. I like Todd Glass a lot too. He's really great because he's so joyful and so in the moment with his comedy.

OMC: Now, are you two travelling together for this road trip?

MB: Yeah, we just finished two weeks where we together throughout, doing every show together and sharing a rental car. This is actually the very last gig we're doing together for this tour. But yeah, we've been together almost constantly, and we haven't driven each other crazy or killed each other so that's quite an achievement.

OMC: Any pranks or anything like that on the road?

MB: No, but Johnny likes to mess with people. We'll be going through TSA, and one of the people will ask where we're heading, and he'll say Guam. And we're in like Harrisburg, Pa., so they're looking at him like he's crazy.

There was another guy at the rental place who found out we were comedians, and he was trying to bounce jokes off of us or get jokes from us. Johnny was kind of egging him on, and I was thinking, "let's get out of here; I don't want to talk to this guy." But when we ended up coming back through that town, we walked back past that rental car place. The guy wasn't working, but Johnny was like, "Hey, tell Dan we said hi!" All these car rental employees were thinking, "How do these random guys know Dan?" So not so much pranks on each other, but he's definitely a goof with the general public.

JP: I feel like it's an opportunity where there's no repercussions, and you're not really hurting anybody. There's so much small talk on the road, and it becomes so incredibly boring that I guess it's just the smartass in me that just wants to say the weirdest thing to say.

OMC: You guys did a bunch of fake beer ads for Old Milwaukee in preparation for the tour. What was the kind of inspiration or idea behind those ads?

MB: They were fun because we just basically sat down with the Funny or Die people – Johnny had ideas; I had ideas – and we just kicked ideas around. We ended up with like a rough draft to work off of, and a lot of it was just improvised. It was just all about taking the beer ad idea and putting it on its head.

JP: We got to do a lot of stuff that I was surprised we got to do.

OMC: You guys have done a lot of guest appearances and stuff like that in movies and TV shows. What has been your best experience doing something like that?

MB: I had a reoccurring guest role on "Up All Night" when it was on for two seasons, and that was fun because I just got to show up and be this sh*thead neighbor. Anytime you get to play someone who is extremely judgmental but does not realize his own faults is so cartoony that it's fun.

JP: I had a lot of fun doing this movie called "In the Loop" a long time ago. It was the first time I had ever really done anything like that, and it was working with someone who I've looked up to for a long time, Armando Iannucci.

OMC: Have you ever been to Milwaukee before? Matt, I know you're a Chicago native.

MB: For sure. I used to go for Summerfest and just to do the occasional room at a bar. It's always been a good time. It's very similar to Chicago crowds in that they're very blue collar and into having a good time, but also very smart.

JP: My dad's brother actually lives there, and my dad actually grew up in Whitefish Bay. The city's great. There's a record label from around there called Addict Records, and I used to listen to a lot of their stuff.

OMC: Any funny incidents or stories from Milwaukee?

MB: I remember doing this open mic, and there was this really old man who would do these open mics. I guess he was locally known; I didn't get his name. His references were so old that they were hilarious. He was making fun of some guy for being Italian and was saying he sold fruit out of a cart. That's a crazy old reference; I mean, that's the kind of stereotyping nobody uses anymore. Then he pulled out these prescription pills, and he said, "I take one of these an hour everyday. I don't know what they do, but by eight o'clock, I'm flyin'." He was just so high on his prescription pills.


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