Stand-ups Matt Braunger and Dana Gould team up for the Bukkake of Smiles tour

Two very different comics, a buffoon and a classic showman, share a bill as they visit New York

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Matt Braunger

Matt Braunger Photograph: Robyn Von Swank


Matt Braunger

“He’s a goddamnedsilly buffoon,” says Kyle Kinane of fellow comic Matt Braunger. This succinct deconstruction encapsulates the ferocity with which Braunger stares down the most frivolous concepts. The tall, Brillo-haired performer gesticulates wildly, deploys an impressive range of facial expressions and attacks the microphone with song, all in the name of the dumbest bits. On last year’s Shovel Fighter, his second full-length album, he remembers a time when Jimmy Cliff both starred in and sang the theme song from The Harder They Come, and wonders if that sort of double star turn could ever happen again. “Ladies and gentlemen, singing the theme from his hit movie Inception, Leonardo DiCapriooooooo!” he shouts. Then for 30 seconds, he repeats this melodic gem: “It’s a dream inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream.…”

There is no desperation in his voice to indicate that he’s scared about how the joke will go over; he is thrilled to be belting his heart out for the sake of a passing thought that probably made him chuckle at how simple and stupid it was. It’s the sort of buffoonery that can infect the crowd like a goddamn epidemic. “As a comedian myself, watching Braunger infuriates me—he’s effortless, and the whole audience becomes a collection of friends within minutes,” says Kinane.

Braunger and Kinane both cut their teeth (and their preposterously unfoldable deep-dish pizza slices) in Chicago, where risk takers like TJ Miller and Pete Holmes had the freedom to experiment, away from prying industry eyes. In the Windy City a decade ago, stand-up covered the entire spectrum—surreal, honest, high-concept and lowbrow—all in the same set. No surprise, then, that Braunger is capable of concocting weird mental pictures that are impossible to forget. “Savory Willy Wonka,” another Shovel Fighter track, imagines the childhood icon running a factory of mashed potatoes and gravy. Later, Braunger admits that his dream is to wear one of those shirts that says if you can read this, the bitch fell off—popular among motorcyclists—while riding a unicycle, just to mess with people.

It’s not only Braunger’s imagination that throws these curveballs. He’s hyperattune to absurdity in everyday life, marveling at an Italian restaurant owner who employs a catchphrase for no other motive other than sheer joy, or at the glorious night he and his friends discovered the name Eggley Bagelface in the phone book. Much fun was had, he explains on 2009’s Soak Up the Night.

Braunger’s magnetism translates to other mediums. He played the sweetly overbearing neighbor in Up All Night so well you felt sorry that he had to crash parties to get attention. And his brief stint on MADtv found him easily impersonating mainstreamers like John Mayer, then flipping on a dime to play someone as left-field as J.D. Power—you know, from J.D. Power and Associates, the people who give out all those car awards. Regardless of venue, Braunger never loses his sense of playfulness; he knows he’ll always be the goddamned silly buffoon, and he owns it.—SH

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