Funnyman Jim Breuer — he of “Half Baked,” the landmark stoner comedy for Generations X, Y and “zzzzzzzzz …” — seems incredibly mellow on the phone. That might sound amusing, but it’s hardly the punch line. (We’ll leave that to the pro; Breuer aims to deliver the real laughs Friday at The Weinberg Center for the Arts.)
No, there’s something less high, and more humble, about Breuer of late. Reviewing press materials, one stumbles — practically tripping — across the term “family-friendly,” which pops up repeatedly throughout the comic’s bio, his website and critical reviews lauding recent efforts.
Could this be the same Jim Breuer? The bleating and irascible Goat Boy-Breuer from “Saturday Night Live,” who, in other skits delivered a better Joe Pesci than Pesci himself? The same Breuer from movies like “Beer League” and MTV’s “Beach House” and repeat radio appearances on The Howard Stern Show? The same Breuer who, scaling the pinnacle, perhaps, of genius, utilized nothing more than inspired finger-puppetry to imitate a dog heeding the call of nature?
It’s him, all right. But like many of us who can readily recall the mid-’90s heyday of “SNL” — Breuer joined in 1995 alongside notables such as Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri and Darrell Hammond — he grew up. Got married. Became a dad.
Things changed. In a lot of ways, they got funnier.
To wit, Breuer’s latest one-hour comedy special, “Mid Life Madness,” filmed at the historic Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, N.Y., is set to air early next year.
“I think critics are going to flip out over it,” Breuer says. “So I just have to keep plugging away at that.”
While Breuer says his act has been PG-rated for years, he’s consistently dumbfounded by the double-take his family-man brand elicits.
“Some [people] are still in that ‘Half Baked’ world, which was 16 years ago, you know? It’s like talking about Brad Pitt in ‘Thelma & Louise.’”
In 2009, the Comedy Central special “Let’s Clear the Air” offered audiences a glimpse at an older, wiser, wearier Breuer, delving into his life with his wife and three daughters in suburban New Jersey, and his role as caretaker for his elderly parents. The resulting bits about “Why Mothers Need Their Sleep” and his girls’ early, early morning routine proved immediate Internet sensations.
“Mid Life Madness” ups the ante, Breuer says.
“This one’s even more smashing you over the head with the family friendliness.”
Interestingly, children played a critical role regarding the shift of Breuer’s on-stage antics. Just not his.
“Kids knew I was a comedian. They had seen me on ‘SNL,’ and they had seen me on the Pizza Hut commercials. [And] then you have that, ‘My mom said I can’t watch you, because you’re dirty,’” Breuer says. “And it wasn’t really that I was dirty, it was just the cursing. But that really bothered me — that kids and their families thought that of me.”
As it turns out, a certain purveyor of pudding pops, Picture Pages and old-fashioned common decency also had a hand on the wheel. Breuer — who often refers to his comedy as “Bill Cosby in a Metallica shirt” — cites the icon and forefather of anecdotal humor as a longtime idol.
“That was something I always wanted, from day one — to walk in Cosby’s shoes,” Breuer says. “You get so caught up in [the thought that] ‘I need to be cool.’ Well, cool is not always funny.”
In 2007, the comedians met face to face, when Cosby took part in a one-hour conversation on the Sirius/XM Radio show “Fridays with Breuer” (formerly “Breuer Unleashed”).
“It was un-be-lievable,” Breuer says, still in awe of being in Cosby’s presence. “I can’t even explain it.”
Cosby, he recalls, urged him to read a chapter from his book, “Cosbyology.” The title? “The Day I Decided to Quit Show Business.”
“I didn’t know what to make of it. What was he trying to tell me?” Breuer recalls. “When I read it, it was about how he made a boatload of money as an entertainer, trying to be something that he wasn’t. And he decided to quote-unquote ‘quit’ show business and go off on his own and do what he wanted, which was to inspire people.”
The light bulb, Breuer notes, was on the verge of clicking.
“He made clear my capability to inspire people,” Breuer says of his run-in with the Cos. “And I was wondering, ‘Does he say this to everyone? Or is this just for me?’ But it came along in a pivotal time in my life, when I was ready to make a change in my comedy.”
In the years since, says Breuer, “I’ve really begun to take control of my own destiny.” He penned a book — the 2011 autobiography “I’m Not High: (But I've Got a Lot of Crazy Stories about Life as a Goat Boy, a Dad, and a Spiritual Warrior”) — began work on a screenplay, devised an animated series and shot a few films. Most recently, he provided the voice of Spike the crow in “Zookeeper,” and next will be seen in Nick Cannon’s directorial debut, “School Dance.”
“Yeah, I have a small part in that,” he says, noting that he was honestly surprised when “Half Baked” did not open the veritable Hollywood flood gates.
“Oh, I was. I was shocked,” he says. “I gotta say. It’s funny, because people like Nick Cannon grew up watching some of the greatest movies ever … I feel like I’m getting all of my work, now, from fans who grew up on ‘SNL’ and ‘Half Baked,’ which wasn’t a hit when it was released in theaters, but when it hit video it just exploded.”
Addressing the saggy-eyed elephant in the room, Breuer admits his perpetually drowsy features have led scores of fans to believe his early film persona to mirror real life, when the truth, maybe, is a bit less edgy.
“That was acting,” he says.
“People say, ‘Really? You did a great job.’ Well, call someone you know in Hollywood,” he laughs.
While Breuer’s silver-screen presence has proven piecemeal throughout his career, in 2008, he took matters into his own hands. For his “Breuniversity Tour,” he was accompanied by a film crew — and his 85-year-old father. The resulting footage inspired the feature length documentary, “More Than Me,” which was screened as part of the 2009 Montreal Film Fest.
Being on the road with his dad was an amazing experience, Breuer says.
“I’ve become a big advocate for setting examples,” Breuer says of his recent role as caretaker for his elderly parents. “It’s one of those predicaments people find themselves in … and no one knows what to do with that.
“We get so caught up in [appearances and money] and we use that to measure success. Success is nice, but it doesn’t teach you how to take care of one another. So I thought it would be good if we could say, ‘Here’s a guy from quote-unquote Hollywood, who is taking the time … to help out another person, in this case, his father, who was a very important part of his life.”
People often use the idiom “the truth hurts.” Also, “it’s funny because it’s true.” Breuer — a father, a son, and a far cry from “Half Baked” — understands, now. They go hand-in-hand.
“We all know that we’re going to die. That’s just mortality,” Breuer says. “But you have to change how you approach it. You just laugh and keep going. ... You keep that spirit alive. That’s been a part of my family from day one. My mother would say, ‘Let’s laugh this one off.’ It might hurt, but let’s laugh it off.”