Matt Braunger is an LA-based comic who you probably remember from MADtv and may have caught on Letterman, Ferguson, Conan and out of his many TV appearances a personal fave: on United States of Tara. His newest special, Big Dumb Animal, is available on Netflix. Check out his daily Vines, they’re a real treat. You can catch him in D.C. TONIGHT at The Big Hunt. – ed
Matt Braunger: Around the end of 2002 I was visiting my parents in Portland en route to move from Chicago to Los Angeles. I was supposed to be there for two weeks. Turned out I had to be there for 4 months because I got a DUI.
I did what is called a Deferment Program where you basically go to counseling a couple times a week and you don’t drink and all this jazz but that’s a whole other story. I was sentenced, in a sense, by the court to live with my parents for 4 months as an adult. I didn’t have a home back in Chicago to go back to. They wouldn’t let me do it there and I couldn’t do the program in Los Angeles. Now I’m actually glad it happened because it taught me a good lesson and I got to live with my parents as an adult and get to know them as an adult because I left home at 17. During that time I actually got into the Portland comedy scene more because I had been doing it for 2-3 years in Chicago.
I started doing gigs around Portland and there’s this guy named Randy, who I’m still friends with, who was booking these really strange gigs. He booked me in this bar way way out in the woods somewhere, in Oregon, and my dad was like, “Well, I’ll drive you and I’ll just go.” So he drove me and we’re going down these back roads and stuff when we finally found this bar and it was a really cool bar but it was just in the middle of nowhere. I can’t even remember what the town was but there were framed, autographed pictures of people you’ve never heard of all over the walls. I got there and the audience was 6 people, 5 dudes and one woman, none of them sitting together. They were all tree farmers. Without an opener I went up and did an hour. It did not go horribly, it went fine. It was one of those things where every couple of minutes you just want to stop and go “What are we doing here? Do you want to just put some music on the jukebox? We’ll all have a better time. I’ll give you your money back.” And my dad is in the back of the room, laughing harder than anybody. Later I was like “What was so funny,” and he said “Oh my God, this is fucking horrible,” but he was still laughing “This is what you want to do?” And he was ridiculing me. He just couldn’t believe it. The owners were very cool but the biggest laugh I got was when I played a game called “Who’s Packing a Gun?” I finally found out, and it was the one woman. Can you believe it? The one woman in town, had a gun, of course. They were all stocky people, all dressed the same. A lot of them were wearing green coveralls, fresh from the timber lodge.
After the show a few of them came up to me and said good job, we’re glad you came. That whole attitude of why am I even here kind of flew out the window. I felt a little bit ashamed of it. The owners asked me to bring a head shot and I did and they asked me to sign it. I signed it and they framed me. They put me up on the wall with all the other pictures of people you’ve never heard of. Somewhere, deep in the Oregon woods there’s a bar with a much fatter me on the wall, signed.
Brightest Young Things: You have to go back and find this place.
MB: I should get in touch with Randy and ask him where that place was.
BYT: Maybe those people on the walls weren’t famous at the time, but now they are, and you couldn’t have known. Perhaps they were other wayward comics.
MB: How funny would that be, all these pictures I didn’t notice. “Hey, it’s Patton Oswalt!”
BYT: I’m sorry about that DUI though. This is the first time I’ve heard about someone getting sentenced to live with their parents.
MB: Most of the gigs they came along with me to were great, in a packed bar or at a comedy club but then there was that, with just my dad.
BYT: I love how in this story the Nightmare Gig was not the DUI, not that that’s a gig but for you that’s not the worst part.
MB: I have a lot of perspective on it now but after a couple of weeks had passed I thought “Well, I’m just going to Los Angeles later.” About half my friends have these things. I complete this program and it’s no longer on my record. I remember walking with my mom the next day, after lunch, and me being so ashamed of myself and saying “I feel like I’ve disgraced you and dad,” and she said “I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is your screw up.” It made me feel so much better because it was. You take your lumps then you move on.