Seeking your approval: Clever folks, just talking


I first noticed Neal Brennan recently, when he did a terrific stand-up comedy bit, complete with three microphones. I should have noticed him much sooner; this guy co-created "Chappelle's Show," a classic. Now he has a low-key and entertaining weekly show that debuts Monday (Aug. 11); here's the story I sent to papers:


By MIKE HUGHES


This is TV entertainment at its most basic – five people,
sitting around talking.


It works, if the people are clever enough and the subjects
are right. That’s what “The Approval Matrix” is going for, Neal Brennan said. “I
was looking for areas that are not smart enough for Bill Maher, but too smart
for Chelsea.”


Maher’s shows (“Politically Incorrect” and “Real Time”)
could sometimes get serious; Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea Lately” could sometimes
get silly. By comparison, the first “Matrix” episode asks if this is really a
new TV golden age; the second discusses the effects of fame.


The people talking do know the subject: In the opener,
there’s TV Guide critic Matt Roush, writer-producer-comedian Whitney Cummings,
comedian Julie Klausner and Willie Geist of “Today.” And hosting is Brennan,
who once gave TV a golden half-hour.


Brennan had dropped out of college to write for TV shows,
good and bad. He did stand-up comedy, met Dave Chappelle and wrote a script
with him. That’s when they talked about a TV series built on cinematic
mini-films. “The ideas had to be funny in the first place,” he said.


They were; “Chappelle’s Show” became a big hit until its
star suddenly retired it. Brennan was caught by surprise; “it took me a couple
years to get back” to stand-up, he said.


He did, with skill. One recent routine saw him rotating
between three microphones – one for full bits, one for “orphan jokes” not part
of a bit and one for personal comments. Somehow, it all worked.


Brennan directed one “Mindy Project” episode and a lot of “Inside
Amy Schumer” ones. And he jumped into the notion of a talk show based on the “Approval
Matrix” feature in New York Magazine.


He booked people he knows (“any comedian is a friend of mine”)
or who seemed logical. Some didn’t prepare, but most were worth hearing. “I
told people, ‘If you can’t be funny, you can be interesting.’”


They were. Five people, sitting around talking, can be kind
of entertaining.


n 
“The Approval Matrix,” 11 p.m. Mondays,
Sundance; reruns at 1:30 a.m.


n 
Opener (Aug. 11) then reruns at 11:15 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 14, and 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16.