From his scene-stealing appearances on programs like Chelsea Lately and @midnight, to his writing on shows including Billy on the Street and The Mindy Project, comedian Guy Branum has left a mark on television. But with truTV’s Talk Show the Game Show, a high-concept hybrid of the two genres based on his popular live showcase, Branum at last gets a starring role.
In a new interview for Moontower, Guy talks about his early comedy influences, his jittery first time on stage and how a conversation on a van ride to a quiz bowl turned into his latest project.
What made you laugh growing up? Were there funny movies or television shows that you liked as a kid?
Growing up I was obsessed with Tracey Ullman, Monty Python and Eddie Murphy’s comedy specials. I also really loved any of those all ladies stand-up comedy anthology shows like Women of the Night.
Do you remember the first bit you wrote?
The first time I got on stage, I had a bit about how we didn’t have enough work for older actresses, so we should make them do professional wrestling and the whole time I was doing it, my knee couldn’t stop shaking because I was so nervous.
You attended law school before you did stand-up. Did that experience inform your comedy?
I do think law school made me deeply analytical and heartless, so it’s a lot easier to sort of take facts and try to turn them into jokes. I also do a lot of arguments. Frequently I will hear somebody else’s joke, and then I will decide that I have a different opinion and then sort of structure a response and do that on stage, because I don’t have new good material. Then that will turn into new material.
Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? What’s the difference between writing in your own voice for your act versus writing for someone else for a show like The Mindy Project?
What’s nice is that I’ve pretty much always had writing jobs for most of my stand-up career. The bad part is that I tend to be less vigilant about writing for myself than a lot of stand-ups. The good thing is that I always have a place I can go with any opinions that are my own that don’t have a good or correct place for somebody else. It’s nice to write both things. The jokes that could be for anybody, the jokes that could be for somebody specifically not me, and then the jokes that are truly, deeply mine. There’s something really exciting about the frequency with which I’ve had to write jokes for women, you know? Like you lead a different life than me.
Finally, can you tell me a little bit about Talk Show the Game Show?
Talk Show the Game Show is a game show and talk show I invented five years ago. I came up with the idea a long time ago. When I was in law school, I was on a band ride to a quiz bowl tournament. I was talking to a friend about talk shows, and I just came to the opinion that there’s a right and a wrong way to be on a talk show. From then on we would joke about the existence of Talk Show the Game Show, the game show where you’re trying to prove you’re a good talk show guest. Then in late 2011, I had left Chelsea Lately and I was in a really uncertain point in my career, and just on a lark, finding something to do creative I typed up the rules of Talk Show the Game Show.
It’s essentially in the form of local group by-laws. Then I got a spot at The Improv Lab and just ran through it, and it was a mess the first time but it worked. I remember being so excited that it has worked so the night after I just couldn’t go to sleep. Then I’ve done it for five years since. We’ve had amazing guests. Oscar winners, Tony winners, coming to the back of this comic book shop in LA and doing a show. It’s been really amazing.
You score points by name-dropping, plugging projects and mentioning your charities. You can get yellow carded, or thrown out of the game, or put in the penalty box for showing up under-dressed or over-dressed and for obsessive name-dropping. It’s not about just bull-dozing through and mentioning as much as you can. It’s about providing a beautiful, artistically, charming interview, while at the same time getting done what you need to get done.
Talk Show the Game Show premieres April 5th on truTV. Guy Branum will be on multiple shows at the Moontower Comedy Festival next month. Stay tuned for the complete schedule.