BRIAN POSEHN: THE COMEDIAN WHO’S “MORE METAL THAN YOU” TALKS TO METALSUCKS
Like a lot of people, I first became familiar with Brian Posehn because of his time on David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s brilliant HBO sketch comedy series, Mr. Show, for which he was also a writer. A few years after that show went off the air, my then-roommate and I went to see Posehn do some stand-up at a comedy club here in New York. I don’t think we were even there to see Posehn specifically – if memory serves, David Cross was the actual draw for us – but he was so funny that I actually laughed so hard I became winded and fell out of my chair. Since then, he’s been on a very, very short list of stand-ups that I never miss the chance to check out when they come through town. Mr. Show sketches about a fictional band called “Titannica” led me to believe that someone on the series’ writing staff was a metal fan, but I didn’t know that it was Posehn until later – and the revelation that he was just as obsessed with metal as I was only made him that much cooler.
Fart and Wiener Jokes, Posehn’s second album for Relapse, comes out today (and you can order a copy here). Like its predecessor, Live: In Nerd Rage, it features not only recordings of his brilliant stand-up, but also an original song he co-wrote with Anthrax’s Scott Ian (“More Metal Than You”) to poke fun at some of metal’s more regrettable foibles. It also has a metal cover of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” and between the two music tracks, Posehn has managed to rope in guest appearances by such all-stars as Jamey Jasta, Mark Morton, Mark Oseguenda, John Tempesta, and Russ Parrish. Assuming you love great comedy and great metal, there’s no way you’re not gonna dig Fart and Wiener Jokes.
A few weeks ago I got to talk to Posehn about putting comedy albums out on a metal label, what it’s like to be friends with some of his boyhood heroes, the state of metal today, his take on the Anthrax vocalist situation, and more. He even turned the tables at the end and asked me a question! Read the complete transcript of our chat after the jump.
Well, it came from seeing it work for other friends where they put their comedy albums out on labels that their fans already listen to. David Cross went with Sub Pop, and you know, he has that indie fan appeal already. So I guess he figured that that was a label where a lot of people who already like him and buy a lot of music from that label. It sort of made sense for him. Seeing him do that and seeing Patton (Oswalt) and Eugene Mirman go with Sub Pop inspired me. I had done the first pressing of Nerd Rage on my own, but when I was thinking of [which labels] to go to, I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing and go with Comedy Central. It felt like such an obvious place. I wanted to kind of do what Cross had done. But I also didn’t feel that Sub Pop was an obvious fit for me, especially considering the fact that I knew I was going to work with Scott Ian and record some songs. I was like, “Well, I’m going to want to shoot videos, and I’m going to want to go to a place where they’ll know what to do with me.” So I made a small list of indie metal labels – Metal Blade, Prosthetic, and a couple of other places like Century and Relapse were on the list. After I made the list and I was talking to my manager about it, the guys that founded Relapse, Matt Jacobson, came to me before we even started going out to the people on the list. He said, “Hey man, I heard your new record, and I would love to reissue it and do whatever you want with it.” So I said, “Well, I want to record these songs.” He was totally into the idea, and it just sort of worked. The first record did well enough that I wanted to stay with them.
Obviously you did reach a key demographic there.
Yeah, sure, it really helped.
When you’re out doing metal-themed jokes about how blowjobs aren’t gay as long as you scream “Slayer” and stuff, do you ever find that that material falls on deaf ears for certain audiences?
Yeah, but at a certain point I don’t care what they think. It would be one thing if that’s all I talked about for 45 minutes. It would be appealing to a pretty small audience. But I feel like I talk about enough other stuff. I try to keep other things relatable. I talk about being a married guy – that’s going to be relatable to a certain amount of people. I still want to appeal to metalheads, so I include it for them. If nobody else gets it, then that’s fine. You know?
I do that with nerdy references, too. I’ll throw things in like D&D, things that a very small part of the crowd is going to get, but the guys that do get what “fart elemental” means are going to love it. You know? It’s for them, and I’ve always loved comedy that appeals to everybody but then has certain jokes that are just for you. A lot of my friends do that, and I’ve done that even since the beginning. I remember in the early ’90s talking about River’s Edge onstage or just throwing a reference into a joke about something else. It was…not a generic marijuana joke, but it was a joke about weed, and then I had this reference to “feck weed.” If you knew what “feck weed” was, then I might be your new favorite comic – “That guy just talked about River’s Edge onstage!” That was always an intentional thing.
That’s cool. When you’re doing these metal songs like “Metal by Numbers” or, in the case of Fart and Wiener Jokes, “More Metal Than You,” what is the actual songwriting process like? Does Scott Ian just come in and write something and you’re like, “Cool, let me put silly lyrics to it?”
Well, with both cases, with both of the originals that we’ve written together, it came from me having the idea for the target of the song first. In both, also, I had the titles before we had any of the other lyrics in both cases. “Metal by Numbers” came from me being upset watching Headbanger’s Ball one night and going to Scott… he hates new metal more than I do. He’s so old school. When I went to him with this idea, “Hey, I want to make fun of all this new stuff,” he was totally into it. I was like, “Let’s write a thrash-style song.” It was the same thing with “More Metal Than You” – once I came up with the title and what the target was, he started writing and sending me riffs. I was like, “Those are great, those are great.” We sat down together, and he’s obviously been writing songs for most of his life, I’m a little less experienced because it’s not my thing. I had written songs over the years for Mr. Show and other shows I’ve been involved with, so I do get the songwriting thing… well, more of the lyric writing thing. He really helped me form my dumb ideas into three verses and a chorus and make a great song.
Do you feel comfortable giving him notes when he brings in a song, or are you just like, “You’re Scott Ian, you tell me what to do?”
I haven’t [given him notes] so far. He hasn’t presented me with any riffs that I’ve gone, “Oh really? I think you can do better than that.” You know? [laughs] Everything he’s ever shown me in the two songs we’ve done together, it just sounds like Scott Ian. He’s one of my favorite guitar players ever. It’s surreal to be his friend, and it’s even more surreal to be actually creating something with him.
Yeah, less with Scott because we were actually really good friends. We’ve been friends for a long time now. There were a couple of years where it was still weird. It was like, “I can’t believe I’m going over to Scott Ian’s house!” [laughs] Now I think a little less about it. It is strange. This week we’re going to do Golden Gods and do a live performance of “More Metal Than You.” On the record I had Mark Oseguenda from Death Angel do this part, and he’s on tour. So it was like trying to figure out who to go with [in Oseguenda’s place], and at one point, Scott said, “What about Halford? Halford is going to be there.” In my head I’m like, “No fucking way! If this happens, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to perform.” It didn’t [work out with Halford], but just the idea of that guy is listening to my song and seeing if he can do it is just insane.
That’s pretty crazy. A lot of metal heads don’t have a sense of humor about the music, and you obviously come from a pretty healthy place of legitimately loving it but also being able to make fun of it with something like “More Metal Than You.” Why do you think metal heads are so humorless about it?
I know, and I used to be that guy, and I still am about certain things. If you talked to me twenty years ago… I hated Spinal Tap. Hated that movie because I felt like, “Who are these old guys making fun of this stuff I love?” I remember going, “They’re making fun of Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, and that is not cool. You’re not allowed to do that.”
But I feel like I’ve earned a certain amount of cred, and I think that people know that it’s coming from this place of love it first. So I think I can make fun of what’s funny about it. Slayer was a good target for me because they are so metal, and most Slayer fans are so humorless and so serious that making a joke about saying “Slayer” when you’re performing a gay act makes it not gay… That really made me laugh, and it’s made a lot of other people laugh that have a sense of humor about it. I felt like the songs that I’ve created came from a real thing, and I felt like it was something that sort of needed to be mentioned about how metal was and still is. There is this cookie cutter style of music that’s gained a certain amount of popularity, so I wanted to make fun of that. “More Metal Than You” had come from being a metal fan, and how – and I say this directly on the record – a lot of metal fans, when you meet them, it’s like having this instant bond with this other person. It’s like meeting a brother or sister. But then there are these other metalheads that are so judgmental about metal and your metalness. You have to jump through hoops when you meet another guy. It’s like, “Oh, really? What do you consider hardcore? What about Agnostic Front?” You know what I mean?
You’re meeting these other people, and you have to stand up to what they think is metal, and that’s so much a part of being a metalhead. I just felt like the right people are going to laugh at that. There are going to be people who go, “This guy thinks he’s more metal than me?” They’re not going to hear it the way they’re supposed to hear it. I’ve had people come up to me with the Slayer joke and go “Dude, Slayer is not gay.” It’s like, “Um, you’re not listening.”
On top of that, why do a metal cover of “The Gambler?” What was it about that song that jumped out at you as being right for metallization?
I smoke pot. [laughs] It came from being dragged to karaoke over the years, and when I go, I usually hate the song list. So what I’ve done to make my wife and other friends laugh is to do songs death metal style. I’d take “Vacation” by the Go-Go’s and get up and make it a death metal tune by growling everything. It just made me laugh, and I think I heard “The Gambler” and was in the car going, “Oh my god, I should make this metal style.” I called Scott, and he was like, “Dude, I can’t believe nobody’s ever done that.” I was like, “Well, let’s do it. It’s stupid, and it makes us laugh.” Without even changing the lyrics… it’s not a parody, it’s a metal cover of that song.
Can you even go to metal shows anymore, or is it just too much of a mob scene there?
No, I do. I don’t get to go as many as I want to, but that’s more because of my schedule than anything. The fact that I am on the road as much as I am and now having a new baby; it makes it harder. When I can, I go out. I just missed Megadeth and Testament and was pretty unhappy about that.
Yeah. They’re coming back around in the summer, so maybe then…
Right. I might even go over to Europe to see the Big Four this year. I’m still that guy. I’m still that metal fan that will do what I can to see the bands that I love.
I know you’re not that big of a fan of most of the more recent stuff coming out. Have you heard anything today that makes you think, “Okay, these kids get it,” or is it just all…
Oh yeah, yeah. I have definitely have kept up. Some of the more mainstream stuff like Lamb of God and Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage, I’ve liked those bands for several years. I’ve been following those bands for like the last four or five albums. I’m definitely a fan of what they’re doing. Then there is newer stuff that I like. I check out everything. I’m the guy who still goes to Amoeba Records. I still go online and read magazines like Metal Hammer. If they get behind something enough, I’ll check it out online or just go buy it unheard. It pays off occasionally. You’ll find your Skeletonwitch. I really like those guys. I like some of the new stoner metal like Baroness and that kind of stuff.
There are a million newer bands. I even like the bands that are sort of trying the traditional metal thing like Icarus Witch. I can’t really get into White Wizzard yet, but they definitely have an ear for it.
Being an old school thrash fan, do any of the newer thrash bands hold any appeal for you?
Yeah, I think Lazarus A.D., if they would have put that record out in 1987, they would be as big as Testament or Exodus. That is a great thrash record. Some other bands, I won’t name names because I don’t want to throw any kids under the bus… They’re also young and just finding this out, but there are a couple of bands out there that are just going, “Hey, let’s sound like Exodus or let’s sound like Possessed.” I’m going to like them a little less because I’d rather just listen to a Possessed record or listen to Exodus. Why listen to a band that’s just doing Exodus songs? Other bands, like Skeletonwitch, I think are pulling from all these different influences and then doing their own thing. That’s going to appeal to me way more than just being a sound-alike.
Right on. So speaking of naming names and on a semi-not-metal note, I couldn’t help that but notice on your album cover that you’re standing on top of what appears to be the corpses of several other comedians, who I assume you don’t like [Click on the image to your right to enlarge. – Ed.]. You obviously weren’t afraid to name names in that instance. Margaret Cho is not going to see that and not realize that’s her.
[laughs] Yeah, and she’s an old friend, and Kathy Griffin is on there too. She and Kathy Griffin are the only two that actually know. I don’t know any of those other people, and I don’t care what they think. It’s a joke too. I don’t think I’m better than Carrot Top. I do a different thing than Carrot Top does. If you like Carrot Top, you’re not wrong. You know what I mean? I feel like I’m kind of taking a swipe at myself. I don’t think I’m better than any of those people, and the fact that I call it Fart and Wiener Jokes… I think my tongue is pretty firmly planted in my cheek. Anybody that would see that it’s called Fart and Wiener Jokes and that I’m standing on a pile of dead bodies and I’m shirtless, Manowar-style… It’s silly. I think it came out exactly the way I pictured it. It made me laugh. I already knew I was going to call it Fart and Wiener Jokes, and then when I was trying to think of what to do, like how to have it look metal but still be a comedy record, that was the thing that just popped. When I went to Relapse and went to their art department and said “Here’s what I have in my head,” two days later I’m looking at this rough drawing with all these things. I’m just sitting in my office crying laughing. The fact that I have a dead Dane Cook and a dead Jeff Dunham, it made me very happy.
Well, Dane Cook deserves it.
So coming back to metal… I know this is probably hard for you to answer since you’re friends with Scott Ian, but what’s your take on the current state of Anthrax? Dan Nelson is in. He’s out. John Bush is out and then he’s in. Is it all gravy to you? As a fan, do you have a vested interest in it?
God, that’s a good question. The Dan Nelson thing was weird. I knew what they were doing because at the time they wanted John to come back, and John didn’t want to be a part of it anymore after what happened with the Joey [Belladonna] reunion tour. They weren’t going to make a record with Joey. So as a fan I’m like, “Well, I still want Anthrax music. I still want new Anthrax.” To me, before I even knew them, before I was even friends with them, the only two members that if they’re gone then it’s no longer Anthrax are Scott and Charlie [Benante]. To me, if those two guys are still in the band, then it’s still Anthrax music. No matter who they would have gotten as a singer, I would have been the first in line to hear it and then judge them after. As far as picking Joey or John, I think they’ve written great stuff with both guys. To have either one of them back would make me happy. The reunion tour was a lot of fun for what that was, but the fact that now it looks like they’re going to re-record the Dan Nelson stuff with John Bush makes me really happy because I love John. And I was always a fan of his even outside of Anthrax. I was an Armored Saint fan, too.
I know that’s a super-diplomatic answer.
Dude, I understand. I wasn’t trying to get a “fuck Scott Ian” quote or anything.
Well, Scott is the band. That band would not exist if it were not for Scott and Charlie being the musical geniuses that they are.
Of course. So… last question before I let you go: I know, per your album, that you hate the phrase “party like a rock star” – but you also say that you have to qualify that by specifying which rock star. So if Brian Posehn were to party like a rock star, which rock star would you be partying like?
Oh man. That’s a good one. [long pause] Dimebag.
Yeah? Why Dimebag?
Because we have a lot of things in common. We have a little proclivity for the herbal refreshment. Also, I love my whiskey and my beer. I was trying to think who else would drink and smoke. Him, Zakk Wylde, and any of the guys that like to mix their weed in with their whiskey.
Good answer. Thanks again for your time, man…
Wait! I have a question about MetalSucks.
So you guys definitely have a sense of humor about it. Do you find people asking “Why is it MetalSucks?”
All the time.
I would imagine.
Less now, but in the early days when we were just starting out…
We would go hand out stickers at shows, and it was a dangerous thing to do.
It’s like when Primus… if you’re a Primus fan growing up in the Bay Area, “Primus Sucks” was a thing only fans said. It was weird the first time you hear it. “Wait, so they hate Primus?”
[laughs] There were definitely a couple times when I was handing out stickers and I thought I might get my ass kicked, but once we explained that we were being tongue-in-cheek people…
Right. It’s the same thing as when I’m explaining my Slayer joke to a Slayer fan.
They don’t immediately get things!