Brent Pella

Interview: Brent Pella Talks Embracing The Unconventional In “Conscious Bro”

Brent Pella knew that he wasn’t going to take the conventional route with his first special. While he has a great appreciation for the more traditional stand-up specials, he knows his voice and he knows that that’s not a space he wanted to work within. Instead, he wanted to come up with a special that evoked more cutaway segments, and sort of leaned into the spiritual realm for which he’s become known.

His first special, Conscious Bro - which is out now in our YouTube channel - is the perfect introduction to Pella’s brand of humor, which he acknowledges as being a hybrid of “mainstream bro-ness” with the spiritual. The latter was born out of having a mom who was a Deadhead. The end result is a fascinating study of how those two contrasting personas can come to form one. When you add those two things together, you get Brent Pella.

We recently spoke to Pella about his new special, which was produced by 800 Pound Gorilla. In our wide-ranging discussion, we talked about how he came up with the idea for the special, serving as a director, his influences, shooting in San Diego, and what he’s thinking for the next hour. 

How long has the idea for the overall theme of the special been in your head?

So I knew from my early years of doing stand-up that I wanted to create a comedy special that went beyond the typical scope of a traditional comedy special. And I didn’t start to fully visualize that until about two years ago. As a lot of my comedy content online and comedy videos started to integrate more visual effects and kind of psychedelic style. So over the past two years prior to filming, I started to really think “What would be a really exciting way to keep the audience engaged and entertained with an added layer of visuals on top of traditional stand-up?”

So it took a couple years to really fine tune what that would look like. But I’ve known for all of the ten years I’ve been onstage that I wanted my comedy special to be a little bit different than the traditional special.

And so once you got the ayahuasca storyline together, did everything else fall into place?

Yeah. The ayahuasca story was actually a fairly late addition, because I sat in my first couple of ayahuasca ceremonies about two months prior to recording the special. So that whole story and part of the special was actually the latest edition. But it fit so perfectly with the theme of the special, with the theme of me kind of trying to navigate my mainstream bro-ness, mixed with the sense of spirituality that I’ve always had.

That combination is interesting because I wouldn’t think there’s generally a link between those two. But you find a way to blend it really well.

Thanks, man. Yeah, I had to find that connection within myself first I think. I was raised by a single mom. She was a Dead-head, so she brought me to a lot of Grateful Dead shows when I was a kid. A lot of music festivals, a lot of reggae shows. And so I grew up with this innate sense of spirituality that was encouraged and influenced a lot by my mom. And then I found basketball when I was in elementary school, played sports through high school and college. I was kind of a jock, I was kind of a bro. But I always had a sense of existential curiosity I guess you could say, to use big fun words that make me sound cool and aligned.

And so later after college, I started to rediscover my spiritual side in a bigger way. And that was also around the time that I started doing stand-up. And I’ve been performing onstage for a little over ten years now. I’ve been realizing the connection between my inner-spiritual self and my masculine bro nature. It’s been kind of a fun intersection to explore. So that’s been the theme of the special.

I was amazed in the credits to see that you directed the special yourself. That’s a daunting task for a first stand-up special. How did you approach that?

I knew that the concept and the theme of the special was so specific to me and my nature as a performer and as an artist that I don’t think it could have been constructed as well with anyone else at the helm. I’ve been directing all of my own projects ever since I started doing videos. My day job when I moved to Los Angeles was as a PA. I was a production assistant on commercials and music videos. So for my first eight years in Los Angeles, I got to see the biggest names in the film industry on set taking an idea from conception to production through delivery.

I remember watching all their processes and taking mental notes, taking physical notes, on how Neal Brennan is directing this Bud Light commercial. Or how Paul Rudd is receiving direction on this beer commercial. Or whatever it was. I saw Evan Goldberg direct a series of commercials with Seth Rogen. One of my first PA jobs was on a The Lonely Island music video. And I remember watching those guys direct each other and throw out lines to each other and thinking to myself “Oh, I kind of already do that. On a much smaller scale.” It was very affirming to my own process. It was also very motivational because I saw what they were doing at such a higher level than me. Over the last 12 years of making digital content, I really have tried to continue leveling up the projects that I’ve written and produced to ready myself for a lift as heavy as directing my first time comedy special.

So I felt super prepared. I’m blessed to be able to work with a crew of experienced folks, like my cinematographer David Sherbrook, who shoots nearly all of my videos. Also my visual effects artist Scott Dawson, who has his fingerprints in a majority of my things. I want to direct forever. I want this project to be the catalyst for future, bigger projects in the TV and film world. It was a really great opportunity to test myself, and a really great opportunity to show people what I’ve grown to be able to do in the directors chair.

What made you want to shoot it in San Diego? I know how much thought has to go into where you shoot something, so I’ve always been fascinated by that.

So I chose to shoot in San Diego for three main reasons. Reason number one, I genuinely love the city and the people of San Diego. Everybody there is down to party. It’s kind of a military town, so you get a lot of folks that are a bit more open to political material than most people would be. It’s also a younger town. I love San Diego for the people. So that was reason number one.

Reason number two is the Mic Drop Comedy Club stage design is incredible. It looks like an acid trip onstage. It looks like a stage took five tabs of acid. I added a couple of crystals to the shelves, but the smile, the teacups, the color. What the owners of Mic Drop have done with that club is groundbreaking in terms of stage design at a comedy club. It adds a layer of fun and excitement and engagement for the audience that I love. Because I’m a pretty high energy performer. And I knew that with this visual comedy special that I’m trying to produce, having that element of visuals onstage would just add another layer of fun to the piece.

Reason number three is because my first headline set ever was in San Diego at that club when it used to be called The Comedy Palace. It was on a Wednesday at 7 PM. I think we sold 50 tickets and then we comped another 50. So there was about 100 people in the room, 50 of which paid. So to shoot my special in the same exact room on the same exact stage as the first show I had ever headlined felt like a really cool, full circle moment and really spoke to my spiritual side and made me feel like the universe had my back.

That does make total sense, as you probably wouldn’t have gotten that vibe from the audience in LA.

Right. Like the guy who is sitting in the front row in an American flag shirt. That wasn’t a plant. That was just your average San Diegoian. You get a really fun mix politically of people, a really fun mix age wise of people. I feel like I covered every demographic in that show.

And what was the editing process like to have these elements come together?

The editing process took longer than we had anticipated because of the visual effects and because of the cutaway segments. So we were shooting segments all the way through July of 2023. We shot the show in late May 2023, and we kept shooting the intro scene with the alien, the cutaway segments and a few other things against the green screen all through July. We weren’t done editing until October. It was about 4 and a half months of post production. Just because we wanted to fine tune all the visuals. And I’m glad we took that long. As much as I wanted to move through quicker and push it out as quick as possible, taking our time allowed us to fine tune the experience for the audience.

What was the biggest takeaway that you got from doing the special that you always wanted to do?

One of the biggest takeaways I got was trust your team. I fully trusted the guys that I brought on board for this project and they nailed it. I also have a lot more trust in myself because it came out pretty much exactly the way that I envisioned. And the things that came out differently came out differently for good reason. I think I’ll look back on the special and simultaneously cringe but also be proud of how weird it is and how strange some of the choices were that I made for it. And I think that’s fun. It’s kind of like a screenshot of who I was at this moment in time.

For my next project, I want to keep pushing that creativity ball down the road to see how much weirder I can get with it. I think we really nailed a lot of the different approaches that we had to visual effects and telling a story. So for the next one, I want to see how much weirder we can get.

Do you already have ideas?

Yeah I do. I do know that I’ll never make a traditional stand-up comedy special with just straight stand-up comedy. That’s awesome. I love watching it and there’s plenty of comedians who do that in a beautiful way. It’s not the type of performer or creator I am. So I know that every bigger stand-up project that I put out will have some unpredictable element. Whether it’s visuals, cutaway segments, a storyline, a theme. It’ll always be a little bit different. 

Are you working on the next hour now?

I am, yeah. It’s back to ground zero. It’s back to an empty notebook. Every stand-up comic’s favorite thing is an empty page staring back at them, taunting them mercilessly. That is what I wake up and look at every day.

Its fun. I haven’t been challenged to write a bunch of new material in years. So finally putting all of this stuff out on the special is now creating space for new perspectives and ideas to come through. So I’m super excited for that process.

How to watch "Brent Pella: Conscious Bro."

Brent Pella’s new comedy special, Conscious Bro, is available now on YouTube. It's also available for purchase on 800 Pound Gorilla!

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