Many of you might recognize Andy Breckman as the creator of the long-running series Monk, a show that puts a unique twist on the standard detective formula. Perhaps you also know his work as a staff writer for Saturday Night Live and David Letterman, where his offbeat skits included Eddie Murphy’s “White Like Me”. He’s obviously a brilliant writer, a little twisted and someone unafraid to push the boundaries of comedy. But before Letterman and SNL and Monk, Andy Breckman was a funny stand-up and singer-songwriter, and the latter is whenI first discovered him.
I don’t even remember who the headliner was that night I saw him in the late 70s. Back in my Syracuse days, if a label act was coming through town, I was going to be there, and that night was no exception. I remember a slightly unkempt guy climbed the stage in a club packed with bottle blondes and guys in satin band jackets. In an effort to get our attention, he leaned into the microphone and announced that he had just signed a contract with Columbia Records that very afternoon. As people cheered and whistled in genuine appreciation, he added “yep, I get any twelve albums I want for a penny, as long as I buy just five more later on…”
Cheap laugh, sure. But before that chuckle subsided, he launched into a song with such an animated spirit that the crowd remained zoned in on him. He was halfway through it before I really started listening to the lyrics…and in an instant I was doubled over in laughter..then another song and another, each more absurd than the one before. They were oddball, they were really well written and best of all they were fucking hilarious.
I could lie and pretend I recall the set list song for song, but I have trouble remembering the decade. But I do remember he had the place rolling with the call-and-response to “I Had A Good Day” – I won’t spoil it for you – and then he pulled out “Railroad Bill”, where he goes mano-a-mano with one of the characters in his song for control over the storyline. If I typed out the lyrics you’d laugh out loud, but his delivery and performance make it even better.
See for yourself – here’s Andy Breckman live.
There was nothing for sale that night, but thankfully a small boutique label called Gadfly Records issued Don’t Get Killed in 1990, and it’s been a staple at my house ever since. An amnesiac tries to salvage a meeting with a potential soulmante in “The Hello Hello Song” ; a tale of how his parents met ends with a twist in “How I Met Your Mother”, and he mocks his own (then) inability to get famous in “Here Comes My Career”. A congregation turns to “Rabbi Finkleman” for salvation only to find out he’s just as clueless as they are; a long-running feud with Don MacLean is spirited in “The Cheese Stands Alone”, and a game of tag goes postal in “I’m It”.
Like Loudon Wainwright, Breckman enhances his funny material with a comic’s timing and in-the-moment rapport with the audience. They’re in the palm of his hand from start to finish, and that trust allows him to connect with pathos as well as humor. Wainwright can spin tales about his dysfunctional family life right alonsgide something as goofy as “Dead Skunk”; likewise Breckman can offer something as truly heartbreaking and poignant as “The Cancer Song” in the middle of his set and pull the crowd right back in one song later.
As far as I know, Breckman only released two comedy-folk albums, Dont Get Killed and Proud Dad, both on Gadfly Records. (A third release is a collection of radio pieces from Seven Second Delay on WFMU). His career exploded after that, and today he remains a very successful writer and producer.
The final season of Monk started earlier this month, and it must be a bittersweet time for everone associated with the program. So Andy, I thank you for eight years of great television, but as you dwell on the finality of the situation I hope you channel some of that pleasure and pain into song. Maybe…I dunno…put out an album? You could even buy one yourself, Andy. Just think – that would mean only four more albums to go to get out of that contract!
Andy’s film and television work.
Andy Breckman wiki.
Seven Second Delay on WFMU
Gadfly Records has releases from great artists like Billy Bremner, Tonio K and Black 47 amng others. Mitch Cantor puts his money where his heart is, so check out his catalogue.