Jim Breuer: LI’s Former Bad Boy Jokester Opens Up About Life, God and Heavy Metal

Jim Breuer
Valley Stream’s Jim Breuer. (Photo by Matt Furman www.furmanfoto.com)

Jim Breuer has perfected a masterful trick: He performs a “clean show” where the audience is too busy roaring with laughter to notice his lack of profanity.

The Valley Stream-raised comedian made his name on Saturday Night Live as “Goat Boy,” a half-human, half-goat character who would break into Tourette’s-like brays (an act originally used to unnerve bartenders into giving him free drinks, he says), and doing spot-on impersonations of Joe Pesci. He parlayed his pot-smoking, hard-drinking comedic persona into a starring role in the film Half-Baked with Dave Chappelle and later filmed the documentary More Than Me with his aged father, showcasing the intimacy, hilarity, and difficulty of caring for an elderly parent—while on the road doing stand-up. He credits that sense of commitment to his father with LI itself.

“I feel like it’s a Long Island thing,” the 46-year-old father of three tells me over a cup of coffee at Maria’s coffee shop near his home in Chester, N.J. “How we were all raised together in the neighborhood with aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents.”

“He sounds like the guys we all grew up with,” a fellow Long Islander confirms following a recent packed show at the Tarrytown Music Hall, where Breuer received a thunderous standing ovation. “My cheeks hurt from laughing.”

A Long Islander at heart, Breuer’s the guy you knew in high school: the one with the Metallica T-shirt and the chain hanging from his acid-washed jeans.

“I don’t miss living there,” he says of LI, “but I miss that feeling. I miss that feeling of home. Of looking after each other.”

He’s the guy whose raucous laughter lit up the cafeteria with fun and electricity; the guy who held your hand when your heart was broken and talked you through your parents’ divorce.

“I hate broken families,” he says, his eyes red, welling up.

Breuer’s kept his own family together—his wife Dee and three daughters—supported by their 20-year marriage.

But it wasn’t easy.

The details of his life conspire in this picturesque coffee shop, a relic straight out of a storybook, its wood-shuttered picture window looking out onto an old-fashioned Main Street; a place where locals convene for casual conversation over steamy cups of fresh brewed coffee, where everyone (“barista” is too snooty a name for these down-home coffee-slingers) addresses each other by name, a familiarity that can only be born in a small town.

A woman stirring sugar into her mug spies Breuer.

“I think I live behind you,” she tells him.

“You live in the green house!” he booms over the place’s four intimate tables. “I love that house. You have a basement,” he declares with playful envy.

They discuss a possible bear sighting, their conversation descending into the neighborly ease that this coffee shop inspires.

“Oh yeah, I had a moment,” he says when asked if he’d made a deal with God when his wife was diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer two years ago. “Right here in this coffee shop.”

It was here that major changes took root in Breuer’s life, and though they occurred long before his wife’s diagnosis, they undoubtedly helped the family get through it. The first was when his oldest daughter developed a curiosity about her father and the ability to discover his old comedy acts through Google and YouTube. Seeing himself through his daughter’s eyes, he felt a sense of revulsion at the careless profanity in his early stand-up.

“I used to end my shows with ‘What the fuck?’” he remarked. “That’s not me.”

In 2008, he was approached in his local bar. He’s used to being recognized in Chester, and the requests for Goat Boy or Pesci impressions that inevitably follow. This was different.

“You’re on Saturday Night Live. You’re blue,” a woman accused, meaning dirty and profane.

“That’s not who I am,” he tells me.

Devastated, he made a vow to write family-friendly stand-up no one would feel embarrassed to watch with their children—or their grandmothers.

Related: Jim Breuer performing at The Paramount in Huntington

Keeping his biting, edgy humor is where the real difficulty lies. But Breuer’s a top-notch performer who need not rely on the shock-laughter quality that comes with lazy profanity. His is a form of intense observation that reveals a truth in its universality, where we nod, even as we choke with laughter. It’s a hard-won genius that resonates with the audience who recognizes truth.

Consider his “marriage warrior” bit on his current stand-up tour and the subject of an upcoming podcast. He likens marriage to war, spouses to enemy combatants, using his 20-year experience as the wisdom of an old army lieutenant, speaking from the trenches whence he came.

It’s funny stuff, but it goes deep. Breuer encourages couples to look between the lines to get to the heart of their squabbles. It’s exemplified when he reads aloud an actual text fight he’d gotten into with his wife, seemingly over a toothbrush. (I won’t give away the ending except to assure you that it was never really about a toothbrush.)

COMEDIC VORTEX: Comedian Jim Breuer, who grew up in Valley Stream, horses around outside Maria’s coffee shop in Chester, NJ during a break from an interview with the Press. (Photo by Matt Furmanwww.furmanfoto.com)
COMEDIC VORTEX: Comedian Jim Breuer, who grew up in Valley Stream, horses around outside Maria’s coffee shop in Chester, NJ during a break from an interview with the Press. (Photo by Matt Furman

That’s his unique brand of comedy: to draw you in with a funny metaphor you can relate to, and then slap you upside the head with truth. He doesn’t play down the sharpness of his mind or the entirety of his heart for laughs. He puts it all out there. And though God plays a profound role in his life, don’t expect it to be part of the act. Religion—yes. God—no.

God worked his way into Breuer’s life from that very coffee shop where we met, from where he drove at a low point in his marriage and in his life, and had an argument with God. His relationship with his wife was running on fumes, a separation already decided upon. Although he and Dee had lived in stormy silence lasting several months, he found the idea of breaking up his family heart-wrenching. So he threw a challenge out into the ethers. A demand. A threat.

“Show me a sign, God!” he said he shouted from the interior of his car—professing to me that he’d always been a faithful husband, solid provider and a loving father.

“I’ve always tried to live a moral life,” he says.

He is a good guy—just ask the people of Chester, like the girl in the camera shop, a star-struck 20-something who’d come onto him when he’d gone to get his camera repaired. Breuer saw not the sex kitten some of his contemporaries might have, but a girl not much older than his daughters. He asked to meet her for coffee. There, they talked long and hard about life and her plans, until the spectacle of his fame wore down to reveal the human being he was. Just a guy.

She ended her lunch break with a new focus.

Not long after, Breuer went for coffee at that same shop, and interrupted a conversation he overheard behind the counter. An older woman was complaining about the soft tissue around her eyes, confessed that she’d made an appointment with a surgeon.

“You don’t need surgery,” Breuer told her. “You’re beautiful.”

She turned those eyes to take a hard look at Breuer. “I know you,” she told him.

“You’re the one who helped my daughter,” she said. “I prayed that someone would get through to her. It was you.”

Breuer was taken aback. He thought she’d recognized Goat Boy.

The coincidence was further cemented when his wife approached him soon after. She’d gone to the house of “a woman from the coffee shop,” at her insistence. Once there, the woman and her husband, having no knowledge of Dee or her connection to Breuer, prayed for her to open her heart to love and to rebuild her family. From there, they began to reconcile.

His faith is something he’s hard-pressed to define—and doesn’t want to. Breuer doesn’t identify under the umbrella of what he calls the “dark stuff” that masquerades as religion. “You’re just messing it up for anyone who has an inkling of wanting to be faithful in any way, shape, or form,” he explains.

To that end, he has an unlikely compatriot: James Hetfield, the lead vocalist of Metallica. Anyone familiar with Breuer wouldn’t be surprised by his metal band friendships. He built his career opening for local bands across LI, inventing heavy metal comedy, an act he rocked from the Vanderbilt in Plainview to what was then Westbury Music Fair.

It makes sense that his next project combines his love for music and comedy. Breuer is working on a family-friendly ‘80s rock/metal album to come out in the fall, based on his character “Heavy Metal Man,” an over-40 dad who rocks out in his garage when life with the family gets too intense.

It’s the essence of Breuer: family, music and laughter. It’s exemplified in all that he does, from caring for his father (“Johnny Cash and Hank Williams get us through showers”) to life on the road: cheek-hurting comedy set to loud rock ’n’ roll—and if you listen carefully, something much deeper.

Bravo, Breuer. You got us.

Jim Breuer will be performing at the Paramount in Huntington March 8. For more information, check out paramountny.com.