I'm sure dozens of character actors appear time and again in my favorite television shows and movies and I never notice. But I always spot a Brett Gelman guest appearance. The actor and comedian has appeared in a handful of Adult Swim shows, a Harold and Kumar movie, Fresh Off the Boat, Kroll Show, and plenty of sitcoms. His look isn't especially unique, but that face is burnt into my brain because of his 17-minute-long one-man musical about cats.
Gelman originally wrote the musical as a half-hour comedy show, but I first saw the routine on HBO's short-lived Funny or Die. The musical, as the title says, is the story of 1,000 cats. Actually, it contains 1,000 stories, and they're spread across 9,000 lives.
Gelman spoke about the origins of "1,000 Cats" in an interview with Splitsider:
Gelman: Yeah, I'd been doing that as a live show at UCB for like eight years. Right out of college in '99, I started writing it, and then I started doing it. Jason [Woliner] came and saw it, and he was like, "I love this." And then, a couple years later, Funny Or Die asked Jason what he wanted to do for their HBO show, and Jason said, "This is one of the things I want to do." Originally, the show was a half-hour. Andrew Steele at Funny Or Die was the first person who came and saw it and gave it the green light and told Adam McKay and then Adam saw it and gave it the final green light. To give Andrew Steele credit, he's like, "Well, we've gotta cut it down to 12 minutes." And then, we made it 17 minutes, and he was like, "I love it. Don't cut this down at all."
This special and that are the only things that I've been the lead of on TV. It's cool that it's both with Jason. There's similarities to them. They blur the lines between funny and drama in a lot of ways. It's just like committing without irony to the reality of it, even though the reality is completely ridiculous. Both characters are very insane psychotic people. They both have a lot of problems.
Splitsider: What did you have to cut out of the half-hour version of "1000 Cats"?
Gelman: You know, I think the version on HBO is better than the live version. If I ever did it again live and wanted to make it longer, I would probably rewrite parts that we ended up cutting out. It also was better because we performed it at The Orpheum in front of a bunch of people who were wearing tuxedos and had been told not to laugh. Jason got on stage and was like, "Everyone, what you're about to see, this is not funny. It's a very important event." I don't think they would have thought it was funny anyway. They were just like, "What the fuck is this?"
Be sure to read the full interview at Splitsider, then wander the site. The spot has a stockpile of great writing about comedians you may have never heard of, some of whom haunt the periphery of your favorite TV shows.