Family

I Took My 84-Year-Old Dad on a Comedy Tour. It Changed Our Relationship Forever.

On How To!, former SNL comedian Jim Breuer opens up about his curmudgeonly father.

Comedian Jim Breuer on stage
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

On a recent episode of How To!, comedian Jim Breuer took a break from the jokes to open up about his relationship with his late father. A World War II vet and sanitation worker from Long Island, Jim Breuer Sr. was his son’s biggest fan. In 1995, he was there for Jim’s very first show on Saturday Night Live where, at the afterparty, he managed to insult Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of SNL. Years later when his health started to decline, Jim decided to take his 84-year-old dad on his comedy tour, an experience he eventually made into a documentary called More Than Me. This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Charles Duhigg: You got your start in the 1990s on Saturday Night Live. And your dad was there for your very first show?

Jim Breuer: I flew him up from Florida and we went to the show—but I got cut out. [After the show], they have these after parties and we were there. I wanted my dad to meet Lorne Michaels. I’m trying to explain to him, “Dad, this is the man that’s created so many stars. This is an icon.” He went up to Lorne Michaels and I said, “Dad, this is Lorne Michaels. Lorne, this is my father.” Lorne goes, “It’s very nice to meet you.” My dad goes, “I flew from Florida to see the show and Jimmy wasn’t on it. The show sucked. What happened?” Lorne was very classy. He goes, “Well, you know, it happens. Next week, Chevy Chase is on. He’s already inquired about Jim. He’ll go next week.” My dad replies, “I’m not here next week. What happened? Tonight’s show sucked.”

Sounds like your dad was a real character. When he was 84, you decided to take him on a comedy tour with him. What prompted that decision?

We knew my father couldn’t really drive, but he wouldn’t admit to it. I was driving him everywhere and once in a while he’d go, “Can I drive?” And I’d laugh and I’d go, “Hell, no.” And then I brought him to my neighborhood. And I said, “Do you want to drive through the neighborhood?” He got in the car and almost hit two mailboxes. I was scared to death. He made it to the cul-de-sac and back, but I could tell he realized he was struggling. The issue never really came up again.

But when his car was finally taken away, he stopped shaving. He stopped bathing. He would sleep all day long. That literally was the beginning of killing my father. His giving up the car was throwing in the flag—it’s over. Now I have to be dependent on everyone else.

So I knew if I left him alone, nobody would sacrifice what I would do. [I had to] clean him, shower him, get him on the bus. Now he has to go to the bathroom. We pull over. Oh, shoot. He didn’t make it. Clean him again. But you know what? We laughed so hard. There were times where I cried. I knew if I didn’t do this, he had nothing to live for. [At shows], he talked to people. I saw how much life it gave him.

When you think back to spending all that time with your dad—and I’m sure it’s stressful because you’re going up on stage and you’re trying to take care of him—what did you learn?

I learned sacrifice. I learned the importance of life, the importance of getting rid of our own pride and selfishness. The greatest thing that I had in my life was those moments with my dad that I sacrificed. I looked at him as a soldier. He’s a wounded soldier. It’s my duty as a human to take care of this soldier.

I learned more about my father in his last 5 to 6 years than I ever did my whole lifetime. One of the things I did, I would go, “Dad, I know you don’t know how to work YouTube, but wait until you see this concert. I found Hank Williams in 1940. And look at this.” Then that brings on memories and it brings happiness and it gives him a little extra breath in life. He’s not concentrating on “I want my car. I want to drive.” Now you’re just spending time. [I had] the greatest memories of a lifetime just watching this. It’s like watching a child grow—except for we were never taught that this is what we’re supposed to do for parents.

When did you realize that you were getting through to your dad, that you guys were developing this new relationship? 

The minute I got rid of the attitude of “you need to do this” and “you need to do that.” I just realized the more I gave him love, the more I just spent time, the more I played his music, the more I took him out for a little drive and [asked him for advice], he felt important. It gave him meaning, it gave him purpose.

He finally had this last stroke that took him out. We had him in a room [at home] and we played his music. I would still talk to him and bust his chops nonstop. He would open his eyes once in a while. I kept telling him, “Listen, I know you don’t want me here when you go, but I’m holding you. Don’t try to leave when I’m not in this room.” I wouldn’t leave the room for over 24 hours. I would sleep in here. My nephew came and everyone said, “You got to take a shower. You smell disgusting. The only reason why Dad is still alive is because he smells you. You’re keeping him alive.” And, you know, we’d laugh. So I said, “Alright, Dad, listen to me. I’m going to take a shower. Don’t try to sneak away. OK.” I went up, took a shower, got out of the shower, and my youngest daughter said, “Dad, Grandpa is opening his eyes.” I knew what that meant. I went running down the stairs into the bed. He was grasping his last breaths. I jumped into bed and I said, “You sneaky bastard. You’re trying to get out of here while I was in there. What did I tell you? I told you, ‘I will never let you go.’”

To hear Jim help a listener convince his own stubborn dad to stop driving, listen to the episode by clicking the player below or subscribing to How To! with Charles Duhigg wherever you get your podcasts.