Greg Behrendt is just that into making people laugh

October 25, 2005|By JESSICA YADEGARAN | JESSICA YADEGARAN,KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

San Francisco -- How can you tell if you've arrived?

Autograph requests, usually, or scoring the best table at the Sushi Bar of the Week in Los Angeles.

Comedian-mega-author Greg Behrendt has got all that - and his own ring tones.

Legions of the relationship guru's mostly female fans have downloaded his encouraging words to their cellies as they weather the post-breakup storm. Instead of a traditional chirp or a John Mayer song, the heartbroken women say "Hello" to this:

"Hey, Super Fox, drop that pint of ice cream and stop your sobbing. It's time to move on."

It's yet another place you can find Behrendt these days. The Marin, Calif., native is permeating every avenue of show biz, from writing and TV to stand-up and film.

For starters, he just released It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken, the follow-up to last year's bestseller He's Just Not That Into You, which sold 2 million copies. If the first one taught you to drop the dud, the new book helps you get over him - and move on.

"Figuring out relationships is fun for us," says Behrendt, who wrote the book with his wife, Amiira. "You know, like doing math problems."

Last year, after the popularity of He's Just Not That Into You, Behrendt's Web site, gregbehrendt.com, was flooded with e-mails from lonely devotees asking, "Well, now what?" The couple answered with a smart girl's guide to breakups.

"We thought if we could chronicle the breakup, we could reframe it as a turning point in their lives," says Amiira, lounging at San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel with her husband. "In other words, the breakup is the best thing that ever happened to them."

Meanwhile, everything is going right for Behrendt. He just completed the screenplay for He's Just Not That Into You, which is in the hands of New Line Cinema and set to star Drew Barrymore.

And if that's not enough, he's in talks with networks to host a talk show or a reality dating show. It's success all right, but an entirely different kind than this once-aspiring rocker ever expected.

Comedy fans know Behrendt's goal isn't to conquer Dr. Phil's world, or even the literary one. Behrendt, 42, is best known for his self-reflective "everyday dude" stand-up routines, where he dissects the idiosyncrasies of the evolving male psyche, from succumbing to the man bag to preserving coolness into the 40s - and beyond. His new DVD, Uncool, will be released next month.

Chilling with Amiira over cappuccinos, Behrendt appears to be the very picture of cool: spiky blond hair, hoop earrings, tattoos, Converse. But the father of two says it's all a facade:

"I went to see Weezer the other night, and the security guard says, `I'm going to have to take your chain wallet.' So I say, `Why, because of the recent terrorism and upgrades in security?' `No,' the guy says, `Because you're 42.'"

His comedy revolves around the idea that despite leaving the rocker lifestyle and settling down in the suburbs of Los Angeles, he's still got more in common with the neighbor's kid than he does with the neighbor.

Behrendt performed his first stand-up sets in the mid-'80s, as a side gig to his fruitless pursuit of a rock 'n' roll career. He finally realized what his friends and family always knew - that he was more comical than musical.

At the time, comedy clubs were booking hot rising acts including Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld, leaving few live stage opportunities for burgeoning comedians. Young comics such as Behrendt and his buddies, Janeane Garofalo (whom he dated) and Jack Black, sought unconventional venues, including Laundromats and coffeehouses, to perform their subversive sets.

By 1996, Behrendt had moved to Los Angeles and was rooming with six women, including Margaret Cho. He always had a large constituency of female friends, Behrendt says, but living with women gave him added insights.

Those insights came in handy when another member of the alt-comedy clan, Michael Patrick, landed a gig as executive producer of Sex and the City, and was looking for a story consultant who could bring the male perspective.

The experiences in that boardroom and the now-famous "He's Just Not That Into You" episode spawned the book of the same name. "That was the best gig ever," Behrendt recalls. "I'd be sitting in a room with all these women and I'd be like, `Naw, the guy would never react that way.' They loved it."

Soon after, Behrendt quit his last alternative band - "after they fired me" - and pursued comedy full time. Within a year, he had filmed his first HBO special, Mantastic, a look at gender stereotypes, and made his first appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

In 2001, Behrendt made Variety's "10 Comics to Watch," and since, his phone hasn't stopped ringing.

Jessica Yadegaran writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers.

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