If there exists a perfect comedic character, his name is Dr. Steve Brule. The oafish, overconfident, Doctor?, played by John C. Reilly, first appeared in a segment called “Brule's Rules” on the unhinged sketch comedy show Tim and Eric Awesome Show: Great Job. There, the character quickly gained steam because he said amazing things like “In 1995, Bill Grates invented Michaelsoft.” And soon Dr. Steve had his own show called Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule.
In this fictional TV universe, Check it Out! appears at 4:30am on Ch 5 News, right before "Mass for Shut-ins" at 5:00am, and "The Married News" at 6:00am.
Here’s Dr. Steve explaining our solar system.
John C. Reilly is a genius. Why? The majority of Dr. Steve’s lines are improvised. Meaning, the clip you just potentially watched was not painstakingly workshopped by a team of comedians. Directors Tim & Eric just rolled the camera and told John C. Reilly to let ‘er rip. Because of JCR's genius, I’m going to use some videos in this blog. There is no way to accurately explain just how good he is at bringing this character to life.
The crux of Steve Brule’s comedy is in watching a person who knows very, very little pretend that they know everything. Dr. Steve’s hubris is absolutely essential to finding the character funny. If he were just a know-nothing nice and dopy dude, it would feel cheap to laugh at him. But because he has the arrogant self-confidence of a five-year-old, his foibles and faults aren’t off-limits for ridicule.
He knows no cultural norms, he has no social cues, but he still yearns to be accepted. In one episode he even plays his own “cool brother Stan” in a segment called “Brother to Brother.”
He wears red glasses, a hot topic shirt open to his sternum, and a puka shell necklace; he explains that he owns his own pizza oven in his house; he invented a jet pack; he was going to invent a skateboard but he already has 500; and he rides his 150 jet skis in the ocean or a pond.
Dr. Steve is also honestly a pretty sad character. He consistently tries for, and fails to make, connections. He mistakenly goes to a gay bar thinking that the “bears” want to make friends with him—only to have them get him so drunk that he passes out in the bathroom. He falls in love with a waitress named Sunshine at Toad's Family Restaurant (“Could she be the one?”) only to find out that she’s his cousin, Susan Brule, his Uncle Gary's little girl. He goes to a doctor to learn about reproduction only to find out that he's infertile. This sad aspect of the show is, honestly, a little too morose for me at times. But this pathos really does round out our understanding of Steve, and forms what we can look at as his locus of desire. Steve isn’t just bumbling around with no purpose: Steve wants to love and be loved, but he's just not equipped to make it happen.
Dr. Steve Brule also consistently mangles people’s names. Here’s a brief list of some of my favorite mispronunciations. (Correct name on left, Steve's attempt at right)
Daniel Linden --> Dr. Dan Dringle
Sandy Sanders --> Sandy Grungerson
Steve Davis --> Steve Drambus
Delzano’s Restaurant --> Delgrango's
Johnny Boden --> Dr. Jimmy Brungus
(then when Johnny Boden tries to correct him) --> Dr. Jungy Brungen
Ronald Barker --> Rongle Bringer
David Falk --> Dr. Dingid Forrester
There are easily too many quotes and scenarios that I find funny to mention, so I’m just going to dissect one scene. I am in awe of its comedic heft. Its perfection. It is potentially my favorite scene of any comedic show.
Am I building it up too much?
Here it is.
If you’re not familiar with Steve’s particular dialect, you might not have actually understood anything he said in that opening monologue, so I’ll transcribe.
“Crashinos (casinos) have been around for thousands of years. Who started grambling (gambling)? Who was the first big-time riverboat grambler? Who cares? Probably some hunk who said ‘wanna bet?’ (nervous chuckle) What are you waiting for? Let's go gramble!”
Yes. Historical inaccuracy. Saying “who cares?” in the middle. And then there’s “riverboat grambler.” It’s like Steve Brule knows ¼ of what an average person knows, and somehow riverboat gambling is part of Steve's limited subset of knowledge. Also, Steve’s penchant for calling guys that he looks up to “hunks” is comedic gold.
The long shot
Next, we have this protracted shot in which Steve walks across a crashino floor. You can see patrons looking at him in confusion—these are real people. Steve is audibly pumped about this shot; he says so to his trusty cameraman, Denny. Honestly, I’ve never laughed at this particular part, but it serves as an ideal bit of anticipation before the onslaught of verbal comedy that’s about to ensue.
“Me and Denny already figured it out, it pays every time, you win every time.” This is pure Dr. Steve: hubris in his supposition that the audience does not know something that he just figured out—like how to operate the change machine.
This is a Dr. Steve-ism that I use probably every day. The power of this word as a light pejorative is unmatched.
1 of Paper = 4 of Coin
For the past 9-plus years, this line has randomly popped into my head. I laugh at it every single time. I cannot for the life of me understand how John C. Reilly thought to phrase it this way. It’s like nobody ever explained money to Steve and he had to just homebrew an explanation. And the little chuckle at the end.
You make sure the mushroom is on top
And then we have this line. I missed it probably the first five times I saw this clip. This is why I said John C. Reilly is a comedic genius. If this line was ad-libbed, which it appears to be, it’s almost too good. Steve, seeing George Washington on a dollar bill, thinks it’s just a mushroom. I mean, you could write a page about this joke alone (Steve’s lack of understanding about our founding fathers, of where money comes from, of why it’s even made). This tiny throwaway line contains multitudes.
This clip is one minute and twenty-two seconds long—forty of which are taken up by Steve walking nearly silently toward camera—and it still manages to pack enough comedy for me to write two pages about.
There are so many more lines and moments and scenarios I could mention here, but it would just be beating a dead horse. John C. Reilly, Tim Heidecker, and Eric Wareheim have created a titan of a comedy. Dr. Steve Brule rules.