Eddie Brill not only performs his brand of stand-up comedy regularly throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, but also has performed in Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, France, Holland and Hong Kong.
In this interview Eddie Brill talked about not only his comedy, but also his appreciation for the talent of others. He also talked about his work with Reader’s Digest and appearing as a cartoon on the acclaimed show Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.
Enjoy this in-depth interview! We would love to one day interview Eddie Brill in person.
We think you will agree with us that Eddie Brill is a comic of and for the people…
It is our pleasure to welcome comedian and actor, Eddie Brill. Eddie Brill is a worldwide comic. He is also the warm-up comedian and talent coordinator for The Late Show with David Letterman. Thanks so much for doing this.
Oh, it’s my pleasure Paul. I got an email from you that said you had talked to my pal, Alan Kalter, and now, uh, you know, I’m sure if it’s good for Kalter, I’d be more than happy to be on the show.
(Laughs) Well, I think most stories are best from the beginning so tell us a little bit about where you came from.
I’m originally from New York and I had lived there as a kid ‘til I was just about 12 and then moved to Hollywood, Florida which is the other end of the spectrum, you know, from Brooklyn, New York. I went to junior high school and high school there and it was pretty nice. And, uh, I never thought I’d do any comedy. I always loved comedy and I loved George Carlin – he’s my hero – and Richard Pryor and all the comedians I would listen to on albums. Uh, and I was, you know, all ready to maybe go into college to go for maybe math or science. But my stepfather, who was very young and very close to us, died very young and I just changed my whole life and decided, you know what, I was going to do things that were really fun in life because you didn’t know how quick it could be over. So, I changed my sort of dream to go into maybe broadcast journalism and I went to a college in Boston for that, Emerson College. And then all these, uh, very funny people at the beginning of school, we formed a comedy group and it was the first foray I ever had in comedy. And it was a lot of very successful people and, uh, very successful people now. And a lot of people who were involved both, on both sides of the industry, you know, people like the president of Comedy Central and then, you know like, Denis Leary and, you know, a mixture of a lot of different kinds of people. But one of our best friends was Steven Wright and he was doing stand-up. So we would go watch him and it sounded fun so we started doing a little stand-up. Um, I did it for a little bit during college and then when I graduated I moved back to New York and said ‘You know what? You need a real job.’ And I went, I quit comedy and did some advertising writing. And I realized I was lying for a living and not making that much money. And I went back into comedy so I could tell the truth for a living and, uh, have a much better career.
I’ve never heard it put that way, ‘telling the truth for a living.’
Yeah. Since 1984 so, in a row, I’ve done it for 25 years.
Wow. Now, what do you think it is about comedy that attracts you?
Um, well, it’s just you know, pfff, it’s just so alluring. It’s, there’s no, you know, the feeling of, the cathartic feeling of laughing is just so wonderful. And when you make other people laugh there’s no better feeling. It’s really is, you know just, pfff – I mean, I’m giving you sounds effects. There’s no words really to describe the feeling. And to be able to, to make people laugh is just very, very fulfilling. And once you get a laugh, it’s like a drug. You chase that laugh for the rest of your life.
You mentioned just a moment ago George Carlin.
Now, who would you say is your all-time biggest influence?
It would be George Carlin.
And what about, what about him do you think, makes him so?
Um it was just that, you know, the way he thought, the way he just told the truth and was silly. He was smart and silly and that was attractive to me, and a lot of things I heard him say were sort of echoing the way I thought. So I couldn’t get enough of, you know, somebody who was making people laugh, thinking the way I was thinking. And, eventually, that’s the path I took. And the beautiful story, part of the story, is that we ended up becoming close and, uh, respecting – he respected what I did which was, you know – now I can die (laughs). I got my hero to respect my work and it was a really wonderful thing. He taught me a lot and he was really just a wonderful man. And anybody who’s ever met him would say the same story. Butit’s not like it was just me – he was good to a lot of people, a lot of people.
What about the comedians that are, are active today, like the young guns? Who out there do you have to give the respect to?
Well, Chris Rock I would think is the best comic of our generation. Dave Chappelle, um, you know he’s not been around as much in the public side but still out there at the comedy clubs. He’s pretty damn terrific. Uh, you know, there’s Jim Gaffigan, uh, Brian Regan, and Jake Johannsen who are sort of really smart, funny network guys. And then there’s the people like Norm MacDonald and Nick DiPaolo and Colin Quinn and Nick Griffin, who may be a little darker but, uh, still hilarious and smart and great. And I’m sure there’s a million people I’m leaving out. Lewis Black is very funny. And you know, there’s a, there’s a good group of really great stand-up comics. And young kids like Joe Wong and Tommy Johnagin, who are, you know, coming up through the ranks, are – as young guns who are, you know … Bill Burr who’s a phenomenal comedian, Greg Giraldo, Louis C.K. You know, there are so many great comics out there really doing smart, great stuff.
Well, tell us a little bit about this comedy club that you had in New York City called The Paper Moon.
Well, what happened was is, I wasn’t really thinking of getting back into stand-up. I was working with the group in college and you know, because it was so successful, the people we went to college with respected what we did. So there was a gentleman who worked at this restaurant and heard that they wanted a comedy night downstairs in this cabaret room. And he called me because he knew – you know, the connection of going to school with these people – Joe Mauricio, and we started comedy at The Paper Moon in 1984. And all of a sudden, I was hosting the shows just to, you know, take care of the shows. And I was paying these comedians out of my pocket with my day job just so we could get really good comedians in there. And, uh, it just became a comic’s club for a bunch of really great comedians from all over the country – could come into the city and work out. And it was very widely popular – ‘widely popular’? I don’t know if those are even two things that go together (laughs) – it was wildly good and very popular. And, uh, it was very successful and I did that for a while. Unfortunately, there was a – the drinking age went up from 18 to 21 and that was a real NYU kind of a place. It was called The Paper Moon. And Adam Sandler was going to NYU at the time and he would come and work out there. And Colin Quinn would work out there, and Susie Essman and Mario Cantone and Paula Poundstone and Bob Goldthwait, and all of these different folks from all over, you know, from that era. Dennis Miller would come by and work out material for Saturday Night Live at the club. So it was a pretty phenomenal place. That lasted for a while but, as a comic, I started having some success and I didn’t want to be tied down to this club because I wanted to now get out there and do some good things for myself.
Something that I thought was really interesting was, uh, your work with Reader’s Digest.
Yeah, you know, that happened by accident. They, um, because of the connection with the Letterman show oftentimes I’m asked to judge competitions which is ironic because, you know, you can’t really judge comedians. … really said it best when he says ‘I’ll give you two famous painters. Tell me who is the better one.’ But you can’t. It’s art. It’s subjective. But oddly enough, I was asked to judge this joke competition for Reader’s Digest. The host got sick or hurt – I think it was hurt – and I was forced then to be the host of the show. I worked with them, um, I, it was a thing for Reader’s Digest and, um – all of a sudden their name slips my mind. I work with them all the time! You’ll help me with this one, it’s uh, Marlo Thomas’s charity – St. Jude’s. I got it. Yes, it was St. Jude’s. I was able to figure it out myself (laughs). And I work with them a lot. I love what they do. So you know, it worked out really great and I got very close with these organizations – so much that I remember their names … uh, after prodding. But um, then I, you know, got involved, you know? And they said ‘We like what you do. Would you help us put together some more shows and be a consultant for us?’ And then they had me come in and work on their web site and read some of the jokes that came in and it’s – I’ve just had a very, very nice relationship with them. They’ve, you know, quoted me a lot and they’ve also printed some of the things that I’ve written as well.
There’s was a TV show that you did a guest spot on. I’ve always felt like this was one of the funniest TV shows on television and I tell people the name of the show – and a lot of times people seem to have forgotten it already – but that was Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.
Oh god, yeah. That was really terrific. You know, as a little boy I was a cartoon guy and I loved cartoons and in my era, you know, I was a cartoon nut I guess. I don’t know, I’m sure people are that way now, maybe even with animé or whatever, but growing up I just loved all of the cartoons. And to be able to be in a cartoon was one fantastic thing but for them to make a cartoon of you and your voice it’s, you know, like a dream come true – like a little boy’s dream come true. And I did Dr. Katz and it got really great response. And I actually did a second one. Um, I was there recording the same day with a few other comedians who were getting ready for their next season, I think their third season, and the show didn’t get picked up so none of those shows went out. It would have been nice to do another one. It would have been really fun.
Another TV show that you’re currently associate with – The Late Show with David Letterman.
Tell us about how you became associated with Dave.
Well, you know, in this business, it’s really who you know. You know, you have to deliver once you get to place with who you know but Louis C.K. and Bill Scheft, a couple of guys who worked at the show, uh, I think Jeff Stilton who was there at the time as well, I think – and they had recommended me. They were looking for a warm-up and I had done some warm-up over the years. You know, nothing really major but just here and there and there. You know, I actually – Dana Carvey Show, I actually worked on Saved By The Bell for a very short time in it’s infancy and when I was out in L.A. So I’d done a few things. Well, they said they’re looking for a warm-up and I figured OK, I’ll give it a shot. They gave me a six-week trial period and in February of 2010 it’ll be now 13 years. And during the time I was there I got to, you know, get to know Dave and get to know the staff and the people there. And eventually I got moved up, in 2001, to be the stand-up comedy booker on the show which is a huge thrill. You know, nobody really in this industry has ever done that position and is also a stand-up comic. So, you know, because I am a stand-up and it was my dream to do the show, I know what it’s like for other comedians who want to do the show. And I think I’m equipped in a way that I can really help comedians out in a very good way, and treat them the way I would have wanted to be treated if I was, you know, dealing with a booker. And sometimes I’m very good at it and sometimes I’m not always great at it but I give it my best shot and try to be as approachable and as honest as you can be, as one can be in that position.
Tell us a little bit, a little bit more about what that job entails as talent coordinator. Do you listen to, like, tapes of comedians or how does that work?
Um, there are many, many ways. One of them is listening to DVDs or VHS tapes of comedians – and I get hundreds and hundreds in a very short period of time – and I have to tackle them all the time. And it works against me as a comedian a little bit because I hear so much comedy. You know, for me to be able do my own style, I have to really compartmentalize and just think do I think – and actually, my comedy has gotten better because I’m really just doing stuff that’s from my perspective. But back to the question, I do look at a bunch of stuff and I also, um, people will send me their links online. Then you know, as a comedian, I travel around the world doing shows in different places and in many of these places they’ll set up showcases for me to look at the local comics and that really is helpful. Plus, other comics will say ‘Hey Eddie” – people I respect, comics I respect will say ‘Hey Eddie, there’s, uh, a comedienne I worked with and she was great and, you know, you should look at her to put her on the show.’ Or this other person, a manager will call me and say ‘I don’t manage this guy but I saw him in a club and he’s so right for the show.’ So, you know, everyone knows everybody in the business, kind of, or, you know, and we keep each other informed so that the right people get into the right position.
And what exactly are you looking for? I mean, other than a funny person.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s a big one! You know, laughter is good for a comedian. That’s probably number one. And, um, but no, really, honestly it’s about – we’re looking for the real artist, the real one-of-a-kinds. You know, the ‘Ray Charles’ of comedy. The soulful comics. You know, the people who really have, artists – you know, you know that there’s no other comics like that in the world. And there are, there are a smaller percentage of those kind of comedians You know – the Pryors, the Carlins, the Cosbys – those kind of guys. The Seinfelds, you know, through history the Ray Romanos, and you know, of course I’ve skipped ten thousand billion brilliant comics. The one-of-a-kinds. The ones that you remember, not because they’re famous but because they’re really great comedians. And that’s who we put on the show. We look for that. We look for that spark, that one-of-a-kind-ness you know that. But it’s gotta be smart and it’s gotta be silly. It’s gotta be a combination like that. It’s, uh, a nice you know, and – it’s not the same ‘style’ we’re looking for. We’re looking for the same kind of uniqueness and most of the time we get it right.
What do you think about David Letterman’s comedic delivery?
Oh, he’s you know, I mean, he’s just one – you know, I would consider him one of the best ever at what he does. And, you know, he’s really who he is and there’s that one-of-a-kind guy who just, you know, stood out from everybody else during that time, and he’s only gotten better and better. And you know, the only way to ever get better is to go out there and do it. Well, he’s done over 5,000 shows, you know, in late night television and in the morning. Altogether, you know, that’s a, that’s a nice little catalog of work so he’s really good at what he does, you know? He’s brilliant. And he’s a great interviewer as well and he’s a very compassionate man, and it’s, uh, you know, silly and fun and it all comes across, I believe. You know, in this business all the comedians, the real pure comedians, respect Dave the most. Not that they disrespect anybody else. I mean, there are some incredible people out there that are doing the same thing but Dave is the guy everyone looks up to. I mean, even Conan O’Brien has said it out loud ‘He is the man. He is my hero.’ And that’s what they do. And, of course, all of us including Dave’s hero, was Johnny Carson. You know, and all of those guys – the Johnny Carsons – they looked up to the Jack Paars and the Steve Allens and the Ernie Kovacs’s (laughs). And you know, it all goes – it’s generational, from one to the next. Dave is the guy of this era.
Our special guest is Eddie Brill, the warm-up comedian for The Late Show with David Letterman. I was hoping you could tell us, through your association with The Late Show, do you have a favorite memory?
You know, there are so many. There’s some of the biggest thrills of my life. I mean, again, I feel like a little boy going, you know ‘and then I got fire truck and then I got a toy boat.’ (laughs) You know, I got to meet Sophia Loren. When I was a kid, you know in my era – I’m 51 – all of the kids had Farrah Fawcett posters. I had Sophia Loren. Not … I didn’t ‘have’ her, but in my mind I did (laughter)– you know but every night I was there falling asleep with that poster. But, um, I got to meet her and be, you know, I was charmed by her. And I got to sit at the piano with Burt Bacharach and chat with him. And I got to, you know, hang out with George Carlin or Elvis Costello or talk – you know, I mean it’s, again it’s ‘I got a big truck!’ (laughs) and that’s just what I feel like – that kind of a guy. And I got to hang out with the President and I got to talk to Paul McCartney and it’s just, I mean it’s just too much fun. It’s too great and I’m just, I’m just very, very blessed.
What’s the best thing about being Eddie Brill?
(Laughs) That’s a weird, interesting question because if I thought … ‘Oh, what do I want to say about me?’ I don’t know. I mean, I’m not ashamed to say good things about myself. I know I’m very passionate about what I do. I’m a workaholic. I do so many different kinds of things. I’m involved with a lot of things. Like, I’m very involved with this comedy festival called The Great American Comedy Festival in Nebraska, in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. I’m involved in both sides of the business – in front of the camera and behind the camera. You know, so that’s a big part of who I am. And I guess, I’m, you know I grew up with very, very humble beginnings and I appreciate the really cool things that have happened for me. And it’s all happened for me because I worked my tail off because I love what I do. So it’s, you know, I don’t know. I’m proud of my life. I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out, you know? Any mistakes I made along the way I don’t regret. You know, I just have to move on and learn from them and, you know, try to get better and better. And you know, I just have to make sure that I’m always true to my, you know, values and beliefs. And as long as I can do that, and get the respect and integrity of my friends, um, and peers then I’m doing OK. So those are the good things, you know. It’s a hard question to answer – but I just talked about it for an hour, I guess.
Well I have two final questions. I asked Alan Kalter this one. New York City has absolutely some of the best places you can eat.
Where do you like to eat in New York City and what do you get when you go there?
Well you know, there again, it’s like, you know ‘do you have two hours?’ We could do a whole show on this, you know. But there’s a place in the East Village that no one knows about – maybe now everyone will know, hopefully – called Café Orlin. And it’s open 24 hours on the weekend and during the week it’s open ‘til midnight, and they have breakfast ‘til 4, and it’s the most nondescript place. You gotta really find the name, which is on a glass window – it’s very hard to find. But it’s a little place that’s so humble and so unique, and the food is fantastic. There’s not one thing on the menu that’s not terrific. And it’s hardwood floors and exposed brick and always great music playing in the background and it’s very, very delicious and it’s great. But famous places that are great – I love Mesa Grill, the Bobby Flay restaurant. I did his show – you know, we didn’t get paid in cash but we got paid in a much nicer way (laughs). We got paid with dinner for two at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and I’ve been going there ever since. Southwestern food, really great. And also, I love the Red Eye Grill which is almost in a very touristy part of town but they have some of the best seafood in New York. And there’s so many great – like I said, we can go for hours, you know? But if a tourist comes to New York City, they should ask other New Yorkers which restaurants to go to, not read out of the books and go to the tourist places because most of the tourist places are mediocre, you know, run-of-the-mill. In fact, in Times Square in New York where all the tourists are, there are no original restaurants with, you know, any flair or one-of-a-kind-ness or a uniqueness that is really New York. It’s more like Disneyworld there where there’s, you know, all these famous chain restaurants, selling processed food that, you know, all frozen stuff that comes off a truck. You know, probably every restaurant in Times Square gets the same delivery and they just put a different name on it, you know? That’s not what New York is about. If you’re gonna eat in New York, stay away from Times Square. You know, if you want to see New York, stay away – if you really want to see what New York is – stay away from Times Square (laughs).
Wow. Well, my final question for Eddie Brill. This broadcast goes out all over the world so what would you like to say to all the people who are listening in?
Hmm, OK, uh, you know – hmm. I would just say do not take life very seriously, it’s very short. And, you know, you should take risks in this world because if you do you’re going either go really high or you’re going to go really low. And you know what? If you go up and down and up and down – if you look at it like a graph, like an EKG machine – that means you’re alive. But if you don’t live life and you just take the safe way out all through the rest of your life, you might as well be dead ‘cause you’re just flat-lining, you know? So that’s my one message – to live life. And also, don’t care what it looks like when you, when you make a mistake or don’t care how it looks when you fall because, in reality, at least you’re in the game. You’re not on the sidelines pointing and judging other people. You’re in there giving it a shot. And that, I guess that would be sort of the biggest philosophy I live my life by.
Very well put. Thank you so much, Mr. Brill. It’s been a pleasure to speak to you.
It’s my pleasure Paul and good luck to you, Have a wonderful holiday.
You too. Godspeed.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.