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Eddie Brill Talks Stand-Up & Letterman

Late Show talent coordinator gives insight into comedy

  • Eddie Brill
  • Eddie Brill
  • Eddie Brill
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As the Talent Coordinator and warm up comic for The Late Show with David Letterman, comedian Eddie Brill is one of the most qualified people in the industry who can determine what is and isn’t funny. Since starting his career at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1970’s, Brill would be one of the pioneers alongside good friend and fellow student Dennis Leary, who helped establish the still burgeoning Emerson College Comedy Workshop in 1976. After graduating, Brill moved back to New York City where he found work in advertising before returning to comedy in 1984. An appearance on the classic 80’s program Star Search helped launch Brill’s career, and he soon found himself performing stand-up around the globe. In 1997 Brill became the warm up comic for The Late Show with David Letterman, and eventually landed the coveted role of Talent Coordinator, where he hand picks which comics get to perform on the Late Show’s televised broadcast.

SanDiego.com was fortunate to speak with Brill from his home in New York City and found out what he looks for in comedian and how he feels about performing stand-up alongside his son, Dan Madonia.

When did you officially start doing stand-up comedy?
Eddie Brill: I started in comedy in 1976 in college with a comedy group; a couple of years later I was doing some stand-up. Then I graduated from college and thought, ‘Hey that was really fun but I need a real job.’ So I left Boston and moved to New York and I was doing some odd jobs and one of them was writing commercials for television, and I was lying for a living and I hated it and couldn’t sleep well at night. Then in July of 1984 I started doing stand-up again. I started a comedy club in the city and I hosted the first night and have been doing it ever since. Once you get a laugh it’s like a drug, you chase it for the rest of your life. 

What kind of comedy group were you involved with in college?
EB: An Improv group. We were at Emerson College in Boston, there were a bunch of us who are still best friends and some of the folks have gone on to do really well for themselves. We all met each other at the beginning of college and we all thought each other were funny and we formed a comedy group. It became very successful and my situation in it, I got to meet Norman Lear who was a graduate of the college and talked to him about what we were doing. From our conversation we created the first comedy writing department in the country back then in 1978. That’s still going on and people are going to college there; guys that came after us like Bill Burr and David Cross and all these other people have benefited from the comedy group that we started way back.

What year did you start the Comedy Workshop at Emerson?
EB: 1976.

So that was still a few years away from the beginning of the comedy boom.
EB: Saturday Night Live and Annie Hall were a huge part of the world in that era, so comedy started its nascent rebirth around that time. Stand-up started taking off around the beginning of 1980 and then it boomed in the mid 80’s to late 80’s for awhile and like anything it’s all circular. They saturated the market with a million comedy clubs and television had a million shows with stand-ups. And it kind of died off for awhile and then it’s picked back up. We’re in a pretty good time right now for comedy.

Since you were running a comedy club in New York City, were you able to get a lot of stage time at all the different clubs in the 1980’s?
EB: Because I was running this comedy club, the other comedy clubs wouldn’t let me audition at their clubs at the beginning. Eventually they did and it worked out for me. I went out to Los Angeles because I was performing at The Bitter End and got the television show Star Search. I went out there, did well; auditioned at the clubs and things started taking off. One of the bigger odd breaks was one of my friends went to England to do some comedy and gave birth prematurely to his child, and I went out there to visit, started doing stand-up and it was amazing. Ever since 1989 I’ve been working all over the world doing stand-up. It made me a better comic. It taught me to write for human beings as opposed to just writing comedy that would just tend to be local and that kind of thing. When you’re working in Europe you have two bats in your hand, and then you come back home and you throw one of the bats away and you’re really ready to swing away. It’s kind of nice. It made me a smarter comic because the European audiences do not put up with the pandering that American audiences put up with. There’s so much applause for no reason whatsoever.

When did you become part of the Late Show with David Letterman?
EB: When the Late Show moved to CBS, Louis C.K. was working there and another guy who’s still working there named Bill Scheft; they recommended me to be the warm up comic. I had done some warm up in L.A. and it was kind of fun. It was nice money when I was so poor in L.A. So I got recommended because I had done warm up before and I turned it down because I knew that it would keep me in New York and I was loving the traveling. Then in 1997 I was asked again, because my name was bandied about when they were looking for a new warm up and in February of 1997, I had a six week trial period that turned into now 14 and a half years. About 4 years into in 2001, the situation  came where Zooey Friedman, who was Budd Friedman’s daughter, who was the show’s comedy booker, she left to go to Comedy Central to become an executive there, and the situation was right and they put me in there to be the comedy booker which changed my life completely. So for over 10 years now I;ve been booking stand-ups on a that I grew up as a kid watching and loving.