Comedian Eddie Brill, a veteran of the scene and the guy in charge of booking stand-up comedians for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” was profiled in a piece for the New York Times.

In response to criticisms that he only books acts that are ridiculously famous or white men from the Mid-West, Brill offered his critique of crazy dames who deign to get up and tell jokes:

Only one woman (Karen Rontowski) was booked in 2011. “There are a lot less female comics who are authentic,” Mr. Brill said. “I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.”

Jessica Kirson, a comic who has performed on “The Tonight Show” several times but not on “Late Show,” responded: “What does that mean?” She added, “I like Eddie but the only way to make it as a female comic is to have strength and be assertive and confident.”

Look, Jessica honey doll sweetie cakes babe pie, here’s the thing: dames are just trying to be men up there! Right? Surely there’s a lack of authentic voices coming from female comics whereas it comes from male comics in spades.

From anecdotal experience I can dismiss that concept, because I find that while there’s more men doing stand-up locally, there’s a lot that are putting on an act. Even the acts Brill books are often going through very rigid, specific motions that have original material that you feel you’ve heard before. Is that honest?

What it comes down to, I fear, is that mindset still possessed by many veteran comics that women aren’t funny. It’s often cited, in fact, that John Belushi thought women weren’t funny and wasn’t shy about saying as much. But he also thought it was a good idea to speedball himself to death, so grains of salt and all that.

What I’m getting at is this: I’m sure Brill is a nice guy, just as sure as I am that he’ll insist he was taken out of context. But the idea that women are up there trying to act like men is intellectually offensive and downright untrue. It posits a very narrow and pig-headed definition of gender roles and feeds into hackery. It’s one of those statements that, I’m sad to say, makes me feel dumber for having heard or read it.

Gender roles aside, I find Brill’s thoughts on “honesty” in comedy interesting. I say Brill’s, but he’s certainly not alone in invoking that concept. Everyone from the beginner trying to reconcile his shortcomings (LIKE ME) to veterans with a more informed view on what constitutes comedy has a view similar to this, but it’s rarely explored or extrapolated upon.

Honesty in comedy is sort of a misnomer, isn’t it? It’s almost a Catch-22. If I was to get up there and just be “honest,” it might get real depressing real quick. So what do we mean by honesty? I suppose it depends on who you’re asking. If you ask me (you didn’t but this is my blog so fuck you, you did!) the only truly dishonest comedy is the kind that circulates and perpetuates material and acts that the comedian doesn’t think is funny but knows “works” with audiences.

Sure, there are comedians that portray a character or persona onstage. Are there any that don’t? Brill cites Carlin. Does he think Carlin walked around bug-eyed doing socio-political rants all day? Does Lewis Black scream out in frustration every three minutes when he’s at the grocery store? Is Stephen Wright walking across the country with his missing dog a few feet behind him?

My point is that even when a good stand-up adopts or exaggerates a persona or does character work, there’s honesty in it, and to try to disown or belittle it in any way – even unintentionally or in defense of your day job – is a disservice to the form.

Women doing stand-up doesn’t make them want to be like men, it makes them want to be stand-ups. It’s a shame that guys like Brill, good as he is, are so entrenched in the brick backdrop mentality that it prevents new, exciting comics from coming forth and getting exposure on Letterman. Which, by the way, puts stand-up comedians in the notoriously low-rated final segment. So why are they worried about trying something different in lieu of slathering mayonnaise all over the screen?

Enough of my ranting. Here’s some funny shit.

Natasha Leggero in two bits: in the first video, two minutes of quick bits. In the second video, a nice transition from crowd work to rants about the music industry and the effects of piracy. Good juxtaposition between her persona work and more traditional, straightforward bits.


Amy Schumer in one of my favorites. In this video, she deals with a drunk heckler in Atlanta. Her actual stand-up is even better.

Maria Bamford on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” Bamford’s style is riveting. It’s genuinely funny, but also transcends to the level of performance art.


Tig Notaro on Conan O’Brien (cited in the New York Times piece).

4 Responses to Eddie Brill, women in comedy, and honesty

  1. Nippertown! says:

    […] From Kevin Marshall’s America: Women in comedy […]

  2. As a female who does comedy, all I can say is THANK YOU!!!!

  3. If on the rare occassion that a female is booked on any of these shows, she will definitely NOT be over 40! Women comics have to deal with the fact that most people still think we are not good enough, and if you can get past that barrier, then they go after your age! I wonder what the greats of the old days who were all over 40,  ie: Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, Moms Mabley, Nancy Walker, and the many more older women comics that were on every show, would say about this! 

  4. Becky Brown says:

    Tig Notaro is 40 (or a couple years older)

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