NEW YORKER Eddie Brill had originally intended to study science and mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but after experiencing a family tragedy he discovered stand-up comedy.
“I just thought that life was too short and math wasn’t going to be a very fun life,” Eddie tells me. “My stepfather had passed away at a very young age and that kind of gave me a different perspective on things. I started doing broadcasting and then worked on radio and that was much more exciting and lots more fun.”
Brill attended the esteemed communications university Emerson College in Boston and there befriended a number of aspiring comedians and actors such as Denis Leary, Stephen Wright, Adam Roth, and David Cross
Brill and Leary developed a special kinship and have remained friends for more than 30 years.
“Denis had just lost his father too and his life changed and he started to get deep into performing,” says Brill. “When I first met him he was the editor of the college poetry magazine and he was a very good writer. There were so many amazingly talented people who went through that school and on to great things.”
In 1976 Brill, Leary, and Roth formed the Emerson Comedy Workshop to give students an opportunity to work on and develop comedy ideas with the support of the college writing department
“Dennis wrote a lot of funny sketches for our group,” Brill says. “It was just a case of a couple of friends getting together and trying to be funny. At that time Stephen Wright was the established stand-up and we used to go see him perform. Denis wasn’t that terrific as a stand-up in the beginning but he worked at it and he got really good. The comedy group was a lot of fun and we became popular very quickly.”
After graduating from Emerson in the early 1980s Brill went to New York and briefly worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency before returning to the comedy scene. In July 1984 he began booking and hosting the Paper Moon Comedy Club in Manhattan and came to the attention of legendary American talk show host David Letterman.
Since the early 1990s Eddie has been the warm up comedian and talent coordinator of CBS’s The Late Show with Letterman and he has also appeared on Comedy Central Presents and is a three time MAC Award Winner for Best Male Stand-Up Comic.
Brill has rubbed shoulders with many of the biggest names in American comedy and is very much a comedian’s comedian. He has performed in Ireland many times and is looking forward to coming to Galway to play at this weekend’s Galway Comedy Festival.
“The Letterman Show happens to have a week off the same week as the festival is happening so the timing is perfect,” he says. “I’m doing MC at a couple of the bigger shows but you know I would do a thousand shows in Galway if I could because I love the place.
“I’m very good friends with Tommy Tiernan and I’ve been to visit him a couple of times. I know some of the comedians who will be at the festival and a lot of them I respect very much. It’s been a while since I’ve performed in Ireland so I’m really looking forward to it. My favourite place in the world to do stand-up is Ireland.”
The Irish community in New York is one of the city’s most important ethic group and they have contributed greatly to its arts scene over the last century, and Brill has developed a deep affinity with the community.
“I don’t actually have any Irish in me but I did grow up in an Irish Catholic household,” he says. “My stepfather was Irish and he had a profound influence on me so as a result I’m very involved in the Irish community in New York. I worked for Gabriel Byrne when he had a sitcom in America a few years back and we became very close friends. A few years ago he and Liam Neeson invited me to host the Irish Arts benefit show and now I host it every year. There’s a huge appetite for Irish arts in America.”
It was Brill who invited Tommy Tiernan to appear on The Late Show With Letterman in June 2006 and the appearance significantly boosted his profile in the States. Irish comedy has reached many heights over the past two decades but unlike the British comedy scene it has failed to significantly break into the American market. Brill feels this is about to change.
“I think it’s important that America sees that there’s a whole world of comedy out there,” he says. “Craig Ferguson is a Scottish guy and he’s come over to the States and done really well and Ricky Gervais from England has had a lot of success in Hollywood. I think the Irish comics will get there too. Dylan Moran is a fantastic comedian and I can’t see how American can’t warm up to Tommy Tiernan.”
Given his job as talent coordinator on The Late Show With Letterman, Brill is inundated with tapes from stand-up comics wanting to get on the show and comedians coming up to him at comedy festivals looking for a shot at the big time.
“Yeah, that happens,” he sighs. “I’m also a working comedian and I know what it’s like. When I would see the people who were booking the big shows I’d shimmy up to them and try to get a shot at impressing them. One of the things I said when I started working on the Letterman Show was that I would always make myself very approachable. I don’t shy away from seeing new people.”
The Late Show attracts many of the biggest names in entertainment, sports, and politics and regularly attracts between four and 10 million viewers across the US. There have only been a few occasions though when Brill has been genuinely star-struck on set.
“The biggest star-struck moment for me was when I met Sophia Loren because when I was growing up she was the women of every teenage fantasy,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I finally met her and was in the same room as her! Then only last week I met President Obama, former president Clinton, and basketball star LeBron James on the show.”
Eddie Brill makes his Galway Comedy Festival debut alongside Colin Murphy, Nina Conti, and Sarah Kendall in the Black Box Theatre on Saturday October 24 at 8pm. Eddie will be MC for the night. Tickets are available from 091 - 569777. See also www.galwaycomedyfestival.com